“Did you ever have the feeling you was being watched?”

17 04 2010

I first saw this story about grade adjustments in a biology class at LSU in the RYS feed of my Google Reader while I was waiting for my airport shuttle very early yesterday morning while waiting for my shuttle in Delaware. “Typical,” I thought, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then in Dallas on the way home I read Historiann on the same subject, who certainly read the story much closer than I did:

How, you might wonder, did anyone know that at mid-term 90% of her students had failed or dropped? “[T]he university’s learning management system allowed superiors to review the grades on her first test in the course.“ Let that be a lesson to those of you who report your grades on BlackBoard or WebCT programs! This information can be used against you! (I sure as hell won’t be using the system at Baa Ram U. for that purpose again. Too bad for you, kiddies!)

That’s when cold shivers started going up my spine, and I already refuse to use Blackboard!

Changing grades is certainly bad, but the ability to change grade is even worse because that means the administration can change anything. More importantly, someone can just watch what you’re doing whether they change anything or not. While I happen to think everyone’s syllabi should be online (more for the purposes of truth in advertising than anything else), everything else that you can’t hold in your clammy little hands (grades or otherwise) can indeed, as Historiann suggests, be used against you.

One of the reasons I got into this business is that I like to be my own boss. Yes, I know I’m not really my own boss, but at least I have the freedom to run my own classroom the way I see fit. I teach the history that I think is most interesting and important. I pick the textbooks. I write the tests. Nobody is standing behind me with a stopwatch, telling me the one best way for me to do my job.

Now suppose you’re an adjunct. You’re not paid nearly well enough. Chances are your tenured colleagues don’t give you much respect. Being the boss of your own classroom is probably the best thing you have going for you. Why then would you possibly give your employers a way to follow exactly what you’re doing all the time (particularly when they can basically fire you at will)? Come to think of it, online course are probably like this already! [More shudders.]

I know I may sound paranoid, but to me this is the first step towards handing professors a curriculum map and treating us like high school teachers. Technology can be a great tool for improving teaching, but this is exactly why I sure as heck want to be the one who picks which technology I use.

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2 responses

17 04 2010
Caroline Roberts

Avoiding Blackboard is a clever way to avoid the surveillance. The underlying problem, however, is the monetization of the university. The more students are seen as paying customers, the more likely it is that the school will follow the motto: “The customer is always right.” If more profs and instructors don’t push back against these practices, the more likely it is that the LSU incident will happen more often.


Post Academic

17 04 2010
Historiann

Jonathan, I used RamCT (our in-house version of BlackBoard) just once, for my big survey last semester. What I discovered was that students were then empowered to b!tch about grades on essays they hadn’t yet seen the comments on yet. (Awesome! Of course, picking up their graded essays would mean coming to class, and that was something that they only managed to do occasionally, with their busy schedules and all.) So I had pretty much decided that I’d never use it again anyway–but this story from LSU just pushed me over the edge.

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