Student-owned learning resources – regulate or educate?

I’m following a thread that starts with the upcoming IWMW Conference in July 2007 and a discussion started by Alison Wildish of how the university might think of embracing student-owned learning resources (aka Facebook, gmail accounts, etc). The thread took me to an article in The Register:

Keele University has ordered its students to watch their mouths on Facebook, and asked them not to express dissatisfaction with the institution on social networking sites.

The administration was provoked by a Facebook group called “James Knowles is a Twat”. Professor James Knowles is an English literature academic at the Staffordshire university.

Members of the group were warned that the group was unacceptable and would be dealt with “very severely” if it continued.

These reminded me of a recent piece in InsideHigherEd exploring the reliability of RateMyProfessor.com compared to campus-based course evaluations. (Original article: RateMyProfessors.com versus formal in-class student evaluations of teaching Theodore Coladarci & Irv Kornfield (PDF)) The authors tentatively make a recommendation similar to Alison’s:

“First, and predicated on the belief that RateMyProfessors.com is not going to go away, higher education institutions should consider encouraging their students to post ratings and comments on RMP. If a large proportion of an institution’s student body were to regularly and responsibly contribute to RMP, the potential value of that information to the institution would only be enhanced.”

“Higher education institutions should make their [student evaluations of teaching] data publicly available online. Although students doubtless would applaud this move, many faculty would oppose it because of genuine concerns about privacy and the negative consequences that published SET data may bring (e.g., see Howell & Symbaluk, 2001). But privacy is a thing of the past in the age of RMP, MySpace, and the like.”

Which brings us back to the Keele case. What is a “responsible” (to apply Coladarci and Kornfield’s word to Keele) Facebook group? Perhaps a group that engaged in critical thinking rather than ranting. And what is responsible rating of professors — perhaps not chili peppers but an engagement with the way the course contributed to substantive learning outcomes. Are current student evaluations of teaching as “responsible” as they might be, or are they chili pepper ratings in disguise? Perhaps universities should provide the vehicle (facilitation of critical engagement) that would allow students to judge and develop for themselves the desired “responsible” faculties. Perhaps this is one of the true missions of the institution.

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