12-12-2011 mag 6 /


Butt Naked

by: Roos

Are closed learning environments like Blackboard a thing of the past? Blogs and Facebook are taking over, but leave us students exposed.

Blackboard is having hard times. This widely used, closed online learning environment,functions as communication and resource platform for students, managed by universities. Its image is boring and dull and professors are experimenting with other ‘learning’ environments such as blogs and Facebook groups. Students are forced to use these so called learning environments, even though they are often publicly accessible. However, is learning meant to be butt naked?

On the 4th of November, a symposium was held as part of the IMPAKT festival, entitled ‘Trouble Ahead: The Struggle for Secrecy and Transparency’. One of the speakers, Clifford Tatum (professor at Leiden University) talked about his research on the role of openness in collaborative knowledge production. Tatum presented a visually attractive iceberg, where the top of it represents publicity of research at universities, the part under water represents research and university work which is not accessible. Tatum, as professor, argues openness in the learning process is very valuable for students’ development and calls for more openness in the learning process. He argues that publishing work online stimulates the competition among students, which results in increasingly better work. Unfortunately Tatum is not the only one with this opinion. Competition is good, but does this openness really stimulate the learning process?

I believe that the first prerequisite of a learning environment is missing in the case of Facebook groups and blogs; that is the room to make mistakes. Learning environments are meant to stimulate trial and error. Sometimes you write awesome pieces, and sometimes you don’t. And that is just fine, cause you’re learning. Students are now forced to ‘publish’ their work online, at places that are accessible for the public, and thus for your future boss. Most students are fine with other students reading their work and agree on the competitive element, but what is the use of publishing in front of a world audience?

When looking at visitor statistics, the average visitors of a student blog are almost only fellow students. What is the problem then, you might argue. Well, if someone wants to find something about you, which is not strange in this era, they can find it. Including your student number, your feedback, feedback on your parts from others, your awesome parts and your failures. Erasing things on the internet is almost impossible, let alone if a fellow student writes something indiscrete. Does this have any educational value? I think not. I argue that the University should create safer closed learning environments, where competition is encouraged and where students can learn from each others work, however, without the rest of the world watching.

Facebook groups as learning environment create other problems. As a result of the ongoing stream of mixed important and ‘nonsense’ posts on the course’ Facebook wall, I can’t find the important information on literature or the manual anymore. I constantly receive Facebook messages informing me about this on my mobile phone. When, after a thorough search of the course Facebook wall, I check the obliged literature,lose my attention and half an hour later I find myself checking out what the cousin of my neighbor’s best friend is doing. Oh hell.

The strive for transparency in education should in my opinion not be exaggerated. We should always first question if it serves the right goal. The advantages given by learning environments like Facebook groups and blogs, such as the increase of value through competition, do not overcome the disadvantages mentioned.

I want to conclude with a little word to Blackboard. Thanks for holding my towel, buster, you will be missed.