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Posts Tagged ‘Big Brother’

Your students aren’t reading, what are you going to do about it? If you teach a class with an online textbook linked to CourseSmart, you may soon have the option of checking up on them, whether you use this ability to assign grades, decide whether you’ll answer their questions, or just give helpful advice on study habits. Technology from CourseSmart that is currently undergoing testing at eight schools will allow professors to see a number of things about their students’ reading habits, including an “engagement index” based on whether students had opened each page, how often, how long they’d spent on it, and whether they’d taken electronic notes.

Slate plays up the Big Brother aspect, while Ars Technica focuses on students’ ability to game the engagement index. Perhaps the most telling quote comes at the end of the New York Times article:

After two months of using the system, Mr. Guardia is coming to some conclusions of his own. His students generally are scoring well on quizzes and assignments. In the old days, that might have reassured him. But their engagement indexes are low.

“Maybe the course is too easy and I need to challenge them a bit more,” Mr. Guardia said. “Or maybe the textbooks are not as good as I thought.”

I vote for that.

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There have been a number of times that I’ve discussed the ways in which public information on the internet is not private.  If you make photos or information about yourself publicly available, you have to recognize that others might take it into consideration when forming an opinion of you.  Now, however, the city of Bozeman, MT wants to know what private information you have, too.  As noted by Ars Technica, the city’s background check waiver form includes the following request:

“Please list any and all, current personal or business websites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.” the form reads. But Bozeman isn’t simply interested in finding out where to look for potentially embarrassing personal details; the city wants full disclosure, since the form demands username and password information for each. City employees will apparently be able to dig through any information applicants have put online, regardless of whether it’s accessible to the public.

Applicants need not worry about their potentially sensitive private information, though, because the city won’t look at “protected” things:

A local news station spoke to Bozeman’s attorney and asked about the potential for problems of this sort. The city’s answer? Trust us! “One thing that’s important for folks to understand about what we look for is none of the things that the federal constitution lists as protected things, we don’t use those,” said attorney Greg Sullivan.

An examination of private information like this is ridiculous and the recent media attention will hopefully end Bozeman’s use of this practice.  If not, your next employer may want to come to your house and take a look through your belongings before deciding whether or not you should be hired.  Who doesn’t love Big Brother?

Update: Bozeman rescinded this policy on Friday, June 20, stating:

The extent of our request for a candidate’s password, user name, or other internet information appears to have exceeded that which is acceptable to our community.  We appreciate the concern many citizens have expressed regarding this practice and apologize for the negative impact this issue is having on the City of Bozeman.

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Religion may prevent socially disapproved behaviors because of an omniscient, judging other (panopticon religion), but it also prevents individuals from taking action because of a promised “better” life ahead (opiate religion).  It appears that religion is failing us on both fronts.  The potential presense of an omnisicient, judging other does not prevent all of us from doing reprehensible acts, nor does it allow all of us to accept these acts because of a promised “better” life ahead.  Because of this, we look for earthly solutions.

Some make much more money than others, so we tax them at higher rates; some businesses are harmful to the environment, so we create environmental regulations; some are rewarded for the failure of their companies, so we create pay limits.  In each case, there are loopholes.

Escape HatchesIf Obama really were a deity we wouldn’t have these problems.  As it is, the chance of getting caught and punished for abusing these loopholes appears to be continually outweighed by the potential gains that come with taking advantage of them.  If society were a prison, we could implement Bentham’s panopticon in order to create the illusion of an omniscient other and, thus, prevent these behaviors.  In case you haven’t noticed, however, society is not a prison.

The failure of religion, social norms, and actual regulations to regulate these behaviors creates a situation in which it is easy enough to conclude that we need increased governmental controls on behaviors such as these for the good of the people!  We need a digital panopticon!  Two-way screens in every room to protect us from the worst among us!

shit!

I love Big Brother.

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Typically, I prefer my visions of the future to be of the dystopic variety.  I suppose, though, that dire economic times deserve brigher visions of the future.  Angela Sorby at the Chronicle of Higher Education takes this general approach in reflecting on the crash of 2009 from 2020.  Among the highlights:

  • Universities stopped paying for conference travel. After a wave of armed protests, professors began talking with their colleagues at nearby universities. Study groups formed. Now, instead of performing their work at a national meeting for an audience of 10, professors find themselves in heated discussions with people from the college across town — people they never would have met under the old system. Regional schools of thought have formed. New ideas are being generated. The only Thai restaurant in Grinnell, Iowa, now thrives, packed with academics who can no longer afford to fly halfway around the globe to eat with similar colleagues in similar Thai restaurants in Boston and London.
  • Forced to make hard decisions, colleges and universities experimented with eliminating faculty members, only to discover that without teachers, students complained that they were learning less. Online robot instructors were tried, but they had no paychecks from which to deduct their maintenance costs. Finally, faculty members were reinstated, complete with salaries and pay-as-you-go medical plans. To compensate for revenues lost to faculty expenses, institutions were compelled to stop hiring consultants. Assessment teams disappeared, leading to widespread panic. Professors no longer knew how to list student-centered outcomes on their syllabi or how to tabulate six course objectives on an Excel spreadsheet. Professors and students heroically overcame those barriers and, as of today, continue to learn. It is unclear how long this can continue, however.

Finally, it is comforting to know that even if Big Brother isn’t watching and birth rates do not fall to zero there is a dystopia in my future after all:

  • The old campus apartments gradually filled up with professors and their families, since no one could afford a mortgage or a commute anymore. The campus got progressively more crowded, more intergenerational, and less private. The swimming pool dried up. The campus coffee shop began selling Folger’s. The ivory tower crumbled, along with the campus infrastructure. In this new environment, students and professors are economic equals who see one another on the weekends. They also walk home from night classes together, giving them added protection against the gangs of half-starved former assessment consultants now roaming the streets.

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