Monday, July 30, 2007

When the Virtual Campus Means Something Else Than Distance Learning

Although universities have traditionally been reluctant to acknowledge the peer-to-peer file-sharing practices of their students as a legitimate aspect of campus life, university administrators are increasingly likely to play a role in their students' virtual lives, sometimes through the same distributed networks in which they discourage membership.

Unfortunately, as The Chronicle of Higher Education has been reporting, pedagogical authority figures don't always respect the privacy of their students or the boundaries of an intellectual community. In "Facebook Fuzz," the Chronicle reports that Oxford has attempted to find the culprits behind ritual acts of collegiate post-examination vandalism by examining photos posted by participants on Facebook. The venerable Times of London and the bloggers at the Guardian have already weighed in.

Luckily, some university officials are making their students' privacy in the digital age an area of concern. From a recent item on how "The University of Kansas Will Not Forward RIAA Letters," it appears that fair Harvard may be joined by the University of Kansas after it set an important precedent for other institutions of higher learning by refusing to be cowed by music industry lawyers. The University of Kansas also has a notable IT policy point person, Jenny Mehmedovic, who has a record of interesting work on privacy and security issues.

Moreover, since the advent of the Internet, it may be valuable for university stake-holders to understand that competition in providing educational services may be coming from some unlikely sources. Even a flagship cable music video station may be getting into the act, according to "MTV Offers Online Answers for Students" After visiting their site, it appears that at present their offerings continue to seem a bit thin. In particular, as of this evening, their much-hyped online database of campus news stories lacks any actual samples of student journalism.

Meanwhile, a plea for some validation of social media as producing legitimate objects of study for the academy is contained in "Dr. Mash-Up," otherwise known as "Why Educators Should Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Remix." As a manifesto, it doesn't say anything particularly new: a critique of the ideology of originality, a plug for free culture principles when it comes to copyright and source code, and a primer on Web 2.0.

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