Now, I’ve been out of the academic realm for about 3 1/2 years, but in that time things have changed in a very dramatic way. I’m not talking about plagiarism, cheating, not bothering with class, drinking too much, and the usual stuff that happens on a college campus. No, I’m talking about things like the effects of WiFi and Web 2.0 has on college students.
Most college campuses have wireless networks these days, and what that means is that smart phones and laptops can be connected to whatever a student wants to connect to (usually social networking sites, IM’ing or texting friends), and not concentrate on what’s going on in class. Now, I’m not saying this behavior is anything new. It’s not. How many times have you whispered, wrote notes, or done other things in a class rather than listen to a lecture? Yeah, I know, it happens all the time. It’s just part of who we are when forced to sit in a classroom and hear one person talk.
However, it’s been an idealist notion since the early days of the Internet that the more people are connected, the more it will uplift society because with equal access to information, people will be more inclined to use that information for the betterment of society as a whole.
The more things change, the more things remain the same. To wit, when I was a grad student, it was common knowledge that fraternity and sorority groups had treasure troves of syllabi, tests, and papers from every class ever taught at the school. For new members, if they had professor X for History 1, there were term papers, exams, and the like members could “use” to get an A in the class. By and large, these papers weren’t out and out copied and turned in, but rather were used as template to write an A paper, or study to get an A on the midterm or final. Moreover, grades of members were kept and averaged so you would know if you took professor Y, you chances of getting an A were roughly X%.
On the social front, the prevalence of back-biting, gossip, and general soap opera drama were spread through the usual networks. Rumors of who was sleeping with who, who got drunk, or humiliated, was spread through a kind of verbal Intranet. Yeah, college can be high school times 10 for some people who get trapped in the realm of short cuts and cliques. Fortunately, as people get out of their teen years and transition into their 20s, these type of games become less interesting. In short, people grow up.
However, these days, because of our friend the Internets, those short cuts and gossip networks are blown up into websites that take things like “gaming the system,” virulent gossip and attempt to mainstream them for more and more college students. Juicy Campus and Pick a Prof are a couple of sites that give student two things: 1. Hateful gossip and 2. A place where the grades in various classes are collected, averaged, and rendered in a bar graph so students can see how many As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs, were given. The idea being that if you know prof Z has given students a B 47% of the time, then your chances of getting one are pretty good, too. So you cherry pick your classes based not on how well a teacher teaches, or how much you learn, but rather your chances of getting a good grade.
In the realm of gossip, however, some students are not too thrilled with Juicy Campus. They find that the site is full of racists, sexists, and gay bashers, and are appalled that someone is making money off the hate of others. It’s founder recently visited Georgetown University to answer questions during a forum with students, and they let him know what they thought of his website. This is a good example of when the keyboard warrior world of the Internet clashes with the world of real people.