Thursday, March 20, 2008

online, scholars under scrutiny

In an article published today in the New York Times, “The Professor as Open Book”, Stephanie Rosenbloom speaks of the growing number of university professors creating Facebook and MySpace profiles to connect with their students. They are also appearing on shows like “Professors Strike Back” where they have the chance to respond to comments and criticism about their classes that students have posted on After reading this article, I was reminded of Professor Chun’s comment about the classroom acting as a sort of Panopticon for the professor to view the students.

This article however, seems to suggest that while the actual classroom environment may place the students as the subjects under the professor’s gaze, student demand to interact with professors on more level ground may lead them to display their personal lives on the internet. Professor Chun also mentioned that several universities are filming the professors’ lectures and that in some cases, professors must specifically request, not to be filmed. With this interplay between the classroom, profile sites, blogs, and television shows, control of the situation shifts back and forth between students and professors. This seems relevant to the debate over whether or not Jennifer Ringley really had control over her viewers in the way she controlled her presence and absence. Professors, as well as students, appearing in the public domain of the internet and television have a similar situation in viewing others and being viewed themselves. There is also, of course, the question of acting for the camera, of which Phil Agre speaks in “Surveillance and Capture,” that one’s knowledge of his/her own surveillance fundamentally alters the way one functions. Everyone‘s reactions to the news that he/she could be seen in class this week is a perfect example.

Rosenbloom quotes Stephen Friedman of mtvU, the television station on which “Professors Strike Back” airs, as saying, “It is the nature of the age, ‘I think it’s part of this increased transparency….It feels as if they are breaking some kind of wall.’” This recalls Thomas Keenan’s article on windows, in which he notes, “For if the window is the opening in the wall constitutive of the distinction between public and private, it is also the breaching of that distinction itself.” (8.1) For students and professors the internet seems to be breaching this distinction and transforming relationships that were previously more traditionally and formally constructed with the professor as the authority figure, about which the student could find very little personal information, and the student as the subordinate, about which the professor probably had less information as well. Now, as we may become saturated with information on anyone about whom we could wish to learn, perhaps these interactions between students and professors are an indication that we are approaching the crash Paul Virilio writes about. Perhaps however, social networking sites and the like, as Rosenbloom puts it, simply offer another way for professors, and anyone for that matter, to do “online what they have long done in their offices: displaying family photos and personal artifacts, decorating with posters, literally keeping their doors open.”

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