Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Internet Privacy? Ethical Implications of Social Networking

A forum was held on Tues. Nov. 18th at Tacoma Community College on the ethical implications of social networking. It was sponsored by The Center for Ethical Development at TCC. The panelists included Valerie Zeeck, a lawyer; Jim Crabbe, CEO of Konnects, Inc.; Eva Frey Johnson, the director of Student Involvement at PLU; and Sean VanDommelen, Club Coordinator and Secretary, ASTCC, and was moderated by Mike Towey, an Advisory Council Member of the center.

Some of the questions that the panel sought to answer were "do we consider the ehtical implications when using the internet for social networking" and "what are the ethical implications of the choices made in presenting personal information on these social and business networking websites?" In the opening statements, members of the panel warned that with the exponential expansion of sites such as MySpace and Facebook, students need to consider what kind of information they are presenting to potential employers and future colleges.

Valerie Zeeck began with an explanation of all of the kinds of information that are available to investigators - previous lawsuits, addresses, liscenses, weapons permits, criminal background, etc. She pointed out that though it could be illegal to make desicions to fire people based on information found on social networking sites, you may or may not be hired based on information they find and if they do use it, you may never really know. When pressed later about what the connections might be to her opening statement on the kinds of information that are available to people on the internet, she admitted that the information was available before social networking and that she did not want to give a paranoid spin to the talk (too late!). Interestingly, she said that she really didn't know much about computers and her husband put up her MySpace page for her.

Eva Frey Johnson asked whether or not employers should use information they find on social networking sites to make hiring decisions. She said "why not?" The information has always been available in other forms: how you dress, talk and carry yourself in an interview and what your friends and past employers say about you in reference checks. She gave some interesting statistics that included the fact that 1/3rd of those employers who used social networking sites as part of their vetting process chose not to hire someone based on information they found (evidence of drug or alcohol abuse, or dangerous or anti-social behavior).

Sean VanDommelen gave the student perspective, and he said that students seem to be aware of privacy settings. He uses social networking (MySpace) to push his music. He said we are making choices about ourselves and our identities everytime we push the submit button.

Jime Crabbe said that this new world of connectedness could unlock a lot of human potential. We are just now understanding what it means to be connected 24/7 to everyone. He sees the cell phone as the new laptop: a tool that will bring the web and all the networks to the developing world.

Everyone seemed to agree that students should think about what they post and be more saavy about how many people can actually access your information. Also, the questions focused on whether or not it was ethical for employers to use the information found on social networks. No definitive conclusion was arrived at apart from "assume that they are." Many of the students had the "I would not want to join any club that wouldn't have me as a member" approach.

There were a number of "facts" that were presented that while interesting and inflammatory are harldy true. A couple of the panel members said that everything you put up on MySpace is ALWAYS out there. MySpace is run off of a database that is difficult for crawlers and bots to catalog. Do a search on any MySpace profile in the "Wayback Machine" at Archive.Org to see what I mean. The panel seemed unaware of educational developments in social networking which would have been particularly useful as we are a college with FERPA and copyright concerns. The handout for the event had some interesting unsupported claims such as "Many people go on 'My Space' because they have no friends" and "Many people go on-line with fake or forged identities." many would that be? Eight? A thousand?

I was impressed at how much the students already knew about the privacy setting and the issues involved. These kinds of panel discussions are very important as we are getting more and more students who communicate and share information via blogs, social networks, and texting.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Better Living Through Chemistry

Mind and machine merge in the 1822 invention of the espresso machine. The machine age motorcycle of the mind. Is it a coincidence that from the belles lettres age of tea and lace that "Realism" bursts onto the scene at the same time with novelists like Balzac? Coffee is the lubricating oil of music, art, and other revolutions. The world was asleep and Balzac drank the blackest of coffee he could find and woke up. He saw the world for the first time with all of its many surfaces shining and reflecting into one another. Its darknesses darker, its light, a scintillating patina dancing over all. The City now breathes with life, every stone once a palace and now a future barricade; each man pushing a cart intertwined by history and economy into the lives of the least and the greatest.
Balzac would rise in the late afternoon like a tide, eat a light dinner, sleep until midnight, and then write and work for fourteen hours. His life, work, passions, and person were all colossal. I don't understand why critics call a man who believed in ghosts, the monarchy, and failed at every business venture a Realist. He reminds me at times of a child who won't go to bed when there is company over for fear that they will miss something. What did it mean when we could not put that book down when we were children? We knew that the book was not going to change over night, it would still be there, we could still continue it but we would rather spend the next day tired than put the book down. Balzac saw the world as a book he couldn't put down and set out to write about the whole thing. For this, he would need to stay awake. He wrote, published, and edited in all the media of his day: newspapers, magazines, books, plays, and an opera.
The history of coffee in the West follows the rise of industrialism. The early machines are still used and made today - things of steam, pistons, and springs that are works of art in themselves, The semi-automatic espresso machine was developed after World War II and the fully automatic espresso machine invented in the 1960s - coincidentally another time of social, political, and artistic revolutions.
I was asked a few weeks ago about how I reconcile work and art. How can we work in a college, write and research in education, teach and also write fiction or produce any art? I began to think about all the ways that my work informs my art and vice-versa. Balzac was in on the multimedia boom of his time, the modern printing press. He was a newpaper, magazine, and book publisher. He was not successful at any of these because he still had a huge foot in the previous century. We see ventures like this all the time today - internet ventures that act like paid subscription libraries in an age of open content. And I love the derision that is directed towards blogging in the "traditional" academic media (Chronicle of Higher Ed and New York Review of Books); they can't stand uncontrolled, non-tenured, non-vetted, non-peer-reviewed amateur scholars daring to publish. They should celebrate the return of the penny pamphlet - it is even cheaper now! The pamphleteers fed the imaginations of Shakespeare and Thomas Paine. Many of the world's greatest ideas came from the chemically-altered imaginations of the self-published. I like blogging because I can start a piece in the third person and end in the first and there is no one here to stop me.

I am no Balzac but his huge embrace of all media and forms of writing, his enormously polymathic output, is an inspiration. So my answer to the question about work and art in the Age of the 60 Hour Work Week is to love the world, live passionately, and be prepared to drink lots of coffee!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Educating for the Future

It can be a difficult task to design a course that is meant to provide students with the skills that they will need five years from now. We should not be able to do that, but my experience with technology over the last 25 years tells me that you can. While the technology changes at an ever increasing pace, the core critical skills have been changing slowly and some not at all. This is an evolving list, but my previous course, HIM 101 identifies six core new media skills for students:

  1. Critically evaluate everything you read, see, or hear
  2. Connect new knowledge with previous experience (put it in your own words)
  3. Connect with reliable information (not perfect information, it doesn't exist in any media)
  4. Connect with peers and experts
  5. Share and publish (Get a blog, connect with other blogs)
  6. Transmogrify content (Take a text, turn it into music and pictures - learn something new)

We can teach and model these skills in any class. Our HIM 101 and my English 95 course proves that. All of these skills are based on things that we are already doing and teaching in one way or another. In later postings I will go into each one of these skills in detail. Please feel free to leave a comment if you would like to add a skill for discussion.

Those skills do change slowly because the skills are related to the learning modalities of the human mind, not the content or the media. As media changes, we discover new learning modalities but a lot of the tech changes are extrapolations of existing technologies. In the early days of the internet, people were still just reading pages. Later, visual and social intelligence comes into play as the technology becomes more powerful and more connected.

If you decide to do something innovative, take these warnings with you. You will spend a lot of time telling students and administrators that as difficult (or as easy) as some students find the technology, it is not about the technology. It has nothing to do with newness, coolness or hype factors; semantics, or buzzwords. Although all of that may be present, it is about the core skills that will enable any student to be successful not only with technology, but their subject matter course.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Look at me - I am thinking hard!

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Andy caught me taking myself too seriously and drinking my free "I Voted" coffee from Starbucks.