Monday, June 8, 2009

Who are the Virtual Students in Your Class?

Here is an interesting article to think about. As face-2-face teachers we all have ways to encourage class participation, behavior and time on task but how does this work in an online class? Who are the other students in an online class when students are enrolled from across the state or around the world?

Meet Jane Malan, a thirty-something part-time school teacher interested in languages. Jane was given the duty of being the second facilitator in an online class contributing to theoretical and technical assignments, and at times giving advice to students in the course. Jane seemed to know how to model collaborative behaviors the students could follow and she regularly participated in the “social” posts. I guess some would say she was the model student, or was she?

Jane Malan was placed in the online course to start discussions among the students, encourage others to stay with the course, and to participate in all discussions including the social posts. I imagine the other students liked her but Jane wasn’t real. Jane was a “ghost student” created by the instructor of the course and Jane was controlled by the instructor.

At the end of the course the instructor revealed Jane’s identity. The instructor wanted to answer two questions by “infusing” Jane into the course:
  1. How does a virtual student enhance online community?
  2. How do students feel about the ethical issues of instructor’s hiding and then disclosing the identity of a virtual student?

I’ve taken online courses and I began to wonder if any of the other students in those past courses were “ghost students” and how would I know? My next thought was why did the instructor feel she had to create a ghost student for the course? The instructor called her Methical Jane, the combination of mythical and ethical created to improve students’ online learning success. The instructor rationalized that if an online course had ineffective facilitation or lack of communication the students’ success and performance would be lower. Also a controlling instructor could weaken online communication and lower students’ success.

I do not see the rationale behind the instructor choosing to create Jane Malan and there is definitely an ethical issue of trust between the instructor and the students. Considering that students should follow proper netiquette when posting to an online class the instructor should already have the ability to monitor forums, blogs, assignments and other postings. So why be a ghost student?

If the instructor is worried about the quality and quantity of collaboration and communication between the students then the instructor needs to be better ained and prepared to teach online without resorting to “ghost students” selectively placed in a class. Another ethical issue would be the idea that an instructor could become a “ghost student” in a colleague’s course. For what reason? To spy? To take information from a colleague’s course to use in their course? To find a way to defame the colleague and/or their teaching practices?

This study raised a lot of ethical questions for me. More than I can ask in one short blog posting. So I invite you to read the entire study and the short summary article to see what ethical questions you have and to ask that you share your thoughts on the issue of “ghost students” in an online course?

To read the entire study please go to:
Methical Jane: Perspectives on an Undisclosed Virtual Student

To read a summary article outlining the study please go to:
Chronicle of Higher Education

No comments: