…The training wheels aren’t just for the faculty, they’re for the students, as well. The idea that the internet is a place for free and open discourse is nice, of course, but anyone who pays attention knows that to be a polite fiction. The public internet is a relatively safe place for straight, white, American males, but freedom of discourse is a privilege that only a small minority of our students (and faculty, for that matter) truly enjoy. If people didn’t understand that before, #notallmen/#yesallmen and GamerGate should certainly have driven that home.
As faculty and administrators we have an obligation–legal, and more importantly moral–to help our students understand the mechanisms, and unfortunately, often the consequences, of public discourse, including online communications. This is particularly true for the teenagers who make up the bulk of the undergrad population. Part of transformative teaching is giving people a safe space to become vulnerable and open to change. For those of us who think still of the “‘net” in terms of it’s early manifestations that were substantially open and inclusive research networks and BBS of largely like-minded people (someone else mentioned The Well, although The Well, of course, has always been a walled garden), open access seems tempting. But today’s internet is rarely that safe space for growth and learning. Just because students can put everything on the internet (YikYak, anyone?) doesn’t mean that they should.
In many, if not most, situations, A default stance of of walled garden with easy-to-implement open access options for chosen and curated content makes a great deal of sense….
There are lots of legitimate reasons why students might not want to post on the public internet. A few years back, when I was helping my wife with a summer program that exposed ESL high schoolers to college and encouraged them to feel like it could be something for them, we had a couple of students who did not want to blog. We didn’t put them on the spot by asking why, but we suspected that their families were undocumented and that they were afraid of getting in trouble.
This certainly doesn’t mean that everybody has to use an LMS or lock everything behind a login, but it does mean that faculty teaching open courses need to think about how to accommodate students who won’t or can’t work on the open web. I don’t think this sort of accommodation in any way compromises the ethic of open education. To the contrary, ensuring access for everyone is part of what open education is all about.