The Funky Hybrid

I want to put you into the middle of a conversation that I’ve been having with myself and the media for almost four years now by putting you in the middle of a conversation that’s been running on Mark Glaser’s PBS blog, MediaShift. In an entry posted today (that I learned about from Tim), Mark continues the story of Alana, a student in a journalism course at NYU who has been blogging her class. Mark brings us into the story:

After New York University journalism student Alana Taylor wrote her first embed report for MediaShift on September 5, it didn’t take long for her scathing criticism of NYU to spread around the web and stir conversations. Taylor thought that her professor, Mary Quigley, was not up to speed on social media and podcasting — even though the class she was teaching was called “Reporting Gen Y.” And Taylor felt that NYU was not offering her enough classes about new media; she cited the requirement that students bring print editions of the New York Times to class as one example of their outdated mindset.

Not surprisingly, Quigley was not happy with the story and was upset that Taylor had not sought permission to write her first-person report about the class, and told Taylor it was an invasion of privacy to other students in the class. By Taylor’s account, Quigley had a one-on-one meeting with Taylor to discuss the article, and Quigley made it clear that Taylor was not to blog, Twitter or write about the class again. That was upsetting to Taylor, who had been planning a follow-up report for MediaShift that would include Quigley’s viewpoint and interviews with faculty.

What follows in Glaser’s post is a very thorough examination of the issue and the specifics of policy at NYU and the opinions of several of the journalists and teachers involved in the events, as well as some other thoughtful commentary, especially the commentary from Floyd Abrams, whom Glasner labels as “a veteran media lawyer who has argued First Amendment cases before the Supreme Court.”  Abrams, asked if he felt blogging a university class would violate the privacy of other students in the class, answered:

My own view is that while student commentary that is critical of ongoing classes can lead to a level of tension in class at the same time it makes extremely difficult a teacher-student relationship…it does not violate the ‘privacy’ of the classroom and should not be banned or punished. Would it be illegal to do so? It certainly wouldn’t be unconstitutional since NYU isn’t a state school and thus subject to First Amendment limitations. Whether it violates NYU rules I have no idea. I would be very surprised, however, if NYU permitted a student to be punished for writing such a critique. Surprised and disappointed.

The comments to the post are getting quite interesting, too, as journalists and teachers hash out the place of social media like Twitter and blogs in the university classroom, specifically as tools for teaching and practicing journalism.

I’d strongly encourage you to read Glasner’s post, the original piece by Alana Taylor, and the comments showing up in both places, as well as on other sites.  They’re continuing to complicate for me the nature of a classroom, whether it is a public space, a private space, or some funky hybrid that exists in between.

While university classrooms, where the students are adults, are different from K-12 classrooms, I continue to think about the nature of classroom spaces and discourse, and the stance that public educators should be taking in regards to the environment that we’re finding ourselves in these days, where students are plugged in and networked via devices that we have no control over.  More and more, students are literally bringing their own networks and publishing platforms with them to school.  And that means the nature of classroom spaces will continue to become more public, whether or not we want them to.

This isn’t a new issue, but I find the fact that journalists and media folk are stuck in the middle of the same mess as the rest of us both reassuring and frustrating.

So here’re a few of my (continuing) questions:

  • In a world where the tools and the access are no longer (and probably never really were) within the control of “us,” the educators, what limits do we set on their use at school that actually begin to balance students’ rights to communicate and reflect and process with the  legitimate educational and institutional need to control some of what is and isn’t “public” information?
  • How do we balance minors’ needs with the fact that we work for public institutions and should be open to public oversight?
  • How does transparency mesh with some of the more delicate issues in the classroom?
  • Where do students’ rights to talk about their experiences begin to conflict with other students’ right to privacy?
  • Are public school classrooms fundamentally public spaces or private ones?  (Or that funky hybrid in-between?)

Blanket bans of personal technology or of writing about certain situations or classes don’t and won’t address these needs in a meaningful and educational relevant way.  We need to be thoughtful now about how we teach students to share as the ability to do so becomes even more pervasive in society than it already is.  If I’ve learned anything in the last few years, it’s that there are no easy answers here.  And for the most part, we’re dodging the questions at school.

I’ll share some of my thoughts about how we might proceed in a future post.

3 thoughts on “The Funky Hybrid

  1. Hello, Bud,

    Some great questions, and thanks for the pointer to the original post by Alana Taylor.

    Two of your questions really nail it:

    # How does transparency mesh with some of the more delicate issues in the classroom?
    # Where do students’ rights to talk about their experiences begin to conflict with other students’ right to privacy?

    I love these questions, as they illustrate the delicious different-sameness in which we currently find ourselves.

    These *questions* are very similar questions that we have been struggling with/coping with for a long time, not just in educational settings but as decent human beings: What is the proper balance between my right to my experience, and to share it/teach from it/learn from it; and how does my right to own my experience need to be balanced against a respect for the privacy of others? This (rephrased) question existed well before the internet, before blogs, before instantaneous video publishing from a cell phone, heck, before books. This is a basic question of human existence —

    What’s changed, however, is the immediacy, the rich media options that are readily available, and the way content now has a global reach — private mistakes can be very quickly transformed into public spectacles.

    But the speed and variety with which we can publish/comment on information should not distract us from the fact that we’re still largely engaged in conversations.

    People, as always, are afraid of getting caught looking foolish. If Alana Taylor had blogged positive things about her teacher and university, I dare say the reaction would have been different. However, if educators/districts attempt to control what is already here, they will fail.

    While the technology has shifted how we view conversations, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that technology has changed human nature. And attempting to control what’s already here will lead to wasteful games of cat and mouse. We should learn a lesson from the wasteful ineffectiveness of content filters.

    Resources should be put toward teaching people how to work in this new environment; attempting to shut it off via artificial controls will not succeed.

  2. Chris Hum says:

    I love this post, as it raises some extremely critical issues that help teachers to put walls up (or take them down) for integrating technology into the classroom. My fear, though, is the amount of learning that goes on outside of our classroom walls because we have blocked out our students with these walls. And what is this learning based on?
    I will definitely agree with Taylor’s teacher in the invasion of privacy for the class. However, if we place this in a setting outside of technology and reflect on a similar situation back in time in which a student is writing articles for a local newspaper about the class or if she is continually discussing the class in public forums such as clubs, a knitting group, etc. , would the issues be any different?
    Really what it seems to me it comes down to is the essence of respect and etiquette, or in other words character traits and leadership at the core of our beings. Identifying situations and thinking to ourselves, what is the right thing to do here? How will this affect others? What are my needs and why?
    As we move forward in time, and technology continues to expand exponentially, I truly believe that having a strong positive core basis to our human nature will greatly support the growth of positive technologies. But I am sure one has to ask, could it really be this simple?

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