Oh, I’m sure this isn’t something all that fresh. But it’s fresh to me, and supports my growing anti-tech persona. Which isn’t entirely accurate but, y’know, I am feeling rather oppositional to the rapid, unconsidered adoption of technology in education. Like that recent laugher in the Chronicle about how awesome it would be if a university would have the guts to ban paper books.

So, course management software — moodle, webCT, blackboard, desire2learn…you know what I’m talking about.

In using it, I’ve always wondered about certain aspects, particularly the gradebook. Partly, I just don’t like giving students access to an up-to-date, appears-to-be-official, running-tally of their scores. I think it gets in the way and encourages grade grubbing. But I’ve used it, because I also understand that students have a right to know what scores they’re getting…and I know many aren’t willing to actually write down their scores themselves, do the calculations, and keep track.

(Sidelight: really, I hate grading this way. Giving students grades throughout the term has little benefit, in my opinion. It moves them away from content exploration, denies any possibility of a pedagogy of curiosity, and more or less normalizes the learning-is-about-grades. I think the best way would be for conscientious faculty to just assign grades at the end of the term. We know what students should get, at least in humanities courses. We see their writing, listen to their in-class discussion. It wouldn’t be that hard to do, and I think it would be at least as accurate as the bit by bit approach we’ve all been forced to accept as the right way. Sure, in a lecture class of 1,000 my model wouldn’t work. So grade with accumulating points there. But why do it in discussion seminars? I think we do it totally so students don’t act all surprised at the end of the term, when they get the non-A. We grade to protect. Ourselves. And that’s too bad.)

I recently changed institutions. I taught at a big non-flagship, regional-draw kind of state school. Now a liberal arts college. That actually doesn’t matter to this story. I just like writing it down. This fall, I received notice from the old school that a student there was filing a grade appeal for a B. My first ever appeal. Now, truth is, I should have told my old chair: shove it. Not my problem anymore. I gave the student the grade the student earned. But, a nice guy, I provided information in several emails and phone calls that helped the chair and the composition director gather the data needed to explain to the student that, no, just because you wanted an A doesn’t mean you actually have the grounds to complain that you didn’t get it.

During this conversation, I mentioned that I didn’t have access to the scores from the semester, because I used the university’s on-line course management software to tally grades. Yesterday, I received an email from the composition chair with all of my data from that software. It was mined, without my consent, by the IT folk at the university. And I should mention, the appeal fizzled out two months ago. IT finally got around to gathering information that might have been helpful months ago.

As you might imagine, this is my center area of concern. Many, many faculty are being encouraged to use similar course management software. And this case makes it clear to me: You Do Not Own The Material You Post To These Sites. IT didn’t need my consent, because the data was on the university server, which meant the data belonged to them. This includes syllabi, grades, supplemental material. This includes, in my opinion, intellectual property that I generated and used as part of my professorship at that school. It burns me that they could access it without my permission, and it burns me deeper that this is probably standard practice. And it makes me totally crazy that we’re being encouraged to use this stuff, and we’re not thinking enough about who owns what.

For me: this spells the end of important data posted to course management software. I’ll either use my own blog sites (disconnected from my institution), or I’ll go old school paper. Call me paranoid (paranoid!), but I don’t think we should be ceding control of our intellectual work. How hard, really, would it be to have our stuff converted to an adjunct-run on-line model if we willingly post all of our teaching material onto an institution’s server? All we have is the good will of higher ed to protect us. And ask professors in Wisconsin about that…