Experimenting With Openness in Academe

Today, I've made public the social network my students and I used in my MBA-level digital marketing class at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch. (I first gave the students multiple chances and notices to delete any material they did not want the world to see -- during the class, whose grading period formally ended yesterday, I wanted all to be in a "safe" environment free from possible embarrassment, employment risks, etc.). It's here, including dozens of links to articles, etc, from the students and me.

This was an experiment. I tried to at least stick our toes in the water with the kinds of openness so many of our readings and lessons touted; as for politicians, so too for companies. Eventually, it seems, dissonance between public persona and private reality will eventually come out -- whether Wall Street analysts recommending one way publicly and another in private, political misdeeds or, even, the ever-secretive world of private equity.

I admit some misgivings about making all this public. After all, if I let anyone see the syllabus and my responses to assignments and readings, what’s to stop anyone from just taking that material and using it as their own (I created this course and it’s MY intellectual property, no?). On the other hand, I have to acknowledge that I reached out to a network on Linked In and got a dozen or so helpful responses from others who shared their thoughts and expertise when I was constructing the course. I found the textbook we used through an Amazon.com recommendation on another book someone had recommended. And I hope any embarrassment I might face over revealing my comments and so on will more than be made up for by insights from others who weigh in. I am, in a sense, forcing myself to improve, to keep learning, to make the class be better next time I teach it.

My department chair, too, has experimented with a Ning network for the marketing department, but others in the university guard their syllabi like Faberge eggs, and demand that students neither record nor post nor mention what’s happened in class, on a test and so on. As we see pressure for openness from digital technologies in other fields, we see it too, in the world of academe. A number of business schools have started posting material openly online.

As for the students, I found it intriguing how some took to the network avidly -- one even helped reconstruct the network to make it more useful -- while others shied from it and continually sent me private notes I encouraged them to make public. The students' weekly assignments were posted publicly, as were discussions, videos and more. Many enhanced and commented ib each others' material (some of course, tried to shirk assignments by simply commenting on what colleagues said.) I can say that I learned from the students' public sharing in a way I might not have had they not shared and discussed with each other, and the level of discussion improved both on the network and in class, as well. It's been a learning experience for me, and I believe the next classes I teach will be enhanced. I also hope the experience for students will continually get better.

One point that didn't work: I had started the class hoping the reading list would change and meld over time as we shared and enhanced each others’ readings and discussion. That part of the experiment didn’t completely work, in part because many of the students are very busy -- with other courses, full-time jobs, families -- and preferred to have a more pre-set structure telling them exactly what to expect throughout the term. I’d be grateful for suggestions here.

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