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Shut Out!

September 12, 2012

Yesterday,  our  Moodle course management system unenrolled me from my own class. The class site disappeared into cloudspace, as as 50+ students were trying to submit their work. “No self enrol” it said.

For those of you who live on another planet, or haven’t visited a high school or college classroom recently, Moodle is where growing numbers of students submit their work. Gone are the days of crumpled papers piled on desks, if not eaten by the dog. And now, even the local college server is an endangered species.

Now, Moodle mainlines direct to Turnitin. The ultimate big brother, Turnitin collects every paper submitted in the known universe and checks everything against everything else. Gone are pens and markers–here are Quickmarks, on a paper located actually at the Turnitin server, wherever that is. Each Quickmark comment that clicks onto a paper gets transmitted 36,000 klicks out in space, thence another 36,000 klicks back to Moodle; then back to space, thence to Turnitin, where it gets checked in an eyeblink against every known word since the Monolith landed; thence back to space, back to Moodle, and back to Kenyon. Speed of light is the only limit; each mark costs maybe a second to ping. And  if a student is accessing their paper at the time, they can watch the marks appearing, like something  out of Harry Potter.

For what it’s worth, most of Canada appears to have banned Turnitin on grounds of copyright enfringement. After all, once your paper is sucked into the all-seeing server, it can pop up any time some other hapless student appears to have typed something similar; and no one gets a royalty when it does. But the US courts have ruled otherwise.

Where does this end?

  1. txupi permalink
    September 12, 2012 2:20 pm

    I’m not sure that one is here yet, but there are a lot of similar ones, and one reason I’m not sorry I’m retiring. Even the syllabus is no longer a personal document related to the course you’re teaching, but a fill-in-the-blank universal to-be-on-the-internet format. And to think I was doing pioneering work with computers and teaching and language documentation in the 60s. There can be too much of a good thing.

  2. September 12, 2012 5:20 pm

    Love that illustraion, Joan. “Let me in, HAL..”
    I’ve been to some online courses from New School and I’m on a free online poetry class now ( along with 30,000 classmates. The threads are behemoths, the exchange between teacher and student is rare and between two students even rarer.
    But it isn’t better or worse than school as you and I remember it–it’s just different.
    Perhaps a group-skype type of thing could bring back the ‘personal’ in classes, but my isolation and the impersonality of the webbity-web seem to suit each other..

  3. paws4thot permalink
    September 13, 2012 4:03 am

    “I’m sorry professor; my paper’s in a bad sector!” 😉

  4. heteromeles permalink
    September 14, 2012 6:20 pm

    Glad I’m not in there. Still, I suspect that this will end in a hurry when Moodle and other similar programs start charging inordinate fees for people to access their own work.

    Something similar happened to me this year. I’d banked with GenericBigBank for several decades, but they started charging more and more fees. Good thing I have a local credit union nearby. GenericBigBank no longer gets my business.

    This may happen even faster if scientific presses like Elsevier screw up the transition to digital, and scientists decide it’s cheaper and faster to simply upload their own pdfs to websites after they’ve been refereed by colleagues, pretty much as they did back in the 1920s and 1930s. There’s nothing like having a good model for how to divest from an overbearing large system to spur people to do it when they get annoyed with ol’ Big Brudder out there.

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