It is possible that some hacker somewhere will one day manipulate the internet to his will and because he will be only twelve years old, he'll think it's funny to erase personal/contact/banking information at random. This twelve year old will open the floodgates of our society's online vulnerability and set into motion a series of internet hacker terrorist attacks, and once he realizes his power, he will leverage it to destroy our society by threatening to steal terabytes of information from highly secure sites while we sleep, thereby dissolving our existence as it is determined financially and socially, before we are able to catch him.
I am being over-the-top, of course. But, this extreme idea brings me to the subject of online identity, and its value. Is it as valuable as our in-person identity, or is there no difference? I'm curious because I do note the very distinct differences in those I meet on a daily basis and their online personalities, especially as a professor. In fact, many of them are polar opposite. The shy girl in class is the one that will go on for paragraphs upon paragraphs about the injustice of my pop quiz. A fellow professor will leave curt messages on his Facebook page, but in person he is charming, gregarious and even outspoken at times.
Of course, writers know better than anyone the value of an alter-ego. But, I'm thinking about my students in particular because they are of the generation that, for the most part, doesn't know the world without internet dominance. I can't help but wonder for some of my online students, for instance, if what I offer is the same experience as an old-fashioned face-to-face workshop that meets around one of those big wooden tables. What do we miss, really, other than a bunch of shy writers who are loud on paper, averting eyes as they offer feedback and receive it, tentatively; then, less tentatively, until they feel comfortable enough with each other to try and one-up each other? Perhaps it's my imagination, but it feels like something is missing online, no matter how hard I try to make-up for the lack of in-person instruction.
I teach two online courses, and I have also taught many online workshops (I am offering some this summer). All of these courses have gone extremely well so far, better than I could have imagined years ago, yet I often find myself wishing I could point to a manuscript and look in a student's eyes to see if s/he's really paying attention, rather than trade emails as a sort of halted back and forth exchange, sometimes resulting in multiple-hour delays. Sure, there are telephones, but due to the nature of an online course, even telephone calls need to be scheduled, as do Skype meetings or other video conferences. I suppose when it comes to feedback, this can be good because it gives the reader time to digest comments, but are the comments taken as seriously? Are they read as closely? Are questions answered as thoroughly?
In the grand scheme of things, I wonder if the student feels s/he is getting the same education? If no, why not, and could something be changed? Please, if you've taken online courses, share your thoughts because they might help me to better construct my future online courses/workshops. What could make them more personal, so that if my twelve year-old surfaces my students will feel comfortable enough with an online professor to give her a call or stop by her office. And again, if the twelve year old surfaces, people will still like and comment on the on-goings of each other's lives and writings. I think that barring paranoia, we should all consider what our lives would be like without technology. Just how lost would we be? Or, would it be a good thing?
Causes Jennifer Knox Supports
Families United for Children's Mental Health