Is the Web different? And should teaching be objective?

4

I’m in the slightly awkward position of having blogged some thoughts about the overall question of whether the Web is different, and about how we might talk about this during the last class. It’s awkward because I haven’t talked about this with JP and he may have a very different (and, inevitably, better) idea. As might you. Plus, I’ve tipped my hand about where I stand on the issue, in case you hadn’t guessed already.

At the meta level, this is reminiscent of the debate about journalistic neutrality, balance, and objectivity (which are, of course, three different things). Would it be best for a teacher to keep her personal views on such topics hidden from the class? Or is transparency the right approach?

For journalism, I personally tend to think transparency is usually best, although that may take the form of maximally neutral reporting along with a blog (or something else) that makes the reporter’s background, values, and biases apparent. That way, we can check out the biases we may suspect are at play.

But it’s different with teaching. For one thing, teachers and students are in a power relationship. This is formalized in the grading system (stupid, stupid grading system … a rant for another time) but is likely to exist even outside of that system because the teacher is the one who sits at the front of the classroom. Obviously, the student-teacher relationship isn’t only about power, but it seems to me to be an almost inevitable component of that relationship. (Exceptions exist, modalities and degrees exist.)  So, there’s less at risk if you disagree with a reporter’s stances and values than if you disagree with your teacher’s.

I’m not saying that that power imbalance can’t be overcome. Every (?) teacher hopes that her students feel genuinely free to disagree, even and especially fundamentally. But when students enter a classroom, they take the measure of the teacher and quickly gauge the extent to which they are free to argue back, to reason differently, to engage outside the day’s topic. Don’t you? That’s different with our relationship to reporters.

I apparently have taken a stand on this meta issue as well, by posting about the Web difference (the topic and the class) on my personal blog. I did so on the grounds of transparency, because you could always google me and get a pretty good idea of where I stand anyway, and to get pushback from my readers. I’m just not 100% comfortable with having done so.

4 Comments

  1. mpollock

    April 19, 2008 @ 11:11 am

    1

    This post brought a smile to my face because, in talking about your concerns about previous blog writings about the Web difference, you highlighted one of the areas of difference that we talked about early in the course: the permanence (and accessibility) of the Web.

    I wonder if you would have felt equally as exposed if your writings had been in print format rather than in blog format?

  2. dweinberger

    April 19, 2008 @ 3:49 pm

    2

    No, I wouldn’t have felt as exposed. If you had to go to the library to read my opinions on this ‘n’ that, then the onus is on you. But with the Web so accessible, I feel like posting an opinion is just one step short of actually tracking you down and reading it to you, so it’s my responsibility.

    I’m not saying this makes any sense.

  3. skass

    April 21, 2008 @ 11:32 am

    3

    I’ve actually been surprised that DW and JP have not linked to their blogs more often. I think I posted more links to our group project blog, the Blog on Blogs, than they did to their blogs.

  4. palfrey

    April 21, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

    4

    Yes, I admit to feeling conflicted on just this score.

    JP