Harvard’s Privacy Meltdown

Harvard’s Privacy Meltdown – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

This article discusses the large 2006 “Tastes, Ties, and Time” project conducted by Harvard researchers that used 1,700 Facebook profiles of university students.  This article raises interesting questions and concerns about the use of publicly-available social media data for research.  I think the assumption often is that if something is on the Internet, it’s in the public domain, and thus up for grabs, so to speak, and not subject to the approval of ethics boards.  As this case suggests, this may not be the case; furthermore, ethics review boards may not be equipped to understand the nuances of Web-based research:” “esearchers must navigate the shifting privacy standards of social networks and their users. And the committees set up to protect research subjects—institutional review boards, or IRB’s—lack experience with Web-based research.”

In the study, “the researchers downloaded each student’s gender, home state, major, political views, network of friends, and romantic tastes. To determine race and ethnicity, they examined photographs and club affiliations. They recorded who appeared in students’ photo albums. And they culled cultural tastes like books, music, and movies.”  A suggested rule of thumb is that “If an online community requires a password to enter, then researchers must seek IRB approval to study its members. But some scholars go further, Mr. Halavais says, arguing that researchers should seek approval to study open publishing platforms like blogs and Twitter.” I think that this statement is oversweeping at best.  I can understand concerns if you use data that involves personal information, but what if you want to do content analyses of blogs, for example (part of a research project I plan to start); does this mean that you need to get ethics approval? Does this mean that you need ethics approval if you wish to study tagging behaviour in a library catalogue for example, where people must log in to tag?  While I am a strong advocate for the protection of privacy, how far can these safeguards go, and at what price to scholarship?


10 Guidelines for Running Synchronous Web Teaching Sessions

As I prepare for another round of online teaching, I am, as usual, pondering new ways of making my online classes more dynamic and synchronous.  I have used synchronous classes for several years via the Blackboard Learning System’s WIBMA classroom that we use at Dalhousie.  The list below summarizes some of the main guidelines for running these types of classes:

1. Web Classes Go Fast: The time will go much faster than you think. You will cover less teaching content than you would like. Leave plenty of time for process and for questions.

2. Tech Problems Happen: Technical issues with some participants are inevitable, and may slow things down and hinder the efficiency of the live meeting time.

3. Pay Attention to Timing: Open the Web meeting 15 minutes early to give everyone the chance to log-in (and encourage students to do so). Always start and stop the meeting on time.

4. Post an Agenda: Always post an agenda for the meeting at least a day in advance in your learning management system.

5. Take Turns: Always go down the list of all students in the meeting asking for questions or comment.

6. Stress Community and Logistics Rather Than Content: Synchronous meetings serve a very important community building and logistical purpose. Do not try to cover too much curriculum or do too much teaching during this time.

7. Be Inclusive: Successful web based synchronous class meetings include comments, questions and ideas from everyone present (if possible). 30 participants is about the maximum size possible for an inclusive online class.

8. Less Is More: When you are synthesizing the previous week or looking ahead to the next week, a simple and concise slide deck for sharing on the Web meeting is appropriate.

9. Maintain a Firm Hand: It may become necessary to (gently) cut someone off, and to make sure that the agenda is covered and that everyone has the chance for input.

10. Continuously Learn: Always make time for a postmortem with the faculty and staff about what worked well and what did not, so adjustments can be made quickly for subsequent meetings.

The points above are well taken and certainly reflect many of my experiences with synchronous Web teaching sessions.  I’ve not made these sessions obligatory, since it is becomes difficult to find a time that works for all distance students, especially given the many time zones that exist in Canada.  About two-thirds of the students do participate in any given class, however, and those that don’t follow the archived session.  What I find challenging is getting students to participate verbally; most seem to prefer texting the questions and answers, rather than verbalizing them.  To be honest, this system is easier for me to monitor, since the screen that shows the raised hand where students indicate that they wish to speak is very small and is not effective with larger classes (I average 30 students for any given online session), since I need to scroll up and down this screen constantly.  Conducting these synchronous meetings is rather like watching many news channels now, where you have to divide your attention between listening and watching the news announcers, and reading the ticker tapes that scroll across various parts of the screen.  My plan for this year is to spend less time talking, and more time involving students in the session, so I would welcome any suggestions or experiences.

Blog U.: 10 Guidelines for Running Synchronous Web Teaching Sessions – Technology and Learning – Inside Higher Ed.