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A positive nod to Blackboard

I received a call this afternoon from a third-party developer who confirmed the Blackboard Beyond Initiative is working aggressively on a fix for the critical flaw in its SafeAssign product reported at EF on Tuesday. The good news is that student data is no longer being distributed into the wild. This is a huge gain for students and faculty concerned about privacy.

The quick turnaround on this issue merits extra credit. In the interim, SafeAssign’s grade gets changed to an “Incomplete” until the fix is released.

Is there room for term papers in the 21st century?

The flak I caught yesterday regarding SafeAssign got me thinking about term papers in the 21st century. Information and communications technologies make it easy and rewarding to share information. More recently, however, ICTs are allowing people to build creative and innovative products from the information available. We’re evolving into a “cut-and-paste society.” Some examples of which are:

  • YouTube, which allows anybody to share videos that interest them with anybody in the world for free
  • Mogulus, which allows anybody to create their own TV station for free (something that very recently required a sizable staff and millions of dollars of funding)
  • GarageBand, which provides people with tools to record, mix and publish their own music
  • Hip-hop, which often mixes, juxtaposes and generates new meanings from music, images and texts

Academic culture and traditions have not caught up to 21st century society. What real meaning is there for society if we were to continue to place heavy focus on traditional term papers, and police the content to make sure no influence is present from modern society?

Creative work, also, is being generated increasingly by machines. Two examples are Brutus and the 20th century’s MINSTREL (see Noah’s comments). Why should we worry about originality in student work if we are perhaps only a couple years (or months?) away from machines that will be able to write original essays, theses, novels, etc., for them? …and what if these machines could write these documents better than –and vastly outperform– most students?

Is there something else schools should focus on?