Lies and Untruths

Gillette, Peter

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really “hate” Moodle per se. Then again, I don’t really “hate” the Patriot Act either. Hate is a very, very strong word. And since the Patriot Act is probably being reserved for a future Point-Counterpoint editorial feature – wherein two altogether thrilling, original, and clich-free opinion-writers on the topic will thoughtfully and politely engage one another without resorting to or responding to stock Rovian rhetoric – I suppose I’ll focus on Moodle.
I have been in two classes that have used Moodle, and it was often used to share course materials effectively. But that’s like using the number of Muslim charities under indictment as an argument for the Patriot Act … only, on a much smaller scale. The point is not that it can be “effective.” The point is that its effectiveness is creepy and dangerous.
Moodle, for those of you who are fortunate enough to have escaped its evil grasps, is the classroom of the future. To access it, go to thor.lawrence.edu/moodle. Then press enter, and feel your sense of general goodwill evaporate amidst a user-friendly interface.
While it is occasionally necessary to “converse” over Moodle when classroom discussion is impeded in class, a Moodle discussion is to engaging peer discourse what “The Tyra Banks Show” is to “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” In one, we join the great Socratic tradition. In the other, we join the great tradition of American Idol Web forums.
When you go to that “conversation,” though, Moodle records when you log on. It tracks when you read, download – or don’t download – a particular article. It shows when you begin or finish an assignment.
This seems to be a small feature, and a potentially positive one to professors, but there are seriously unsettling implications. Isn’t a cornerstone of the Lawrence University education that we ought to be trusted?
Although I doubt very many professors use these more invasive features of Moodle, there is a sense in which Moodle violates the spirit of the Lawrence University Honor Code even as its machine-like tendencies discourage cheating, just as the Patriot Act seems to violate the spirit of the U.S. Constitution even while discouraging tyranny.
You see, few seem to understand the most wonderful facet of our Honor Code: it is not a list of dos and don’ts. It is a set of rights and responsibilities that govern trust between students and professors. And yet Moodle is like a dumb (literally) proctor.
Late in his life, Picasso said that computers could never fully take over “because all they give you are answers.” When Moodle grades quizzes, if 0.5g is the correct answer, then .5g is an incorrect one. So much for a timesaver.
A few last questions: how do we sign our Honor Code to Moodle work? Why push our “residential campus” status with distance-learning technology in place? Is Tyra’s beauty the reason she has her own show? Should the Gang of 14 allow a filibuster on Alito?
Those and other questions may or may not be answered thoughtfully and non-partisanly in future installments of “Point-Counterpoint.

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