Group projects – anonymity vs registration

Over at Wikitextbook, Steve is introducing compulsory registration. The idea is to encourage students to fully participate in the wiki as a group project, by assessing their individual contributions. An interesting aspect is that wiki users tend to spontaneously adopt different roles – creator, editor, provocateur and so forth – and by checking the history of each page, Steve can see exactly who has done what and who has adopted which role.

Steve and I got the idea from Konrad Glogowski, who has done a similar thing using blogs. He quickly found that the real value was the way the students used their blogs to construct public conversations. There are big differences; Konrad is teaching English in Canada; Steve teaches Business Studies in England. Wikis and blogs both count as social software, but they have many differences. So it is a very worthwhile experiment.

I will be watching with keen interest, and, this being a wiki, you can observe directly too. Don’t rush though; we’re having trouble installing the Permissions module into Wikimedia.

So just as we’re putting Wikitextbook into lockdown, along comes Russ Beatie to put a spanner in the works with a well-argued case for actively promoting anonymity in social software. Promoting, mark you, not just permitting.

Russ’s argument is that most bad behaviour online is connected to issues of power. Flame wars, for example, are invariably personal as one person attempts to dominate another. His arguments are impeccable, but in clarifying my understanding they actually reinforce my belief that Steve is doing the right thing with Wikitextbook.

Teaching in a formal education system is about identity and power. Steve’s ability to educate stems mainly from the position of power (authority if you prefer) vested in him by the system. Without the carrot of assessment, students who are not innately driven by a fascination with the subject being taught simply have no incentive to participate.

What we have to be clear about is how different this is from voluntary education, which adults participate in largely for love of the subject and a desire to learn. There, there could be a very strong argument for complete anonymity in an otherwise identical project to Wikitextbook.

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