Forevermore

Thanks to the web, everyone now has a permanent record that all can see

By Alicia Ramirez

Finding eternity is possible. Just look yourself up online.

Among the first things that come up when you type your name on a search engine are the links to your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages, if you have any of them. In a society where our information is currently at everyone’s disposal, students at Bryn Mawr College are becoming more cautious about what is published about them online.

Added to the growing list of things of things must now worry about is having their class work visible to the online world.

Not too long ago, most courses taken by Bryn Mawr students were limited to classroom discussions typically inside a designated room of a particular building. Written assignments were exclusively for a professor to critique and grade. Now with the Internet as the tool of choice, the norm for an effective classroom dynamic has changed.

Class discussions can continue online after class is dismissed using such programs as Moodle, widely used by students and teachers

Anne Dalke of Bryn Mawr

With Moodle, students can engage in discussions with other class members. They can access the materials for a specific class and post questions related to what was

covered and everyone enrolled in the class, including the professor, can read and comment on them.

Senior Lena Blount is open to submitting work online but the privacy settings of one of her class’ Moodle page make her slightly anxious.

“That is a question that has come up in my senior seminar in terms of posting drafts of our theses and posting our theses on Moodle and I personally don’t like that," Blount said. "I wish that they (professors) would change the privacy settings so that we could never see who has turned in what and who hasn’t.

Blount said it contributed to the stress for some students who go to Moodle and find that they haven’t turned an assignment while everyone else has or someone turned in their draft and it was pages longer than theirs.

"In some ways it has been really problematic in terms of creating this competition and this anxiety between students," she said. "I think there is probably just ways to change the privacy settings where students can still submit work online but not like be constantly comparing and judging themselves against their peers."

Moodle is open to members of a class; Serendip Studio is open to the world.

Serendip Studio, formerly known as Serendip, is website where students and teachers can engage in discussions about different academic interests and post their work.

Bryn Mawr English Professor Anne Dalke’s favorite feature on Serendip Studio is its openness. In an email she described it as a "digital ecosystem," open, on the web, available to be read by the world (not a closed corner of information exchanged by an insular group).

"I think it is a great place for students to practice being 'public intellectuals,'" Dalke added, "speaking out loud about topics of interest to them as they are learning about them, writing papers that are "windows" for others interested in these issues, rather than as private demonstrations of competence to a professor.”

Serendip Studio is divided into five tabs: home, education, science, digital humanities and play, which eventually will lead you to the course page you are looking for

If you feel like exploring other course pages on the site, you can do so because the content published on Serendip Studio can be accessed by anyone.

Excluding the students who post content on Serendip Studio as part of their course’s requirement, Serendip Studio’s core contributors are mostly professors or alumnae of the College.

Dalke, along with education professor Alice Lesnick, are some of the main contributors to the site. Both Lesnick and Dalke were approached by biology professor Paul Grobstein in 2002 to see if they would incorporate Serendip Studio to their classes and they have been embracing the collaborative aspect of Serendip ever since.

Lesnick has been interested in online web forums as part of an intellectual and creative process for some time so Serendip has been beneficial for her as a professor and as a writer.

“I’ve used Serendip for the class (Empowering Learners) which lead to these online published pieces and what’s now called “The Empowering Learner’s Handbook” that I’ve used in courses as one of the texts and that I can send students to… and did just recently,” said Lesnick.

The “Empowering Learner’s Handbook” is a compilation of short essays written by some of Lesnick’s students narrating their academic experiences and reviewed by peers and people in the field of education.

Calling Serendip Studio a “digital ecosystem” sounds appealing at first.

However, students have mixed feelings about the communal aspect of the site. They are not used to having their classwork published online for everyone to see.

Sophomore J.D. Sisco said,

“I took an English class in which we had to post weekly on Serendip," said Sophomore J.D. Sisco. "It changes how you express yourself knowing that it is going to a place that everyone has access to rather than your professor’s eyes only. I felt that was a bit of a challenge for me, not in a bad way, but it was different.”

Students concerns Serendip Studio’s lack of privacy settings stems in part from them being acutely aware of how important it is to have a digital identity that represents their best sides in social, professional and academic settings.

Although it is mostly constructive criticism, professors post their feedback on

each student essay posted and everyone who reads their work can see how they did.

When a student with a Serendip Studio account searches his or her name on Google, the links to their posts are included in their top five pages.

That said, Dalke defends the Serendip method.

“We want to keep the posts online if possible because they are integrated

with online, ongoing conversations among many people," said Dalke. "If you can imagine Serendip as a book with over a thousand authors, what would happen to the

integrity of the book if an author wanted to tear out her page or two?”

Students concerns even extend to choosing a username.

“It’s awkward because you want it to be professional in case you do want some of your things that you post to be available to professional sources but at the same time I would like to retain some anonymity," said Sisco. "Usernames say so much about you -- like some people in my class picked something like 'hellokitty417' and I would just never pick that.”

Students have more control over what they post on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and LinkedIn. They pay more attention to it now that social media has become widely

popular for reaching out to organizations to get advice and information on employment opportunities.

Alice Lesnick of Bryn Mawr

Blount, a Growth and Structure of Cities major and Environmental Studies minor, aspires to work on environmental

campaigns. She uses Facebook to establish connections with campaign organizers.

“A lot of environmental campaigns have their own Facebook pages, they do a lot of media work just to do outreach for their cause," she explained. "So sometimes I have gotten in touch with organizers who I really respect and are interested in meeting and sometimes I just send them a message and ask them about how they started doing the work they are doing...through those conversations I have sometimes found possible employment opportunities."

Lesnick is aware of the concerns students have about their digital presence, especially those applying for internships and jobs in the outside world.

Students want to make sure what they write in college does not come back to haunt them in the job hunt.

“If a student has a concern about anything they have ever posted they can ask and we’ll take it down'" Lesnick said. "With a handful of alums, maybe two, maybe three do that each year.

"A second answer is that I think most employers also know that they were freshmen once and that they have also grown and changed so I think everyone would be happy that you’ve changed and can do more and better by the time you’re applying for jobs or grad school"

Lesnick said that they make clear that items on Serendip are not meant to be authoritative. "We’re not pretending or claiming that they’re like the last word or should be cited in an authoritative way,” she added.

Sophomore Sara Powell has not been part of a college course where participation on Serendip or other online forums is required but she blogs on her spare time. If she ever enrolled in a course like that, she wishes she could monitor which posts get published.

Powell says that a positive online presence is incredibly important.

“It’s very simple to get into someone’s Facebook or something like that so you don’t want pictures of yourself in a compromising situation and you want employers to see the right image of you...," she said. "I’m very controlling of what I post on my Facebook, my blog not as much but I try to post things that I would be ok with my mother reading.”

The realization that even academic work can be up online forever for everyone to see makes students more vulnerable to judgment than before.

After getting over the shock of having an online portfolio filled with terrific work -- as well as not terrific work -- may make them more receptive to sharing their thoughts candidly and as Dalke puts it “creating an archive of improvement.”