Tuesday, November 21, 2006

E-Learning Censorship

Although not exactly the same as yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater, how do we handle the restriction (or lack thereof) of free speech within the online classroom?

One of our instructors asked the question about whether he could/should delete a post by a student that takes a scientific discussion into a religious one, even though the instructor had asked (warned?) the students not to go down that road in this science class, but rather reserve that discussion for the religion or philosophy classes.

Our Student Code of Conduct addresses this issue but not from the perspective of a posting in a discussion forum but more along the lines of someone exercising their right to free speech in the hallways or in the traditional classroom. In my mind these are different online because of the permanent nature of the posting, whereas in the bricks-n-mortar world the words evaporate into thin air as soon as the free speech is concluded.

This was my explanation: "A layperson's explanation of the freedom of speech within the college community goes something like this:

  • We cannot take away a student's right to free speech, but we do have the right to impose restrictions on the "time, place, and manner" of such speech.
  • My suggestion is the following. Create a special discussion forum in your class for off-topic posts. (Many instructors already have this.)
  • Let the students know that posts made in that forum will not be graded.
  • You then can cut and paste any post from another discussion forum into this forum while indicating whose original post it was. You are directing the placement of those remarks without restricting the students' rights to make them.
  • In the next version of D2L I am pretty sure that you will be able to more simply move posts from one forum to another, which should make this an even better solution.
  • It's not perfect, but neither are the other alternatives that we have heard or thought of."
So, please take careful aim and fire away. What is missing here? What would be a better solution? I'm sure this has been dealt with many times over, but I'm not sure where to look for it.
Photo courtesy of celebdu through Creative Commons licensing.

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