We have a discussion forum that is used within the course–but it may not work for no UoA people. Anyway, there is a section for introductions, and, having seen the first half-dozen entries, such as:
Woo 1st 1 to reply and find out bout this forum
I waded in with a rather heavy handed comment with references to Erving Goffman's, The presentation of self in everyday life. Despite my own comment about, "having thought about it", I then put on my size 10 boots, and did a rather long introduction post about me.
Oops. As one of the students thoughtfully said:
you may have killed off some students who may now perceive you as somewhat uhh … intimidating to approach in person.
And they a probably right, I can be intimidating—until one gets to know me. I can imagine that those who have known me for a while would agree, and as I reflect back on years of comments from students, I can see that this does come up from time to time.
And yet. And yet I did think about it. I do want the students to be think about what they write, and where they write it, and what it means. I want them to appreciate the fact that as they leave their "digital footprints" on the Internet, their trail will last much longer than many of them might realise. Furthermore, those footprints will be used by all kinds of people (say, recruiters).
I found an interesting post last week, regarding a student who had–over the years–made a series of anonymous (and innocuous) comments, postings, and so on through many websites. Some geek (maybe like me), had sifted the web and was able to work out the student's name, where they were studying, and a whole heap more personal information.
The wake we leave in the internet is pretty big.
There was a posting last year on identifying people through their browsers and tracking them without the need for cookies. One only had to look at the "fingerprint" presented by the browser. I seem to recall that there were about 16 different pieces of information that could be used collectively to uniquely identify the "user". See this too.
Only this week there was an article about BlueCava that is commercialising such a system. They say that they can:
build information about each device [connected to the Internet]. One of the things we can tell about a device is if it's a shared computer being used by multiples users. We can also determine the specific level of use—whether it's a household computer in the kitchen with a handful of users or an Internet café computer with hundreds of users.
So these issues are top of my mind at the moment …
… but it was boots and all.
Goffman, E. (1971). The presentation of self in everyday life. Harmondsworth: Penguin.