Reputation as Ethos for the Responsible Netizen

I picked up the quizercise from Karl Stolley (who, I am pretty sure, just adapted Janice Lauer's "writing opportunity"): every Monday, before we begin discussing the week's readings, I ask students some kind of question that calls on them to connect the reading to the larger goals of the class. This week, I opened with a discussion of the importance of MLA citation (since I had caught a few students liberally borrowing material without proper citation). We had read from Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs for class that day, and I asked them the following: focusing on a specific passage or idea from Smart Mobs, explain why an English teacher might discuss the importance of MLA citation before discussing Smart Mobs. Circular? You betcha! But I like giving them these kinds of meta-questions, just to see how well they are beginning to understand my underlying aspirations for the course.

Often, I write answers to my own quiz questions--though I give myself some liberties to stray off-topic (I give my students the same liberties, essentially they have ten minutes to prove to me that they have done the reading!). Here's what I wrote in response to my own question:

In Smart Mobs, author Howard Rheingold suggests that the most productive social networks develop "bottom-up" measures for establishing authority and filtering out free riders. He writes:

Self-monitoring is part of successful grassroots collaboration, a kind of many-to-many surveillance by mutual consent. If governance is to be democratic rather than Hobbesian, maintenance of social order requires technologies of mutual control."

We can think of citation as a kind of surveillance system constructed by the mutual consent of scholars and researchers. Through citation, scholars pay respect to the intellectual work of others, acknowledging contributions even as they criticize oversights. And, although MLA standards might at times come off as Hobbesian, we should remember that these standards change in response to new technologies through grass-roots practice (right?)

The digital world makes it quite easy to bypass such grassroot intellectual systems. As such, many Universities and academic institutions are turning to more top-down, rigid structures to ensure reputation (such Turnitin.com) or outlawing the use of digital environments altogether (such as the movement away from Wikipedia and digital sources).

I strive for a different solution. Rather than ignoring the pitfalls digital technologies engender, I seek to face them heads-on, discussing the epistemological and ethical challenges digital environments place on our intellectual traditions. Specifically, I believe that citation of web sources encourages students to be responsible, reputable net-i-zens.

End response. That's been sitting in a text-edit file on my desktop for a few days now, I figured rather than saving it to a corner of my hard-drive, I'd just shoot it out on the interweb. I've got to write my letter of application for my job market group this weekend, so perhaps I can revisit some of those ideas...(the current draft I have, which is terrible, discusses my dissertation, approach to new media, and approach to teaching in terms of fostering cohabitation and linking classical and contemporary theory to practice).

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