The Chronicle has an article this morning on professors who, in their online classes, pose as students online to be able to connect and interact with them.
Students, understandably, are not happy when they hear about this deceit, and some of the professors’ peers are likewise questioning the ethics of the practice.
The professors involved maintain there is a pedagogical justification for the use of these ‘puppets':
Barbara Christe, an associate professor of biomedical-engineering technology at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, invented “Bill Reed” because she felt disconnected from her online students. Other proponents say fake students can bridge the isolation students feel sitting alone at their computers. They stimulate participation. They build learning communities. And the ultimate hope is that they help keep students from dropping out, a serious concern of distance educators.
Myself I agree with the sentiment expressed later in the article that for the professor to assume a persona in the online environment unknown to the students is a violation of the trust that exists between those participating in the course. And that trust is necessary for the professor to be an effective teacher.
Let’s turn it around: I wonder how the professors would feel if someone from the faculty or school administration posed as a student in their class to be able to see what was going on, to collect information that would help them to assess the quality of the professors’ teaching? My guess is that they wouldn’t like it at all.