Blog Post

Anonymity in the Classroom

With all the talk that has been taking place around Anonymous in the media, I thought I would talk about an experience I had with anonymous in the classroom.

It was in the summer of 2006 when I was still at Purdue, and I was teaching an Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course. As an experiment I gave the students access to a message board I had set up for them. I told them that there was no requirement for them to use it and that it hadn't been set up with any purpose in mind. It was simply another way for them to interact with me and with each other. The key point, however, was that they could post to the site anonymously.

It turned out to be one of my greatest classroom experiences ever. Students were able to give me terribly honest feedback, and unlike a review at the end of the semester, they could get immediate feedback to their questions or suggestions. For example, some students said they would like to receive the writing prompt sooner, and I let them know that I would oblige. On another occasion, students said they were uncomfortable with Serena Nanda's Neither Man Nor Woman, and I tried to work out alternative assignments with them. Unfortunately, this would have dispelled their anonymity, so it never came to fruition. Finally, and best of all, at one point one or two students complained about the due date for a particular assignment, and other students in the class (I promise!) came to my defense, said I was doing a good job, and that the due date was fair.

As I said, I enjoyed this experience very much and look forward to trying it out again with some modifications, such as a moderation feature. But overall, I think it is a great experiment for others to try out, as long as you have an eye for the terrible ways in which such an experiment might fail.


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