The Server Ate My Homework!

One of the features that previously-mentioned Studywiz 9.3 promotes is the e-Locker concept, where students can upload files to a collaborative space for group work assignments and other collaborative approaches to learning.

An extension of this is the individual web-based school locker, an idea promoted by eponymously-named School Web Lockers. According to the system’s developers it can provide “web-based storage ‘lockers’ for users to store school related files that can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection”. Students are offered 100Mb of storage space with a “digital drop box” where files can be uploaded or retrieved, while teachers and administrators have a far more generous 1Gb on the system’s server. The system is backed up on a daily basis and has a secure access front end.

I have some problems with this approach to learning. The developers promote SWL as a solution to the “problem” of homework – presumably kids who try to get out of completing it by making up lame “the dog ate my homework” type excuses for not completing an assignment. Apart from the fact that recalcitrant students will merely substitute the word “server” for “dog”, this solution hardly addresses the underlying likely cause of the problem – namely, lack of engagement with the material.

In itself, the concept of web-accessible files is fantastic and really makes use of the possibilities offered by a Web 2.0 approach to learning in the 21st century, but is it a pedagogical solution? SWL provides anecdotal evidence that the system increases students’ productivity, for example, by giving them the means to continue working at home on projects begun in the classroom. The same result could be achieved with a flash drive transported from classroom to home, with the advantage that it would remain in the physical possession of the student. And I think this is what I’m finding a little disturbing – the idea that a student’s creative output is held in a centralised, albeit secure, location, ultimately controlled by a commercial company. The trade-off is increased web-based accessibility at the expense of trusting that a commercial company will respect a student’s copyright and privacy, and provide outage-free access to the uploaded files forever. Is this where we’re inevitably headed in education? Any comments on the above are very welcome.

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