I'm using a site called Wetpaint which allows me to create groups and wikis and discussion forums and it is magnificent. I've used Blogger, and Ning, and a couple others, and one of the things I find so fantastic, yet frustrating, is how I am able to keep minute by minute tabs on the class. In the first week, especially. The course calendar can only be found online, the readings can only be found online, and in order to participate in the online discussion forums for the readings one must be, well, online. And their first homework assignment is to create a Wetpaint account, and to email me, subject: "[Your Full Name], LaGuardia, ENG102." Twelve students joined the course website on the first day, and six emailed me. Now, by the end of the second week, all are at least members of the site, though only 14 have contributed. Still only 17 have emailed me. Easiest. Homework. Ever. And i harp on about how important it is every day. I had to cancel class on Monday, and I emailed all students who had emailed me hours in advance to let them know, reminded them about upcoming assignments and an adjustment I made to the calendar. And only half the class got the email, because they did the first day's homework assignment.
So, I'm rambling, but here's the point. The connectivity lets me see who runs to the library after class and logs in and who completes the blogpost in a timely fashion, and who never does anything. I can see who has read something, and I can see who never checks the calendar, and who never comes to class prepared. And there is something awesome and simultaneously frighteningly Big Brother about that. I control this mini-univers full of all these people who are just little red lights of "connected" and "disconnected", "on" and "off" and I see it in real time, and constantly, monitoring their homework habits.
When it was all paper, did I know how many of them just never prepared themselves for class? Has it always been only half the class? Is the internet/wiki intimidating, or would they not have read the poem if it were in a 50 dollar anthology either? I don't know the answer, but there it is. 50% of the class is doing the work. And I know when they are sleeping and when they are awake. And I'm not sure it's fair for me to know that, but there is something to having that kind of control. There is something.