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Online erotics and university teaching

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Parker, J (2009) Academics’ virtual identities. Teaching in Higher Education;14(2):221-224(4).

This short discussion paper moves from the mesmeric force of Socrates, which led to his persecution and eventual execution as an intellectual paedophile, through the svengali-like power-play of some academic teaching, touching on F.R. Leavis and Mamet’s Oleanna. It ends with the dissolution – in the form of the Web 2.0 eroticisation of the academic’s offer of teaching – of this master-disciple model of pupilage in academia:

“… there are two Facebook groups in my friend’s name. One, with 40 worldwide members, declares him to be the greatest historian of the modern era. The other speculates about his sexual proclivities and predilections and contains rival claims about why the student poster is more likely to make it with him than the previous respondent. This doesn’t seem a big deal – the discourse, specifics and tone is that of teenage girls throughout Web 2.0 – as if talking to girlfriends, they speculate and appropriate the sex object whether he is a Hollywood or television star (brought within range or fantasy range at least, to any reader of the London Lite and its ilk). A boy seen and fancied in a club or bar or . . . a lecturer.

But . . . teachers all go into the teaching situations projecting an identity: professional, enthusiastic, caustic, evangelical or whatever. We do not ‘simply’ transmit disciplinary material; we project to and enthuse the next generation; we accept the role of disciplinary representative and trainer/coach/tutor to those who will move into other work and those who we hope to follow in our footsteps. (Some questionnaire-based research projects report that the single most important factor in ‘excellent’ teaching is enthusiasm and charisma.) So, what’s new?

Answer: Web 2.0. As academics, we control our public image via our websites, Research Assessment returns and dustjacket biographies. In previous times, if we were talked about in the student union, pub or campus coffee bar, we were frankly validated. But, RateMyProfessors – which in addition to ‘easiness’, ‘helpfulness’, ‘clarity’ and ‘rater interest’ offers a chilli ‘hot’ symbol – and Facebook offer another identity, promulgated between current but also to future students. (There are now Facebook groups for those expecting to go to university or college the following year: by the time ‘Freshers Week’ comes they will have been in communication and forming a group dynamic for anything up to nine months . . . ) We now have an uncontrolled, de-regulated, continuously commented on and modulated virtual identity.

Does it matter? Perhaps we should be flattered that we are the target of paparazzi-type attention? Students have always gossiped and speculated about their teachers, perhaps in an attempt to reverse the power politics of the teaching situation. Pity those who do not have an adulatory Facebook group started for them by their students . . . .

Yes, it does matter. Every teaching situation is at base an offering of the self, of one’s passions, vitality, engagement with and formation by the discipline’s epistemology and sometimes, importantly, ontology. If nothing vital is on offer, then the students should surely, rather, stay at home and read authoritative public academic documents. Teaching is an offer, and that that offer can publicly and popularly be interpreted as sexual is deeply problematic.”


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Written by Mira Vogel

April 7, 2009 at 10:58

Posted in web 2.0

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