Adopting Web 2.0 on the Hill

What if PAnet permitted more student involvement? What if PAnet didn’t break down? What if PAnet were replaced with an open-source system? Students should be given the capability to better communicate with each other online in a forum-style environment. With the current iteration of PAnet, this communication cannot effectively occur. PAnet is crippled by its poor interface, buggy proprietary software, and lack of flexibility. While it serves as a valuable resource, it is not the best carrier of information over the internet by a long shot. Especially inadequate are the forums or “discussions boards,” which students avoid like bandwidth overruns. Anyone who has clicked through waves of small windows and threads in Blackboard’s discussion board set-up knows that it is unappealing verging on impractical. Not only are these forums cluttered, they also fail to provide tools for communication in the sciences. It is impossible to type square root signs, italicize the name of an angle, or write a chemical equation. Special characters and different font styles are unavailable. Blackboard intends one size to fit all, just like the PAnet system overall. Open-source systems like wikis allow a more stable, transparent and flexible method of operation. When the Blackboard-run PAnet system encountered serious operational problems at the start of this term, the only recourse to fix it was to call the technicians at Blackboard. They slowly waded through thousands of lines of proprietary code to find errors, and a week later announced that it was safe to “maximize the My Courses module.” This slowdown in PAnet forced one teacher to move back a quiz because his students were not able to access the materials he had posted, and another faculty member was not able to get her assignments out. There is no handier resource for the student than Wikipedia, and there is no better analogy for Wikipedia than a classroom where the students have taken over the blackboards. Wrong work will sometimes go up (see the trigonometry photo in last week’s New York Times for details.) But the class as a whole should be able to self-correct, especially with occasional input from the teacher. An in-house “WikiPA” would allow students to communicate better with each other, but like PAnet now, would anyone use it? Ideally, students would come around to the idea gradually, just as faculty have begun to use PAnet. Some clubs and student publications would streamline their submission and publication processes. Blogs might spring up for the Model UN trip to Georgetown, or campus happenings from the Student Activities Board. Hourly updated news could even be published by The Phillipian. But there will be no outpouring of campus-wide communication with the current PAnet. To contradict the headline of a Commentary article two weeks ago: Viva la information, via the most effective mechanism.