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On online discussions: WSO Video

Well-done video about WSO discussions brings up various issues. Highly recommended.

WSO Documentary from Shawn Curley on Vimeo.

My comments on the issues (&etc):

1) Note the cameo by Eph Blogger Andrew Liu ’11, participant in my Winter Study and soon-to-be summer intern. Yeah, Andrew!

2) David Moore discusses the distant past of WSO when logins were anonymous. He doesn’t know the full story. Who can provide the details? I think it involved a series (?) of threads around the theme of “I hate fags.”

3) Best line (paraphrased): “WSO makes me believe in Tourette’s on a key board.”

4) I second all of Will Slacks ’11 comments.

5) Patrick Chaney: If not WSO, then what? Notes that all (?) the public forums he has attended at Williams have had two problems: few people and a lack of viewpoint diversity among attendees. If there is a controversial topic on WSO, you can mostly count on all sides being intelligently presented. (Agreed! Note my clasic rant on this topic, responding to then-Dean of the College Nancy Roseman’s claim that “blog” was a “four letter word.”

If Roseman doesn’t think that this sort of writing [citing examples of great WSO prose] — and the larger dialogues in which they are embedded on the blogs — is the heart and soul of what a Williams education should be, then she is an idiot. More importanly, dozens of similar examples are available for all to see.

Third, it’s not that similar dialogues don’t occur over Mission lunches and late night pizza, just as they did 20 years ago. There are few better parts of a Williams education than the talks/arguments you have with your fellow Ephs. But the blogs provide an extra dimension that we lacked back in the day. They give students a chance to think for a moment about what they want to say, to pause and reflect on the opinions of others. The blogs are not a substitute for other dialogue, they are a complement.

Fourth, any regular blog reader will tell you that the blogs have two big advantages over in-person dialogues. First, they often bring together Ephs who don’t know each other well, who don’t share a dorm or classroom together. Second, they provide a way for the rest of us to listen in, to learn from the conversations among our fellow Ephs.

Why is Roseman so blind to the benefits that the blogs bring to Williams? Tough to know, but I’ll freely speculate. I think that there is a certain kind of administrator who does not really trust the students, who thinks that any discussion on a controversial topic needs to be supervised and moderated. This sort of administrator likes campus forums and classroom discussions because some adult is in control, someone is running the show. For this sort of person, the blogs are anarchic, out of control, always degenerating, making more trouble. A real dialogue includes a teacher, a Socratic figure who guides the benighted students.

Blogs are messy. They aid the students in doing for themselves what the College is unable and, often, unwilling to do for them. They represent a loss of control for Hopkins Hall.

I don’t know if Roseman is this sort of administrator. Perhaps there is some other explanation for her ridiculous comments. But, regardless of the explanation, the messiness is here to stay. The Dean of the College today has much less control over conversation on campus than the Dean did 20 years ago. Nothing can stop that trend from continuing. Embrace the Blog, Dean Roseman. We are the future.

Still true, five years later.

6) Also, any thread that reachs 100 or so posts has probably been read/skimmed by at least half the campus. True? I don’t have a good sense of WSO’s readership. Help us out Steve Rubin!

7) This was done for Art 106. Where are the other videos for this class? We have hundreds of alumni and parent readers who would like to see them.

8) “Best part of WSO is that, whenever anyone says somethinge, you can click on their name and a picture comes up, and where they live.” Ha!

By the way, if you are a WSO regular and want to know what your future holds, a decade or three from now, then look at me. I am your future.

[With David’s permission, I have altered the post title to reflect that this post may be more about online discussions, than the WSO video itself. I have also made very minor changes to the main post text. Further suggestions welcome. –93kwt as 92kwt.]

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