Over the past couple of weeks there has been a fair amount of discussion of my hoax course in the academic blogosphere. As one might expect from a discussion among academics, much of that discussion has been focused on the issues the course raised for education, the production of knowledge, and teaching in particular.
Views on the course have been decidedly mixed. Some people liked it, some didn’t like it, some thought it was an interesting idea but wondered why students had to be taught to falsify information in order to learn research skills. I received a few emails calling me various names that are anatomically impossible. And for a few days one blogger (the librarian at Oregon State whose blog is linked above) had a comment on her blog advocating a denial of service attack against me — which she removed after I asked her to take it down.
The whole thing had another brief blip of life when someone on the community blog metafilter.com posted a note about the class. But now the traffic has essentially ended — not surprising given that the main audience has been academics and the new semester is about to begin.
For those who wonder about the tangible outcomes of such a course, I would offer the following example of how one student in the class took what she learned and has translated it into action.
I received an email over the weekend from this student about a post in her blog in which she uncovered a hoax — one that received wide play in the mainstream media — about the Pope supposedly smoking a cigarette. Using the lessons she learned this past semester, my former student has exposed a hoax that even the Wall Street Journal bought into. To me, this is pretty good evidence that the learning from this past semester has carried over into my students’ subsequent work — a goal we always evince when talking about our teaching.
A a final postscript on the hoax course: A number of people have been angry that students in my class created (and then exposed before anyone noticed) a fictitious pirate entry on Wikipedia (likely to be deleted shortly). Some have erroneously reported that I required the students to vandalize Wikipedia. And, from the content of the anatomically impossible emails I’ve received, I suspect that most came from outraged Wikipedians. All those in the your-students-shouldn’t-have-done-that-to-Wikipedia camp will be glad to know that I have been banned (permanently?) from Wikipedia.
A small price to pay, I suppose given how often I actually edited Wikipedia entries, when compared to the learning that went on in my class.