Pot O Gold?

23 01 2011

Photo Credit: jaqian

Not really a pot of gold at either end of the rainbow as far as I’m concerned, its more like fairy dust. In “A Personal CyberInfrastructure” (essay,)  Gardner Campbell advocates for giving all matriculating college and university students their own web server so that they can build their own “personal cyberinfrastructure.” He lost me when he used the word affordances in relation to web based analytics and database management. It is possible that Mr. Cambell doesn’t really understand what an affordance is. (pet peeve, click the link to a great article by Donald Norman himself about how the word is mis-used) It could be that what he is really trying to say is that University IT departments hand out crippled webspaces to students that don’t let them learn the whole picture.

Having been a system administrator, I understand both sides here. The sys admin in me says “heck no, I’m not giving a bunch of kids admin privileges!” Who gets to talk to the police when some student uses their server to host some illegal activity? or more likely sets up an easily hackable password and someone else does it without their knowledge? How long does it take anyone to figure it out? Who is responsible? Who is responsible for cleaning up, re-imaging and dealing with security issues on all these virtual servers? Server administration is a full time job. If that is what you are teaching, fine, but where is the time for the rest of the curriculum?

The teacher in me says, yes, I understand how frustrating it is when systems are so locked down that you can’t even change your own desktop picture. (yes that is true where I work <sigh>) How are we all supposed to learn when we are treated like idiots and made to feel like anything we do might “break” something. I work around a completely crippled computer system every day, and the sys admin in me screams about that too.

A virtual server like Campbell advocates is really just a new playground, but this one is scary and it has land mines and pits and big giant structures that need to be climbed. It could work if there is enough guidance to learn how not to fall in the pits, and figure out where the land mines are and there is enough endurance and skill to climb the giant play structure, but I have my doubts that it would work as a learning tool for “everyone” and I have my doubts that the average University professor has the skills and knowledge to manage a class or classes of students servers either.