Paper-based instruction an archaic (and obsolete) tool of the past?

analog_v_digital.jpgIn an article in the latest issue of Campus Technology, Dr. Trent Batson argues that paper-based instructional tools–i.e. the "traditional" means by which students learned in the past–are no longer much relevant in a Web 2.0 world.
The challenge for faculty who need to provide meaningful instruction to students is to engage the students in the world that the students are familiar with. Admittedly, this means instructors may have to use Facebook or MySpace in order to reach students (in fact, there is a Blackboard utility called Blackboard Sync that allows students to access Blackboard content directly from their Facebook page).
Batson offers a couple of questions for faculty members to think about if they are interested in incorporating Web 2.0 technology into their courses such that the pre-defined learning goals are still met.

1. What work is best to do with my real-world immediate presence?
a. What is the right mix of lecture, group work, experimentation (virtual or real), and of oral and electronic interaction?
b. How can my students connect with this work when I’m not with them between classes so they can continue their projects?
2. What work is best to do without my real-world immediate presence?
a. What rubric can I supply to my students for project or discovery work using the Internet and Web 2.0 spaces?
b. How can this work then be connected back to the classroom process?

Baston appears to argue for separating the course material into manageable chunks that students can access depending on if they are in class or out of class. This may require some tweaking of course material by faculty to make sure that students are still able to engage in the learning process outside of class time. Thanks to Web 2.0 technologies, students are no longer limited in what resources they are able to access to work on projects or term papers. Students can still use paper-based resources such as bound journal articles in the Library, but they can also access that same content online and–perhaps more importantly–engage the author(s) of a journal article directly or discuss the article in a forum or on a blog (in fact, this very blog post may be a good example of such activity, as you, dear reader, are invited to comment on this post).


Batson acknowledges that students who use Web 2.0 technology for collaborative study may potentially engage in plagiarism (see this previous blog post for a prime example of an entrepreneurial use of Facebook). Batson argues, though, that the problem isn’t with plagiarism, per se, but with the fact that educators have "little experience designing work assignments that eliminate any possibility of plagiarism" (and Batson includes himself as one of those educators).
Batson’s solution is to restructure assignments such that plagiarism becomes much more difficult, if not impossible. he uses the following example:

1. The analog world test question: Why was the polar bear put on the endangered species list?
2. The digital world question: What did Fatimah (a class member) mean by her Wiki comment about polar bears?

The first question is asking for readily-available information, so it would be difficult to assess whether or not a student plagiarized their answer (unless 20 students all turned in virtually identical answers). In this case, there is a fairly objective answer, though to make it more difficult for students to plagiarize, you might want to also require the student to cite their source for the answer (or provide a web link to their source).
The second question is purely subjective and relies solely on a student’s own interpretation of information, rather than an assessment of objective data (in truth, there are a variety of highly politicized answers to the first question, so it is not quite as objective as it may seem at first).