Rise of the secret shoppers

May 22, 2008

I teach an undergraduate course in consumer behaviour to 150 students. Last year I directed all questions regarding the exam to the Blackboard website, thinking that students would get more timely feedback during their revision. I allowed anonymous posting and received more than 100 responses. Most of these were good questions regarding the syllabus, which I happily addressed. Unfortunately, some were direct attacks on my refusal to give guidance on the actual topics that the exam paper would cover (an action that would contravene university policy). So our school banned anonymous posting.

This year I created the Blackboard support site minus anonymous postings. I received one posting. This hasn't resulted in a rush to my regular office sessions. They have, as usual, remained quiet affairs.

As my university prepares to introduce anonymous coursework marking next year, I cannot help wonder what next - the requirement to wear balaclavas in seminars? A fear of persecution has undermined the lecturer/student relationship, but why? Could it be that teaching for exams and the development of bite-sized syllabuses has created a student body that is information-rich but learning-poor? If I am seen as no more than an information provider and retention assessor by students, it is no wonder that they do not want me to know who they are.

I and my fellow colleagues are where we are because we value learning. We learnt to value learning by trusting those who guided us not because we were "customers" who were "purchasing" a "product" but because we knew that somehow the experience of learning transformed us. We were students. In this new age of anonymity, I miss students.

Linda D. Peters, Norwich Business School, University of East Anglia.

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