Online Disinhibition Effect

The term "online disinhibition" is new to me, but the concept is not. It is defined as being the loosening or complete abandonment of social restrictions and inhibitions when online that would otherwise be present in a normal face-to-face interaction.

You can add a whole string of other psychological terms into this area: dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination, and minimization of authority.

At first, you might think of this lack of inhibition as a negative thing. People can feel free to act badly. What surprised me was that much of the research shows some positive tendencies like becoming more affectionate, more willing to open up to others, less guarded about emotions.

I encountered the term in a talk by Rey Junco, a professor and researcher who studies how technology use affects college students. His talk was focused on using quantitative methods to assess the effects of social media on student development, engagement, and success.

Of course, online disinhibition doesn't only lead to good behaviors. Psychologist John Suler distinguishes between benign disinhibition and the bad behaviors. Users can also do or say as they wish without fear of any kind of meaningful reprisals online. We all have encountered some form of bad behavior online in a forum or with comments or even in a blog post itself. Bad behavior is low-risk with a slim chance of being caught and fairly lightweight punishments.

shoutOne much older technology also created this disinhibition. The Citizen Band (CB) radio craze of the 1970s also allowed users to be on-air, obnoxious and fairly anonymous.

The asynchronous nature of the Internet can also affect a person's inhibitions. Places like online forums do not happen in real time and people can post and leave, never to return while their comment lives on and continues to get responses.  As anyone who has taught or learned online has learned, without the visual face-to-face cues we are used to in real life, we tend to assign characteristics and traits to the virtual person. That has always occurred for people reading about fictional characters or listening to a voice on the radio and now it occurs constantly online.

Sometimes that lack of inhibition burns people. The person who posted the inappropriate comment or tweet and was fired. In my earliest days teaching online, back around 2000, we always felt the need to include a policy on "netiquette" for students. Unfortunately, there is no universal netiquette policy or enforcement agency on the Internet.

Anonymity online can be a good thing. I remember reading studies about women in online engineering courses being more successful because some of the inhibitions from being in a predominantly male classroom were lifted.

Jeremy Dean says in a post that "These factors work together to create a world in which we can feel freer. But this freedom is an illusion maintained by the online experience of invisibility, anonymity and lack of immediate, visceral, emotional feedback from others, or at least our ability to turn that feedback off."

I'm not sure that comedian Louie C.K. intended to comment on disinhibition, but he certainly doesn't see his kids living on their phones as a good thing.

California and Credit and MOOCs

It was big news earlier in the year when a bill was proposed (and since was approved) in California that mandates statewide open online courses be approved for college and high school credit. That bill, SB 520, was often written up in articles as being a MOOC bill because it requires that these courses be open to all students who require them and cannot get access to them in their own schools. That last part is important. The bill is about access to courses and that was part of the original intent of MOOCs and earlier open courses that may not have been as massive in enrollment.

The California bill originally positioned 20 "MOOC-like" courses that would be credited by high schools and colleges across the state. This bill generated a lot of resistance from faculty who see it both as a threat to their jobs (bringing in "outside contractors") and as a lower quality of education.

It is important to note that the bill's focus is on students who are shut out of a high school or college classrooms due to a lack of space in that class. It is not about a student opting to take a MOOC version of English Composition rather than the one that is available on campus. The bill says that students must be allowed to take the same course in an online or non-classroom format when that is all that is available to them.

The question of whether or not those outside courses provide the same quality and standards as the accredited high school and college classes is a more controversial issue, and one that will be harder to address. That is an argument that has been active for decades in comparing face-to-face courses and their online counterparts. The short answer from research that I have heard many times is that thee is "no significant difference" between a well designed F2F class and a well designed online version. The California bill seems to assume parity but opponents don't accept that assumption.

The problem of there not being enough space in classrooms for students may not be as relevant in all states as it is in California, but I would predict that most states will have to deal with this issue of giving credit to MOOCs or other third-party online courses soon. Schools have had to deal with the issue in other cases already, such as transfer credits, summer courses and exchange programs.

Of course, college credits mean tuition money and no school wants to lose that whether they are labeled non-profit or for-profit. Some providers have been working with the American Council on Education"s (ACE) CREDIT program. ACE has been around since the mid-1970s and requires course providers who want their accreditation to submit substantial documentation about a course for review by a team of academics.

California may have taken the first step in this direction but it looks like other large state systems like New York and Florida may move in the same direction.

One thing that favors the direction this bill moves towards is that it is being viewed as another way to have students take classes they need and move towards completion (graduation) in a shorter time. That aspect is very important to the federal government and most state and even some county (for 2 year colleges) agencies.

In April 2013, the bill was amended based on the discussions and negotiations that followed the announcement. One change that emerged was that course approval would shift from the state (California Open Access Resources Council) to the local administration and faculty senates of the three systems (University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges). They have also removed the use of ACE recommendations.

There will certainly be more changes, but it is unlikely that the use of some form of the Massive Open Online Courses will simply go away if it is ignored.

SB520 Fact Sheet

Parents Invoice Pearson For Using Their Kids for Field Tests

Here's an unusual story concerning standardized testing. Some concerned parents in New York have drawn up a bill of about $38 million to Pearson LLC for using their children as uncompensated research subjects in field tests of their commercial product development process.

They came up with the amount by calculating the value of their children’s free labor and included the opportunity costs of lost instructional time and resources, plus the real costs to schools of administering the June tests.


The invoice was shown at a press conference on June 6. It was also noted that at they were aware of at least 37 New York City schools that  had parents opt their children out of the tests and 30+ schools on Long Island saw test refusals. 

more info at

When Instructional Technology and Information Technology Overlap

When I was the Manager of Instructional Technology at NJIT, I asked my staff to emphasize the "instructional" prt of our name. We were IT, but not the information technology folks who had very different concerns. My department was housed under an umbrella with media services. Before I arrived, instructional technology was the smallest group and the campus community often saw all of us as one big tech group. I wanted the emphasis to be on how to instruct using technology rather than how to jam technology into instruction. We joked so often about having solutions to problems that didn't exist that the IT people were sometimes the first to say it before introducing a new technology to us.

Of course, we were not anti-tech or anti-IT at all. We led the emerging technology group and sought out new instructional technologies all the time. I was introduced to EDUCAUSE in 2001 and I admit that at first I saw it as a very information technology organization without enough concern for instruction for my purposes. They still are closer to that IT side, but over the years I have seen the two IT groups - information and instructional - move closer to the center of that Venn diagram.

Every year, EDUCAUSE puts out a top issues report and I always viewed it as one way to think about what we might address in the new academic year come September.

Here are their Top Ten IT Issues for 2013:

Leveraging the wireless and device explosion on campus
Improving student outcomes through an approach that leverages technology
Developing an institution-wide cloud strategy to help the institution select the right sourcing and solution strategies
Developing a staffing and organizational model to accommodate the changing IT environment and facilitate openness and agility
Facilitating a better understanding of information security and finding appropriate balance between infrastructure openness and security
Funding information technology strategically
Determining the role of online learning and developing a sustainable strategy for that role
Supporting the trends toward IT consumerization and bring-your-own device
Transforming the institution's business with information technology
Using analytics to support critical institutional outcomes

You can read more about each in the latest issue of EDUCAUSE Review or online, but I was actually more interested to see a section on "New Strategic Priorities."  Noting that "The boundaries between academia and the rest of the world have never been more porous," they chose four priorities in particular. 

1) Contain and reduce costs. The bleak economic outlook and reduced funding sources are making it imperative to reduce or at the very least contain the growth of costs. Efficiencies are sought, and business best practices are often viewed as the best path to achieving efficiencies.

This first one interests me (from the instructional side of the house) the least, although I know it may be the number one concern on a campus.

But I am interested in the three other priorities, all of which would be on my list of things we need to be addressing in the new academic year.

2) Achieve demonstrable improvements in student outcomes. The practice of measuring, improving, and reporting student outcomes is moving from highly desirable to imperative. The window of opportunity for colleges and universities to shape how they define, measure, and improve student outcomes—rather than react to external requirements—is shrinking.

3) Keep pace with innovations in e-learning, and use e-learning as a competitive advantage.3 Whether driven by the explosive interest in open educational resources (OERs), most notably Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), or by explorations in using technology to develop and implement new academic credentialing models like badging and competencies, presidents, chancellors, and provosts are eager to use technology to help inform and transform postsecondary education.

4) Meet students' and faculty members' expectations of contemporary consumer technologies and communications. Students and faculty not only expect that they will be able to use their smartphones, tablets, and consumer-based apps in their academic work but also expect that their institutions' services will work as elegantly and effectively as commercial services.

The article offers that higher education institutions have been building systems for years that gather, process, and report institutional data, but that is is usually siloed into finance, human resources, facilities, research activities, and student performance. Even with all these siloes, the university itself probably is another larger silo (towring, and made of ivory?) that doesn't connect with other universities data, systems, processes, or services.

And that is a shame, because so many of our strategic priorities have become the same that we need the instructional side and the information side to work together, and to work with other institutions.