When my nephew was 14 years old, he developed Xbox thumb, blisters on each thumb, playing Call of Duty: Black Ops. Would he be honoured with a Virtual Silver Star for courage under fire? I mean, his mum was yelling at him. Would he get a Gamer's Purple Heart for being wounded in the Call of Duty?
You and I know it's all a game, but do they? Do gamers, young males, mostly, from 12 to 35 years of age, who dedicate much of their lives to paying virtual warfare, laugh and think it's all a bit of fun, a thunderous virtual ak-ak blood-splattered version of Snakes and Ladders, or do they take it seriously and think they're acquiring real skills? Some gamers believe the game is real. "Dude, I've got the reaction times of a fighter pilot." Some think reality is whatever.
Leo Traynor recently reported in The Guardian that he confronted a 17-year-old troll, who had stalked him online, threatening to kill him and his family, and even sending a box of ashes and a bunch of dead flowers to Traynor's home address. Needless to say, Traynor, who lives in Dublin, was properly spooked. It turned out the kid was a friend's son and, when confronted, said it was, you know, a bit of a game. Some game. Traynor didn't report him to the police. Big mistake, I think.
It was T. S. Eliot, who wrote in his poem The Hollow Man, "Between the idea/ And the reality/ Between the motion / And the act / Falls the Shadow."
I wonder what distorted views of reality young people will develop now that education is moving at the speed of a Call of Duty bullet, online. What weird ideas and attitudes will students develop today as education moves into the shadow? The idea is fabulous. University and school students from around the world can access free lectures. Free. Many prestigious universities have contributed to MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, including the University of Queensland. The scale is unprecedented. One MOOCs course posted by MIT in Circuits and Electronics, known as 6.002x, has 120,000 registrants. This is almost more students than the total number of living MIT alumni.
Griffith University boasts 10,000 paying students in 124 countries. The US now has a quarter of a million students studying fulltime online, and that's school age students.
Now let's talk about the shadow. We'll start with plagiarism. Who knows who is who online? No-one. School age kids aren't good at cheating. When they cut and paste from Wikipedia they leave all the obscure references in the footnotes. University students are more polished. They don't cut and paste; they pay someone or buy the essay online. Anti-plagiarism programs cannot check this form of cheating.
Then there is the quality of the courses. All you have to do is Google unaccredited universities and you'll get the idea. There are 59 unaccredited universities listed under A alone. Many of these universities have no course work and no exams. You are granted a degree based on your life experience. That would be a Bachelor of Advanced Stupidity, then. While you're online you can also get a PhD for your cat, a Doctorate of Miceology sounds good.
US comedian Erin Jackson is scathing about universities insisting you can "earn your college degree in your pajamas". As she said "if your school's target student population includes people for whom getting dressed was previously a deal breaker, you may want to rethink your mission". ■