Two entire classes at the Johns Hopkins School of Engineering got perfect scores on their final exams because of social networking.
No, they didn't steal the exams and share the answers. They didn't find a better way to study as a group. They just all agreed not to show up.
Granted, it took a special set of circumstances for this to work. Nevertheless, it shows a startling change in education. In his "Intermediate Programming" and "Introduction to Programming for Scientists and Engineers" classes, Prof. Peter Froehlich announces on his syllabus that all grades are "relative to the highest actually achieved score." In other words, if everyone got a zero, they would all get an A.
According to this Johns Hopkins Newsletter article, Froehlich reminds students of the rule at the end of each semester, almost as a challenge. This past fall, the classes took him up on it. Some fraternity brothers reportedly blocked the doors to stop anyone who got nervous about skipping the exam.
Prof. Froehlich didn't say in the article whether he would change his grading policy, but you can bet he'll have to change it. The precedent has been set.
The issue, of course, isn't two very clever and brave groups of students. It's the changing reality of what a class means.
Before social networks, students attempting such a feat would have relied on physical and phone contact. Both are harder to achieve. More importantly, before social networking, a class was a loose body of individuals. Even with group work and campus directories, contact between the students would have been limited except in very small classes. Organizing an entire class of any reasonable size would have taken a lot of time and effort.
The advantages of social networking, of course, are available for students and professors. If students can organize to boycott an exam or to study together, professors can easily reach students and expect collaboration from them.
Since collaboration is one of the most sought-after skills in the workplace, we might be seeing a revolution in the skills people bring into the workplace. At any rate, this is something professors can and should cultivate.
Group exams, tasks that requires people to work in concert, and exercises in how information is transmitted and exchanged all need to be part of the 21st century curriculum. Even if most professors haven't realized this yet, Prof. Froehlich and his students certainly did.