A use case for closedness: pseudonyms

In the Stanford MOOC on Open Knowledge, they introduced a link to a Wired piece on pseudonyms, which advocated for the right to pseudonyms.

Interestingly, there, the case is that “closed” is better. So we might want to open up our “production” but close our true self online.

Of course, at the end of the day, what is a name?
I had, for the longest period of time,participated in online communities with an alias. It didn’t diminish from the quality of participation, everyone else also had an alias so it seemed normal and blending in, however even if others used their “real name” (whatever that means :slight_smile: ) at that time I would still need to use an alias. I worked at a place that would not be open to me participating in those communities (even through it was work related :wink: )

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i have been thinking about this. it s one thing to use an alias, like everybody else. it s another to use an alias and make a point about using an alias. say if instead of “akoutropoulos” you used a random string, blksrgsgbslkdzbllgkbs, this might forcibly make that point.

of course, this random string could be more subtle, for instance an anagram of something else. there are many options, leaving you the option of actually certifying who you really are. Some online communities are exploring similar options, such as the tripcodes on 4chan.

Anonymity is another form of closedness. I wonder if you have opinions on the use of anonymity as an instructor? Some MOOC platforms encourage professors to use anonymous accounts to post the first response on a thread, in response to their own question. I wonder how ethical that is.

I wouldn’t be so quick to discount “blksrgsgbslkdzbllgkbs” as random (and potentially meaningless) because it may not be either. The usernames we choose are important to each one of us. I’ve chosen, for the purposes of P2PU, edx, coursera, and so on, to use my name as a username. I have tied my University identity to these sites, thus giving me some potential cache (I work for a University) and potentially getting some cache (hey, look everyone, I’m in a MOOC :stuck_out_tongue: ). I am able to do this because I work for a department that is pretty open and is OK with me doing professional development while on the clock (provided that work gets done of course!). If I were in a department that was a “no nonsense” department and saw no value in PD (on or off work time), I would probably be using a pseudonym.

As far as anonymity goes in class, so long as I don’t have to evaluate someone formally (i.e. give them a grade) I am perfectly OK with some sort of sustained anonymity. For example, if you used the handle “Anonymous Walrus” (borrowing from Google Docs nomenclature here) all throughout the course, then we’d still be able to develop rapport in class, however if you and 10 other people all used “anonymous” we couldn’t build rapport because there would be no guarantee that I would be speaking to the same “anonymous” each time. I think that relationships can be built on pseudonyms so long as they are unique, the user uses them consistently, and there is good faith in the learning interaction (i.e. no intent to troll).

Can you point to the MOOC platforms that allow for anonymous posting in response to an eponymous initial post? I think posting as someone else, and therefore impersonating someone else, is a problem. There ought to be another mechanic in the system to bring up “fresh” posts to the attention of system users.

Wow, you wrote very well things I can only agree with.

Indeed, a random login might be important in conveying that this is really a random login, one that is left open for the other person to interpret (openness comes back!). in some way, to me it screams “this is my identity to this site, one i have decided to be distinct from everywhere else”. i have done this before, and simply picked long random strings because password managers can easily do that for you. it’s actually easier to do than to chose whether you want to be called “Anonymous Walrus” or “Anonymous Albatross”

For your last paragraph, coursera and edx at least have the functionality for anyone to post anonymously to other students. So technically a student could ask a question and answer it him/herself (possibly gaming the system in courses using reputation), but my point was different. An instructor might think this is unethical for a student to do, but at least edX recommends this in their advice for the professors to do exactly that. I am unsure how ethical that is, and would not use this functionality. A physical world equivalent would be even more iffy, but I recognize not everything translates online perfectly.

Regarding pseudonym, I feel that everyone should have the right to their privacy regarding speech, blogs, readings and other media. They have a right to freedom in their actions in general. I have my own alter ego through my photography which is very important to me. My photography allows me to be a person I don’t normally tend to be in public. Through my photography I express my deepest feelings of love and fear. I value the fact that the Internet allows individuals to post anonymous images, writings, stories and poetry freely. People should be able to express themselves without feeling judged or ashamed. The best part of anonymous images and poetry, ideas and blogs is the fact that you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to. You don’t have to view it if it offends you. And if it should offend you, then, you have a right to say what you feel about what you’ve read or seen.


I am very surprised to hear that this is suggested officially for instructors. What is the purpose of doing that? I can kind of see how one might want to make a possible answer to a question that is open-ended, and do it in a way that doesn’t show one is the instructor, because once students realize that they may think they should just believe what the instructor says rather than realizing there is more than one possible answer and coming up with their own. But even then, I worry about the morality of doing this, given the power differential between instructors and students, and the assumption that the instructor is being honest about everything (if they’re deceiving about this, what else might they be lying about?).

I am unable to link to it now. I think I saw it on both platforms, but am not sure. On at least one! If I remember right, the purpose is to entice students to not dread being the first to answer. If the instructor posts anonymously something partly right but obviously wrong in some ways, it might indeed encourage discussions. The morality/ethical worry is exactly the reason I would not use it, or at least not without some evidence that this is a good idea.

I have wished several times in my online classes that someone would really really really speak up/ask a question/etc, but have never resorted to that. It feels like cheating somehow, and potentially damaging to the profession as a whole (pushing agenda, manipulating students, etc).

On top, some students are much much much more digitally literate than others, and this surfaces in the manipulation they do of other students for their own gain.

For instance: in a course where one is rewarded by “length of discussion generated”, one smart student might ask a question relating to something that is obviously irking all students (say “Why can’t we have the slides of the instructor?”). This is bound to generate a discussion, that the profiting student can themselves keep alive by posting further anonymous contrarian posts.

Indeed, if the instructors go down that route, it becomes much harder to “police” students as well and foster good community.