I came across an article this afternoon about "ghost students" that I have found rather disturbing. A ghost student, for those of you who may be wondering, are instructors who pretend to be a student participating in an online course. The student does not exist, except in the instructor's imagination. Instructors who have tried this approach assert that this act of deception enables them to get to know their students better. They also claim that the insight they glean from being one of the students enables them to create a better and more successful learning experience for the student. But is the deception regardless of the possible benefits justified?
I've been thinking about the ghost student issue from both sides - as a student and as an instructor. As a student, it takes me some time to trust the instructor. This likely stems from my experience as an undergrad when the instructors did everything in their power to weed out those who couldn't hack it. Finding out that one of the students was actually the instructor would put the final nail in that coffin. It would be difficult for me to rebound at this point in my academic career and learn to trust my instructor again.
When I put on my instructor hat, I have problems with ghost students, as well. I want to get to know my students as myself, not by being someone I'm not. If the only way I can make connections with my students is by posing as a student, then I need to reflect upon my teaching practices to determine what I could improve or change. I'm also certain I would say something that would suggest I was somehow listening in on the students' conversations. From my own experience, this does not sit well with students. If they believe they are communicating in a private forum, they are very unhappy and often become paranoid when there is a leak.
If deception is the only way to foster a successful online learning experience, then maybe educators should be looking toward alternative forms of teaching and learning.