Not long ago, Gwen Jensen (pseudonym) contacted me about a website intended to help those interested in earning a masters degree in Elementary Education. She wanted me to add a link for her site to a web page I manage that provides links to Professional Education Associations. The idea was to encourage education students to join one or more professional associations — to expand their professional lifenets. Although Gwen offered sound advice on her (dot-org) page, something didn’t seem quite right. First, she didn’t provide any trace of herself — her identity — on her website. There was no date on the page, nor any sense of authorship or institutional affiliation — yet the page was supposed to serve prospective students. (She was not forthcoming via email, either, when I pointed this out to her.)
In addition, the page was tightly linked to a commercial site that presumably provided a way to search for masters degree programs by location and area of specialization. I used the commercial site’s search feature a number of times, entering my own area code and that of a public university located nearby. Over half of the institutions that appeared were for-profit colleges, and all were private (rather than public) liberal arts schools. In order of appearance: University of Phoenix; Ashford; Kaplan; Keiser University Graduate School; Liberty Online; American Intercontinental; North Central; Walden; Full Sail; Grand Canyon; Lindenwood; Concordia, and Ashworth. I guess that public colleges and universities don’t warrant inclusion in the databases of this marvelous Quin Street-hosted mechanism for garnering “views” and somehow making a profit by helping teachers locate degree programs that provide just the right “fit” with their needs! Gwen’s motives (inferred from an email conversation with her) seemed genuine, and this makes me wonder what, exactly, is going on here?
I am even more wary about all this since receiving a second email request from another woman who said she had created a website to help people find programs that offer elementary education degrees. And sure enough, her page contained some apparently authentic (and not carefully proofread or edited) prose combined with a link to the same commercial school-search site. I am not sure if the same games are being played in other fields (healthcare, counseling, engineering).
There are probably many lessons to be learned from all this, but here is my cautionary note for bloggers: be mindful about the entities with whom you affiliate. Think before you link. As you work to attract attention to your blog or website or social media site, be thoughtful about where you direct your visitors’ attention. Understand that the public sphere, and our public institutions, are being eroded in various ways by profiteers who advance their own interests with no concern for the common good.
— Ed Prof