WikiLeaks, the Class

For a lot of professors, this can be a tough part of the semester. Projects loom. Students are sleeping less. Classroom discussions are hard to get going.

WikiLeaks is changing that.

At least that’s the case for Shilad Sen, an assistant professor of computer science at Macalester College, whose first-year seminar about the social Web is buzzing over the anti-secrecy site’s latest blockbuster disclosure. The Minnesota professor assigned students to write programs that visualize the massive trove of leaked diplomatic cables as a social network, drawing connections between people in the documents (see image above, about Iran). Such social-network analysis was important to the U.S. military in capturing Saddam Hussein, Mr. Sen points out.

The professor has also found WikiLeaks a boon for discussion: both as a vehicle for explaining how the Internet works and for debating the ethical choices made by each player in the story. So has another institution, the University of Washington, which sponsored a town-hall discussion about the controversy on Friday.

So what do students think? Mr. Sen says they seem to agree about individual actors—for example, that the person who leaked the cables did the wrong thing, or that Amazon probably did the right thing for its shareholders by booting WikiLeaks off its computers. But students are more divided on the larger issues behind these events, he says, such as whether we need to change how intelligence information is distributed.

Wired Campus would like to hear about other ways the WikiLeaks story is playing out in academe. If you know of any, drop us a note in the comments below.

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