critcrim.org: The Potential for Internet
W. Mentor, J.D., Ph.D.
Department of Sociology and Criminology
University of North Carolina Wilmington
Published in The
Critical Criminologist, 12(3).
The Division's website (http://critcrim.org)
continues to grow, but has struggled to reach its full
potential. Our hope is that the site will become a valuable tool
in our efforts to educate students and policymakers about
alternative ways of looking at justice. The site is currently
being rebuilt, providing an opportunity for improvement. This
essay includes ideas about the direction of the site, a
discussion of the philosophy of the site, and an invitation to
The critcrim.org site has been active for
three years. The site builds on the vision of Jim Thomas, who
founded and built the original site and served as the first
webmaster. The site currently averages over 4000 unique visitors
per month. Some visitors stay for an extended period, the
majority stay for just a few minutes. It is not unusual for
visitors who find the site through a web search to quickly
leave. However, we hope to create a site that engages visitors
who are willing to take the time to learn more about the issues
raised throughout the site.
The redesign of the site is more than a
rearrangement of material. Many websites, even those claiming to
be educational, accomplish little more than information
transfer. "Content" is often limited to a list of links. From
the beginning, the Division's website has included full text
articles and other relatively rich content. In rebuilding the
site we have the opportunity to continue to provide valuable
material while looking for ways to encouraging interaction,
critical thinking, and active learning.
"Scholarship Revisited," by Ernest Boyer
(1990), serves as a guide in our efforts to reconceptualize the
website. Boyer encouraged academics to consider a range of
activities in their definitions of "scholarship." His
recommendations resulted in alterations, at least on paper, of
the criteria used to determine faculty merit. Boyer's definition
of scholarship includes four overlapping activities. These
activities include: Discovery, which is the creation and sharing
of knowledge; Integration, which provides meaning by placing
knowledge into context; Application, which includes active
engagement with society, and; Teaching, which includes efforts
to help others gain understanding.
The internet provides an opportunity to
integrate these scholarly activities through the building of a
learning community centered on a vision of faculty, students,
and policymakers working together to reach shared goals.
Participants in this community would take on new roles. The
faculty member's primary role shifts from delivering content to
designing learning environments and experiences. The student
changes from a passive observer to a learner who experiences
active exploration and engagement. The policymaker shifts from a
consumer of information to an active knowledge builder who
understands the context, and consequences, of policy choices.
Theorists have debated whether the internet
allows users a greater ability to participate in, and influence,
society. Arguably, this level of participation would enable
users to create online communities in which users have
relatively high levels of control over the activity of the
community (Barlow, 1995; Rheingold, 1993; and Talbot 1996). We
see this idea being played out as we examine the amount of
activist activity being coordinated through the internet.
It seems safe to assume that critical
criminologists would be quick to adopt an empowering and
egalitarian tool in their efforts to work collectively to alter
the justice system. To date, we have not been particularly
successful at building our online community. A few extended
online discussions, and the adoption of site materials for a few
classes, provide glimmers of hope. However, in most cases our
efforts have been restricted to information transfer.
Building a Learning Community
The following list includes suggestions for
content and activity that could lead to the development of an
active learning community. Boyer's categories are used to help
organize the ideas.
Publication of working papers
Online collaboration and editing of works in progress
Publication of pieces in which copyright allows online
Data collection through online surveys or other
Development of collaborative work groups who would use
the site for virtual meetings and the collection and
organization of materials
Development of a peer reviewed online journal
Examples of policies that "work"
Discussion of the interaction of policy and race,
gender, and other factors
Discussion and web activities that highlight the policy
implications of research
Data regarding impacts and consequences of policy
Expand division involvement beyond academic borders
Collaboration with other groups
Collections of essays that serve as replacements for
supplementary (and expensive) course materials
Online activities that may be freely adopted by others
Online teaching portfolios
This is clearly not an exhaustive list. The
redesign of the site provides a chance to "brainstorm" about
various ideas. Let me know if you have suggestions. The
mechanics of site design are not especially difficult - the
problem is content. The critcrim.org site continues to include
requests for content. These requests are being reduced as I fill
the page or find "page editors" who take responsibility for a
small section of the site. Ideally, the site would feature the
work of, and be used by, many division members.
The critcrim.org site is one of the
Division's primary tools for providing information that engages
students and others. Unlike the journal, newsletter, and
listserv, this site reaches people who stumble upon the site.
There are ways to increase the chance that people will find the
site and stick around once they get there. However, without
content, it is difficult to build a site that will educate and
enlighten site visitors. Division members are encouraged to
develop pages, offer essays, class activities, websites that
result from student assignments, and use the site for their
Finally, what kind of activities would
define us as a community of online scholars? I hope you will
help us examine this question as the Division's site is rebuilt.
Please visit the site, reflect on the potential, and provide
Boyer, E.L. (1990). Scholarship
Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate.
Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.