Lemmings.

14 09 2012

Never let it be said that I always disagree with administrators. Dean Dad:

If non-elite colleges and universities want to avoid the fate of travel agencies and film companies, what should they do in the age of free MOOCs?

I’d suggest focusing more clearly on what they can offer that MOOCs can’t.

But then he had to go and write this immediately after that:

That means having people around to help students get through the perplexing parts of courses; having advisors who can help students knit together disparate courses into coherent programs; organized tutoring; in-person collaboration and projects; ‘flipped’ classrooms; and specialized facilities.

In other words, he wants a bunch of glorified teaching assistants around to guide students through our brave new all-online utopia. Unfortunately, I’ve used the “Suicide Squad” clip from “Life of Brian” before. That was in a post about professors encouraging MOOCs. This is more like lemmings all going over the cliff together.

If we really can’t compete with free, then every university will have to have it’s own MOOC. When every university has its own MOOC, or MOOCs are outsourced to other universities, the number of faculty employed in higher education will go down drastically. You don’t need a Ph.D. to be a tutor, so they won’t hire Ph.Ds. That’s where the cost savings will begin. Needless to say, this is not good news for faculty at any level.

What makes these sentiments so crazy is that Dean Dad’s first sentiment, the part I agree with, doesn’t jibe with his second. Providing auxiliary services to MOOCs isn’t offering what “they can offer that MOOCs can’t.” It’s full-scale surrender without firing a shot.

So what can regional comprehensive universities like mine offer that MOOCs can’t? That’s where the Dr. Crazy post that Historiann highlighted yesterday is so useful. Her premise is the similarity between a good college education and a $4,000 suit. The crux of the analogy, to use my labor history background for a moment here, is that they’re both made by skilled craft work:

“[O]ur business, the business of learning, just like the business of making a quality suits, relies on an apprenticeship system, because you can’t really learn how to do it without doing it while other people watch over you[.]

Here’s Dr. Crazy’s conclusion:

The future of quality higher education is not MOOCs, just as the future of quality suits is not the Salvation Motherfucking Army. The future of quality higher education is not “increased online offerings,” just as the future of quality suits is not buying a fucking suit online from a department store. Sure, those are “options.” Whatever. Do you think that’s all the options that your kids deserve? Do you think that’s all the options that you deserve? Really?

Charging thousands upon thousands of dollars a semester for a Salvation Army style education is a recipe for financial disaster. Colleges should hire more faculty to provide the kind of personalized instruction that will actually make a real difference when students hit the job market, not de-skill instructors or farm our content out to video super-professors and hope for the best.

How many of us are willing to just say “no” to jumping off the cliff together?

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14 09 2012
Historiann

Dean Dad hasn’t already been here to leave a condescending and defensive comment and to remind us that tenured proffies like us are a rightfully endangered species? What a surprise. (Maybe he’ll be more respectful of you, Jonathan, because you’re a d00d.)

Clearly, our masters have decided that the 60-year experiment with the democratization of higher education is over. The G.I. Bill and other investments in public institutions, not to mention unions, empowered the working class far too much. Higher education in the U.S., once the envy and the aspiration of the world, are being dismantled by the desire at instituions like ours to compete with the University of Phoenix and Kaplan U., instead of Penn or Stanford.

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