Little did I know it while I was marking MLK Jr. Day by going to work (Thank you, State of Colorado), but it turns out this is Cathy Davidson Week at More or Less Bunk. Her thinking played a vital part in this post, and she’s one of the many extremely well-meaning co-authors/signees of the new Bill of Rights and Principles for Learners in a Digital Age.
The document contains many laudable ideas that I wholeheartedly endorse, like the right to privacy. However, it also contains this clause, which I don’t:
“The right to be teachers
In an online environment, teachers no longer need to be sole authority figures but instead should share responsibility with learners at almost every turn. Students can participate and shape one another’s learning through peer interaction, new content, enhancement of learning materials and by forming virtual and real-world networks. Students have the right to engaged participation in the construction of their own learning. Students are makers, doers, thinkers, contributors, not just passive recipients of someone else’s lecture notes or methods. They are critical contributors to their disciplines, fields, and to the larger enterprise of education.”
I know exactly what they mean when they say that teachers “no longer need to be the sole authority figures,” but there are already far too many college teachers for the number of jobs available in this digital age of ours. In the hands of the wrong people, this statement is inevitably going to be deliberately misinterpreted. “If students can be teachers,” the administrative hatchet-person or the edtech profiteer will say, “why should we pay you to teach at all?” Or to rephrase that as a variation of something Davidson might say, “Since you can be replaced by a computer, why shouldn’t we do so? After all, isn’t college too expensive as it is?”
It is hopelessly naive to think that this won’t happen to even the best teachers at all levels of academia. In fact, it already is. As Bob Samuels noted earlier today:
“At recent regent meetings, the faculty have simply sat back while outside corporations, governmental officials, and educationally clueless regents have bashed and downgraded everything we do. Even though the managers of the online programs argue that any change has to be faculty-driven, it is clear that the distance education agenda is being pushed by outside forces.”
To ignore those outside forces in a statement like this is to live under a rock. Unfortunately, the 70%+ of faculty employed on a contingent basis in higher education today have no rock under which they can hide.
Since I’m tenured and probably old enough to ride out this wave until retirement, I doubt I’ll be affected by the suicidal tendencies of some of my more technologically-oriented Twitter friends. It’s the reaction of the people early in their careers now, the grad students and newly-minted but underemployed Ph.Ds, that I don’t understand.
You think it’s hard to find a tenure-track job in the humanities now? Wait until MOOC-ification gets into high gear and it becomes widely acceptable for students to essentially teach themselves. Why you all aren’t screaming bloody murder at every opportunity is completely beyond me.