Not fade away.

1 08 2011

I’ve talked about my home Internet arrangements on this blog before. We ditched our $66/month high speed service from Comcast in January in favor of the mobile hotspot on my wife’s phone. While you might think the inconvenience of having to ask her to turn on the Internet might dilute my enjoyment of the $36/month savings, it hasn’t at all. It forces me to take care of my serious “homework” in one full swoop at the end of the day, and I can still see my mail on my tiny Blackberry if necessary like when she’s not home. In fact, it makes me feel more in control of work rather than the other way around.

My last Rolling Stones-inspired post already noted that spending less time on the Internet is something I value. Teaching online classes would seriously undermine my ability to control that aspect of my time. Students may like going to school in their pajamas, but I don’t like the idea of teaching them that way. I want to keep my work at work and my fun at home. Maybe I could do everything related to an online class at work, but I fear things would get the same way kids are with those text messages these days – every question must be dealt with immediately or they’ll take it as a slight. Neither them nor I can ever have that same problem when we’re all in the same room together.

Ah…the classroom, that little nation-state where I’m supposedly the ruler. Of course, teaching face-to-face isn’t all it’s cracked up to be these days (and technology plays a big part in that), but at least I have the power there to set the agenda. Personally, I have no plans to give that power up to any piece of technology.

I don’t know how things are on your campus, but at ours Blackboard is down just about all the time. Run a class entirely on Blackboard and when there’s no Blackboard, there’s no class. Yet that’s just the starkest example of the problem with over-dependence on that online course management system. When I went through Blackboard training (which I have never actually used), I remember thinking, “What’s with all the bells and whistles?” It turned out that I couldn’t get rid of any of them, even if I had no plans to use them. Blackboard, as filtered through our IT department, has far more power to determine the nature of interactions in an online classroom than I would if I actually taught that way.*

Perhaps this wouldn’t bother me so much if it weren’t for the fact that so many of we professors’ other professorial prerogatives are under attack already. Here’s Jamie Owen Daniel in Academe:

A good friend of mine was awarded tenure at her research-intensive university recently. As relieved as she was to have won it, she also remarked that she was thinking of having a T-shirt printed that said, “I got tenure, and all I got was this lousy tenure . . .” Her point was not that she didn’t value or deserve tenure, or that anyone who had earned it shouldn’t value it. Her point was that tenure represented job security only to the extent that she could be reasonably sure she would be able to keep her present job. Tenure did not guarantee that her job would be a good job. It did not guarantee regular and equitable raises or protection from arbitrarily imposed furlough days or course-load increases because of claims of “financial exigency.”

Tenure can’t stop those evil-natured robots from taking your job either, but that’s probably a long-term problem. Much more problematic to me is the short-term bureaucratic thinking of which bad online courses are just one facet. As Mark Bauerlein explains:

Leaders in humanities fields need other demonstrations of productivity, the obvious measures being number of undergraduates in humanities courses and outside money drawn in. The standard working conditions of research professors–a 2-2 load, small undergrad classes and one or two graduate seminars, frequent sabbaticals, etc.–aren’t going to last.

Teaching over the Internet increases the number of potential students at the same time it increases the number of potential professors. Who’s hurt by this? Only the students and the professors. And this is the really important thing: even the best Internet class in the world still hurts the professors who aren’t teaching that way because it disrupts the economic reality that makes face-to-face teaching possible while simultaneously eroding the traditional prerogatives of teachers everywhere.

Don’t let those prerogatives just fade away. Online education is as much a labor issue as it is a pedagogical matter.

* The guy who was pitching a few of us Moodle last Spring claimed that anything you post on Blackboard is actually owned by Blackboard. If that’s true, then education has been sold off to the highest bidder along with the soda in the vending machines and the cleats that the football team wears during games.



2 responses

1 08 2011

Thanks for sharing this classic video!

I read that you switched internet provider. I work for Comcast. If you decide to come back as a customer, let me know. I am here to help.

Mark Casem
Comcast Corp.
National Customer Operations

2 08 2011
Middle Seaman

Rome is burning, Nero is in the WH and his jackasses are in congress. In ten years all universities will close, high school will be cut to size and a loaf of bread will be $15.

The Internet will be restricted to campaign of the only party we will have.

What is online?

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