Think of the children!

8 09 2011

It looks like I lied about not doing another post based on that seminar I attended last week. I wasn’t intending to write on it anymore, but I just saw something that I find interesting and particularly appropriate to the new theme of this blog. Upon my request, our facilitator sent me a bunch of links related to a Twitter history class experiment at UT-Dallas. I wasn’t going to post on it (since I did before), but one of those links was brand new to me and well worth reading, the professor’s notes explaining why she tried holding discussions through Twitter and what she learned:

Most educators would agree that large classes set in the auditorium-style classrooms limit teaching options to lecture, lecture, and more lecture. And most educators would also agree that this is not the most effective way to teach. I wanted to find a way to incorporate more student-centered learning techniques and involve the students more fully into the material. As the semester was starting, I considered how I might use the technology available through social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and others to create a more integrated classroom. I was primarily interested in finding a service that students could use IN the classroom in place of the standard classroom discussion (which would have been impossible with 90 students).

Of course, she’s right. It is better to have your discussions in 140 character snippets than to have no discussions at all. But, then again, why exactly has it come to this? The University of Texas at Dallas has a graduate history program. They even have teaching assistantships there (I checked), but apparently nobody they want to pay to run sections for a 90-student US History survey class.

Apparently, we need technology to make sure every student can get a college education. You say you think we should hire more faculty to teach them? That will cost students too much in tuition. Think of the children!* Think of the children! Won’t somebody please think of the children?!!!

There’s a piece in this week’s Economist about the advent of labor in brainwork. It’s well worth the read, but here’s the part that fits this discussion best:

David Autor, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), points out that the main effect of automation in the computer era is not that it destroys blue-collar jobs but that it destroys any job that can be reduced to a routine.

Any kind of teaching that can be reduced to a routine is, by definition, really bad teaching. Unfortunately, that’s not stopping most universities from trying to do this anyways. Put ninety students in a survey class, and the professor has to make compromises. Run an online discussion section with a hundred students, and professors will stop reading all the comments.

So yes, I am a certified “technoskpetic” because I support my own “full employment at a high wage with good benefits” (even though my wage isn’t really all that high in the great scheme of things). But I’m also a technoskeptic because I’m thinking of the children too. In fact, I bet I’m thinking about them a lot more than the administrators at the University of Texas at Dallas, and a whole lot more than the current Governor of that state.

I wonder if Rick Perry learned about Galileo at an online college.

* Who, of course, aren’t children at all in this case. But that’s a subject for a whole ‘nother post.



6 responses

9 09 2011
The point of assigning research papers isn’t really the research. « More or Less Bunk

[…] is another part of that dividing brainwork article from the Economist that I cited yesterday: At the same time, the demand for educated labour is being reconfigured by technology, in much the […]

10 09 2011
Linker-struck « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured

[…] Won’t someone think of the children?  More or less bunk on ginormous classes, online classes and so on. […]

12 09 2011
Leslie M-B

I know a faculty member who was concerned about lack of participation in his large-enrollment, lower-division American Studies class. Usually he didn’t have any trouble eliciting student participation–until he met this particular class. So he decided he’d keep his smartphone on the podium and invite students to Tweet him if they had questions they were too shy to ask in front of the 150 or so other students in the class. Only one student tweeted him, and the prof thinks that’s because the student felt sorry for him. Further investigation revealed the students weren’t shy–just apathetic. 🙂

13 09 2011
Twitter is not the answer to every pedagogical problem. « More or Less Bunk

[…] What if they don’t actually have questions? The same morning I read this, Leslie M-B dropped this comment on my last Twitter post: I know a faculty member who was concerned about lack of participation in […]

29 09 2011
And to think we knew her before she made it big. « More or Less Bunk

[…] online education is not just a self-interested job protection philosophy, I also think it’s the side of the angels. Share this:PrintMoreFacebookTwitterEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

11 02 2013
“Teamsters in tweed?” I wish. « More or Less Bunk

[…] I’ve written over and over at this blog, the wonderful thing about the online education/MOOC debate is that by […]

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