“It’s good to be king.”

12 12 2011

A week or two ago, Mickey Levitan of Courseload challenged me to explain what my vision of a 21st Century classroom would look like. Well, now that I’ve turned in my grades, I’m willing to play king and lay down a few initial pronouncements in that direction:

1. The 21st century classroom shouldn’t destroy the 20th century classroom. I blame the Clinton administration for the notion that the Internet will save education all by itself. Yes, it can put an infinite amount of information at your disposal, but learning facts is not education. Sometimes the Internet has to be turned off. Therefore, when I’m king, all the wifi in our classrooms will have an on/off switch. And if I were King of the World I’d make those Internet jamming thingies legal so that professors could disable everyone’s phone if they were so inclined.

2. Standard devices for e-book reading. This way everyone could be on the same page at the same time. The university would buy everyone’s e-reader in bulk and give them out when students enroll. Obviously then, whatever device everyone used would have page numbers. That device should also be vendor-neutral, by which I mean that teachers should be able to assign whatever books are available in an e-book format and (as with Courseload at Indiana) opt-out if they can’t get the books they want.

3. Mandate hybrid classes. This edict comes in 2 parts:

a) No purely online courses. A purely online education is an inferior education if for no other reason than that the connection between student and teacher (despite what Clayton Christensen says) is less-human by definition. Therefore, everyone would have to show up in a classroom for at least some part of the semester. Preferably this would include test time so that my kingdom wouldn’t have to be a police state.

b) No purely face-to-face classes either. Every class should have an online component, but this edict should be the starting point of a reconceptualization of every course in the curriculum. Don’t do what you do already and put some of it up online. These new classes should be developed from scratch with a whole new conception of time in class vs. time out of class. I remain very influenced by what Britney argued about writing online feeling like a burden to students. If you just tack on a few online assignments, the students will resent it. The entire boundary between homework and classwork needs to be rewritten with the professors doing the re-writing, not the administrators just counting on as much tuition money as they can possibly get.

4. More money for technology. When you starve academics for buildings and sports, it’s not just faculty salaries that suffer. The budget for technology suffers too. The operating system on my Windows desktop is copyright 2005. The Dells in our classrooms date from the same era. Someone who knows about these things told me a while back that we’re running the old version of Blackboard because we don’t have the server capacity to run the latest. And let the faculty help pick the tech for heaven’s sake as shared governance is important in just about all situations on campus.

5. Pay for some training. Teachers get professional development time in all this stuff. So should faculty. Despite the occasional call of Luddite in my direction, I make a serious effort to keep up on educational technology and digital humanities developments that I think may be of use to me. With very few exceptions, I have to learn about all this stuff entirely by myself. Not only do I get no help in these matters, there isn’t even a line on my annual performance review where I can list the various digital skills I’ve learned. I have to weave them into my “teaching statement” or my “research statement.” Even then, I’m not really sure if the people above me in the chain of command have the faintest idea what I’m talking about.

6. No more paper syllabi. At my last school (a long, long time ago) which had this kind of training, I learned both Excel (which was, as always, incredibly helpful filling out my grades this weekend) and what was then called FrontPage. My web pages have never been pretty, but they’re really functional. I haven’t handed out a paper syllabus since the 20th Century, yet I heard one nursing professor ask at some point, “Is it legal for us to do that?” The paper syllabus is the one piece of traditional teaching whose passing I know I will not mourn. Putting it up on the web not only saves paper, it allows you to adapt it as your class goes along and post announcements, links and readings. By posting links on it, I’m also highly integrated with my online reader/textbook, Milestones Documents.

As your king, I’m sure I’ll have some more pronouncements on this matter at some later date.

PS Of course, it should go without saying that, “I’ll be king when dogs get wings, but can I help it if I still dream time to time?”



7 responses

12 12 2011
J Liedl

Id be happy with so much of these changes: can we make you king for a day?

We are mandated to give some sort of paper syllabus. My students get one sheet of paper that includes a schedule, a list of books, assignments and the URL for our class website. Everything else goes online which helps save paper and my sanity when students have questions about assignments or readings (since I can simply refer them back to the website).

12 12 2011
Jonathan Dresner

Handing out a paper syllabus doesn’t stop me from adapting the class as I see fit along the way: All of my syllabi have language which says “things may change; web version is current and authoritative” Once the hybrid thing gets better, I’ll give up the paper, but my experiments thus far with handing out a “see the website” slip have produced more confusion than savings.

Otherwise, solid ideas.

12 12 2011

sorry, I disagree with the hybrid classes mandate for two reasons:

First, they would be a disaster for some of my colleagues. The silverbacks of our little troop of primates were forced to enter their grades on line for the first time this semester. It got done, but it wasn’t pretty. This will result in more foot-dragging on other technology issues (i.e. we will never be able to replace the chalkboards with white boards, much-less smart boards, or at least not until the retire/expire). Mandated hybrid classes would only punish the students.

Second, there are still great merits to the seminar style class. I am not sure what an on-line component would look like for a seminar and I am not persuaded actually add value. A class blog, maybe. But how is that not just a tacked on assignment? A response paper would serve just as well. If its not broke, don’t fix it.

I like a lot of your other suggestions. Standardization of e-readers makes a lot of sense. I especially applaud the suggestion that some training in this area would be essential. I don’t mind learning this stuff on my own, but I sure would like a course release to spend time learning some of the more complicated tools out there like OMEKA. But fat chance.

12 12 2011
Music for Deckchairs

At this point your resident online charlatan has to raise her weary head from the keyboard and ask: why ban anything on the basis of mode, rather than quality? As you’ve argued very persuasively, there are times where the hardcopy book does a terrific job; and we’re all OK with the idea that there are times when the face to face conversation brings a particular kind of intensity to an exchange of ideas. Yet in the Kingdom of Hybridia it doesn’t seem possible to extend the same consideration to the quality of any online practices, because some online practices are profit-driven awfulness.

If we extended this rule to face to face teaching, we’d also ban lectures, because some lectures and the conditions under which they’re delivered are profit-driven resource-management just-plain awful.

Yesterday I was talking to a student who has just graduated. His participation in my classes was made possible because I was able to offer fully online versions of what I do. He studied at his home institution in Australia while working and travelling in Peru. Not only did this make certain opportunities (including timely graduation) possible for him, but he also changed the life of the rest of the class while he was there, because he was sharing insights from a completely different cultural context on the general topic of the class. He wasn’t the only one.

There’s a risk that in your kingdom this kind of thing would become surreptitious and frowned upon. Don’t hurl the baby over the ramparts with the bathwater.

12 12 2011
Jonathan Rees

Are the few good online classes worth putting up with the costs of all the bad ones? Oh, the perils of executive decision-making!!! It’s so much easier to just say, “Off with their heads!”

20 12 2011
“Now we see the violence inherent in the system!” « More or Less Bunk

[…] As your king, I’m sure you’re wondering where I stand on the Grafton-Lemisch history job market controversy which Tenured Radical explained so eloquently for us yesterday. I think they’re both right! I believe that everyone who gets a Ph.D. should get a job that puts the skills acquired during that long, difficult journey to best use. Whether that job is at an academic institution or some other place that’s interested in history really shouldn’t matter as long as it pays a living wage. I also agree, as Lemisch suggests, that “an acceptance of things as they are” would be a terrible, terrible thing. […]

19 01 2012
What are we, chopped liver? « More or Less Bunk

[…] your king, I occasionally make pronouncements about the future of electronic textbooks and other academic matters. However, a good […]

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