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?”