The students aren’t supposed to be the ones with the power.

20 02 2012

Last week, I had to give one of those difficult speeches to my 1945-Present class. I had been reading draft papers which were supposed to be about Scott Martelle‘s book The Fear Within. Most of them barely mentioned the book in their drafts, if at all. During my speech, I pointed out that the question actually required that the book they read form the basis for their answers. I may have also said something about the sociology major beckoning to anyone who thought the book was too hard to read, but I didn’t intend to send them all fleeing for the exits. Since it’s a very easy book, I threw that in mostly for effect.

Those of us in education know that these kinds of speeches are a pedagogical necessity sometimes. So think how many sociology majors I would have created if I had already followed this guy’s advice:

We probably won’t see a wave of professors quitting universities quite yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more experts forge their own paths soon. No longer do experts need tenure to teach students–anyone can setup their webcam, and Moodle installation, and find students on the Internet.

Don’t need tenure? That’s easy for him to say. I may not need tenure to teach students, but it sure helps to have tenure when you feel the need to tell students what they don’t want to hear. It also helps to have tenure if you want to teach books about unpopular ideas like communism, which happens to be the subject of The Fear Within.

It helps to know who your friends are when reading edtech propaganda. This guy isn’t thinking about my best interests when giving this advice, he’s thinking about empowering students:

While I certainly don’t think that teaching courses on the Internet is the panacea that will cure all educational ills, seeing professors forge their own path is an inspiring first step. Because once professors start hacking their education, as Thrun has, it’ll be easier for students to do the same.

They’d drop Rees University in droves if I gave that speech in my personalized webcam course. Live by the Internet. Die by the Internet. In the long run though, this kind of set up won’t serve the interests of students either. Last week, my new friend at Political Ennui explained the online education mentality this way:

E-books + Youtube Videos + tweets x anywhere= learning. It’s just so simple. Yet flawed. It reminds me of that Forbes blog post,a couple of month ago, where that old white guy talked about how he would get out of poverty if he was black, just read stuff online. Real learning is much more than that.

It certainly is. Among other things, real learning requires a give and take between a teacher and students, not between students and more students. I read draft papers, then respond. They then, at least in theory, produce better papers. And you know what? I graded the final copies of those papers yesterday, and they were almost all much better. That’s the whole point of requiring drafts.

So what if someone just wants to find the class with the least assigned work? If all the student has to do to find an easier class is enroll with the webcam professor who is unwilling or unable to tell them that they actually have to read the book to complete the assignment, then the cause of education isn’t served. Perhaps this explains why most professors aren’t lining up to become free agents as we speak. Those of us who actually teach for a living know that the students aren’t supposed to be the ones with the power in the professor/student relationship.




3 responses

20 02 2012
Political Ennui

[…] to recent thread More or Less Bunk, and I have had on online education, I think this excerpt was […]

21 02 2012
Music for Deckchairs

OK, let me just haul my weary you-know-what back up on to my soapbox one more time on behalf of the webcam professoriate (we know who we are) who do work with drafts, who think working online is about writing more not less, and who deal frequently with students who say they want face to face classes precisely because “it’s, like, easier that way.”

They’re not right, as it happens. There isn’t a magic pointer towards something that’s always going to be easier, just because of the way it’s delivered.

The issue you raise here is whether or not students can support other students’ learning, again whether online or up a tree. I suspect “real learning” requires all sorts of give and take, for sure not just between students and students—but I wouldn’t rule out that students learning collaboratively and sometimes from each other is a goal of all good teaching.

13 01 2014
A libertarian commune is a contradiction in terms. | More or Less Bunk

[…] Learning, like teaching, is actually a lot harder than it looks. This post is an oldie but goodie which I first read in the early days of my online learning fixation: […]

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