“I just want someone to talk to, and a little of that human touch.”

2 03 2012

On Thursday, I organized a teach-in here at CSU-Pueblo. It was a well-attended event. While I had figured it would be one of those things where people like me who try to understand how the university works would explain what they know to those who don’t, what surprised me the most was just how much I learned from my colleagues.

For example, I had no idea that threats were a regular feature of online student course evaluations. “If I ever see you eat at my restaurant, hepatitis is coming your way.” – That one showed up in a math class last semester. Would someone have the nerve to write such a thing in their own handwriting? I’m guessing no (even though if anyone really wanted to trace that threat back to its electronic source I’m sure they could have). I remember Ed Blum mentioned the other week that online activities like blogging might make it easier for students to slip out of the norms of civil discourse. Students aren’t entirely anonymous on in-class pencil and paper evaluations, but perhaps it’s all on the same continuum.

Another thing I learned at the teach-in was that the new rage in math circles is to have students do their homework online so that the university can save money on graders. On one level, this makes sense. After all, if the answer is “11″ everything else is wrong. Why do you need anyone to tell students more? But how are you going to exactly where you got the problem wrong if there isn’t someone around to talk to about how you did the problem? My math days are long gone, but I can only imagine how frustrating that might be.

So while I’m discussing a discipline that I’ve almost entirely forgotten, what is it about Sal Khan that leads people to conduct fawning interviews with him like this one?:

What would you say are the limitations of what you are offering at Khan Academy?

The main limitation is we’re not granting people formal credentials. We get a lot of letters from people, they’re not going to class anymore. And they’re just showing up to take an exam to get a credential. And we all know that happens. We did a little bit of that ourselves in college.

No follow up? Seriously? I guess, “You can’t interact with a videotape,” was too tough for him to figure out. Videotaping lessons is neither ingenious, nor original, yet some people think this is our glorious online future. That is what happens when the corporate mentality creeps into the non-profit higher education sector. Degrade the contributions of actual labor so that you can substitute workers with automation, then redirect the labor savings in any direction that you wish.

In this epic post, Aaron Bady and Gina Patnaik cover the degrading of face-to-face education needed to make this redirection possible:

When asked, for example, about what students might miss out on when they “go to class” at the computer screen in their bedrooms instead of on an actual campus, Dean Edley opined, “What you won’t get? There won’t be beer bashes, yeah.” That’s right: college campuses are only good for keggers.

Even keggers foster human relationships in one sense of that term. Unfortunately, there is no place for personal interaction in the modern corporate university (other than on the football field). The taxpayers demand a return on their investment and any of that human touch just gets in the way.

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2 responses

2 03 2012
Anonymous

Hey ho.

I’ve been away from your blog for a while because I’ve been supporting colleagues setting up a large (300+) student blogging project, and I’ve also just opened up the online component for the class I teach where students will be doing exactly the thing that Brady and Patnaik talk about: going to class wherever they happen to be.

As I write this, these students are carefully and thoughtfully selecting not only what they want to say in a professional bio that introduces them, but also uploading photographs that represent their sense of where they are at home in the world. They’ve responded rapidly, intelligently and ahead of deadline to this task, so now the question is, how will things go?

One thought that I have as I read this is that it’s just not possible to decide what all students or all faculty will do. Some will take to writing in public very well, some won’t. Some will find the ability to teach or learn wherever they happen to be, rather than teaching or learning at a set time, liberating. Some won’t. The question is what place these other ways of doing things have in the overall curriculum. Shouldn’t they be part of the mix, especially if they’re part of the mix in the workplace our students will enter?

I just think we’re beyond the point that we can say “X is always a fish, and Y is inevitably a chair.”

5 03 2012
Why do administrators want to cut some college costs and not others? « More or Less Bunk

[...] knows is the present. Someone who I’m almost certain is my friend Kate, wrote the other day here that: I just think we’re beyond the point that we can say “X is always a fish, and Y is [...]

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