Has it really come to this?

24 04 2012

If I were a good history blogger, I’d tell you about the two all-star Progressive Era politics panels I saw while I was at the OAH in Milwaukee last weekend. I’d mention that despite the aforementioned all-stars, the best paper I heard all weekend was from Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director of the Schomburg Center For Research in Black Culture. Maybe I’d even throw in the fact that Daniel T. Rodgers lives in the house where I grew up.*

But I’m not a good history blogger. That’s why I bypassed a session on early 19th century industrialization so that I could watch two extremely dedicated (but also jaded) history professors from the College of Southern Nevada describe what it’s like to teach the U.S. survey online. Here is a selection of my three+ pages of notes:

* They test students’ ability to find correct, reliable information.
* Students have no clue what a reliable source is.
* Open book, open note testing is basically required [in an online course].
* “If we’re all doing a canned course, where is the student going to go who has a different learning style?”
* Teach a canned course and you’ll be bored the second time you do it.
* Your course always has to have a little bit of you in it.
* Start your course with a syllabus quiz.
* They have to tell students not to upgrade their browsers, otherwise they won’t be compatible with the LMS.
* You have to do your own tech support.
* You have to be available more than just office hours.
* One administrator there asked for “online office hours.” They revolted and won…for now.
* Self-paced students will skip around.
* Their LMS looks like someone else’s Google home page. [I think it was called "Angel."]
* It is possible for students to see when you are online.

Now here’s the stuff that really got to me:

* “Students don’t read text.”
* They are conditioned to look for icons, so you have to include icons.
* Apparently the business school in Nevada is telling students that it’s OK to cut and paste from the Internet in their papers because that’s what you do in real life.
* You can’t have more than three paragraphs on any single page otherwise they won’t read it.

That last one is when I piped up, almost involuntarily. “Has it really come to this?,” I blurted out, without even raising my hand. “Yes,” they both replied in turn, it has.

In an excellent speech during one of those Progressive Era sessions, Jackson Lears from Rutgers quoted one of my favorite icons of that time, who I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog more than once. “Do not worry over the charge of treason to your masters, but be concerned about the treason that involves yourselves,” said Eugene V. Debs. “Be true to yourself and you cannot be a traitor to any good cause on earth.”

How anyone can teach online and still feel as if they’re being true to themselves completely beats me.

* Yes, I am from Princeton, but I prefer to say that I’m from New Jersey. Otherwise, it destroys whatever credibility I have with other members of the working class.

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