Online education doesn’t kill. People do.

9 05 2012

I hope Phil Hill eventually forgives me for this post as he was being incredibly nice to me on Google+ yesterday and all I’m going to do here is carp. He began with a discussion of Naomi Schaefer Riley. Here’s how he transitioned from her to me:

The higher education community is very effective at placing certain topics, or at least certain opinions, off azlimits. That is to the detriment of the community and to its reputation in our society.

Contrast this situation with ed tech or online education. In that case, there is a vigorous debate allowed and encouraged. There are many proponents of the increase in online education, but most of them listen to and engage opponents of online education. Likewise, read Jonathan Rees (@jhrees)- he is a vocal opponent of most of online education. But he attacks on the issues and explains his position.

Let me begin the carping with Naomi Schaefer Riley too (w/o links, as I’m sure most readers are bored of the subject by now). Naomi Schaefer Riley got fired from Brainstorm not because she’s a racist, but because she didn’t meet basic standards for academic discourse. If you’re going to suggest that an entire discipline deserves to be wiped off the map because of the quality of its scholarship, you should at least have the courtesy to read the scholarship. “Read the dissertations,” went the title of the first post. When the second post made it clear that she hadn’t, the Chronicle ultimately had no choice but to let her go.* In other words, Phil, she did the exact opposite of what you say I do regularly.

At least I try. It was about a year ago that I transitioned from poorly-read history and labor blogger to better-read edtech and labor blogger because I realized that most professors hadn’t the faintest idea what was happening to higher education right under their very noses. Therefore, I decided to get a hold of everything I could about education technology in general and online courses in particular and see if I could tease out the implications for what I do semester after semester.

I could definitely see why Phil would call me a “vocal opponent of most of online education,” but that’s not how I see myself. If Phil’s and my mutual online friend Kate has taught me anything it’s that my beef isn’t really with online education per se. It’s with the motivations of the people in the United States who have the power to implement it. To paraphrase the NRA badly, “Online education doesn’t kill. People do.”

Take Mitt Romney, for example. Just yesterday he told a crowd in Michigan (via Political Animal):

I will improve schools and universities and colleges with greater choice, greater accountability, and greater application of the technologies that have transformed so much of our economy.

Based on Mitt’s record at Bain Capital that sounds like an open door for online adjuncts in China. It also reminds me of the Republican Party’s plan for government in general. First they take it over. Then they run it into the ground (profiting handsomely along the way). Then they run again on a platform of more of the same because government doesn’t work.

I know from my extensive reading that an awful lot of people working on online education in this country have the purest of motives, but they aren’t the ones who control university budgets. Those people seem more interested in sabotage to me. Perhaps not sabotage of education in general, but certainly sabotaging the prerogatives of faculty.

* None of these thoughts are original to me, by the way. See, for example, this post by Zunguzungu in order to watch the entire train wreck unfold in 140-character bites.



One response

10 05 2012
Phil Hill (@PhilOnEdTech)

Jonathan – no need to worry about forgiveness, I have no problem with your post. There are a lot of issues where you and I disagree, but my point is that you explain your position and the ed tech community allows room for debate. Your recent post about your campus losing network access during finals and how your classes were not disrupted raises an excellent risk issue that ed tech evangelists often ignore. Your posts (and op-ed) on adjuncts raises significant labor issues that should be discussed – adjunctification does get intertwined with online education. Etc, etc.

You forgot to mention the beginning of my post where I said that I did not dare to comment either way on the issues raised by Riley’s post / firing. Inspired by brave Sir Robin, I will continue to avoid defending or refuting Riley.

As for my main point about the reaction and discussion regarding Riley’s post, I’ll quote Mark Bauerline in the Chronicle:

“Again, if respondents believe that Riley judged research without sufficient evidence and expanded into a call to terminate black studies departments without sufficient grounds, they may argue accordingly without fury and banishment. The disproportionate reaction, the hyper-emotional tenor, the casting of her post as “hate speech,” and so on, go well beyond refutation. Riley has denied the intellectual viability of black studies, but the respondents haven’t replied by proving the opposite. They have launched an attack of their own, a personal one.”

Even if your beef is with people’s motivations, you seem to explain your position and refute accordingly.

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