My classroom is my platform: A manifesto.

6 09 2012

Apparently Bruce Willis isn’t going to sue Apple in order to gain the right to pass his iTunes library on to his children. [Insert sad trombone here.] That’s a shame not because I have anything against Apple or iTunes. It simply would have been an excellent reminder that your iTunes music isn’t really yours.

Apple invented a platform to buy music and a means for you to listen to it differently. That means they can pull your access to it any time they want unless you cut that music onto a disc as soon as you get it. I know this because the last time I switched computers I somehow lost access to half my digital music library. Thank goodness for CDs. With those as an out, I find that sacrifice totally acceptable.

As longtime readers might remember, I find the reasons for the existence of the Kindle platform much less compelling. Thanks to Jonathan Zittrain, I was just looking at the terms of service for Amazon’s e-books:

Upon your download of Digital Content and payment of any applicable fees (including applicable taxes), the Content Provider grants you a non-exclusive right to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Kindle or a Reading Application or as otherwise permitted as part of the Service, solely on the number of Kindles or Other Devices specified in the Kindle Store, and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider. The Content Provider may include additional terms for use within its Digital Content.

It’s bad enough that they spy on what you’re reading and will probably end up data mining you through your e-book collection so that they can better sell you additional crap that you don’t really need. The fact that you’re only borrowing your Kindle books should be reason enough to stick with paper. Real books are permanent and they work just fine as is. The convenience of carrying lots of them on an overseas trip is not worth the cost.

So do you see where I’m going with this yet? Who owns your online class? I know I sold a syllabus to the online arm of my university once, but that’s no skin off my teeth since I literally change my syllabus every time I teach that course. The guy who was pitching Moodle to us about a year ago claimed that Blackboard owns everything that gets uploaded onto their platform, presumably including all the content the professor generates to eke out some kind of personalized presence in their course. If that’s true, that may explain why so few history professors actually use what course management systems like Blackboard have to offer them.

Still, I’m a lot less worried about Blackboard anymore as we all have more local fish to fry. What’s to stop your administration from firing you and paying someone cheaper (or something cheaper) to teach the same course that you designed? If Blackboard doesn’t own your online materials, does the university that employs you?

Before you dismiss this as the rantings of a paranoid lunatic (or even if you accept these rantings despite the fact that they’re coming from a paranoid lunatic), let me link to two older posts here so that you can see what led me down this mental path. In June 2011, my illustrious department chair asked me whether our administration could make us teach online. Last week, while pitching the idea of my teaching our senior seminar online as an overload, he strongly implied that while this was a voluntary decision on my part, the next time it wouldn’t be. So yes, they do think they can make you teach online, but most of them simply just haven’t gotten around to doing that yet.

Why do universities want classes taught online? Obviously, it’s for the same reason that Apple and Amazon want you to move to their platforms. They all want to make money off of you. If they don’t hire an adjunct to teach the classes you designed, they’ll either pack your courses with online students or save money by cutting back on classroom space. When you get down to brass tacks, this is the primary reason why I’m (still) an online education Quaker.

As an online education Quaker, my classroom is my platform. I control the vertical. I control the horizontal. I can turn on any education technology I like and I can turn it off too. The best thing of all is that my pedagogy will not be commoditized (unless, of course, I get a share of the profits). If I want to take my pedagogical insights somewhere else, I can be 100% sure that they’re going with me.

What benefits do actual online educators get from working on a platform they don’t own other than the ability to teach in their pajamas? I’m not convinced that that benefit outweighs the many costs.



2 responses

7 09 2012

You ask, “What’s to stop your administration from firing you and paying someone cheaper (or something cheaper) to teach the same course that you designed?”

What would prevent that is an intellectual property policy that specifically assigns to individual faculty the exclusive rights to the course materials they develop. If CSU-Pueblo doesn’t have such a policy, you might consider going to your faculty senate to develop one (or revise the existing one) to be as faculty-friendly as possible. We just did that here at Adams State University, and it was surprisingly easy to get it approved.

One advantage of such a policy is that it sets up a favorable incentive structure. If you develop a dynamite online course, and the university wants to continue offering that course, then they have to continue employing you. If you go, you take the course with you.

8 09 2012
Leslie Madsen-Brooks (@lesliemb)

At Boise State, we’ve been told the faculty IP policy has been revised, but the new version never seems to show up on the university’s website–the old version remains. Hm.

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