It’s the lack of shared governance, stupid.

8 10 2012

The more time I devote to understanding educational technology and online learning, the more I get the distinct impression that I could actually help improve the effectiveness of both. The problem is, of course, that nobody’s asked for my help.

As a matter of fact, very few movers and shakers seem to care what faculty think about these subjects at all. An article from IHE that I first found in Sunday Reading, suggests to me that this situation might actually be by design:

For the humanities, the threat of diminished resources has appeared hand-in-glove with the digital turn. The recent events at the University of Virginia demonstrate just how influential the digital paradigm has become, but also how unevenly applied its pressures can be. The university’s board members seemed to be swayed by the model of massive open online courses (MOOCs) under development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, among other institutions, most of the key instances of which have been in the STEM fields. Meanwhile, some board members proposed to eliminate classics and German to save money in the face of the university’s massive structural budget deficit. They apparently did not realize how many students actually take these subjects (a lot) or that the subjects have been required in state codes chartering the university.

As humanities chairs with a long involvement in digital issues, we have seen clearly that top-down budget cuts are often justified with arguments about how digital technologies are driving change in higher education. Just as the MOOC course model played a signature role in the University of Virginia saga, so one of the most visible controversies in the University of California system at the onset of the epic California budget crisis occurred when Berkeley Law School Dean Christopher Edley Jr. proposed an all-digital UC campus.

Take away with one hand. Bonk professors with the other by trying to make as many as possible technologically obsolete. To badly paraphrase Sally Field: They hate us. They really hate us. Whether it’s the Secretary of Education calling for all digital textbooks or universities not consulting with faculty before joining the MOOC bandwagon, the lack of respect for shared governance in every corner of education is palpable these days. Administrators don’t ask educators what they think because they don’t care what we think. Like Helen Dragas, they want to bravely lead their schools into a bright future, whether that future is actually bright or not.

As a realist, this attitude does not surprise me. What really does surprise me though is how many ed tech enthusiasts seem completely blind to this situation. Technology is so wonderful in their eyes that they think it can overcome all the labor/management tensions accompanying its implementation. Or worse, these enthusiasts are completely unwilling to recognize that such tensions even exist.

Every time I get excited about what technology could do for me and my classroom, I always read something that reminds me that a top-down future will inevitably destroy the merits of even the most amazing educational tools. For example, writing in the Times Higher Education section, Alan Ryan suggests where this kind of implementation strategy will probably lead us:

The dystopian vision that chills the soul of even the least Luddite among us is of undergraduate education dominated by uniform courses, no doubt put together by wonderful teachers but turning everyone beyond the course builders themselves into something like the monitors of the 19th-century Bell-Lancaster schools, checking their students’ work against a schedule determined elsewhere, with little or no scope for their own pedagogical ideas. “Course delivery”, in the awful idiom of the Quality Assurance Agency, will be almost everyone’s lot.

The really scary thing is that the people running the show might actually want things to be this way.



6 responses

8 10 2012

Thanks for the link, and for lunch on Friday. It was great to see you again.

Maybe the problem is with the very existence of the “ed tech specialists.” Of course they’re going to say that technology has given us a better mousetrap, because it’s in their interests and it justifies their existence! (That’s like pointing out that administrators have lots of meetings. It’s what they do, and if they stopped doing it, their justification for their jobs would vanish.)

We need more low-tech ed specialists with access to major media platforms to make the case for F2F teaching. But the problem is that it’s not a man-bites-dog story to write about how F2F teaching is the most effective “delivery device” at all levels of education. No shiny! Metal! Objects! To draw the attention (or distract us.)

8 10 2012
Jonathan Rees


The pleasure was all ours. If you do figure out what the spanner is and where I should throw it, please do let me know.

8 10 2012

Ryan describes my fears all too accurately. And your description of where the impetus for online ed is coming from fits what I can observe on my (state-funded R2) campus. I’m told faculty are actually involved, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be a bottom-up process arising from departmental decisions. Instead, there’s a separate and growing online ed office that waves a lot of money around, especially for professors who are willing to create new online courses — which is not, one learns when one digs a bit deeper, quite the same thing as teaching an online class for the first time. They really want an end product that could be implemented by others as well as the original designer. And although the individual instructional designers I’ve met are quite interesting and imaginative and helpful, the forms you fill out requestng their help seem to assume that you’re going to want help with things like uploading a pre-existing course package from a major publisher.

9 10 2012
World History MOOC Report 5: In which I don’t want to work. « More or Less Bunk

[…] think this is one of those instances in which I could really help with the edtech here if anybody bothered to ask me. It strikes me that the fundamental problem with […]

14 10 2012
Weekend Reading « Backslash Scott Thoughts

[…] It’s the Lack of Shared Governance, Stupid. […]

27 03 2014

I think you are absolutely right, Jonathan.

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