Stockholm Syndrome.

17 01 2013

Imagine the following scenario:

You write an op-ed piece that criticizes one of your university’s major donors. Your department chair then calls you in for a talk to request that you use a little more discretion when practicing your academic freedom. As long as he/she doesn’t ask you to stop publishing, that’s not censorship. It’s just politics.

Now imagine that after your op-ed comes out, your dean, the Provost and the President all call you in for a meeting during which they give you this same message, one after the other. What’s the difference between these two scenarios? One is an informal give-and-take, while the other smacks of intimidation. The reason it’s intimidating is that your dean, the Provost and the President constitute your direct superiors. Together they hold the power of life and death over your job and your quality of life, even if you’re tenured.

This is actually a long way of saying that only a dean (dad or otherwise) could write this:

When faculty use MOOCs as resources, rather than attack them as threats, students thrive. MOOCs could offer one way to ‘flip the classroom,’ to move exposition outside so the people inside could focus on understanding, applying, and questioning. They can free up faculty to work with students on the more interesting (and idiosyncratic) process of helping students internalize knowledge, come to grips with it, and sometimes even attack it.

This assumes that faculty have the freedom of action to use MOOCs the way they want. We don’t know whether most of us will or won’t yet, but based on past experience I’m not optimistic. Look at the giant face-to-face classes that Dean Dad decries earlier in that article. Does any professor ask to teach 400 students at a time? Look at the adjunct problem. I’ll grant that tenure-track faculty haven’t done enough to mitigate or end this abomination, but that wasn’t exactly our idea either. The problem with even the best education technology is that administrators can (and often do) use it as a club against faculty and faculty prerogatives.

Similarly, the problem with all the extremely well-intentioned edtech idealists out there is that they have Stockholm Syndrome. They identify with the views of the people who have power over them so much that they forget that their captors have a vastly different set of priorities than they do. While a MOOC might be an excellent learning tool when used properly, rank-and-file faculty have no guarantee that their administrations will ever let them use it the way that they desire. Contingent faculty have even less protection.

This reminds me of something I read on Twitter the other night (my apologies to the author for not favoriting it so that I can give them proper attribution): working conditions = learning conditions. That means by sticking up for ourselves we professors are sticking up for our students. After all, when the vast majority of the professoriate enters the classroom, the profit motive is the last thing we have on our minds.

I’m tempted to end this post by suggesting that following Dean Dad’s advice would be like taking a knife to a gun fight, but really it’s like entering a fight for your professional life completely unarmed.



4 responses

17 01 2013

Right on, Jonathan. There are many ways to flip the classroom, ranging from polishing up one’s lecture notes and posting them on a course blog to simply, you know, assigning outside readings and devoting class to their discussion. MOOCs are just one way to flip a classroom, and not necessarily the best. They don’t really have anything special to offer in this regard (though Matt Reed tries to make it seem as if they do in his stupid comment about the price of books.) The excitement about MOOCs has nothing to do with their marginal contribution to creative pedagogy. The excitement has everything to do with outsourcing, privatization, mass production, and in general spending less money on the non-elite.

Maybe the best way to preserve quality higher ed for all (rather than F2F for the best and MOOCs for the rest) is to make sure we teach in ways that can’t be replicated in the emerging model (the model that outsources course design and lecturing to MOOCs and discussion/grading to peers, TAs, or student-support staff)

The one crucial element of good teaching that can’t really be scaled up and outsourced is this: close individual attention and customized feedback from someone with a Ph.D. We need to develop and defend forms of teaching that can be delivered only by experienced Ph.D.s, only in reasonably small classes. A superstar MOOC-prof can’t give customized attention and feedback, and a TA can’t can’t give customized attention and feedback with the requisite level of knowledge and experience. We need to work from the bottom-up to center our instruction on the things that can’t be done without us.

17 01 2013

Right on, Mazel. As Jonathan always says, if you can be replaced by a machine, U R not doin’ it rite!

I love your analysis of Dean Dad as suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. I suppose I should be sympathetic, as the guy doesn’t have anything but his crummy CC Dean job (no students, no scholarship.) I decided years ago that his bitterness at never finding TT employment is what propels him in his current job.

Also: I had wondered if his “coming out” would make him a more decent guy online. I guess not!

18 01 2013
Contingent Cassandra

I thought community colleges were supposed to be one of the places you could still find small classes and personalized attention. If so, they don’t have large lecture classes to be revolutionized via flipping, MOOCs (which are apparently different from multimedia textbooks, though how I don’t know), etc. Right? right?

The New Faculty Majority repeats the mantra that faculty working conditions=student learning conditions pretty regularly, but I don’t know whether they originated it. I think it’s getting pretty close to being common property. At least I hope so.

22 01 2013
“These flipped classrooms are the educational equivalent of scanning your own groceries at the supermarket.” « More or Less Bunk

[…] that Dean Dad piece I was beating up on last week, Matt Reed invokes Cathy Davidson to support his pro-MOOC […]

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