Eat less chicken.

11 10 2013

“[A]s long as the global political and economic regime is characterized by the dismantlement of the welfare state, the decline of the very idea of public goods, the triumph of tinkering over structural reform, the victory of psychology over philosophy as the favorite discipline of our technocratic classes, we shouldn’t expect technology to perform much of an emancipatory function.”

– Evgeny Morozov, “Ghosts in the Machines,” October 10. 2013.

Something is terribly wrong. I’ve started to get edtech spam and I know it’s due to this blog because of the e-mail they’re using. So if you happen to have an edtech startup and you want to present in front of lots of eager investors, I know where you can go. What mystifies me is why someone might think that I would tell somebody who has a company where they can begin the process of sucking up all the resources that professors like me need to do our jobs. It’s like asking the chickens to recommend the next Colonel Sanders.

Luckily, there are at least a few of us laying the intellectual groundwork for a counterattack. If you haven’t seen the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education’s working paper on the corporatization of our “industry,” you really should take the time to read it. Here’s the part that all of us chickens should really take to heart:

[N]o corporation bluntly announces that feathering its own nest is its goal in bringing new products or services to the market. Whether it’s subprime mortgages or swiffers, the sales pitch always involves consumer-centered promises of convenience, savings, or grander “dreams come true.” In the world of swiffers, the social cost of allowing deceptive sales pitches to frame public discussion of products may or may not be problematic. But with a crucial social service like higher education, which affects individuals and societies in such far-reaching ways, the long-term cost of not looking behind corporate rhetoric can be huge.

While there are good start-ups and bad start-ups, each one of the presenters at the event I’m not mentioning is looking to score a piece of your budget. More money for expensive, administration-centered education technology means less money for you and higher tuition for your students. [Student technology fees? I thought the point of technology was to save money.] Everyone at that event will be looking to carve up your university’s budget like it’s just another broiler. The fact that this is all going on during a time of an alleged higher education financial “crisis” makes it just that much more galling.

If you don’t follow what’s going on and demand a voice in the decision-making process, they’re going to carve up your budget whether you like it or not. If you do decide to stick your head in the sand, all you’ll be able to do is hope for MOOAs, and as most administrators know exactly what’s going on I’m guessing those won’t be arriving at your university anytime soon.




3 responses

11 10 2013

Mmm. Great post. Thanks for bringing this up. I’ve seen High Ed institutions throw a lot of money at these start ups, million dollar contracts, etc and I often wonder where that money might be better spent within the institution. This self-perpetuating justification of technology needs to be met with data and criticism. I had a professor remark that student’s often respond better to readings in blog post format than traditional papers but rather than put the course online, she created a blog where students respond to the readings there. And it was free. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this post.

11 10 2013

Seeing the title on the email subject line in my mailbox my first thought (especially following yesterday’s post-MOOC declaration) was: will this be about refrigeration and salmonella?

Still, I’m glad to see you weighing in on the CFHE report since NFM is part of the working group and I syndicated their page to the NFM FB page. I’m adding supplementary links to comments: this will be one of them.

11 10 2013
Contingent Cassandra

I, too, was thinking this was a refrigeration post (maybe something about the ability to eat more meat from larger animals once one could refrigerate/freeze the parts).

But yes, our students are a market, and, in the minds of the edupreneurs (and, sadly, many administrators and legislators), we’re not doing nearly enough to maximize potential profits. In the meantime, a lot of us would like to minimize costs, mostly by cutting out the many layers of middlemen. I suppose the middlemen could argue that they’re providing jobs for our students, but, if that’s the case, I’d be all for reducing the number of college graduates (and finding a way to pay people who do vital hands-on work not requiring a college degree, including providing basic care for the young and the elderly, better).

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