Why are academics so “liberal?”

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an interview a few days ago with Charles C. Camosy called “The Case for Trading Identity Politics for ‘Intellectual Humility,'” which more or less came about as a result of Camosy’s Washington Post “PostEverything” column “Trump won because college-educated Americans are out of touch.”  In brief, Camosy, who is conservative and a a professor of theology at Fordham University, argues that academics are too liberal and out of touch to understand why anyone would have voted for Donald Trump. Further, if academia doesn’t change it’s ways, the situation is only going to get worse.

In the CHE piece (sorry, behind a firewall), he argues that we need more “diversity” in terms of the liberal/conservative spectrum:

I don’t mean a quota coming down from the administration or anything like that. But for instance, in my own department, we looked around and didn’t see a lot of people of color. So we said, We ought to make an effort in hiring to have more diversity. That’s the kind of thing I have in mind — for departments to look around and say, Well, how much intellectual diversity do we have? Do we have even one conservative?

I don’t even like the liberal-conservative binary. I just want a person who really doesn’t have the views of the rest of us, who challenges us, who forces us to take a moment to listen to someone who’s different, who forces our students to take a moment to listen to someone who’s different.

He goes on:

One reason why racial justice was such an important issue in this election was because colleges and universities started that conversation, and it filtered down to the rest of the culture. That was a very good thing. So if we also make a commitment to other kinds of diversity, that will also filter down to the rest of the culture. We won’t see such enclaves of people over here — millions and millions of people — thinking something so diametrically opposed to people over there.

That’s a big part of my work as an academic ethicist: to show that these kinds of us-versus-them, right-versus-left, life-versus-choice binaries are too simplistic. People are much more complicated and interesting than identity politics allows us to imagine.

Fair enough, though as I’ll get to eventually, I’m not so sure that that last point about upsetting simple binaries is a position that would resonate with most conservatives.

Anyway, in the Washington Post piece published right after the election, Camosy is more blunt. He argues:

The most important divide in this election was not between whites and non-whites. It was between those who are often referred to as “educated” voters and those who are described as “working class” voters.

The reality is that six in 10 Americans do not have a college degree, and they elected Donald Trump.College-educated people didn’t just fail to see this coming — they have struggled to display even a rudimentary understanding of the worldviews of those who voted for Trump. This is an indictment of the monolithic, insulated political culture in the vast majority our colleges and universities.

He goes on:

Higher education in the United States, after all, is woefully monolithic in its range of worldviews. In 2014, some 60 percent of college professors identified as either “liberal” or “far-left,” an increase from 42 percent identifying as such in 1990. And while liberal college professors outnumber conservatives5-to-1, conservatives are considerably more common within the general public. The world of academia is, therefore, different in terms of political temperature than the rest of society, and what is common knowledge and conventional wisdom among America’s campus dwellers can’t be taken for granted outside the campus gates.

I disagree with most (though not all) of this, and before I get to the real point here, why are academics so liberal (or are they so liberal?), I think there are three important things to always keep in mind about the outcome of the presidential election:

  • Clinton’s campaign did not spend enough time in working class/blue collar places in the midwest, and arguably, she forgot the James Carville prime directive of “it’s the economy, stupid.” Hindsight is 20-20, though as this New York Times piece from the day after the election points out, there were forces within Clinton’s campaign– including Bill!– who argued that she should be spending some time courting these voters and not concentrating on urban areas. And yesterday the New York Times had this piece recapping a “debate” between aides to the two presidential campaigns where Kellyanne Conway said “Do you think you could have just had a decent message for the white working-class voters? How about it’s Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t connect with people? How about they had nothing in common with her? How about you had no economic message?” I hate to say it, but I think she has a point. But the point here is that Clinton’s lost is as much about her campaign mistakes as it is with any dissatisfaction from working class voters.
  • The exit polling data suggests that yes, level of education was an indicator of who voted for who– 51% of high school or less and 52% of some college or associate degree voters went with Trump. But it also shows that 49% of white college graduates voted for Trump (compared to 45% for Clinton), 67% of white college graduates without a degree voted for Trump, and 75% of of nonwhite voters without a college degree voted for Clinton. There’s a bunch of other data to sort through here too, but the point I’m trying to make is for Camosy (or anyone else) to suggest that race was not as an “important divide” in this election than education is just plain wrong.
  • Always always remember and never ever forget that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and by what seems to be a large margin. Yes, Trump won with the electoral college, and yes, this seems good evidence that the most significant divide in this country right now is between urban and rural areas, a divide characterized as much by race and income levels as it is by education– not to mention basic geography. Also remember that the margin of victory in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin combined  was under 80,000 out of like 12 million votes (Phillip Bump has a commentary/analysis about this in the Washington Post here), which isn’t exactly an overwhelming mandate even in these rustbelt states. And yes, I agree the Democratic party as an organization is in disarray and needs to think a lot harder about how to appeal both to voters who are interested in “identity issues” and to voters interested in “economic populism” (and as a slight tangent, here I’m thinking of this post from Freddie deBoer, someone I often don’t agree with but I think he’s right here).

However, people who voted for Clinton (and all the “liberal values” she represents) and/or against Trump are still in the majority in this country. That doesn’t mean much when it comes to Trump’s cabinet appointees or the frightening policies he might be proposing and it probably means even less if your a Muslim in a particularly red part of the country, but it does mean a lot in terms of how the citizenry can respond. The man who will be president didn’t actually “win” because a significant majority of eligible American voters either didn’t vote at all (which in my book is even worse than voting for Trump) or they voted for Clinton, and of those who did vote for Trump, I have to assume that there is some difficult to determine but still healthy percentage who didn’t so much vote for Trump as they voted against Clinton, and/or who voted for Trump as a protest. That’s depressing, that the winner didn’t really “win,” but it also means that those of us who voted for Clinton are far from alone. Or let me put it this way: the first presidential candidate I voted for was Walter Mondale. That was an entirely different kind of loss.

But I digress. Why are academics so “liberal?” Continue reading

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Why I’m voting for a Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP

While the national election is over (though of course the fight in many ways has just begun), there’s a very local election here at EMU that’s still going on. The election for members of the Executive Committee of the EMU-AAUP, which is the union that represents the faculty, is currently underway (the deadline for voting is November 21 at 5 pm).  Making it all the more interesting this year is it’s actually an election with a choice (I believe in the last couple of cycles, the leaders of the union were unopposed), and it’s an important one because of events on campus.

I’m voting for the “Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP:” Judy Kullberg for President; Ken Rusiniak for Vice President; and Mahmud Rahman, Charles Cunningham, and Tricia McTague for at large members of the Executive Committee (EC). I have a lot of respect for what Susan Moeller and Howard Bunsis and the rest of the incumbents have done with the EMU-AAUP over the years, but I also think it’s time for a change. I think the Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP people can bring that change.

This post gets a little wonky for anyone who is not at EMU– maybe for anyone who is not on faculty at EMU. So for any non-locals who decide to read on here, sorry about that in advance.

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Posted in EMU, EMU-AAUP | 1 Comment

FWIW, some thoughts on the 2016 presidential election

As I type this (I started writing this at almost 2 am and now I am finishing it at 6:30-ish, realizing the worse has come to pass), I’m watching the cluster-fuck/train-wreck that is the showdown of the presidential election. I was hoping to go to bed about 11 last night. I was hoping and assuming (had the polls had been correct, as I’ll get to in a moment) to be in bed hours ago, satisfied with the inevitable of Hillary Clinton as president-elect. As I type, not so much. Ugh.

So, some thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Fuck the pollsters, fuck the 538s of the world. Fuck all of them. I don’t know what happened, I’m sure we will hear more about it all in the coming days and weeks, and the problems of relying on “big data” alone are clear here. We can and will debate the details, but I will never look at 538 or a similar site and say “hey, they’re predicting a 90% win for Clinton, I guess that’s all good.” These sites are useless. My hope (and expectation, frankly) is they will go out of business, which is what Nate Silver and his smug-assed types deserve. As Mike Murphy (an NBC politico) just put it, “tonight data just kind of died.” Well, where is this data coming from? The data didn’t die as much as the data collectors. Fuck those people.
  • This election result makes too clear that the U.S. is a very very racist and sexist and divided country, even more so than I thought before. Too many white people fear non-white people, and too many Americans (mostly men, I assume) are afraid of the idea of a woman being in charge. And we are a very very dumb country in that we have managed to elect someone with no experience and slogans that make Pedro’s run for student council president seem entirely about him being a policy wonk, someone who bragged about grabbing pussy, someone who is involved in countless lawsuits and is likely to be involved in many many more scandals and messes. This is disturbing.
  • I don’t worry that much about me or my family, but I worry about the people around me. A few hours before I settled in to write this, I wrote about a crazy situation where some African-American students are potentially going to be expelled for conducting a peaceful protest against some hate speech painted on the side of some buildings on campus. I could not believe that this was the path EMU administrators were taking. But now, just a few hours later, this seems like the kind of thing that is going to happen over and over into the foreseeable future.
  • Media and technology matters. Trump won because he understood and used Twitter better than anyone, and he was also able to convince the mainstream media places that it was just fine to call in for interviews and so forth. Journalism wants to be a revered “fourth estate,” and they simultaneously want to make money from the celebrity of Trump. I know they can’t be taken seriously at the same time.
  • There are a ton of “what-ifs” that are interesting yet futile to think about. What if the Republicans had nominated a reasonable candidate, say a Jeb Bush? What if Sanders had actually gone after Hilary on her emails– would Bernie had been the candidate? And would he had won? What if Joe Biden had gotten in and made a run at it? No idea. Anyway, we could go on and on and on.
  • I’m unbelievably proud of my son who has thrown himself into the college Democrats at the University of Michigan. He worked really hard on trying to make a difference here, and I hope he doesn’t stop that. If anything, I hope this result motivates him; it certainly makes me think that I need to get motivated and to be a little less complacent and cynical about how these things work.
  • Hell if I know what’s going to happen next. I want to believe that our political system of checks and balances can prevent the worse and that Trump will govern differently than he ran. I want to believe that we are in for four or more years of what I have described as a “hot mess” of a presidency– scandals and controversies and criticism of Trump from both sides. The left and the likes of me are obviously not going to be happy, but when Trump is unable to fulfill any of his major campaign promises about deporting foreigners or building walls or whatever, the nut-job majority that got him into office in the first place is going to revolt as well.
  • I think I might just go back to bed for a few years.
Posted in Politics | 2 Comments

More Racist Vandalism at EMU and More Dumb Reactions from EMU Administrators

This afternoon, Mlive published “3 EMU students who protested racist graffiti face disciplinary action.” That’s actually a pithy summary of the whole situation, especially if you’re left asking “why would EMU punish students protesting racist graffiti?”

Read on, but here’s the short version: this is about the dumbest thing I’ve seen an EMU President (James Smith) and an EMU administration do since John Fallon et al tried to cover-up/hush-up the investigation of Laura Dickinson’s murder in 2006. I’m not suggesting this is as bad— not getting the word out to the university community about a murder is obviously lots worse, and Fallon and EMU paid a heavy price for all that. But I am saying this is in the same league of stupid and about as tone-deaf. “Let’s kick out of school some African American students for protesting against racist graffiti after hours in the student center, because hey, rules are rules.” WTF?!?

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Re-Learning Some Email (and Server) Lessons

The other day on Facebook, I wrote:

I’ll say this about Hilary’s email mess: lots of people (some of my colleagues, lots of my students) don’t think it’s important to discuss and teach things like “how to send an email” or the basics of how “the intertubes works” because this is just stuff people don’t need to know. Email and stuff, the argument goes, is like your car– you don’t need to know how it works to drive it. Well, I hope this convinces people that’s wrong.

Maybe this is all obvious, but given what’s happened with this election, maybe not.

I should point out that I’m voting for Clinton and I hope you vote for Clinton too. I don’t think a “President Trump” (geez, it hurts putting those two words together, even hypothetically) would necessarily be the end of democracy as we know it and/or plunge the U.S. into Mad Max-esque dystopia, but I do know it would be a hot hot mess.

I should also point out that I think Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person (based on previous experiences, at least) to run for president in my lifetime. In a lot of ways, this is Clinton’s problem because even though I have “been with her” from the start, she has done/said/supported things over the last 30 years I disagree with, which is inevitable based on being in public life for the last 30 years. And yes, there are other ways in which Hillary and her family (I’m talking about “the big dog” here) have sometimes done stuff that doesn’t seem completely above board– again, almost inevitable for politicians in the public eye for decades.

But this email mess? In my opinion, it’s not a reason to vote against Clinton because I really really doubt there was any criminality there, either intentionally or unintentionally. (And as a slight but relevant tangent: let’s just set aside the fact that government argues amongst itself all the time but what’s a “secret” and how information should be classified and about proper procedures for handling this information. The second Bush administration apparently had an email server owned and operated by the RNC that “lost”/deleted 22 million or so emails, lots other politicians have in the past or currently still operate some version of a private server, etc., etc. In other words, lots of politicians have done a version of what Hillary did, but the difference is Hillary is running for president.)

So vote for Hillary Clinton, okay? But let’s also learn (or really, relearn) some email basics based on these mistakes, both the ones that she has made and the mistakes I know I continue to make all the time.

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Posted in Computers, technology, etc., Internet, Politics | 1 Comment

Racist Vandalism at EMU– Where is EMU President James Smith?

There was an ugly racist/hate crime vandalism/graffiti incident at EMU today, which I first heard about rather indirectly in an all-campus email from EMU VP for Communication Walter Kraft. Among other things, Kraft wrote:

A short time ago, we learned that racist graffiti had been spray painted on a wall of King Hall in the courtyard area of the building. The University strongly condemns such a racist and thoughtless act, which runs completely counter to the values and welcoming environment of our highly diverse Eastern Michigan University community. Our Department of Public Safety is undertaking a full and immediate investigation and the graffiti is being quickly removed.

My initial reaction to this email was “what the hell?” Some time passed and the story emerged. Basically, some moron(s) spray painted “KKK” and “Leave N*****s” (though not with the asterisks, obviously) on the side of a King Hall.

But not to bury the lead here: at the end of the day (today, at least), where the hell is EMU’s new president James Smith? We have this controversy on campus that is attracting strong regional (if not at least some national/education press) news attention and it has obviously (and justifiably) upset a lot of students on campus, and Smith doesn’t surface to make an actual statement before the media?!? He doesn’t appear in support of one of the student protests against this?!? That’s weak. Smith needs to be a lot more invested in the EMU community (and not just the EMU Board of Regents and football team) than this.

Okay, a rundown of the basic news:

I know there has been a lot of other news stories about this too.

Anyway, this graffiti/vandalism was identified and then cleaned up in the morning several hours before I got to campus today. It was painted on the side of King Hall, which is one of several odd buildings sort of in the middle of EMU’s campus. It’s formally a dorm that has been (sort of) rehabbed into a series of office spaces– WEMU is over there. The graffiti/vandalism/hate speech itself was on one wall in the “courtyard” area, which is actually not a very visible part of the building. It’s the kind of place you’d vandalize because you thought you’d be less likely to get caught. By the time I got to campus today, the graffiti was gone and there was a small protest/vigil of African-American students at the spot.

When I went into Pray-Harrold (where I do most of my teaching and where my office is), I saw in the lobby and on the elevator a lot of flyers that kind of looked like this (though this is a picture I took later and posted on Instagram). This, combined with the student protests that happened on campus that I’ve already mentioned, suggest to me that the EMU community is very much rallying against this simpleton hate speech and rallying for African-American students and other members of the EMU community.

So I think campus will be fine. I mean, I’m concerned about all sorts of examples of hate crimes and racism and the like that seem to be rising in this country in some correlation to the rise of the hate of the Donald Trump campaign. But at EMU specifically, I think the campus community is resilient enough to respond to some idiotic and likely drunk hateful vandals and simpleton spray-painters. It’s one of the many reasons I like working here, actually.

But again, where the heck is James Smith? I appreciate that it is Walter Kraft’s job as the VP for communication to have the initial responses to this– and by the way, I think Walter is a pretty good guy. But this was the first situation that’s happened on campus since Smith arrived where he clearly should have been out in person to speak out against this. I have no idea why he didn’t do this.

Slight addendum: To be fair, Smith did finally speak about this incident after a group of protesters showed up at the EMU President’s house.  See this story.

Posted in EMU | 3 Comments

Once again, the “International MOOC Colloquium: The MOOC Identity” (a conference recap)

I am writing this (or I at least started writing this) post while flying back from Italy where I was at the second conference I have attended in Anacapri in the last two years, the “International MOOC Colloquium: The MOOC Identity” sponsored by Federica Weblearning at the Universitá di Napoli Federico II (here’s a PDF of the program).  I of course didn’t have to do this on the plane, but a) because it’s the first day of classes, including for my online one, I thought it was worth it to to pay the money and do some teaching/worky-work stuff over the Atlantic and b) I wanted to do my best to stay as awake as possible to adjust to the time difference once we get home (more or less mission accomplished on that one).

Once again, I wondered why I was invited in the first place (pretty much the same reason as before, the Invasion of the MOOCs book and also because I was there last year), and once again I was one of only a few Americans (though also once again there were a few Canadians and folks from South America, too), and this time, I think I might very well have been the only “teaching classes on a regular basis” kind of professor.  Everyone else was some version of administrator, entrepreneur, policy analyst, researcher, and/or educational tech person. Originally, there had been some people on the program from Africa and India, but it didn’t work out for them to be there for one reason or another.

Here’s a link to my presentation (slides incorporated into the Google Doc that was more or less my script– the live version was a little different of course). A general recap of what happened after the break:

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Posted in Academia, MOOCs, Scholarship, The Happy Academic | 19 Comments

Trigger Warning Repeats With Added Herky and Flexner

I had collected/seen/read a bunch of recent pieces about “trigger warnings,” particularly the dust-up about the lack of such warnings at the University of Chicago. In response to that:

I could go on, but you get the idea. Anyway, I was going to write up some pithy little response but then I realized that I already had, and almost exactly one year ago. So, is the angst for and against trigger warnings the new signal of the coming fall college semester? Is it to accompany and/or replace the always problematic Beloit College mindset list? (Slight tangent: one of the truisms missing from this year’s list is the fact that students in the class of 2020 have never known a time where there wasn’t this shot-from-the-hip list of assumptions about what new college students are like.)

My take on trigger warnings hasn’t really changed– they aren’t that big of a deal, they arguably expand academic freedom in that they are a way for faculty to not censor content because students “have been warned,” and, as the example I share from my own teaching going on 20 years ago makes clear, these warnings are not always heeded. But I will share two new items for this year’s edition.

First, “Iowa professor: Herky the Hawk ought to smile more.”  “Herky” is the name of the mascot for the University of Iowa, the Hawkeyes, which sort of/kind of has origins as a nickname for the state but which I’ve frankly always thought of more as a made-up kind of name for a bird rather than anything having to do with geography or Native Americans. Anyway, to quote from the Iowa City Press-Citizen on the dangers of the grimacing Herky:

“I believe incoming students should be met with welcoming, nurturing, calm, accepting and happy messages,” Resmiye Oral, a clinical professor of pediatrics at UI, wrote recently in an email to UI athletic department officials. “And our campus community is doing a great job in that regard when it comes to words. However, Herky’s angry, to say the least, faces conveying an invitation to aggressivity and even violence are not compatible with the verbal messages that we try to convey to and instill in our students and campus community.”

Hard to say how “Herky-gate” is going to turn out, but it’s worth noting for now that a) this concern over the threats of a sports mascot come not from students seeking coddling but from a faculty member who seeks to coddle, and b) the UI faculty senate has declined to pick up the issue as part of their ongoing work on ensuring that the “university climate is one that is safe, inclusive, and supportive.”

Second, a trip in the wayback machine to trigger warnings circa 1930. As part of my ongoing MOOC research– specifically the historical part that looks at the parallels between MOOCs and correspondence study in the early 20th century– I came across the writing of Abraham Flexner in his 1930 book Universities: American, English, German.  Flexner’s crankiness about “the kids today” way back when is both amusing and enlightening as to how “the present” college youth have always been horrible. Here’s a favorite passage:

Surely the Dean of Columbia College knows American college youth. “I am convinced,” he has recently said, “that the youth of college age at the present time are as immature morally and as crude socially as they are undeveloped intellectually.” In part this is true because, the high school having coddled them, the college continues the coddling process. Every jerk and shock must be eliminated; the students must be “oriented”; they must be “advised” as to what to “take”; they must be vocationally guided. How is it possible to educate persons who will never be permitted to burn their fingers, who must be dexterously and expensively housed, first as freshmen, then as upperclassmen, so as to make the right sort of social connections and to establish the right sort of social relationships, who are protected against risk as they should be protected against plague, and who, even though “they work their way through,” have no conception of the effort required to develop intellectual sinew?

Heh. Maybe the trigger warning haters ought to time travel to the 1920s and straighten those kids out; maybe that would help fix the kids today.

Posted in Academia, Teaching, The Happy Academic | 2 Comments

As Koller Exits Coursera, Thinking About What’s Next with MOOCs in Context

Besides preparing for the start of the Fall term here at EMU, I’m also preparing for a return to Capri for the second International MOOC conference being sponsored by the University of Naples Federico II. No one is more surprised about this than me. As I wrote about/recapped last year, I assumed that my invitation last year was one of those once in an academic career kinds of things I got to recall while I was getting to retire or something. I guess now I get to tell the story of how I was invited twice.

The theme of last year’s conference was “The Future of Learning at a Distance and the Role of MOOCs,” and a lot (not all) of the talks were about the ways that MOOC were going to figure into changing higher education as we know it. The theme of this year’s conference is about “MOOC Identity,” concern with the fast changing nature of MOOCs, the role of professional and “less scholarly” MOOCs, and the evolving “corporate” and “academic” partnerships. Last year’s conference was great and I’m sure this year’s one will be too, but once again, a lot has changed with MOOCs in less than a year.

Which brings me to my point: as Rolin Moe discusses here and as Jonathan Rees discusses here, Coursera’s Daphne Koller’s is leaving and going to Calico (which is a Google/Alphabet company). On the one hand, she’s just the latest. Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng left in 2012 (though both remain involved in Coursera on their board), and Sebastian Thurn stepped back from Udacity earlier this year (though he too remains involved, just not as directly).

On the other hand, Koller’s departure is different and important because she has been the face and driving force behind Coursera. She was the one who gave a TED talk where she said Coursera was going to bring the dream of higher education to the slums of South Africa.  She’s the one who (at least as quoted in Keven Carey’s The End of College) said something along the lines of “If only 2 percent of all the people in the world are willing and able to pay $74 for a service, that’s $10 billion a year, which is a lot of revenue for a company that can fit all of its employees into one part of one floor of a commercial office building in Palo Alto.” And she’s the one who later claimed that the hype around Coursera was always overblown and the company was doing well by pivoting as a credential provider, the kind of thing professionals might list as an achievement on their LinkedIn accounts.

Moe’s point is that MOOCs are a myth/dream/hope the EdTech world continues to chase:

We push MOOCs not because they have any chance of solving whatever it is which needs to be solved, but because we want to believe there is some one-click option that we could employ and it would create the solution we desire.  [T.S.] Eliot is the oft-quoted but wrong lens.  It is better to consider Barthes’ view of myth and the resurrection of the falsely obvious.  In his preface to Mythologies (1972), Barthes notes how the dominant cultural nodes throughout everyday life conspire to “dress up” our reality to contextualize it in terms of history.  This history should not be considered objective, factual or just but rather the determination of the dominant social climate of the time.  As Neil Selwyn (2013) notes, the expansion of technology (and the rise of EdTech) coincides with a growth in libertarian ideals and neoliberal governmental policies, a one-two punch of individual exceptionalism and belief in the power of the outsider.  We believe in the spirit of the entrepreneur, the perspective of the organization and the power of the technological.

Rees’ metaphor is of the abandoned ship, though he references the mysterious case of the Mary Celeste which was discovered abandoned but none of the crew members were ever found. The “MOOC ship” has/is being abandoned because it never lived up to the hype of the initial “mania,” but it is more than that:

If teaching were like most activities, it might be capable of being automated and scaled. But unfortunately for the MOOC providers, teaching isn’t like most activities.  Every dedicated professor – even those of us who do not meet the MOOC provider’s definition of “superstar” faculty – can provide a learning experience that’s superior to watching pre-recorded lectures alongside tens of thousands of people from around the globe.

Even then, like the Mary Celeste, online courses without a live crew manning them can be very lonely experiences. A good education is an active experience, meaning that your professor can see you and adjust their teaching to the reactions of their audience and the students can respond to their professors in real time.  Watching professors “on demand” on your computer, alone in your room, might make good business sense for Coursera, but it makes poor educational sense for anyone with access to an on-campus alternative. That’s why not enough people will ever fork over enough of their money to keep Coursera afloat for the long-term.

I think Moe and and Rees are slightly wrong, but basically right. I say “slightly wrong” because, as I will be reminded once again in Capri in just over a week, there are many players still involved in the MOOC biz, and the ones outside of the U.S. have different reasons and means of support than the ones inside the U.S. As I learned last year, a lot of the MOOC efforts in Europe are government-sponsored enterprises of various types, and this year’s conference looks to feature speakers from Africa and India, two places that have different goals and needs with higher education generally and MOOCs in particular.

Also, let’s not forget that a) there are some Canadians (paging Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier, and George Siemens) who would argue in different ways that Coursera and Udacity and the like never were “true MOOCs,” b) there are still a lot of other big MOOC players where things seems to be going at least “okay” (EdX, for example), and c) just because someone leaves a company doesn’t mean the company is going under (Bill Gates and Steve Jobs immediately come to mind).

But again, Moe and Rees are basically right in that the hype of MOOCs completely transforming higher education as we know it has proven to be wrong and it was always wrong. For me, that’s part of what makes MOOCs all the more interesting to study as both another innovation– not a disruption– in distance education technologies, and also as a phenomenon about the glaring ignorance of how education “works” combined with ginned up fears of missing out.

A simple and cursory tour of the history of distance education demonstrates that there have been plenty of hyped phenomenons similar to MOOCs in higher education over the last 150 or so years. Some (radio and television immediately come to mind) had their moments but were ultimately transformed into something else– in the U.S., public broadcasting. Correspondence and “traditional” online courses were hyped, feared, and/or critiqued as threats to the foundations of “The University,” but they ultimately became relatively “normal” means of taking college classes in the U.S.

MOOCs have always had a significant student audience problem. Rees is right– a lot of the problem (based on my own experiences and writing about this, at least) is that the MOOC learning experience isn’t at all comparable to the actual college experience, face to face or online. And while talking about dropout rates with MOOCs is tricky for many reasons (Are MOOC participants really “students?” If they poke around a MOOC for a week and decide they aren’t interested, are they a “dropout?” If a participant gets what they want out of a MOOC but doesn’t finish, is that a “failure?”), any mode of instruction where over 90% of participants don’t complete the course for some recognizable and transferable form of “credit” is not going to replace what we’re doing right now.  But it’s more than that. I think it’s always been a problem of the MOOC providers offering a different “product” than what degree-seeking college students want.

As I have blogged about before, there is consistent data about why students choose the institutions they choose, and by a wide margin, the top two reasons incoming students cite for their choices are the school’s academic reputation and the perception that the school’s graduates get good jobs. The cost of attendance as a reason for picking a particular school is more or less tied for third with financial assistance, schools reputation for social activities, and a visit to campus. In other words, while everyone agrees that tuition is too high, the cost of attendance doesn’t turn out to have a whole lot of effect on the choices going to college students (and their families) make. This survey data is very much in evidence in my local community, where the expensive (and the more highly perceived) University of Michigan attracts many more applicants than the less expensive (and less highly regarded) Eastern Michigan University. If costs were more important than perceptions about academic reputation and potential employment, then EMU would be the school turning away more than half of the people who apply.

In any event, Koller et al initially thought (hoped?) they would draw students away from a place like EMU (and maybe even U of M) because their certificate options were so much cheaper. But that’s like setting up a hot dog stand and trying to sell it to people who are trying to go out to a decent and multi-course sit-down meal. Worse yet, almost all of the participants MOOCs have attracted already have college degrees and they’re not that interested in paying for some “infotainment.” To extend my food metaphor a bit more: it’s hard to market hot dogs to people who really aren’t that hungry– oh sure, maybe they’ll have a sample, but they aren’t going to pay for one.

I think there’s also been a disconnect of perceptions of what MOOCs are potentially for between administrative-types (not to mention various pundits and politicians) and the faculty involved in developing and teaching MOOCs. None of the MOOC professors I’ve read, published in Invasion of the MOOCs, or interviewed for my current project think that MOOCs could replace the experience of taking an actual college class. MOOCs might be useful for lots of things (research, community outreach, PR, and maybe even a way to validate “life experiences” for credit of some sort), and maybe MOOCs make the idea of an online class more palatable. But that’s it.

So what I’m getting at is what’s interesting about looking at context of the rise and fall of MOOCs is not about MOOCs themselves. It’s not useful (or smart) for anyone to look at the “end” of MOOCs and to happily pronounce “well, I’m glad that’s over with and I’ll never have to worry about that again.” No, what’s interesting is seeing how the MOOC phenomenon has proven to be similar and different compared to earlier instructional technologies, and what impact MOOCs will have on what’s next.

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Meanwhile, a few pictures from my garden/yard

My silence here has been the result of being too busy about some things and not able to say much (yet) about other things. I’ve been too busy with teaching since the end of June– two classes, one of which was a mere six weeks long (and that was a mistake), and another that wrapped up on Monday. It is too much work too fast, but the money is hard to pass up. Without getting into the details of my salary, faculty teaching in the summer are paid 10% of their base salary per summer class they teach. That adds up so the work is welcome, though for a whole bunch of reasons, this might be the last summer I do this kind of teaching for a while.

And there are many things I would like to write about that I can’t write about here, at least not yet. Some have to do with ongoing scholarly projects, though the thing that is most on my mind that I want to write about but I don’t feel like I can has to do with some very strange faculty contract hijinks. But the dust has to settle on that first.

How’s that for vague?

Instead, I’ll mention three things that are broadly speaking in the department of what I’ve been doing lately/what I’m looking forward to doing soon.

Summer teaching went well, fall is coming soon. Like I said, summer (teaching) is over and prepping for this fall term is coming along, though oddly. I am preparing a face to face version of a class I most recently taught online (and I haven’t taught this class face to face in several years), and also an online version of a different class I most recently taught face to face. It is making me feel sort of backwards in an odd way.

This coming school year is the first year in some time where I won’t be teaching a graduate course, though the course Writing for the World Wide Web has both undergraduates and graduate students in it and I am continuing this year as the Associate Director of the First Year Writing Program and that typically involves a lot of connection with Graduate Assistants. I kind of miss the teaching, though I like the undergraduate teaching experience just as well and those classes have the advantage of not being at night.

Oh, and I moved offices, graduating (based on seniority– I’ll be starting my 18th year at EMU this fall) to a larger office with a window. More on that later I am sure.

I’ve been really into pizza lately because of this book, The Elements of Pizza. I bought it while we were up in Traverse City in May. Besides being a beautiful book, I very much appreciate the advice from Ken Forkish, techniques and recipes that walk the thin line of overly obsessive to playfully forgiving (it’s just pizza, after all). Forkish has talked me out of my childish visions of a backyard pizza oven and talked me into just getting it to work in my oven (though I am not sure my oven really gets hot enough, but that’s a slightly different conversation). I need to get his bread making book, Flour Water Salt Yeast.

The garden has been so-so. In some ways, it has been an example of neglect that has turned out kind of nice anyway:

Is it a garden or is it weeds?

All those white flowers that are kind of pretty are actually just weeds, and those weeds are kind of covering up other weeds. This close-up of some of the front-yard garden is a little nicer and more planned:

Flowers and stuff in the front

I’ve had two main experiments plant-wise this year. One is corn, which I planted as kind of a joke:

Corn?

The other is these basically black tomatoes which I believe are called “Indigo Rose:”

Indigo Tomatoes

Besides being really pretty, they have taken a bizarrely long time to ripen (and it’s kind of hard to tell when they’re ripe, too). And they taste like tomatoes.

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