Seriously though, why would anyone LIKE teaching online?

Don’t get me wrong– online courses have their problems.

Lots of courses/subjects wouldn’t work well exclusively online: my go-to examples of these include science lab courses, ceramics classes that involve a kiln, welding, hair dressing, and any sort of training in how to do surgery, along with a new example someone gave the other day: scuba diving.  Online courses take more time to develop and they take more time to teach– at least initially. A lot of students (and faculty too) struggle with the self-discipline and self-scheduling it takes to do a class online. At the beginning of the term, I always remind my students that taking a class online is a bit like buying a membership to a gym open 24 hours a day: sure, it means you have a ton more flexibility to go workout whenever you want, but you still have to have the self-motivation to go. A lot of students (and probably even more faculty) simply hate that much time in front of a computer screen. And for better or worse, a lot of students and faculty just do not want to do something different from what they’ve been doing for a long time because change is hard, scary, time-consuming, unknown, etc., etc.

Plus there is the value of the whole “traditional (elite) college experience” that includes all the stuff that happens that is not part of coursework and classes, though as I blogged about here, it’s important to remember that’s not the only way to go to college. Also, I’m really only talking about higher education and online instruction; I think there are a ton of reasons why exclusively online teaching is not a great idea for most secondary school students, and why it’s probably unworkable for elementary school students.

All that said, I actually do like teaching online as well as I like teaching face to face– though for different reasons. So now that summer is here (albeit the shelter in place version) and I have a lot more free time, I thought I’d write a bit about why.

Continue reading “Seriously though, why would anyone LIKE teaching online?”

The Elite “College Experience” is Not Compatible with Covid-19

There are two different but related stories about higher ed and Covid-19 right now, both of which speak to the stark differences within the hierarchy of universities and online teaching. And spoiler alert: students and faculty elite universities do not like online courses one little bit.

I think this article sums it up for the lawsuits being filed by some students against their universities: From ABC News, “College students clamor for tuition refunds after coronavirus shutters campuses.” The complaints basically boil down to two things: demanding refunds for fees paid on things students can no longer use (dorms, meal plans, lab fees, etc.); demanding their money back for tuition for classes that were forced to go online. It is worth noting these are class action lawsuits being ginned up by some law firms who appear to specialize in these kinds of class action things.

Then there are the calls from university presidents to get back to campus. There was Purdue President Mitch Daniel’s plans for getting Purdue back on campus in the fall, which (as reported in USA Today here) includes a vague goal of separating folks based on age, with the goal of “keeping the university’s younger population separate from older demographic groups that are more at risk from the virus. ‘Literally, our students pose a far greater danger to others than the virus poses to them,’ he wrote.” Also this weekend is an op-ed in the New York Times “College Campuses Must Reopen in the Fall. Here’s How We Do It,” by Christina Paxson. Paxson is the President of Brown University and an economist by training. Among other things, she wrote:

As amazing as videoconferencing technology has become, students face financial, practical and psychological barriers as they try to learn remotely. This is especially true for lower-income students who may not have reliable internet access or private spaces in which to study. If they can’t come back to campus, some students may choose — or be forced by circumstances — to forgo starting college or delay completing their degrees.

First off, I think students certainly ought to get a refund for housing, meal plans, lab fees, and all of those things– and I think most universities are doing something like that. But with tuition, we start to get into a more murky territory.

Granted, a class that shifted into the online lifeboat to finish the term is not the same as it would have been if it had stayed face to face all year. But if the goal was to complete the courses and thus grant students credit for their course work so they could continue to make progress on their degrees or to graduate, there weren’t a lot of other alternatives. In fact, it seems to me a very fair response from universities to these lawsuits would be something along the lines of “Here’s a refund for your tuition, but you aren’t going to get any credit for those courses.” Somehow I don’t think that’s what these students and their lawyers have in mind.

As far as Daniels and Paxson go: I think everyone is hoping that universities open in the fall, though as I’ve heard repeatedly from various talking head experts on cable news, the virus is driving the timeline and no one knows what the conditions will be in September. If we’re still in a world where we’re supposed to stay 6 feet apart, wear masks, and generally distance ourselves from each other, then the re-opening is going to be partial at best. And the idea that we can separate younger students from older faculty (will faculty be teaching behind a plexiglass barrier? will they be zooming in to classrooms filled with students?) is kind of goofy.

But I think these complaints and plans really highlight three long-standing realities in higher education in this country right now.

First, students/faculty/presidents/etc. at elite universities have very different assumptions about what “the college experience” means, at least compared to the rest of us. For elite universities and/or colleges and universities that cater to upper-middle-class and above 18-22 year olds, taking classes is just not what it’s all about. Don’t get me wrong, the quality of academics at elite institutions is extremely high and that’s still the main reason why these students attend these schools. But it’s also a whole lifestyle of dorms or near campus apartments, sporting events, frats and sororities and clubs, parties, beautiful buildings and campuses, etc.

We have all of those things at EMU too, and for a lot of the students we have in that 18-22 year old demographic, those things are important. But most of our students come from the sort of backgrounds where they do not assume all these things are that necessary, at least not compared to the students at the University of Michigan just across town. Frankly, a lot of our students are a lot more involved in the campus life in Ann Arbor than they are at EMU.

Most of my students– some of the 18-22 year olds, almost all of the older students– don’t have time for these extras because they are working. And I don’t mean “working” the way a lot of the students at UM work, with a part-time job to make some beer money and maybe help out with the expenses mostly being covered by the parents. No, I mean working to pay for living: rent, cars, mortgages, kids, etc.

Look, I get it. I was exactly like these elite university students when I was in college at the University of Iowa, and my wife was more or less a student like this at Virginia Tech. Our son was one of these students at the University of Michigan. If online classes were a thing in my day, I might have taken one– and I did actually take a correspondence course to earn enough credits to graduate, a story I tell in my book More Than a Moment.  For all of us, our undergraduate days were important life-shaping times because of the whole “college life” experience. But this is not the only way to go to college, and to suggest otherwise is a good example of unchecked or unnoticed privilege.

This leads to my second point: elite universities don’t like online classes because they are not the college experience (see above) and they still believe online classes are for poor people. That quote from Paxson is disingenuous because she must certainly know the students most likely to take online courses are indeed lower-income students. Why? Because students with less money and more grown-up obligations come to places like EMU, or they attend a completely online university, maybe even one of the mega-universities (Southern New Hampshire, for example) that have been doing high quality online education for years and years.

And online education works. We’ve done research on this for years. In general, the data suggests any college course which a) is routinely taught in a large lecture hall format or taught as a small (less than 40, but ideally about 20) group discussion; b) is primarily based on reading, discussion, writing, quizzes, and tests, and c) does not involve any special equipment (e.g., a chemistry lab, a kiln, a potter’s wheel, a welding torch, etc.) or that requires hands-on practice (e.g., medical procedures, cosmetology or barbering, engine repair, etc.) can be taught online just as effectively as it can be taught face to face. I do realize there are a lot of important college courses that fall into the “c” category of things and can’t be offered exclusively online. I do not think I’d be comfortable undergoing surgery by a physician who trained exclusively online. But thought-out and carefully planned online courses work in the majority of subjects and college classrooms.

Plus most college students– certainly those who attend community colleges and regional universities like EMU– have been taking classes online for a long time. Roughly speaking, almost a third of U.S. college students have taken at least one online course. About 15-20% of college students are taking courses exclusively online, and these online courses and programs are no longer just the products of sketchy for-profits.

But the perception is still there, particularly among the elites, that online courses are for “not real” and/or for poor people. It reminds me a bit of what was going in in the realm of MOOCs a few years ago: all these elite universities were developing these MOOCs they were hoping to somehow monetize by getting students to pay for credit to transfer to another college. But these same institutions were very clear that they would not accept MOOC credit for their students: that is, the University of Michigan is completely fine with students from say EMU paying for their MOOCs and then having that class count as transfer credit, but there was no way UM was going to accept MOOC credit, even when the MOOC was developed and taught by the same faculty teaching the face to face version of the UM course.

Last but not least, Higher Education is going to need a bigger bail-out and some kind of government intervention to change the funding model. This is an issue I am certain Daniels, Paxson, and (at least some of the) students suing would probably agree about. Costs in higher education have been driven up for decades for lots of reasons, but what that means now is so-called public universities have the same business model as private universities. EMU is in the same boat as Brown because most of our revenue comes from tuition, and, as Paxson put it, the loss in tuition revenue this fall, “…only a part of which might be recouped through online courses, would be catastrophic, especially for the many institutions that were in precarious financial positions before the pandemic. It’s not a question of whether institutions will be forced to permanently close, it’s how many.”

And in the medium to long term, I think we need to get to a place where public universities receive most of their funding from the government, and we need to really get over the idea that higher education is defined by the “college experience” of the elites and flagships. The feds and the states (and ultimately tax payers) are going to have to step up and fund higher education so that tuition can be reduced.

But more funding from government will (and should) come with restrictions on how that money is spent, and a lot of the money we waste in higher education in this country– sports, luxurious dorms and recreation facilities, and so forth– are what the elites and flagships out there see as part of the college experience. And that is a problem for the Browns and Purdues of the world: why would a student pay whatever it costs to go to Brown to take online classes (even temporarily) if that student could take a similar online class from a regional university or community college for significantly less money?

Spring Pea Soup with Mint

 

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Ingredients:

One very small onion, finely diced (about 1/4 cup)

Olive oil

Quart of vegetable or chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

16 oz bag of frozen green peas

About 10-12 mint leaves, plus  leaves for garnish

Two tablespoons of minced parsley

1/3 cup sour cream, plus more for garnish (or creme fraiche)

Lemon wedges and olive oil

About & Method:

This is my interpretation of a recipe from the Culinary Institute of America cookbook Seasons in the Wine Country, a really excellent book with several recipes that are among my favorites. I’d strongly recommend it. Several years ago, we started having an informal Easter dinner with our friend Rachel, her kids, and Rachel’s partner Colin. Whenever we had it at our house, I made this soup as a first course.

The kids grew up, we missed a few dinners here and there, and Rachel and Colin moved. Then on Easter during the coronavirus pandemic, we all got together on a Zoom session and talked about all kinds of things, including this soup.

I think there are two great things about this recipe. First, it’s great looking and has a lovely intense pea and, well, green flavor. Second, it is ridiculously easy to make.

  • In a 3 quart or larger pot, heat some olive oil on medium heat and lightly sauté the onions for about 5 minutes, just to soften.
  • Add the stock, frozen peas, mint (saving some for garnish), and parsley, and then bring to a simmer. Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Turn off the heat and let the soup cool for 10 or so minutes.  I think the stock matters in this recipe because there aren’t a lot of ingredients here. So if you can use homemade stock, it’s worth the extra step. The original recipe talks about using fresh peas for this, but honestly, I cannot imagine that it’d be worth it shell that many peas. If I had that many fresh peas, I’d probably just eat peas and skip the soup!
  • Blend the soup thoroughly. How you do this kind of depends on what you have and/or are willing to use to do the blending. An immersion blender works well, though see the next step: if you want to strain it, you’re going to need a second pot or something that is big enough to hold the strained soup. If you have a really good blender and want to deal with blending up hot liquid (it can be kind of a mess and a good way to get burned), you can get a really fine and smooth soup. But hey, kind of chunky and not smooth is good too.
  • Here’s the optional next step: strain the soup with a fine mesh strainer. It just depends on how smooth a soup you want. If you used a good blender, you probably don’t need to do this anyway.
  • Gently reheat the soup. When it is hot enough to serve, turn off the heat and whisk in about a third of a cup of sour cream.
  • Serve it (around a cup a person), and garnish with a bit of sour cream, mint, a splash of olive oil, and lemon wedges.

No One Should Fail a Class Because of a Fucking Pandemic

The TL;DR version: this isn’t how I thought my already online classes were going to go, and, if you’re a college teacher and the way you’re trying to cope is to stick with your original plans no matter what, stop it. No one should fail a class because of a fucking pandemic.

To continue:

Continue reading “No One Should Fail a Class Because of a Fucking Pandemic”

What We Learned in the “MOOC Moment” Matters Right Now

I tried to share a link to this post, which is on a web site I set up for my book More Than a Moment, but for some reason, Facebook is blocking that– though not this site. Odd. So to get this out there, I’m posting it here as well. –Steve

I received an email from Utah State University Press the other day inviting me to record a brief video to introduce More Than a Moment to the kinds of colleagues who would have otherwise seen the book on display in the press’ booth at the now cancelled CCCCs in Milwaukee. USUP is going to be hosting a “virtual booth” on their web site in an effort to get the word out about books they’ve published recently, including my own.

So that is where this is coming from. Along with recording a bit of video, I decided I’d also write about how I think what I wrote about MOOCs matters right now, when higher education is now suddenly shifting everything online.

I don’t want to oversell this here. MOOCs weren’t a result of an unprecedented global crisis, and MOOCs are not the same thing as online teaching. Plus what faculty are being asked to do right now is more akin to getting into a lifeboat than it is to actual online teaching, a point I write about in some detail here.

That said, I do think there are some lessons learned from the “MOOC Moment” that are applicable to this moment.

Continue reading “What We Learned in the “MOOC Moment” Matters Right Now”

Help! I have to suddenly teach online! What should I do?

As the number of universities (including my own) announce covid-19 plans that include requiring all classes finish out their terms online, I’m imagining an increasing number of college instructor and faculty-types doing a Google search along these lines of “how to teach a course online.”

Some of these administrators requiring this move or faculty who have avoided and/or complained about online courses might want to ask for advice from people like me who have a lot of experience teaching online, though frankly, that’s far from certain. After all, MOOC developers didn’t ask experts in online pedagogy when they launched. (Which reminds me, More Than A Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs seems like it might all of a sudden be a little more relevant right now. Take a look at the free sample that includes the introduction and first chapter and if you want the book, use the promo code KRAU at checkout and then it’s only $13.77).

In case there is someone who has been asked to suddenly stop what they’ve been doing for decades (let alone all semester) in order to shift everything online, and that person did a Google search and then landed here, I thought I’d jot down a few bits of advice based on my experiences and research about online teaching.

Continue reading “Help! I have to suddenly teach online! What should I do?”

A Bit of Brainstorming About Holding The CCCCs (and other academic conferences) F2F and Online

I’m not that worried about getting and dying from Covid-19 (though I don’t know, maybe I should be), but I can understand why people are concerned both for themselves and for others, and I can understand why there have been travel restrictions and school closures and all the rest. So while it’s probably too late to contain coronavirus and perhaps we’ve all already been exposed to it anyway, I do get why events are getting cancelled and why potentially sick people are self-quarantining and the like.

Which brings me to this year’s annual Conference on College Composition and Communication, scheduled to take place March 25-28: perfect timing for Covid-19 to have everything cancelled and all of us home and alone and and constantly washing our hands, and not conferencing in Milwaukee. Well, potentially; and if the conference goes on as planned, I’m still planning to go. But that’s all still a big “if.”

Now, one of the things that’s come up a lot on Facebook and Twitter and the like is the idea of “just move it online.” I’ve been saying a version of that myself, though though long before coronavirus. I know first hand that “just move it online” is not something that just happens magically, quickly, easily, and for free. But I also have some ideas on how this might work, and because it came up on Facebook (Julie Lindquist, who is chair of the conference this year, asked me to share my thoughts) because I’m procrastinating from grading, I thought I’d write about that.

The TL;DR version: the conference should have a web site and allow online participants to share links to their online presentations on that web site.

A few disclaimers. First, I don’t have much of a dog in this fight because while I’ve been going to the CCCCs off and on my entire career, it’s just not that important of an event for me any more. Second, I have systematically avoided getting involved in some kind of CCCC or NCTE service and I’m not planning on starting now. Maybe that is a mistake on my part, but it is what it is. And third, I’m not talking about doing away with the face to face conference. I think that’d be a bad idea. Rather, I’m just talking about giving people the chance to participate while not actually being their physically, and I’m talking about a way of preserving and sharing presentations beyond the moment of reading a paper and pointing at a slide show in a nearly empty room at a conference hotel.

Fourth– and this is an important one– the CCCCs can’t “just move it online” in less than three weeks. It is simply not enough time. Yeah, it sucks and it sucks a lot, and maybe participants could try to use Google Hangout on their own (see below), but I think it’s too late for the CCCCs organizers to systematically create an official online presentation mode. What I’m talking about here are ideas to think about for next year and beyond because there are lots of reasons to make academic conferences more accessible beyond a pandemic.

With that, some brainstorming/ideas: Continue reading “A Bit of Brainstorming About Holding The CCCCs (and other academic conferences) F2F and Online”

2019 was quite the year around here

I wasn’t going to do the usual “end of the year” blog post this year (kind of clichéd, isn’t it?), plus with Trump and impeachment and guns and climate change and global crisis and with the whole world feeling like it’s on fucking fire most of the time, it doesn’t exactly feel like a time to be celebrating anything– despite the admittedly good points in the big picture of things Nicholas Kristof makes in this column.

But as I was looking over my Instagram account, I was reminded that A LOT of stuff happened for me and the family this year, and most of it was good.

So, more or less in order:

After some of the typical January/February events (our annual Mardi Gras party, for example), Annette and I took our first of what would turn out to be three (well, two and a half) trips to New York and, among other things, I managed to order a cocktail brought to me on fire.

I went to the CCCCs in Pittsburgh in March— probably the most unpleasant version of that conference I’ve ever attended, frankly. My 8 am Friday morning panel– which included the completely pleasant and always interesting Alex Reid— had a total of three people at it: myself, Alex, and an audience of one, though it happened to be the also pleasant and interesting John Gallagher. So we chatted for a while, Alex and I went off to have breakfast together, and after a bit of wondering around the halls, I actually went back to my room, packed my things, and left a night early. I’m going to the CCCCs in Milwaukee this year; I’m definitely not going to the CCCCs in Spokane in 2021; and we’ll see what happens after that.

Probably the biggest bit of family news of the year– at least the first part of the biggest news– is Will graduated from the University of Michigan and various graduation hijinks were had with both sets of grandparents. Originally, Will wanted to just do the small group graduation event for his major, and that was nice in and of itself:

 

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Probably my favorite graduation weekend moment: “oh! William Krau-Z!”

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But in the end we went to the “Big House” commencement too, and I’m glad we did.

 

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Oh yeah, then we went to freakin’ China, which I blogged about here. Amazing trip, got a chance to cross some stuff off of my list, and it introduced us to Gate 1 for travel stuff.

After a summer that included many of the usual things (a Krause family get-together in a weirdo house in Wisconsin on the Minnesota border, a quick anniversary trip to Traverse City, front-yard gardening, a little golf, no more summer teaching, etc.), we packed Will up and moved him out to New Haven, Connecticut, which brings me to the second part of the biggest family news of the year: Will began a PhD program at Yale in a version of biology I don’t really understand. Needless to say, we’re incredibly proud of him. We went out to visit him in October– this was the first part of the “half” trip to New York because we flew into LaGuardia and then rented a car to drive to New Haven– and got a chance to tour around campus and the town a bit. My personal favorite highlight was the Cushing Center (aka the brain room).

But I’m getting ahead of myself: after we got Will all moved in, Annette and I went to Sweden, Norway, and Amsterdam (aka continent #2 of the year). I’m not quite sure why I didn’t blog about that trip, but the very short version: Annette had a conference in Stockholm to go to plus Annette and I both were on research fellowships this past fall, which meant neither of us had to spend time in August preparing to teach and our schedules were a lot more flexible, so we decided to make it a longer trip. After Stockholm (I had some solo tourist time there while Annette conferenced), we took a cruise along the Norway coast basically because I had heard or read someplace a long time ago that a cruise is one of the best ways to see it all. And then, because we could, we spent a week in Amsterdam in a lovely apartment at the top of the steepest stairs I have ever seen. We hung out in the apartment and read and wrote, went to lots of art museums, wandered around the groovy streets, ate good food, etc. Here’s a bunch of pictures.

Meanwhile and/or around the same time as all this, we both worked on our research projects (I’ve blogged about mine a fair amount over the year) and I also had the time to review proofs and such for More Than A Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs. I guess that too is an event from 2019 because that’s the copyright date and all, but I basically finished my work on the book back in 2018 and it’s not going to be for sale until 2020 (next week, I think), so it kind of doesn’t feel like 2019 to me. Still, my first and only single-authored book; like I said, a lot of stuff happened around here this year.

And then, after a typical Krause family combined Thanksgiving-Christmas and before a typical Wannamaker family holiday that included a visit to the beach on Christmas day, Annette and I went to Morocco (continent #3 for the year), with a stop before and after in New York. I just blogged about that a couple of weeks ago.

Inevitably, there will be less on 2020– I’m guessing fewer continents. And hopefully less Trump come November or before.

Morocco (and NYC), December 2019

“Why (and how did you) go to Morocco in December?” Well, when Annette and I found out we were getting research releases for the fall term, we knew we wanted to take a trip someplace in early December because that tends to be an inexpensive time to travel. A friend of ours had gone on a tour to Morocco and said good things, and then we found a tour through Gate 1 (the “how”) with a great price and that fit our schedule. Plus going to Morocco would mean that (counting home) we would have been to four continents this year. So off we went.

A slight tangent: while we went when we did because we didn’t have any teaching or things to worry about, I do think we could have gotten away with this trip during a regular semester if we didn’t keep blabbing about it on social media. This trip would have taken some planning while teaching, but we had regular and robust wifi and we both easily handled minor work email and similar work things. So maybe next year….

Here’s a link to a while bunch of pictures; here are some thoughts and memories:

  • Once again, Gate 1 was great. Here’s a link to the trip we took to Morocco. Once again, it was a very diverse group in terms of age (but no kids on this trip), race, careers, etc., etc., though this group wasn’t as “tightly knit” as the group for our trip to China. I think that’s because it was a big group– 41 people– and also because this tour didn’t include as many group meals and activities. But again, a great deal. It’s not luxury travel, but the hotels we stayed at were solid (sort of the equivalent of Hampton Inn kinds of places), the optional things (we signed up for all of them) were all great and worth it, and the tour manager and guides were excellent– especially the tour manager and the local guide in Fes.
  • We went to Rabat (the capital of the country), Fes, Marrakesh, and Casablanca. Rabat had some cool stuff, but the heart of the tour was Fes and Marrakesh (Casablanca is mostly a business center with an international airport). The tour was technically eight days but the first and last days were flying, so really six days, plus one of those days was mostly a bus ride between Fes and Marrakesh (not ideal, but it was kind of an interesting way to see the countryside).
  • I was expecting more desert and camels and stuff like that, but that’s a different tour. This was more the central and Atlantic coastal region of the country, and the geography felt to me a lot like rural places in Northern California/Southern Oregon or Italy. Marrakesh is on the north side of part of the Atlas Mountains range (snow-capped peaks in the distance, and apparently ski resorts opened for a few months in the winter), and on the other side of the mountains is the Sahara. That’s where we would probably have ridden a camel. There’s a region in the southwest on the coast (we heard about because our guide lived there) that’s popular with Europeans in the winter, and there’s a northern region with Tangier and right across the straits to Gibraltar. But again, different trips.
  • Oh, and Morocco is a much more touristy place than China, especially Marrakesh. Heck, we even went to a casino there! It was easy to find people who spoke English, and almost everyone speaks French as well as Arabic. If we went on vacation in Spain, I’d want to include a trip to Gibraltar, Tangier, and probably the “blue city” of Chefcaouen, and depending on the options, I’d be comfortable doing those arrangements without a tour company. In contrast, there’s no way I’d go back to China without a company or some other kind of local “fixer.”
  • I don’t know if I’d call Morocco “second world” or “developing world” or what, but it’s a study in contrasts for sure. It’s a Muslim country, but it’s also an extremely moderate and tolerant country, and it had a large Jewish population at one point. Morocco didn’t give anyone up to the Nazis in World War II, though after the war, most Moroccan Jews migrated to the new state of Israel. It’s a post-colonial country that seems to maintain good relations with its colonizers. There were lots of French and Spanish influences in the food and language, not to mention a lot of French and Spanish people. It’s a “constitutional monarchy,” but I got the impression that the king of Morocco is a lot more involved in the day-to-day running of the government than say the Queen of England. It’s a country with lots of the same modern features of countries in Europe (and, unlike China, the Internet wasn’t blocked or slow), but also one where a lot of the people still live simple lives. On our drive from Fes to Marrakesh, we went by lots of big and presumably corporate farms, and we also saw lots of shepherds tending to small flocks (inevitably while on their cell phone) and farmers planting fields by tossing seeds from a bag. There was a large shopping mall near our hotel in Fes, and we went in there a couple of times to look around and to buy hotel room snacks and wine– oh, and while Morocco is an Islamic country, it does grow grapes for wine, most of the restaurants we went to served beer and wine, the hotels we stayed in had bars, and there was a liquor store in this mall. Anyway, it was a big and modern and busy shopping mall, but at least twice, I saw locals getting on the escalator in front of me in a way that suggested that this person did not go on escalators often– for all I know, ever. I mean, I don’t want to get all clichéd and suggest “the highs and lows,” “the best of times, the worst of times,” and all that, but there were a lot of things I expected and didn’t.
  • Two things I learned about Islamic (or at least Arab/North African) culture I didn’t know before. First, we saw several “blind houses,” which means they look like pretty much nothing at all on the outside (they usually have no or only a few small windows) but are quite lavishly tiled on the inside, usually with a big courtyard in the middle. This was certainly the case with the “fancy meal” we had in Marrakech at place called Lotus Privilege. Our tour guides lead the group down what looked like an alley perfect for getting mugged and we entered into an opulent courtyard with a pool and lemon trees. Second (and I guess I should have known this before), you don’t wear shoes in a Mosque, which kind of explains to me why slippers are extremely popular footwear.
  • On the last day, our guide/tour manager asked the group “what was your favorite part,” and pretty much everyone said Fes. The sites and sounds and smells of the Medina were intense, navigating down “streets” not much wider than a hallway with guys leading loaded down mules going the other direction. In the food market, the way you bought chicken was you picked out one of the live ones in the crate in the back and the guy killed and dressed it for you. And then there was the Chouara Tannery, which has been in operation for about 1,000 years, the process still about the same. The smell of the vats of pigeon shit they used to treat the leather, that was intense.
  • And then there was the haggling for stuff. I don’t particularly enjoy this kind of shopping, but I kind of got into it by the end of the trip and I did have a pretty memorable moment in a shop on the last night in Casablanca. I was looking over a box for sale for 450 Dirhams, which is about $45. I knew that was too much, so I said “200.” The sales guy fakes outrage, and says “for you my friend, 350.” “Hmm, that’s still too much,” I said, “How about 325?” “Okay, 300!” And all the other sales guys in the shop looking on to this crack up laughing. “Wait, wait! He said 300!” But I ended up giving him 325– no point in cheating the dude out of $2.50.
  • Oh, and New York: we went a day early to go see Moulin Rouge The Musical, which was great and as a bonus, Hillary Clinton was in the crowd. On the way back, our flight from Morocco got into JFK too late to get a flight home, so we decided to splurge a little bit and got a room at the TWA HotelThat was a hoot.

Still more on the “Classroom Tech Bans are Bullshit (or not)” project, in which I go down the tangent of note-taking

I spent most of my Thanksgiving break  back in Iowa, and along the way, I chatted with my side of the family about my faculty research fellowship project, “Investigating Classroom Technology Bans Through the Lens of Writing Studies,” aka “Classroom Tech Bans are Bullshit.” It’s always interesting talking to my non-academic family-types about academic things like this.

“So, you’re on sabbatical right now?” Not exactly. I’m not teaching so I can spend more time on research, but I’m still expected to go to meetings and things like that. Though honestly, I’ve skipped some of that stuff too, and it’s generally okay.

“Is there some kind of expectation for what you are supposed to be researching? What happens if you don’t do it?” Well, it is a competitive process for getting these fellowships in the first place, and there’s of course an expectation that I’ll do what I proposed. And I have done that, more or less, and I will have to write a report about that soon. But the implications (consequences?) of not doing all of what I originally proposed are vague at best.

“So, you’re not really working right now?” No no no, that’s not true. I’m working quite a bit, actually. But I’m doing this work because I want to, though I’m doing this work mostly at home and often in pajamas and I have an extremely flexible schedule right now (which is why we’re going to Morocco in a few days, but that’s another story for later), so I can understand why you might ask that.

“Being a professor is kind of a weird job, isn’t it?” Yes, yes it is.

Anyway, since I last blogged about this project back in September, I’ve been a bit distracted by department politics (don’t ask) and by prepping for teaching in the Winter term, which for me involves some new twists on old courses and also a completely new prep. But the research continues.

Back in October, I put together and conducted a survey for students and faculty about their attitudes/beliefs on the use of laptops and cell phones in classes. Taking the advice I often give my grad students in situations like this, I did not reinvent the wheel and instead based this survey on similar work by Elena Neiterman and Christine Zaza who are both at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and who both (I think) work in that school’s Public Health program. They published two articles right up my alley for this project: “A Mixed Blessing? Students’ and Instructors’ Perspectives about Off-Task Technology Use in the Academic Classroom” and “Does Size Matter? Instructors’ and Students’ Perceptions of Students’ Use of Technology in the Classroom.” I emailed to ask if they would be willing to share their survey questions and they generously agreed, so thanks again!

I’ll be sorting through and presenting about the results of this at the CCCCs this year and hopefully in an article (or articles) eventually. But basically, I asked for participants on social media, the WPA-L mailing list (had to briefly rejoin that!), and at EMU. I ended up with 168 respondents, 57% students and 43% instructors, most of whom aren’t at EMU. The results are in the ballpark/consistent with Neiterman and Zaza (based just on percentages– I have no idea if there’s a way to legitimately claim any kind of statistically significant comparison), though I think it’s fair to say both students and instructors in my survey are more tolerant and even embracing of laptops and cellphones in the classroom. I think that’s both because these are all smaller classes (Neiterman and Zaza found that size does indeed matter and devices are more accepted in smaller classes), and also because they’re writing classes. Besides the fact that writing classes tend to be activity-heavy and lecture-light (and laptops and cell phones are important tools for writing), I think our field is a lot more accepting of these technologies and frankly a lot more progressive in its pedagogy: not “sage on the stage” but “guide on the side,” the student-centered classroom, that sort of thing. I also was able to recruit a lot of potential interviewee subjects from this survey, though I think I’m going to hold off on putting together that part of the project for the new year.

And I’ve been thinking again about note-taking, though not so much as it relates to technology. As I’ve mentioned here before, there are two basic reasons in the scholarship for banning or limiting the use of devices– particularly laptops– in college classrooms, particularly lecture halls. One reason is about the problems of distraction and multitasking, and I do think there is some legitimacy to that. The other reason (as discussed in the widely cited Mueller and Oppenheimer study) is that it’s better to take notes by longhand than by a laptop.  I think that’s complete bullshit, so I kind of set that aside.

But now I’m starting rethink/reconsider the significance of note-taking again because of the presidential impeachment hearings. Those hearings were a series of poised, intelligent, and dedicated diplomats and career federal professionals explaining how Trump essentially tried to blackmail the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden. One of the key things that made these people so credible was their continued reference to taking detailed notes where they witnessed this impeachable behavior. In contrast, EU ambassador Gordon “The Problem” Sondland seemed oddly proud that he’s never been a note-taker. As a result, a lot of Sondland’s testimony included him saying stuff like “I don’t remember the details because I don’t take notes, but if it was in that person’s notes, I have no reason to doubt it.” I thought this detail (and other things about his testimony) made Sondland look simultaneously like an extremely credible witness to events and also like a complete boob.

Anyway, this made me wonder: exactly is the definition of “good note-taking?” How do we know someone takes good (or bad) notes, and what’s the protocol for teaching/training people to take good notes?

The taking notes by hand versus on a laptop claim is shaky and (IMO) quite effectively refuted by the Kayla Morehead, John Dunlosky, and Katherine A. Rawson study, “How Much Mightier Is the Pen Than the Keyboard for Note-Taking? A Replication and Extension of Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014).” But while that study does poke at the concept of note-taking a bit (for example, they have one group of participants not take notes at all and just closely pay attention to the TED talk lecture), everything else I’ve read seems to just take note-taking as a given. There’s broad consensus in the psych/education scholarship that taking notes is an effective way to recall information later on, be it for a test or testimony before Congress, and there also seems to be consensus that trying to write everything down is a bad note-taking strategy. But I have yet to read anything about a method or criteria for evaluating the quality of notes, nor have I read anything about a pedagogy or a protocol for teaching people how to take good notes.

I find that odd. I mean, if the basic claim that Mueller and Oppenheimer (and similar studies) are trying to make is that students take “better notes” by hand than by laptop, and if the basic claim that Morehead, Dunlosky, and Rawson (and similar studies) are tying to make is students don’t take “better notes” by hand than by laptop, shouldn’t there be at least some minimal definition of “better notes?” Without that definition, can we really say that study participants who scored higher on the test measuring success did so because they took “better notes” rather than some other factor (e.g., they were smarter, they paid better attention, they had more knowledge about the subject of the lecture before the test, etc., etc.)?

I posted about this on Facebook and tagged a few friends I have who work for the federal government, asking if there was any particular official protocol or procedure for taking notes; the answers I got back were kind of vague. On the way back home at one point, Annette and I got to talking about how we were taught to take notes. I don’t remember any sort of instruction in school, though Annette said she remembered a teacher who actually collected and I guess graded student notes. There are of course some resources out there– here’s what looks like a helpful collection of links and ideas from the blog Cult of Pedagogy— but most of these strategies seem more geared for a tutoring or learning center setting. Plus a pedagogy for teaching note taking strategies is not the same thing as research, and it certainly is not the same thing as a method for measuring the effectiveness of notes.

But clearly, I digress.

So my plan for what’s next is to do even more reading (I’m working my way back through the works cited of a couple of the key articles I’ve been working with so far), some sifting through/writing about the results, and eventually some interviews, probably via email. And maybe I’ll take up as a related project more on this question of note-taking methods. But first, there’s Morocco and next semester.

It’s been an interesting research fellowship semester for me. I’ve been quite fortunate in that in the last five years I’ve had two research fellowships and a one semester sabbatical. Those previous releases from teaching involved the specific project of my book about MOOCs, More Than A Moment (on sale now!), and thus had very specific goals/outcomes. My sabbatical was mostly about conducting interviews and securing a book contract; my last FRF was all about finishing the book.

In contrast, this project/semester was much less guided, a lot more “wondering” (I think blog posts like this one demonstrate that). It’s been a surprisingly useful time for me as a scholar, especially at a time in my career and following the intensity of getting the MOOC book done where I was feeling pretty “done” with scholarship. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to EMU for the opportunity, and I hope these keep funding these fellowships, too.