I am not sure what Kevin Carey is imagining here….

I started this on Sunday night while a bunch of folks were at my house playing a very very involved board game called Civilization. I did not play along. It is a long story, but the short version is I instead cooked what turned out to be a pretty good and more elaborate than I was planning dinner, and when it comes to playing games generally, I really have to be in the right mood and with the right game. I like game theory a lot more than actual games.

Anyway, late in the night while they were playing (the game went on for about 10 hours and still hadn’t finished), I got around to reading Kevin Carey’s New York Times Op-Ed “The Fundamental Way That Universities Are an Illusion.” I came to it via a commentary from a response Cathy Davidson had on HASTAC, “Universities are No More Illusory Than Journalists: Rsp to Kevin Cary and NYT,”  and also on Facebook.

Carey opens with the story of an athletic scandal at UNC where student athletes were taking classes that were technically legitimate classes but where the lack of recognizable requirements (like not having to attend) helped the less scholarly of student athletes to stay eligible for sports. It seems to me that stories like this cheating scandal pop up every few years, but that’s a problem of college sports and not “college” generally, and probably a different post. Then Carey writes:

Most colleges, presumably, aren’t harboring in-house credit mills. Yet in its underlying design, organizational values and daily operations, North Carolina is no different from most other colleges and universities. These organizations are not coherent academic enterprises with consistent standards of classroom excellence. When it comes to exerting influence over teaching and learning, they’re Easter eggs. They barely exist.

Let’s try to walk through that logic for a moment:

  • Big-time college sports tempt coaches, students, and even sympathetic professors/fans to create “in-house credit mills.”
  • While most colleges (presumably) don’t have a lot of this kind of problem, the design, value, and operation of most other colleges are “no different” from the school where these fake courses happened.
  • Therefore (I guess?), colleges/universities are “not coherent” when it comes to consistency, standards, classroom excellence, and influencing teaching and learning practices.

So for me, part of this is “well, duh,” that there is cheating in big-time college athletics. Obviously. As Davidson points out in her post, what Carey’s example demonstrates is a problem with college sports rather than college. But why would Carey (or anyone else) think that from this example it logically follows that the colleges across the board have no consistency/standards/oversight when it comes to teaching and learning practices? I know op-ed commentators are fond of the hasty generalization fallacy, but this seems a bit of a reach even for Carey.

Having read Carey’s book The End of College (and one of these days, I’ll blog a more extensive review of that), I think I know where he’s trying to go here. In his book, one of the main problems Carey has with higher education are the damn professors because professors are too independent, too lazy, too focused on their research, too indifferent to teaching, too petty, etc. So in Carey’s view, there’s no coherence or standards in higher education– that’s why it’s an illusion– in large part because professors get away with doing whatever it is they want to do. More on that in a moment.

But at the same time, Carey argues here that the college experience doesn’t vary much between schools. Carey wants to make this argument because one of the other points he hammers on in The End of College is that college rankings are way out of control. He cites Ernest Pascarella and Patrick Terenzini, authors of How College Affects Students, which appears to be a giant and long-standing study on the question of (duh) how college affects students.  Carey writes:

“The great majority of postsecondary institutions appear to have surprisingly similar net impacts on student growth,” the authors write. “If there is one thing that characterizes the research on between-college effects on the acquisition of subject matter knowledge and academic skills, it is that in the most internally valid studies, even the statistically significant effects tend to be quite small and often trivial in magnitude.”

And a little later:

 People can learn a lot in college, and many do. But which college matters much less than everyone assumes. As Mr. Pascarella and Mr. Terenzini explain, the real differences exist at the departmental level, or within the classrooms of individual professors, who teach with a great deal of autonomy under the principles of academic freedom. The illusory university pretends that all professors are guided by a shared sense of educational excellence specific to their institution. In truth, as the former University of California president Clark Kerr observed long ago, professors are “a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking.”

If it’s true that at the level of big data that there isn’t much difference between different four year colleges– that is, you put all the undergraduate students attending “traditional” universities that grant bachelors degrees and those students come out statistically close to the same– then that means that there actually is a lot of consistency and coherence in higher education. And broadly speaking, I think this is true: that is, I believe that the experiences that EMU graduates have in terms of personal growth, subject knowledge, and academic skills are similar to those of University of Michigan graduates (though of course, individual results vary quite a bit). In other words, because the best available research suggests that there is a lot consistency, coherence, and statistical similarity between between different universities, there is no need for the mandated standardization and regulation Carey implies is necessary to make the college a less “illusionary.” Indeed, it isn’t an illusion at all.

But I want to dwell on that second paragraph I quote here because it demonstrates the problems I see with Carey’s “logic” generally. He begins with a claim that I think most people in higher education would actually agree with, that most people learn a lot in college regardless of what college they attend. Then he slips into a claim that the differences that exist within higher ed are a result of the “autonomy” and “academic freedom” of individual professors, and those professors are not “guided by a shared sense of educational excellence” at all. Rather, these damn individual professors are all just a bunch selfish entrepreneurs who bitch and complain about parking. Jeesh.

As Davidson points out in her post, if we’ve learned anything from the “No Child Left Behind” nonsense forced on to K-12 in this country, the absolute last thing we need is more regulation to curtail individual approaches to teaching, autonomy, and academic freedom. As she writes, “We are already so regulated, credentialized, rule-bound, bureaucratized, accredited, credentialized, governing bodied, politicized, overseen, and structured that radical reformation–which is what we really need–is extremely difficult.”

But beyond that, who are these “professors?” Depending on how you define permanent work and the “tenure track” in higher education, at least 70% (maybe more) of the folks doing the teaching aren’t professors at all; rather, they are graduate students, part-timers, and full-time instructors who might enjoy job security through renewable contracts (or not– some full-timers are on contracts that are not renewable after 3-5 years). These folks are not professors in that they are not usually required to do the research and service/administrative work of professors (that’s certainly the case at EMU), and, for better or worse, they don’t enjoy the level of autonomy and academic freedom of professors. Take our first year writing program, for example, one that is similar to a lot of first year writing programs in that almost everyone teaching classes in it are not professors (full disclosure: I’m the interim associate director of that program right now). We have specific outcomes we expect everyone teaching the class to get their students to meet, and we have a curriculum that offers teachers options but only within the expectations of the course. We wouldn’t hire (or rehire) folks who weren’t willing or able to teach within those expectations. I can’t claim that this level of “programming” and “control” exists across the board in other disciplines, but I’m certain it isn’t “anything goes” for most of the non-professors doing most of the teaching in universities nowadays.

Further, Carey’s assumption about the level of autonomy professors (as in the 30% or so of us who are on the tenure-track) have in their teaching is wrong too. Davidson wrote a LONG comment on her own blog post outlining the steps that are pretty typical for getting a new course approved at a university, a process that more or less squares with my experiences here at EMU. The same kind of bureaucracy is in place for degree programs and any significant change to a course or a degree program. I wish I worked in the environment Carey imagines for me.

I guess what bothers me the most about Carey’s views here and in other places, notably in The End of College, is the amount of airtime it gets in places in the mainstream media like The New York Times. He purposefully sets up the most visible part of higher education– professors– as the sole problem, conveniently skipping past the bloated administrations and edu-entrepreneurs that are profiting the most from out of control tuition. He is a self-described education policy wonk who (surprise, surprise!) thinks that the problems in higher education can be solved with more strident and controlling policies and regulations.   He’s tapping into the lizard brain general public “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” sentiment that always exists since things are always getting worse, and he does this by making sweeping generalizations that have truthiness to them but that are demonstrably wrong. The problem is it’s very difficult to change people’s lizard brain minds with actual logic and evidence.

Though Carey is right about one thing: the complaint that unites all of academia has to do with parking.

These hyperboles about the slow change in education make me want to eat my shoes while jumping off of a bridge, literally

My own effort at hyperbole with my post title here….

From The Wall Street Journal comes “Daphne Koller on the Future of Online Education,” It’s a pretty non-news/routine interview of Koller talking about MOOCs and Coursera, though one interesting little bit I hadn’t heard before is Coursera is planning on rolling out a MOOC MBA program. That makes a certain amount of sense, but that is also a far cry from the days where she was giving TED talks about bringing higher education to the slums of South Africa.

Anyway, what got me here was the opening paragraph:

“If you put an instructor to sleep 300 years ago and woke him up in a classroom today, he’ll say, ‘Oh, I know exactly where I am,” says Daphne Koller, co-founder of the online-education company Coursera. The same couldn’t be said for agriculture, manufacturing and health care, she notes.

If I were to read this paragraph charitably, I’d say Koller was being hyperbolic: that is, she knew this was an untrue exaggeration meant to draw attention to her argument. The problem with that reading though is this “nothing has changed until now” trope has been invoked far too many times by her and by EdX’s Anant Agarwal and by Peter Norvig, and I’m sure by others too. It has crossed from hyperbole to “truthiness” in the sense that if you repeat something often enough, you start to convince yourself (and hopefully others) that it is actually true.

No, I think Koller et al have drunk their own kool-aid.  When Koller says nothing has changed in education for 300 years– until now!— I think she believes this to be literally the case. Think what you want about MOOCs (and my own feelings about them are much more complicated than they are “good” or “bad”), but this “nothing has changed ever in education” claim drives me crazy. So, let’s parse this out a bit: what would the professor from 300 years ago think if they were plopped into today’s classroom? Continue reading “These hyperboles about the slow change in education make me want to eat my shoes while jumping off of a bridge, literally”

What’s the difference between HASTAC and CWCON? Organization and a web site

I went to the HASTAC conference this week/weekend instead of the Computers and Writing conference (also this week/weekend) mostly because of geography. HASTAC was at Michigan State, which is about an hour drive from my house. Computers and Writing (let’s call it CWCON for the rest of this post) was at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, which is in the middle of freakin’ nowhere in Menomonie, Wisconsin, which is a small town a little more than an hour drive from Minneapolis. I also have some bad memories from the job market about UW-Stout, but hey, those are my own problems, and I’m pretty sure that all of the folks associated with those problems are long gone.

Anyway, I’ve been to CWCON about every other year or so (give or take) since 1994, so my guiding question for much of this conference was how would I compare HASTAC to CWCON? The short answer is they are very similar: that is, there was little going on at HASTAC that would have been out of place at CWCON, and vice versa. Both are about the intersections of the digital (e.g., “computer stuff,” technology, emerging media, etc.) and the humanities, though “humanities” probably includes more disciplines at HASTAC, whereas at CWCON, most participants identify in some fashion with composition and rhetoric.

Granted, my HASTAC experience was skewed because I attended panels that were writing studies-oriented (more on that after the jump), but I didn’t see much of anything on the program that would have been completely out of place at CWCON.  HASTAC had about as much about pedagogy on the program as I’ve seen before at CWCON. Both of the keynotes I saw were ones that would be welcome at CWCON, particularly the second one by rootoftwo (I missed the third, unfortunately). Both conferences were about the same size, mid-300s or so. Both are organizations that have been promoted and propelled by prominent women scholars in the field– Cindy Selfe and Gail Hawisher for CWCON, and Cathy Davidson for HASTAC.

So, what was different? There were more grad students and younger folks at HASTAC, but (I was told) that is mostly because the conference and its origins are more grad student-focused. CWCON is arguably a little more geeky and “fun,” with things like bowling night and karaoke and the like, though maybe there was some of that stuff at HASTAC and I just didn’t know about it. I think there is housing in the dorms at HASTAC, though I stayed at the very affordable and convenient Kellogg Center. And of course I know more people who go to CWCON.

But at the end of the day, I think the most significant difference between these two groups boil down to organization and a web site.

Computers and Writing, as I have complained about before, has neither. It is a loosely formed neo-socialist anarchist collective committee organized under the umbrella of the CCCCs (which itself is technically a group organized under the umbrella of NCTE) that meets at the CCCCs mainly to figure out where the next conference is going to be– and often enough, deciding on where the next conference is going to be is tricky. The web site, computersandwriting.org, is mostly non-functional.

The Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (aka HASTAC) is an organized community that has an executive board, a steering committee, council of advisors, a staff (at least of sorts), lots of related groups, affiliated organizations, and (of course) a web site. According to the web site, HASTAC is an “alliance of nearly 13,000,” though I don’t quite know what that means. Before she introduced the first keynote of the conference on Thursday, Cathy Davidson took a moment to talk about the upcoming revisions to the HASTAC web site, which she claimed was the oldest (and I think most active?) “social media” web site for academics. I might be getting some of that wording wrong, but it was something along those lines.

Does any of this matter? Maybe not. I mean, “bigger” is not automatically “better.” So what if HASTAC has 13,000 in their “alliance,” if “Digital Humanities” is the term of art (in the sense that the National Endowment for the Humanities has an Office of Digital Humanities and not an Office of Computers and Writing), if CWCON remains the small conference of a sub-specialization within composition and rhetoric, a discipline that many also view (and the MLA wishes this were the case) as a sub-field of “English?” What do we care? In thinking about this post, I revisited some of the discussion on tech-rhet last year about the decay of the computersandwriting.org web site. Back then, I stirred the pot/rattled the cage a bit by suggesting that a) maybe we need an actual organization, and b) maybe we need a robust web site. Both of those ideas were more or less poo-poo-ed, in part because I think a lot of people like the way things are. CWCON has always been a “non-organization” organization that has had a groovy and rebellious feel to it, and I mean all that as a positive. And given that the conference has now been put on 31 times (I think?), it’s hard to dispute the success of this approach.

On the other hand, if folks associated with CWCON want to be taken seriously by academics outside of that community, I think it matters a great deal.

A big theme amongst the CWCON crowd in recent years (and I include myself in this) has been being miffed/angered/hurt/etc. about how scholars in the “Digital Humanities” have ignored the decades of work we’ve done in comp/rhet generally, particularly folks who identify with CWCON. Cheryl Ball wrote a pointed editorial in Kairos about this (though she was taking on the PMLA more specifically), and I believe in her keynote at this year’s CWCON (I wasn’t there, just judging from Twitter), she again expressed frustration about how comp/rhet scholars doing DH work (CWCON, Kairos, etc.) are ignored, how “we” have been doing this work for a lot longer and better, and so forth.

I share that frustration, believe me. But at the end of the day, the CWCON community can’t have it both ways. It can’t be both a free-wheeling, non-organized “happening” of a group and be miffed/angered/hurt/etc. when the rest of academia interested in DH either doesn’t know we exist or ignores us because we’re not organized and visible to anyone outside of the group.

All of which is to say I have three general take-aways from HASTAC:

  • HASTAC was good, I would go again, and I am generally interested in seeking out/attending other DH conferences with the confidence that yes indeed, the kinds of things I might propose for CWCON would probably be welcome in the realm of DH. The one caveat to that is my general resistance to academic conferences of all sorts, but that’s another issue.
  • HASTAC could learn a lot from CWCON, sure, but CWCON could learn a lot from HASTAC too. I don’t know how much of this was the MSU location and how much of it was HASTAC generally, but I liked the presentation formats and I also thought they had some creative ways for getting people to know each other, like “sign-ups” for particular restaurants to go to as a group.
  • I’m not interested in starting an organization (that takes way too much work and isn’t something I can do alone), but I’m thinking very seriously about creating a web site that could be what I’d like to see computersandwriting.org be, a repository for comp/rhet things relevant to DH things, and vice-versa. I found out that computersandwriting.net is actually available, but that would be a little too snarky, and besides, I think the move should be to make connections with the DH community. So I thought maybe writinganddh.org or writing-dh.org maybe something like ws-dh.org (where I mean “writing studies”). If you have any ideas and/or thoughts on pitching in (I mean to write– I’ll fund it out of my own pocket, at least for a year), let me know.

More specifically about what I did at HASTAC after the jump:

Continue reading “What’s the difference between HASTAC and CWCON? Organization and a web site”

Actors, Videos, Robots, and More MOOC Reading Round-up

It’s been a pretty busy and productive time in MOOC-land. I’m simultaneously working on three different “parts” of the MOOCs In Context project with the hopes of having enough to seriously start seeing if there’s a publisher interested in whatever this will end up being. I’ve got a chapter coming out sometime in the near future (yet this year?) in a collection edited by Liz Losh about MOOCs, and I’ve got some other MOOC scholarship news on my mind I’m not quite ready to announce to the whole world yet. And my garden is completely in. So it’s been a good sabbatical, one that will end sooner than I had originally planned– but that’s another post. Anyway, more of this post after the jump.

Continue reading “Actors, Videos, Robots, and More MOOC Reading Round-up”

Where Bauerlein Sorta/Kinda Has a Point: Office Hours and “Tutoring”

Mark Bauerlein’s latest piece in the New York Times, “What’s the Point of a Professor?” is too much of a troll to take too seriously. He’s just complaining about the “kids today” in college and how they are all so much more interested in careers and so not interested in sitting at the feet of master professors in order to build a personal philosophy of life, the universe, and everything.

For a more direct response to the problems of Bauerlein’s take on things, I direct you to two very smart blog posts.

I especially appreciate Gannon’s critique because he is highlighting one of the problems I see with a lot of the writing about MOOCs and/or the future of higher education– people like Kevin Carey in The End of College, and also like David Noble in his critique of what I would describe as “traditional online courses,” Digital Diploma Mills.

Without going into a lot of detail now, I think Bauerlein, Carey, Noble, etc. are assuming as “the norm” that every other institution deviates from in one fashion or another is a big flagship state university or a famous Ivy league school– you know, the kinds of places that show up in the “top 20 universities in the world” lists. The fact of the matter is though that by definition, the vast vast VAST majority of community colleges, colleges, and universities are not “elite,” and the students and faculty at these places are similar but not the same as the students/faculty you find at elite institutions.

So while Bauerlein and Carey both assume that professors are “pointless” and not needed because they don’t teach much and/or are self-consumed with their research, Gannon goes to great length to explain the extremes of teaching and student involvement at the school where he works, Grand View University (he cheekily describes it as the Harvard of East Des Moines), where the teachings loads are high and the hands-on work with the small student body is extreme.

Anyway, go read those blog posts– smart stuff and I agree with both of them. But I wanted to take a slightly different view with Bauerlein’s essay and take up two things he brings up, more or less indirectly, that have to do with face to face interactions.

Continue reading “Where Bauerlein Sorta/Kinda Has a Point: Office Hours and “Tutoring””

ASU’s edX MOOC deal: Lots of links and a few thoughts

It’s stuff like this that keeps me going and reminds me that this MOOC book project might be relevant after all. First a bunch of links:

  • From Inside Higher Ed, “MOOCs for (a Year’s) credit.” “Arizona State University, in partnership with edX, this fall will begin to offer credit-bearing massive open online courses at a fraction of the cost of either in-person or traditional online education.” … “By fall 2016, ASU anticipates it will offer enough MOOCs so that students can complete their entire freshman year online through what edX and the university are calling the Global Freshman Academy. After completing the courses, students can receive a transcript from ASU showing that they have earned enough credits at the university to transfer to a different program or institution as sophomores. Since the university stresses the MOOCs are just a new form of delivering courses it already offers, the transcripts won’t specify which type of course — in-person, online or massive online — students enrolled in to earn the credit.” Lots and lots of details about this here.
  • From the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Arizona State and edX Will Offer an Online Freshman Year, Open to All.” Here’s an interesting quote: “The courses to be offered through the Global Freshman Academy are being designed and will be taught by leading scholars at Arizona State. “These courses are developed to their rigorous standards,” Adrian Sannier, chief academic officer for EdPlus at ASU, said in the release. “Course faculty are committed to ensuring their students understand college-level material so that they can be prepared to successfully complete college.”Students who pass a final examination in a course will have the option of paying a fee of no more than $200 per credit hour to get college credit for it.”
  • Here’s the ASU official announcement and here’s edX’s announcement about the Global Freshman Academy. One thing that’s worth noting here is that this page answers the “who is this for” question by noting it is for traditional freshmen and returning students (the picture there features a man at a computer who is probably in his 40s or older) and “Educators and lifelong learners.”
  • Here’s a Washington Post article on this, “Arizona State University to offer freshman year online, for credit.” Here’s a quote on the price: “At the end [that is, end of the course], they will be able to take a proctored final exam. Those who are successful can pay tuition of up to $200 per credit toward an ASU degree. Students who complete eight classes this way can enter ASU as sophomores, according to university President Michael M. Crow. Estimated total tuition and fees for this route: a little more than $5,000. That’s about half of what in-state students are paying this year on the main campus in Tempe, Ariz., and about 20 percent of what out-of-state students pay.”
  • From The New York Times comes “Promising Full College Credit, Arizona State University Offers Online Freshman Program.”
  • There’s a kind of interesting article about Michael Crow behind the firewall of the CHE too, “The Making of a Higher-Ed Agitator.” Sounds like he has quite the “interesting” biography.
  • A few somewhat more critical pieces on all this. First, from Inside Higher Ed, “Change, but How Substantive?” A lot of this article is about the accreditation issues associated with this. It’s not to say that the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (ASU’s accreditor) isn’t going to approve this; but there are still apparently a lot of questions and concerns.
  • Second and more important, also from Inside Higher Ed (and his own “Confessions of a Community College Dean”) comes “What Problem are ASU and EdX Solving?” from Matt Reed.   Here’s a longish quote that I think gets at one of the big problems I see with this plan:

According to Carl Straumsheim’s piece in IHE, a student who enrolls in one (or more) from a specific set of MOOCs offered through edX will have the option of paying a $45 fee for identity verification, followed by a $200 per credit fee to Arizona State, to have the MOOC performance translated into academic credit by and for ASU.

Or, that same student could take an actual course, online or onsite, from a community college. It would cost less, and would have an actual instructor provide actual guidance and feedback  throughout the course. The credits would transfer anywhere, not just to ASU. Tuition at Maricopa — the community college local to Phoenix — is $84 per credit, as opposed to $200 for the MOOC. Even in the higher-tuition Northeast, we come in well below $200 per credit. And community colleges run full slates of general education courses.

Even better, taking the course with a community college offers access to online tutoring, library resources, and other student supports that have been “unbundled” from the MOOC.

ASU is pointing out that a student doesn’t need to pass through the ASU admissions process to take a MOOC. That’s true, as far as it goes, but community colleges are also open-admission, and have been for decades.

I’m just not sure which problem they think they’re solving.

Anyway, just a few very brief thoughts on this:

First off, I think that Matt Reed is absolutely and positively right. While it’s kind of cool that students don’t have to pay for their classes until after they take them, $200 a credit isn’t really that cheap for these kinds of credits because community colleges are typically cheaper and provide better support for students.

A closely related issue here: MOOCs have a long way to go to prove that they actually “work” as well as face to face classes and smaller, more interactive online courses.  Udacity’s failed experiment at San Jose State doesn’t bode well here. So this program is likely to have lots and lots of students who start these courses but not that many who pay for the credits, either because they don’t need/want the credits (see below) or because they simply don’t finish the course.

Second is recent and not so recent history is not on the side of this sort of initiative. When “traditional” online programs/courses came on the scene in the late 1990s or so, the idea was that a place like EMU could offer a degree program and attract students from Alaska or wherever. Well, mostly what has happened is online courses and online programs have attracted more or less local students: that is, the online classes I teach are mostly full of students who are taking face to face classes at EMU as well.  Sure, there are some institutions that have had success at attracting students from other parts of the country and world– and ASU is one of the places that has been successful at that too.  But generally speaking, students take courses online from institutions where they take face to face courses.

Third, I think MOOC providers are focusing on the wrong thing and the wrong audience. As I blogged about just before this post, students pick colleges first based on academics, second on job prospects,  and then (roughly tied for third/fourth/fifth place) on scholarship opportunities, cost of attendance, and social activities. And as I’ve also blogged about before, all the data suggests that most MOOC takers/students already have a college degree, don’t need or want the credit, and are taking the course for personal enrichment/”edutainment.”

Like I said, maybe all this program needs to do to be successful is to attract some students who would have otherwise tried to go to ASU anyway. Maybe it will be successful as a PR move, too: some students take some ASU MOOCs, have good experiences, and decide to enroll there for real. But for MOOCs to really represent a “sea change” in higher education, it seems to me they need to address the top motivating factors for students’ choices about what school to attend and not just costs.

A few “why is college so expensive” links (and my own theories on that)

One of the clear motivations behind MOOCs (not to mention earlier distance ed technologies like correspondence courses, radio and television courses, and traditional online courses) is to do something about the costs of (and also access to) college. So naturally, I’ve been interested in the series of articles and blog posts that have come out lately speculating about why college is so expensive. I suppose most of this is in response to Paul Campos’ New York Times piece “The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much,” though as I mentioned in my last post, affordability and access is also at the heart of the motivation to Kevin Carey’s “University of Everywhere,” too. So more than I originally intended to write on this, and a lot of this is sort of MOOC book prewriting, too (at least that’s what I’m telling myself):

Continue reading “A few “why is college so expensive” links (and my own theories on that)”

An initial response to Carey’s “The End of College” (or college costs don’t matter)

I’ve read about half of Kevin Carey’s The End of College and I’ve seen lots of the critiques of it in the education media, particularly in Inside Higher Ed.  There’s this, this (which has a pretty decent bullet-point summary of the book), this (which is probably too polite), and this piece by Audrey Watters and Sara Goldrick-Rab.  That Watters/Goldrick-Rab piece is probably my favorite because it is so biting and so extensively cited, though Kim thought it a little too “biting.” I commented on that article already. In any event, while my own reading of Carey is a “work in progress,” I thought I’d share two thoughts for now.

First, I am both bothered and puzzled by the attention Carey’s book is getting. I’m bothered because this book seems to be getting way WAY too much attention, and I’m puzzled by this because it seems to me the point he is making about “The University of Everywhere” is basically the same that the “Year of the MOOCs” bandwagon was making in 2012. If all this were new, I guess it might make sense; that it’s not new at all and it’s still getting great PR confuses me.

I referenced Carey’s book (well, indirectly because I ran out of time during the presentation)  at the CCCCs, and I suspect I’ll be quoting from him if I ever get this MOOC book/sabbatical project together (knocking on wooden things). I see him figuring into the last chapter where I am imagining the future of MOOCs and whatever comes next, and the seemingly never-ending quest to make education cheaper by making it more “efficient” and by further distancing teachers from students and/or bypassing the teachers altogether. Here’s a long quote from my CCCCs talk that I didn’t get to read that gives you an idea about where I’m coming from about why I’m confused by the attention:

I think Carey is wrong in lots of different ways. I think he’s right that higher education spends too much money on football and fancy campuses, and there is no doubt that higher education costs too much money. But his assumption about the research/teaching balance being out of whack and the inability of professors to teach is at best an exaggeration. Carey talks about runaway costs, but as far as I can tell, he says little about how expenses have been driven up by rising administrator salaries and increased bureaucratic demands on everyone from outside stakeholders (assessment!). Further, he seems to think that the content that would be delivered electronically in the University of Everywhere is free as in “free beer,” that that work just magically happens.

But the reason why Carey’s argument matters is the same reason why the MOOC business got traction a few years ago: Carey is playing off the popular (and largely uninformed) view of college, that it’s far too expensive because professors don’t do anything to teach and they are getting paid too much to do something that appears to most people outside of academia to not actually be a job. Write a book about how higher ed needs to be reformed by improving government funding, eliminating administrative bloat,  and by streamlining extracurriculars gets zero discussion and it sells 200 copies [and as an aside: I am afraid this is the book I am writing]. Write a book about how higher ed ought be run like Google and it gets covered by the New York Times and Fresh Air and lots of other places and it sells thousands. So even though the future of Carey’s “University of Everywhere” seems like an even more “risky business,” it’s similar to MOOCs in that we need to engage in the conversation.

The second (and more important and counter-intuitive) thing is about the “college costs too much” argument. Much of Carey’s book argues college as we know it needs to be completely retooled because it costs too much money, which is of course the conventional wisdom from most about higher education (including me). This is a rational observation. But here’s the thing: it seems to me most would be students and their parents don’t actually care that much about the costs.  It certainly isn’t driving most decisions students make about where to go to college.

Continue reading “An initial response to Carey’s “The End of College” (or college costs don’t matter)”

CCCC 15 in Tampa Recap

Just like last year, my CCCCs was again fairly MOOC-centric and included the usual suspects. My thoughts/recollections on the few days there:

  • Unfortunately, I am likely to remember this CCCCs years from now as the one where there was a horrible accident right outside the conference hotel and convention center. The short version is a driver somehow lost control of his car, jumped the curb on the street that ran between the hotel and the convention center, and hit three pedestrians, killing one of them and seriously injuring the other two. I didn’t see it– I was sitting in the lobby of the hotel trying to get caught up on a few email/Facebook things– but a lot of people at the conference did see it and I’m told it was horrifying.  One person I talked to who was right there when it happened said she was busy writing an angry email on her cell phone (something didn’t get done right and she was mad, that’s all you really need to know), and when the accident happened, she felt this strange everything frozen in place and time sensation, and then she deleted that email before sending it since it didn’t seem that important anymore.
  • I was on the fence about going to the conference at all this year because I’m on sabbatical right now (did I mention I was on sabbatical?), and because I wasn’t that crazy about going to Florida generally. I am not a “Florida fan,” so to speak. Annette’s parents have lived in Naples for about 16 years now and we go down there pretty much every year at Christmas (including this past Christmas). That’s plenty of Florida for me. But as far as I can tell, most people were thrilled to be down there, and my colleague and University of South Florida alum Kate Pantelides was really REALLY thrilled to be visiting Tampa again.
  • I had a chance to get to talk with/have dinner with my newest EMU colleague at the conference, Chalice Randazzo, who will be joining us from Texas Tech. I wasn’t on the search committee, so I actually talked with her more at the conference than when she was here for the interview. And it’s always nice when colleagues in the field come up to you in the lobby of the hotel and say stuff like “you made a great hire,” especially when I didn’t have much to do with it.
  • Every CCCCs, there are people who I just never see and there other people who I inexplicably see everywhere. This year, the “saw everywhere” person was Stuart Selber. Don’t ask me why. I also hung out with/caught up with the usual suspects, some folks I see all the time (like Benninghoff and Bill HD), some folks I see about once a year (Nick Carbone, Heidi Estrem, Linda Adler-Kassner), and some I see somewhere in-between (Doug Walls, Mike McLeod).
  • The three most memorable panel-type things I saw were the Ohio State folks’ roundtable session on their MOOC, part of a session by Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Anne Wysocki called “Blow It the Fuck Up: Composition After Writing,” a presentation I thought was provocative (though it’s easier said than done and I think there’s a lot to value by being aligned with a specific position), and the Ignite sessions that were on Friday night. There needs to be more of these Ignite kinds of things– short (five minute), provocative speeches that take place in a more social interaction– there was an intermission and cocktails.
  • My session and my talk went fine. The other folks on the panel all gave good talks that I wouldn’t mind returning to as I get back into the MOOC work this coming week. The only downside was we had a somewhat overeager chair who aggressively timed the presentations and flagged me for running out of time, which surprised me because I timed my talk to be 18 minutes. Turns out that our chair was assuming a 15 minute time limit. Hmm.
  • And lots and lots of great conversations with folks outside the sessions. Honestly, that’s the biggest reason for going to the CCCCs for me at this point. It’s always nice to meet people you kind of “know” from Facebook or Twitter or the WPA-L and put a face with a name, and it’s always nice when people say nice things to me about stuff I post or about the MOOC book or whatever (I assume that anyone who would have said mean things just avoided me). It did get hard to keep answering the “how’s your sabbatical going?” question after a while, though interestingly enough, when I expressed my mixed feelings about it all to people who had previously had sabbaticals, they tended to say “yeah, I know what you mean.”
  • The “extracurricular” activities were pretty decent. The bar at the conference hotel was too expensive, but it was nice sitting on that patio. The annual Bedford-St. Martin’s party was at the Florida Aquarium, which was very cool as a venue, though there was almost no food– not a big deal for me, but this was not the kind of party I recall as a grad student where you could go and more or less piece together a complete (and free) meal. I ended up for dinner after that party at a place called Cevíche that probably was my favorite food experience of the whole conference– though I had a couple pretty good meals. I was also a part of a pretty amusing food fail. Long story short, it turns out that the very popular Bern’s Steakhouse doesn’t appreciate it when you show up thirty minutes late for your reservation for three with five people. So we ended up at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, which was also a very Tampa thing.
  • So all in all, I’m glad I decided to go and I felt a pretty good kick-start on the sabbatical. Now I’ll have to contemplate next year’s conference. Once again, I feel mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I’m not even remotely crazy about going to the location– Houston– and, as I say every year, the last thing I need on my CV is another conference presentation. On the other hand, my former colleague and friend Linda Adler-Kassner is the program chair and it is pretty much the only conference I’m even contemplating, so….

My CCCCs 2015 Presentation

Here’s a link to the presentation I’ll be giving at the Conference for College Composition and Communication meeting next week in Tampa, Florida. My talk is called “Risky Business: The Difficult to See, Always Moving, Fast and Fuzzy Future of Corporate-Sponsored Massive Online Open Courses.” My session is G.10, which is at 9:30 in the morning on March 20, and it looks like we’re in “Grand Ballroom I, Level Two,” whatever that means.

There could be some changes along the way, but this is probably pretty much how I’ll roll. Why post it here now? Two basic reasons. First, I think this is the best way to make the presentation available to people in the name of accessibility– the CCCCs has a nice little video about this here. I haven’t had a lot of people in my audience over the years who have had some kind of disability where they have requested a transcript or what-have-you, but it has happened, and this is a lot easier than me handing out a paper document.

Second, there’s so much going on at the CCCCs and this session is at the relatively early time of 9:30, which means that lots of people who might be interested in this aren’t going to come to the panel. And on a closely related point: every presentation I’ve posted online has received many MANY more visits than there were actual at the presentation. I’ve already mentioned this on this site, but I’ll mention it again: I gave a talk at the Cultural Rhetorics Conference on October 31 last year. It was a nice little conference up at Michigan State, and for a whole bunch of reasons (including time of day and other things on the program), my panel had about six people in the audience. No big deal, that happens, and we still had a nice discussion.  But I am quite sure that at least ten times that many people have at least looked at the blog post that has the script and slides from that presentation.

Does that mean that we should just skip the conference thing and throw all this stuff up online? Of course not. But it does mean that I think we ought to take more advantage of the affordances of the face to face space of conferences like the CCCCs– conversation, networking, socializing, collaborating, etc.– and use spaces like this one to publish content that can be accessed before, during, and after the actual face to face event.

Anyway, read away (or not).