The last third

Late August/early September is the beginning of the year for academic-types. Just as summer is ending and normal people begin to think about fall and the year winding down, academic-types are thinking of starting again. Though this new school year finds me in a place where “starting again” isn’t quite what’s happening. I’m more imagining the last third of my career, give or take.

I’m not teaching this fall because I have a Faculty Research Fellowship from EMU, which is basically a “sabbatical light” sort of award. It’s a good thing and I am busy working on a book about MOOCs, but it also means I’m not getting ready to teach classes for the first time in like 29 years. Dang, I just did that math, but I think it’s right: I started teaching as an MFA student in 1988, and while I had a winter semester sabbatical and some other breaks along the way, I’m pretty sure I have taught at least one class every fall since 1988 as either a grad student, a part-time instructor, or a tenure-track faculty person. Until this year.

Plus I am beginning this semester as an “uber” or “fuller” professor. That’s not what it’s really called, but “salary adjustment promotion” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. This was one of the good things the union did a while ago (with the last contract?) that helps deal with both the problems of salary compression and motivating full professors to stay active. In a sense, it isn’t that big of a deal because everyone in my department who has done the paperwork and process for this promotion has gotten it. Like tenure and promotion more generally at EMU, it is more about “time served” than demonstrated excellence, though I think there’s a good argument to be made about why our system is both more humane and more empowering for faculty who take their scholarship seriously than what happens at most universities. But in another sense, it is a big deal because it is a significant pay raise and because it does tick off another career milestone: I’ve been a full professor now for 10 years.

Oh, and given the low bar for scholarly productivity at EMU, I’m pretty sure that the stuff I’ve done this year that didn’t count this time (presentations and a chapter in a book on MOOCs that just came out) plus my MOOC book (knocking on wooden things) will be enough in my scholarship bucket for me to get a second one of these salary adjustments in 2027, even if this MOOC book I’m working on is my last scholarly project. This assumes both the salary adjustment promotion and me are walking the earth in 2027, of course.

Plus PLUS there is the ongoing mess of course equivalencies and the generally bad and/or in-over-their-heads administrators at EMU right now, everyone from the President all the way down. I don’t have a lot of confidence in any of these people, and I don’t think my opinions about the administration are all that unusual.

Plus PLUS PLUS I turned 51 this year. I don’t know if that is that important of a milestone or not, but it seems a bigger deal to me than 50 was, maybe because of everything else that’s going on.

So the bad news is that career-wise, I probably have no choice but to ride out the storm at EMU. Never say never, but I’m too old and too senior and I don’t have the academic pedigree to compete for most of the tenured professor positions that might be coming about this year. Besides, we’re a package deal. Annette (also a tenured full professor) and I long ago decided that a “commuter marriage” wasn’t a good idea. So sure, we might look at the job market a bit more than we have in the past, but more than likely, we’re stuck.

Mind you, being “stuck” at EMU isn’t all bad. While the working conditions might be getting worse in different ways, I am pretty sure EMU isn’t going to be closing its doors in the foreseeable future. It could be a lot worse; I mean, I don’t worry about losing my job. I like my students and my colleagues. I like southeast Michigan. The pay and benefits are still pretty good (though it’ll be interesting to see what gets clawed back with the next contract). And as I’ve seen before, the working conditions at EMU (and most universities, actually) can turn from good to bad to good again on a dime. It’s bad now; it could be totally fine next fall.

But yeah, I’m not feeling particularly rosy about this new school year.

My friend and colleague Bill Hart-Davidson wrote a relentlessly positive Medium post here about his start to the new school year at Michigan State University, newly promoted to both a full professor and the Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Education in the College of Arts and Letters.  The post is called “Like an Oak Tree” because he tells the story of an oak tree he has in his front yard that appears to be dying. In reality, that tree is becoming “reborn” by providing a “home” for the various woodland creatures feeding and living on/in it while simultaneously it is healing itself with new growth.  You should read that. It’s inspiring.

But right now, I am reminded of  T-shirt slogan I have seen before, “50 isn’t old if you’re a tree.”  And as an academic who is feeling kind of “done” and pessimistic, the metaphor of “dead wood” seems somehow more fitting.

I don’t think too frequently or specifically about retirement. Usually, I think “retire from what?” I mean, I still like what I do, it’s not exactly back-breaking labor, and I’ve gotten to the point where I really can take a long break in the summers. But sometimes (especially when the morale and environment is like it is right now), I think “how soon can I get out of this?” Either way, the start of this school year has brought into sharp focus for me that I probably am entering the last third of things. Thinking about retirement doesn’t seem quite as far-fetched now as it did even a few years ago.

Anyway, my new school year resolutions:

  • Finish the MOOC book. And finish a draft of it before my FRF wraps up this fall.
  • Go to the gym more.
  • Let go and find something else “to do” besides by EMU. What I mean by this is as I unplug from various service and quasi-administrative duties and instead focus on my teaching and me, I need to find things that provide value in my life that don’t have to do with EMU and my work. I’m not entirely sure what that means yet and there are people close to me (like my wife) who say I am not going to be able to “let go.” But I got to start trying.
  • Finish the book.
  • No really, finish the book! Which (more knocking! more knocking!) really is entirely possible.
  • Stay “out of it.”
  • Plan early enough for winter teaching– though I will of course need to know what I’m teaching in the winter more than a week before classes start, which will not necessarily be the case.
  • Start writing something else that has nothing to do with my “career.”
  • Okay, have a little fun, too.

ASU and MOOCs: six months later, I might actually still be right

I noticed this morning an old post of mine had gotten a couple of hits, this post from back in late April, “ASU’s edX MOOC deal: Lots of links and a few thoughts.” This was when Arizona State University announced this big plan with edX to offer a freshman year of college via something they called the “Global Freshman Academy.” This came shortly after a widely publicized deal with Starbucks to offer its employees ASU online courses.  Back then, I quoted Matt “Confessions of a Community College Dean” Reed’s post “What Problem are ASU and EdX Solving?” at some length; among other things, he argued that this ASU deal doesn’t make a lot of sense since community colleges are simply a better deal. Besides agreeing with Reed, I also argued:

  • MOOCs haven’t proven themselves to “work” well for the kind of general education courses part of this initiative;
  • As we’ve seen with other online initiatives, students tend to take online courses fairly locally; and (and this was my main argument),
  • This is an example of how MOOC providers are focusing on the wrong goal and the wrong audience. To quote myself: “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.'”

This ASU deal was big, was supposed to be a game-changer. I’ve interviewed a bunch of people for my (still on-going, not getting done fast enough) MOOC book project, and I can recall at least one interview where this came up as an example of where MOOCs were heading. When I was at that conference in Italy, this deal was brought up a couple of times as something to watch closely.

Well, six-ish months later, I’m still right.  Continue reading

Post from sabbatical-land “less than zero” days to go: a few random thoughts and unsolicited advice

When I first started a “days to go” countdown in blog posts about being on sabbatical, I pegged the end of my sabbatical as being September 1 because I was off during the winter 2015 term and not teaching this summer. Well, a couple of things happened. First off, I never was completely “away” and I’ve really felt that lately this month with the “CyberDiscovery” camps both at Louisiana Tech the first week in June and here at EMU starting this past Monday. But second and more important, I am taking on some quasi-administrative work as the associate director of the first year writing program starting this July– and really, I’ve already started getting a few emails about all this I have to address here and there. So even though it isn’t a ton of work and responsibility (yet), it’s still not “on leave.”

The party sabbatical is over. Time to get back to work. But before I do, a few random thoughts and advice, mostly to myself.

Continue reading

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

“Rhetoric and the Digital Humanities,” Edited by Jim Ridolfo and Bill Hart-Davidson

I’ve blogged about “the Digital Humanities” several times before. Back in 2012, I took some offense at the MLA’s “discovery” of “digital scholarship” because they essentially ignored the work of anyone other than literature scholars– in other words, comp/rhet folks who do things with technology need not apply. Cheryl Ball had an editorial comment in Kairos back then I thought was pretty accurate– though it’s also worth noting in the very same issue of Kairos, Ball also praised the MLA conference for its many “digital humanities” presentations.

Almost exactly a year ago, I had a post here called “If you can’t beat ’em and/or embracing my DH overlords and colleagues,” in which I was responding to a critique by Adam Kirsch that Marc Bousquet had written about. Here’s a long quote from myself that I think is all the more relevant now:

I’ve had my issues with the DH movement in the past, especially as it’s been discussed by folks in the MLA– see here and especially here.  I have often thought that a lot of the scholars in digital humanities are really literary period folks trying to make themselves somehow “marketable,” and I’ve seen a lot of DH projects that don’t seem to be a whole lot more complicated than putting stuff up on the web. And I guess I resent and/or am annoyed with the rise of digital humanities in the same way I have to assume the folks who first thought up MOOCs (I’m thinking of the Stephen Downes and George Siemens of the world) way before Coursera and Udacity and EdX came along are annoyed with the rise of MOOCs now. All the stuff that DH-ers talk about as new has been going on in the “computers and writing”/”computers and composition” world for decades and for these folks to come along now and to coin these new terms for old practices– well, it feels like a whole bunch of work of others has been ignored and/or ripped off in this move.

But like I said, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. The “computers and writing” world– especially vis a vis its conference and lack of any sort of unifying “organization”– seems to me to be fragmenting and/or drifting into nothingness at the same time that DH is strengthening to the point of eliciting backlash pieces in a middle-brow publication like the New Republic. Plenty of comp/rhet folk have already made the transition, at least in part. Cheryl Ball has been doing DH stuff at MLA lately and had an NEH startup grant on multimedia publication editing; Alex Reid has had a foot in this for a few years now; Collin Brooke taught what was probably a fantastic course this past spring/winter, “Rhetoric, Composition, and Digital Humanities;” and Bill Hart-Davidson and Jim Ridolfo are editing a book of essays that will come out in the fall (I think) called Rhetoric and the Digital Humanities. There’s an obvious trend here.

And this year, I’m going to HASTAC instead of the C&W conference (though this mostly has to do with the geographic reality that HASTAC is being hosted just up the road from me at Michigan State University) and I’ll be serving as the moderator/host of a roundtable session about what the computers and writing crowd can contribute to the DH movement.

In other words, I went into reading Jim and Bill’s edited collection Rhetoric and the Digital Humanities with a realization/understanding that “Digital Humanities” has more or less become the accepted term of art for everyone outside of computers and writing, and if the C&W crowd wants to have any interdisciplinary connection/relevance to the rest of academia, then we’re going to have to make connections with these DH people. In the nutshell, that’s what I think Jim and Bill’s book is about. (BTW and “full disclosure,” as they say: Jim and Bill are both friends of mine, particularly Bill, who I’ve known from courses taken together, conferences, project collaborations, dinners, golf outings, etc., etc., etc. for about 23 or so years).

Continue reading

Post from sabbatical-land 126 days to go: dodging the administrator bullet & those lazy professors

I say “126 days to go” based on my self-declared date of September 1 as the end of my sabbatical, but this isn’t entirely true. Technically, my sabbatical was only for the winter (what everyone else calls spring) term, and since today is the last day of finals for this term at EMU, I suppose you could say that today is the end of my sabbatical.

Anyway, on the “dodging the administrator bullet” part of things: I applied for an administrative position here at EMU, as the Director of the Faculty Development Center, and it’s been quite a trip over the last couple of weeks.  I first mentioned the possibility of this here earlier in March and over at EMUTalk when I talked about closing down that site. I’m still going to be phasing EMUTalk out because it’s too much of a time-suck and it’s too much me (and that’s what this blog is for), but this is what I had in mind when I said “I might apply for an administrator job.”

Most of this is a matter of public record (which is why I’m comfortable about blogging about this at all), but needless to say, I’m not going into too much detail about the actual search process. Let’s just say I found myself as a finalist, I thought the interview process went well, the powers that be hired Peggy Liggit (who was the interim director), and I couldn’t be more relieved.

Part of my relief has to do with the job itself– I’ll skip the details of what I mean on that point. But most of my relief has to do with what I guess I’d describe as a realization that becoming an administrator would be a bad idea for me. It was sort of a mini midlife crisis. I first applied for the position because I thought I was qualified (and the fact that I was a finalist for the job suggests that I was qualified), I thought it might be interesting, and I liked the idea of the pay raise. But as the process went on, the more I saw the negatives of giving up my freedom, the ability to work at home (or coffee shops or wherever) while wearing jeans and t-shirt, the flexibility of not having to be in an office 40 hours a week, my summers. I started to realize I was going to end up doing a whole lot less scholarship and probably no teaching and instead I was going to go to a lot of meetings. Maybe I would have felt differently if I wasn’t sabbaticalling right now and if I had been waist-deep in grading and the like. In any event, about a month after I had first applied and while the interviews were happening, I started regretting applying at all. I mean like really really regretting it.

But like I said, in the end it wasn’t to be me, I couldn’t be happier, and I’m (almost completely) sure I won’t be doing that again. Of course, I probably would have never reached that realization had I not actually applied for the job in the first place.

Anyway (and I’m not sure this is completely connected), I was thinking about my realization that it would be foolish for me to give up what I’ve got– even for a lot more money– and a couple of these laws that have been floated lately to make professors “work more” and/or to vote them out of a job. There was the “8 courses a year” proposal in North Carolina by state senator Tom McInnis — here’s a CHE article about it— which would basically mandate a 4-4 load for every professor in the state schools, including the research universities. Then there’s the proposal from State Senator Mark Chelgren in the Iowa state congress where faculty would be evaluated solely on student evaluations– a professor not meeting some threshold of performance on these evaluations would be fired– and where the five professors who scored above this minimal threshold but the lowest would be fired. CHE has an interview with this winner of a politician here.

Of course, both of these plans are bad, though I have to say that the angry backlash reported in that CHE article about the “8 courses a year” proposal is perhaps a little over the top. Sure, if you’re teaching at an R1 and are expected “book plus” and/or lots of grant writing and the like for tenure and even more for promotion, a 4-4 load is a lot. We technically teach a 4-4 load here at EMU and there are some departments where faculty do teach four courses every semester. But because of a series of what are called “course equivalencies,” most faculty teach something closer to a 3-3 load (that’s what we teach in my department), and there is course release/reassigned time for doing quasi-administrative work and the like. But the point I am trying to make here is that lots of faculty at lots of “less than” R1 institutions teach eight courses a year or more.

And the “vote them off the island” plan from Chelgren is based on an actual problem: it is pretty much impossible to get rid of bad professors who are tenured, especially over something like bad teaching. Don’t get me wrong: the vast vast majority of professors are good at what they do in large part because it takes a lot to get these positions. But every department has a few bad apples– old, tenured, dried-up apples– and it doesn’t really matter how terrible the student evaluations are. So as ill-informed as Chelgren is, I kind of see where he’s coming from.

Both of these proposals are also variations on the “lazy professor who gets his summers off” view of academia.  This is a view that is of course inaccurate and it tends to be held by not very educated people and also by people who are kind of envious of the lifestyle. What I mean is sure, I work a lot, but I also enjoy the freedom to do the work I want to do and I can do that work mostly wherever I want. So I guess one of the big reasons why I’m not leaving my faculty job for administrative work anytime soon is so I can continue to tick off people like McInnis and Chelgren.

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

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

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….