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):

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Posted in Academia, MOOCs, Sabbatical II, Scholarship | 2 Comments

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.

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Posted in Blogs, MOOCs, Reading, Sabbatical II | 6 Comments

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….
Posted in Academia, MOOCs, Sabbatical II, Scholarship, Travel | 1 Comment

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).

Posted in MOOCs, Scholarship, Writing | 1 Comment

Post from sabbatical-land 180 days to go: three miscellany items

Colleagues and friends routinely ask me if I’m “enjoying” my sabbatical. It ebbs and flows.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m getting lots done. The research and reading and writing goes on with the “MOOCs in context” project; I’m starting to line up interviews with MOOC instructors, which will make up a lot of the third section of whatever this turns out to be (let’s remain optimistic and call it a “book”). I turned in a revised draft of a chapter for a collection on MOOCs, and I have the beginnings of my CCCCs presentation. So I kind of feel like if I didn’t accomplish anything else between now and September 1 (assuming these interviews go off without a hitch), I think I would have satisfied the unspoken agreement of scholarly productivity during this time away.

At other times, I feel like I’m not really doing anything. These feelings are slightly more mixed. Sometimes, my feelings about not getting enough done are cavalier, a sort of “screw it, I earned this break” feeling. More often, my fallen Catholic guilt kicks in. And at still other times, because I really am away from teaching and the rest of the day job (the quasi-administrative duties, the appointments, the hanging around and socializing in the office, even the busy-work), I’m bored. I get things done when I’m busy; when I have too much free time, I pick up a potentially unhealthy SimCity habit.

So yes, I’m enjoying my sabbatical. Except when I’m not.

But this post is really about three miscellaneous things I have wanted to blog about for a while and things I can imagine writing about more later, but that I don’t have that much time or interest right now. So better to get something down rather than let the moment pass entirely.

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Posted in Academia, MOOCs, Sabbatical II | 2 Comments

Post from sabbatical-land 202 days to go: a tangent thought about the need (or lack thereof?) for teaching code in web writing courses

I have been doing some reading and writing that is more directly tied to my MOOC sabbatical project than this post, honest. Lately, I’ve been reading and writing about correspondence schools and how they were influenced by the 19th century Chautauqua Institute and movement. I’ll spare you the details for what I am assuming are obvious reasons, but here’s a fun fact of doing this kind of research nowadays. Part of what I needed/wanted to hunt down was a sort of infamous quote from William Rainey Harper, who was the first president of the University of Chicago and an early proponent of correspondence schools. He predicted that the day was coming where most students would take courses via the mail. Anyway, he has a longish part about his thoughts on the pros and cons of correspondence/distance education in an 1885 book by John Heyl Vincent called The Chautauqua Movement, which, conveniently enough, is available in its entirety via Google Books. Who says the Internets isn’t good for anything?

Where was I? Oh yes, speaking of the Internets:

In the fall, I’m liable to be teaching a class I’ve taught several times before, Writing for the World Wide Web, and I’m on the cusp of thinking that this might be the first time I teach that class where I only spend a minimal amount of time with HTML and CSS. Maybe just the Codecademy course on HTML & CSS; maybe not even that much.

I think the thing that has kind of pushed me over the edge on this is Jeff Bridges’ web site. Or more specifically, squarespace and their Super Bowl ad. That’s a service that’s perhaps a little more about selling stuff than we tend to talk about in Writing for the Web, but as far as I can tell, it’s a drag n’ drop kind of app for setting up a site. Then there’s wix. It’s a little wonky, but it is all drag-n-drop stuff and it took me about 3 minutes to make this free page. (Sure, it makes really ugly code, but it does work, mostly). Of course, there’s wordpress, which is something I introduce to students as it is, and it was the option of choice discussed in this Vitae piece “How to Build a Website in 5 Steps.” I’m sure there are a lot of other options there for this kind of thing.

Back in the old days, the WYSIWYG options for HTML/CSS editing were poor– and I would include everything from the versions of Dreamweaver I’ve seen all the way back to the editor that came with one of the early versions of Netscape. I remember as early as about 1997 there were folks in the computers and writing world who were saying there was no point in wading into coding. But while those early WYSIWYG tools were helpful, they were glitchy and unreliable, meaning they were more like “what you see is what you get a lot of the time but not all the time,” and if you didn’t know enough about coding to figure out what was going wrong, you were pretty much screwed. As a teacher, I learned pretty quickly it was more time-consuming to not teach students HTML building blocks because when they tried to make a web site with one of these apps with no clue about the code underneath, they would get stuck and I’d have spend a lot more time helping them get unstuck. In any event, I taught code back then because writing web pages required writing code. These weren’t two different functions/jobs, much in the same way that printers a few hundred years ago directly employed writers and were themselves the publishers and book sellers.

That was then and this is now. I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with wix or squarespace, but they both seem easy and robust enough for a beyond basic site. It’s useful to understand some of the basics of HTML/CSS coding stuff for WordPress of course, but it’s not critical. So if the goal of a class like Writing for the Web is to have students present/study content on the web in some rhetorically meaningful way, then spending time on code just isn’t as important as it used to be. If the goal of a class like this is to also professionalize students to work “in the field,” coding might be a bit more important, but maybe not.  Any kind of entity or company that would employ someone as a technical/professional writer (broadly speaking) probably would also employ a full-time IT person who deals with the technicalities of the coding of the web site. And of course, that IT person is probably working with a lot of other stuff that I’ve heard of but don’t understand– Python (which reminds me: I should check into my Coursera course on that today), Ruby on Rails, PHP, etc., etc.

Writing for the Web as a class has always been a class that has included elements of a computer programming class (not to mention a graphic design class and an audio-video production class), but it seems to me that the space between the coding/programming that makes the modern web work and the content delivered on the web has widened. And while it is arguably a good idea for anyone who is interested in going into anything that smacks of content development nowadays to take some basic programming classes, the course I teach focuses more on the content.

As I teach it at least, the course has moved more toward social media issues, web style, usability, and the decisions writers have to make to re-present “words in a row” essays into web sites. I still teach a large HTML/CSS component in the class, and I’m beginning to think that the time spent on that isn’t worth it anymore. Or maybe it’s a different class: that is, maybe there is a need for a “coding for writing majors” kind of course where the focus really is on working through all the exercises at Codecademy.

Something more I’ll have to think about in around 200 days.

Posted in Computers and Writing, Sabbatical II, Teaching, Writing for the WWW | 1 Comment

(At least one of) The reason(s) I decided to go into composition and rhetoric: the creative writing edition

I read two pieces about the logistics of supporting one’s self as a writer yesterday and this morning– or maybe a better way of putting it is how it’s almost impossible to support one’s self as a poet or fiction writer. (Note that one can make a good living as a writer if you include in that definition the things we train our students to do: technical writing, editing, documentation, content management, social media work, web site development, writing teacher, etc, etc.  But that’s not the kind of “writer” either of these pieces is really talking about. I suppose I could parse out the problem of limiting the definition of writer to “someone who makes art,” but that’s another post for another time).

The first is an essay  “‘Sponsored’ by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from” by Ann Bauer and in Salon It’s an essay about how Bauer’s life as a writer is possible because her husband’s job pays the bills, and it’s also Bauer’s critique of the many writers who come from a similar space of privilege and do not either realize and/or acknowledge how that privilege allowed them to become a successful writer.

The second is a blog post at Gin and Tacos, which is really a rejoinder to Bauer’s essay, called “Dirty Little Secrets.”  Here, “Ed” (the guy behind Gin and Tacos, who is a semi-anonymous Political Science professor in the midwest) compares the unspoken financial independence of many writers to the unspoken use of steroids by body builders, especially those posing on the covers of various muscle magazines.  Among other things, Ed writes,

“The difference between the award-winning author … and some waitress trying to write a novel around the sixty hours she works every week to stay afloat might be talent. Or it might be the luxury of sitting around and devoting 8 hours per day to writing while someone else pays the rent. That might have something to do with it.”

I see both of their points, but I don’t think the fact that almost all but the most popular of pop writers need to pay the bills with some combination of a day job, a sponsor, and an inheritance is that big of a “secret.” And I certainly never thought the body builders in those magazines were so pumped up all as a result of clean living.

I learned concretely about the money issues (or lack thereof) for creative writers while in my MFA program back in the late 1980s. I had a few classmates who seemed to have come from the sort of privilege Bauer describes, but most of my fellow classmates (like me) lacked trust funds, and it became clear quickly that despite our hopes and dreams, we weren’t going to make money from our little stories and poems.

I remember one guy– he actually wasn’t a graduate of my program but he was around as a part-time instructor– who had published a first novel that had been considered quite successful. I believe it helped him land his part-time teaching gig. The publisher only printed a few hundred copies of his book. Another guy who was in the MFA program at the same time as me had published an “award winning” novel a few years before he even started attending classes and earned his degree. He was quite full of himself; I believe he went on after the MFA program to have a series of temp office jobs.  There’s another woman who I sorta/kinda know (she was in my program a few years after me) who seems to be a lot like Bauer: she writes and publishes novels and can afford to do so because of her husband– and it might help that she lives in Europe, too. And of course the faculty teaching us in the program also obviously needed a “day job.”

In fact, I know of only two people from my MFA days who have enjoyed what I think most people would call some popular and financial success primarily as a writer. One is still a good friend and while he made a fair amount of money from a novel years ago and he still technically makes much of his living from his novels and short stories, he also teaches part-time and he lives as frugal as anyone ever. Another is Sheri Reynolds, and while I would bet that she could “just write” if she wanted to, she’s also a professor at Old Dominion University. (By the way, both of these people are super-great folks and super-talented writers).

Almost everyone else I’m vaguely aware of from my MFA days has gone on to something else besides creative writing. Judging from Facebook, a lot of my MFA peers have gone on to private sector jobs of various flavors, work with nonprofits, teaching/working in high schools, teaching college (mostly as a non-tenure-track person, but there are a few folks I know who went on to tenure-track gigs in creative writing), or on to PhD programs and, in a few cases, tenure-track jobs in other fields (like me).

So the fact that creative writers cannot live off of their writing is not much of a secret, and knowing that explains, more or less, why I went into a comp/rhet program when I did way back when. I was (and am still) risk adverse and not fond of insecure employment, so the idea of taking a series of shit jobs so I could try to “make it” just wasn’t a reasonable plan to me. And besides all that, I wasn’t sure then (still am not sure now) I had the talent to do it.

As I have written about before, I decided to go into composition and rhetoric because I knew I wanted to stay in academia (especially after I attempted to have a real job), and I knew there were jobs out there in comp/rhet.  But I also think that comp/rhet is a field that complements, complicates, and expands what I learned about writing in my MFA program. That has and hasn’t turned out to be the case. Yes, I have been able to apply a lot of what I learned as an MFA student as a writing scholar, particularly the importance of habit and craft. But no, I haven’t been able to successfully make the mental shift to move from writing scholarship to writing art. Though one of the reasons why I’m writing so much about this right now is that’s one of the goals during the sabbatical, to return to fiction for the first time in about 20 years. Wish me luck.

Anyway, to get back to Bauer and Ed at Gin and Tacos: the next time you go to a reading given by someone who has published a “well-regarded” book but not one that has been riding the top of the New York Times best seller list for at least half a year, assume that person has some combination of other work and/or other wealth. And the next time you look at one of those muscle magazines, remember that’s the steroids and the HGH talking.

Posted in Blogs, Sabbatical II, Scholarship, Writing | 1 Comment

Post from sabbatical-land 219 days to go: a few interesting links and the limits of learning Swift with Udacity

A lot of stopping and starting this week, to a certain extent connected to the search going on right now in technical writing in my program. I’m not on the committee but I want to know what’s going on with this, so I went to some functions and presentations. On Thursday, I ended up being up at the office from about 9:30 until about 5:30 because of interview stuff and also because I’m still working with three grad students who are in various stages of their MA projects. It was all good, but I did have a bit of a flashback moment to contemplating the mistakes of “sabbatical lite.” It’s not just a question of not spending time with the project and/or “away;” it’s about a kind of rhythm, I suppose.

Anyway, a few links and an update on a MOOC I probably won’t be completing:

  • From Inside Higher Ed, “We All Felt Trapped.” This isn’t really about my project per se, but it’s a very weird and creepy story about an EdX MOOC about physics taught by Walter H.G. Lewin a couple years ago. The short version: Lewin, who was 78, had been (he had been an emeritus professor, though he was strip) a real star of a professor at MIT with all kinds of teaching awards and such. But apparently, he got himself involved in some kind of weird sexual harassment of students in the course. The whole story is there. Like I said, this isn’t really something I think my project will be dealing with, but it seems to me like it’s another example of the unexpected fallout of MOOCs.
  • This came up in my Google alert about MOOCs: “Top 5 reasons why your university needs a MOOC,” which is from a British e-learning consulting group of some sort.  Of these five reasons, three of them boil down to “make money,” which seems a little foolish to me. This might pop up in my CCCCs presentation.
  • Also from my Google alert, “First residential MOOC for U-M students focuses on health care.” As far as I can tell, what’s going on here is it’s free and open to everyone at the University of Michigan– presumably students, faculty, staff, etc.– which is to say that it is more of an internal personal/professional development opportunity. Pretty interesting.
  • And as far as one of my own MOOC experiences: I think I might not be finishing Udacity’s “Intro to iOS App Development with Swift,” basically for two reasons.  First, Swift (which is a programming language for iOS and I guess the main Apple OS too) is probably a little over my head. But second– and this is the big one– Udacity’s course seems to be just a little out of date, probably because of the Yosemite update. I tried to follow through the tutorial in the introduction and everything was going fine, but then the screen images that they were showing didn’t match up with the version of Xcode I dutifully installed, and the links that they had to some specific Apple support documents were 404s.  Maybe it’s not that big of a deal and maybe I’ll be able to figure it out if I press on through the lessons beyond this introductory one. But I have to say it doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence about how well this will go, and if I were paying Udacity for all this, I’d be pretty angry. Of course, if I were paying Udacity, I might also be able to ask for some help….
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Post from sabbatical-land: 224 days to go

There are many fuzzy borders and details in sabbatical-land. I said the beginning of my sabbatical was December 15 because that’s when I turned in my grades and was more or less done with my official EMU duties for the year. But that was/is fuzzy because I’m still doing some EMU things– answering an occasional email, working with some graduate students, and attending some job talks for a search we have going on right now.  I’ll be at the office on Thursday pretty much all day.

And I am calling the end of my sabbatical as September 1, because that’s when the current faculty contract expires. But that date is fuzzy too because the term doesn’t officially start until September 8 (assuming we aren’t on strike, of course) and I’ll almost certainly have to start preparing for the fall term a lot earlier than Labor Day. In any event, about 35 days down, about 224 days to go.

I have been working some, but in starts and fits. A lot of it is because of the holidays– and I purposefully said I wasn’t going to do any “work” during the Xmas/New Year’s break– and part of it is the distractions of the beginning of the school term for both Will and Annette. Part of it is also what I can only describe as “nesting,” which has involved a lot of cleaning and arranging– probably necessary– and elaborate cooking projects like making sausage and trying to “grow” my own natural bread starter– probably not necessary. I have been doing well at going to the gym and/or exercising, and at the end of the day, that actually is my first priority for this sabbatical. I am beginning to understand why retired people– I’m thinking in particular of my parents and in-laws— always describe themselves as “busy.”  I feel busy too for no actual reason.

I am happy to report that I have done some research, if by “research” you mean “look stuff up in the library a bit.” The fist part of this project (at least in my head) is about a few of the innovations that created the context for MOOCs, and that includes/starts with correspondence schools.  So far, this has meant going to the U of M storage facility and checking out the 1933 book University Teaching By Mail. That and the more contemporary The Pursuit of Knowledge Under Difficulties: From Self-Improvement to Adult Education in America, 1750-1990 by Joseph Kett (1994) will be my late afternoon coffee shop reading today. Earlier this morning, in writing about my own correspondence school experiences as an undergraduate, I drilled down the rabbit hole of past catalogs at the University of Iowa. So that kind of thing.

I’ve also signed up for/am beginning a few more MOOCs. Starting today (more or less), there’s e-Learning Ecologies, which is being taught by Bill Cope (who gave a great keynote talk at Computers and Writing when it was at UC-Davis) and Mary Kalantzis. Two quick things I’m already noticing on revisiting Coursera: lots of plugging of the revenue generating Signature Track, and the “MASSIVE” part seems only now to be “massive:” that is, this class has 4,000 students rather than 40,000.

I’m going to be poking around at MOOC MOOC, which isn’t so much a regular MOOC as it is a meta-MOOC discussing MOOCs on Twitter and such. I’m curious how useful (or not) it will be. I’m signed up for a course that doesn’t begin until February 10, “Algebra X: Introduction to Algebra” on edX.  I have always been a bit of a math idiot, and so I’m sort of curious if it’s possible for me to teach myself/”learn”/stay motivated in a MOOC where I really can’t fake it through the content, which hasn’t frankly been the case in the previous MOOCs I’ve taken. Along these lines, I’m signed up for a self-paced Udacity MOOC called Intro to iOS App Development with Swift and I’m thinking about taking the self-paced version of the edX Introduction to Computer Science (aka CS50). I started CS50 last year and I thought it was pretty well-done, so it might be something worth sticking to a bit longer in sabbatical-land.

Oh, and I keep threatening Annette to try to teach myself the ukulele, maybe with this or maybe with this. Sure, it’s kind of a goof, but it also is something I can see fitting into the dissertation project. One of my biggest problems with what I’ve read about MOOCs so far is there is this assumption by too many that if you give people content and a little bit of guidance, those people will just learn. But autodidacticism is hard, limited, and uncommon. I’ve taught myself how to do a few things– I learned to do some simple juggling from a book, and most of my cooking knowledge is based on books and the food network– but that’s about it. So I thought it might make an interesting side story to write about/think about teaching myself a musical instrument. And Ukuleles are cute.

Posted in MOOCs, Sabbatical II | 2 Comments

Talking Back to the EMU-AAUP About Yik-Yak

Let me begin with three preambles/preemptions. First, I want to apologize to the colleagues I have who are offended by my disagreement with them and the  EMU-AAUP about their call for censoring Yik-Yak. I am sure folks will disagree with me, especially the three women faculty who felt they were sexually harassed and defamed in an honors class this past fall. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to convince you to change your minds about all this, but maybe I can persuade at least a bit.

Second, in answer to the question many readers might have, “why do you care?” Well, my teaching and scholarship has centered on internet technologies like this for over 20 years, and there have been times where I’ve caught a fair amount of shit about it. Just a couple of examples: back when I was a graduate teaching assistant and back in the days when it was weird for students to have email, a fellow grad student and I went through a lot of hoops to set up a mailing list discussion between our sections of first year writing. My “boss” at the time called me and my fellow GA into her office to more or less yell at us for doing something so crazy. I’ve had to fight with IT people to let my students make web pages. I’ve had to explain the relevance and usefulness to various folks about having students create blogs, post to Twitter, etc. It is very easy to see how I could use Yik-Yak in some of the classes I’ll be teaching next year.

So my “talking back” to the the union isn’t just a rant. This is me defending my teaching and my scholarship. This is important to me. And since I’m a tenured full professor, I feel I have an obligation to speak out about this.

Third, I’m going to post this on both EMUTalk.org and stevendkrause.com, for what it’s worth.

Okay, my talking back after the break: Continue reading

Posted in EMU | 4 Comments