Big Data(s), Small World(s)

This perhaps should be two different posts, but since I don’t have that much time, I’m going to suggest some kind of connection(s) here.  Maybe they’ll connect, maybe not.

For 516 this semester (this week, actually), we’re reading Jessie Moore et al’s “Revisualizing Composition: How First-Year Writers Use Composing Technologies,” coming out in the future (!) March 2016 issue of Computers and Composition. It’s a large survey that’s been going on (on and off) for a few years of over 1,300 students at a bunch of different colleges and universities about their use of “composing technologies,” which includes some of the usual things– paper, pencils, word processors– some things kind of in-between– email and blogs, for example–and some things that aren’t often considered as writing tools in writing courses, things like Facebook, Twitter, and cell phones.

The short version of their results is while a lot of what they found is not surprising (students still use paper and pencils a lot, they mostly write alone, etc.), a lot of it is interesting and unexpected– for example, the heavy use of cell phones. Further, writing pedagogy isn’t really keeping up in that we don’t do enough to integrate new technologies into school writing, “how classroom instruction can better prepare students to write effectively with these technologies when they use them for self-sponsored genres, and whether any kind of transfer occurs when students use these composing technologies to write for academic and self-sponsored purposes (10).” Though I suppose that kind of depends a bit on over-generalizing classroom instruction perhaps.

The other big data that I thought was pretty interesting as of late– really big data– was the Open Syllabus Project. There was an article about all this in The New York Times and Aaron Barlow has an interesting post about this where he digs in a little deeper into the syallabi for courses in “English.” Among many other things, Aaron notes:

The first thing that jumps out is that Allan Bloom has little to worry about. Most of the works on the list were considered ‘canonical’ even before the rise of Feminist Studies, African-American Studies and that shibboleth ‘politically correct.’  Only seven of the works aren’t by Dead White Men and only four are by African-Americans.

I haven’t had much time to play around with this database yet, but I had a sort of similar conclusion by looking just briefly at the “Open Syllabus Explorer” interface. Here are the “top ten” books assigned across all courses:

1
The Elements of Style
Strunk, William, 1869-1946
2
Republic
Plato
3
The Communist Manifesto
Marx, Karl, 1818-1883
4
Biology
Campbell, Neil A., 1946
5
Frankenstein
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797-1851
6
Ethics
Aristotle
7
Leviathan
Hobbes, Thomas, 1588-1679
8
The Prince
Machiavelli, Niccolò, 1469-1527
9
Oedipus
Sophocles
10
Hamlet
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616

The thing I find most striking here– and frankly, most bizarre– is that this “top ten” is probably pretty close to the “top ten” list of 30+ years ago when I started college, and it probably isn’t too far off to the “top ten” list when my father was in college 55 or so years ago. So, at least at first blush, the reason why people grumble about how higher education resists change is because data like this suggests that higher education resists change.

Of course, the problem with both of these chunks of “big data” are the specifics of the sources and samples. While the Moore et al study is impressive for a field where there just aren’t a lot of big studies, they have some problems that they acknowledge in terms of sampling of race. Further, almost all of the students in this study were first year students (and I have to think that juniors/seniors/graduate students would have somewhat different answers to writing genres that matter to them), and the institutions were pretty much limited to the places where Moore and her co-authors worked. I haven’t poked too far into the methodologies for the Open Syllabus Project yet, but what they say is the project “leverages a collection of over 1 million syllabi collected from university and departmental websites.” That’s pretty impressive in all kinds of different ways; however, as anyone in academia knows, one of the most consistently inaccurate places to find data about what happens in academia are departmental websites.

The other lesson I take away from both of these studies involving big data is why it’s still important to triangulate this data with smaller studies and exploration. For example, there’s this bit of puzzlement from the Moore et al study:

More surprisingly, students also report using blog technologies for e-mail, writing academic papers, texting, commenting on status messages or posts, writing research papers, and taking lecture notes. In spite of the academic-oriented genres in this list, students predominantly used blog technologies for entertainment or personal fulfillment. Again, we’re left asking what “e-mail” means to students when they see themselves doing it with blog technologies. Exploring this flexible use of genre terms would help inform the field’s understanding of how students are using the composing technologies available to them for all the writing they complete in their daily lives. (10)

It’s an interesting problem/question. If had to make a wild guess, I’d say that for at least a small percentage of respondents, “email” is an almost generic term for “Internet stuff.” But again, that’s just a guess. If there was a way to do some kind of focus group or case study with some of the folks who filled out the survey in the first place, there might be a better answer.

And I’m particularly sensitive to the news from the Open Syllabus Project that the top book assigned is Strunk and White, which is a book my students and I are reading right now! Now, I have a feeling that my approach to this book in a course called “Writing, Style, and Technology” is a little different than the approach of most faculty teaching this book. While I want my students to benefit from S&W’s advice (and really, they do have some good advice in there), I mostly am trying to get my students to read against the text, to try to dig into and question what’s going on here. It’s difficult for a lot of my students to do this, but I try.

Anyway, the point is the Open Syllabus Project (and the project of the Moore et al piece, for that matter) is good at presenting some really interesting observations, ones that I would have never guessed, such as the popularity of The Elements of Style. But this kind of big data doesn’t answer the smaller question of “why?”

Posted in Academia, Digital Humanities, Scholarship Review, Teaching | 1 Comment

Where have all the bloggers gone?

Like I said last week, I’m committed to rebooting the whole blogging thing, both as related to my teaching and just my, well, blogging. So one of my errands was to clean up my RSS feeds to the blogs that I am/was following on Feedly. As far as I know, it’s the only decent-ish RSS feed reading site/tool out there, at least the only one that’s free. After I heard from Alan Levine in the comments here about Pinboard, I’m wondering if there is something else. I haven’t pulled the trigger yet, but even though Pinboard isn’t free, $11 a year seems like a good deal for a pretty robust service.

Anyway, this was the first time I had gone through my Feedly account– who I was following, how I had grouped these feeds– in probably four or five years. It was interesting to see how many blogs were no longer active, some not active since 2013 or earlier. But these ended blogs weren’t analogous to a place trapped in a historic moment by something like a volcano– Pompeii immediately comes to mind— because those people obviously saw what was coming. The plaster casts of their remains show them curled up in fetal positions in the face of falling ash and rock and fire. Rather, most of these blogs were left in place as if nothing odd at all had happened, as if they weren’t really ended at all. Most of these blogs’ most “recent” post was nothing new or dramatic– that is, there weren’t a lot of “farewell” messages.  Most of these blogs were like that apartment in Paris discovered untouched for decades, not so much abandoned in the sense that a sinking ship is abandoned; they were just “left.”

Back in 2009, I gave a presentation at the Computers and Writing Conference about blog “endings” and the research I was trying to conduct back then. One of these days, maybe I’ll go back to that project and at least make it something to put up here. It was difficult to find people who had admitted that they had quit blogging, even with bloggers who hadn’t posted anything in over a year. But I did track down a few people who served as “case studies” for my purposes back then. I basically concluded that my case studies had stopped blogging because of what I described as a “natural decay” of the rhetorical situation (a combination of the purpose coming to an end or a sense that there was almost no audience interested), or the complete opposite problem where the blogger was acutely concerned about audience. Actually, the example I recall was of a female academic blogger who quit because she had pretty good evidence that one of her male colleagues was quasi-stalking her via her blog.

In any event, the fall of some of the old blogs I followed was striking to me, and it makes me think that I need to seek out some new blogs to follow, too.

Posted in Academia, Blogging about blogging, Blogs | 1 Comment

Trying to reboot the blogging thing, a bit

A new semester is upon us here at EMU, and that (along with new year resolutions) has me rethinking about blogging again.

In terms of teaching, I’m returning to some blogging assignments. I’m teaching an online version of the undergraduate course “Writing, Style, and Technology,” a course I used to teach A LOT– like four or five sections a year sometimes– but now, for a bunch of different reasons, a course I haven’t taught in about three years. I use blogs in this class more or less as a notebook and pretty much the same way I described it here in my article “When Blogging Goes Bad,” which came out in Kairos almost a dozen years ago and it is still my “greatest hit” in terms of an individually written piece of scholarship. This assignment isn’t a “write whatever you want” sort of space; rather, it’s really just using a blog format/tool to collect and share a series of short (and assigned) writing prompts. It’s sort of like the old “keep a notebook” assignment, but without the hassle of paper and also the added feature that students can read (and comment on) each others’ entries.

For my graduate course, Computers and Writing, Theory and Practice, I’m giving a reboot to a blog assignment that is also kind of/sort of what I was describing back in “When Blogging Goes Bad.” I’m trying to get students to use a blog again as a sort of “writer’s notebook” to “reflect on readings and activities, to make connections to other research, and to give you a space to think about the final short writing assignment for the term.” And just to set up some clear criteria up from the get-go, I’m asking students to post at least 12 times during the term (a little less than once a week) and to comment on other blogs from classmates at least six times.

I’m doing this for my grad class mainly because I think blogging has been a practice that has been important to me for whatever limited successes I’ve had as a scholar. Facebook and Twitter and all of that are fine and they make sharing links pretty easy, but neither of these platforms makes it easy to search previous posts for links and references of various sorts– I assume that’s on purpose.  A blog is a much better notebook sort of space for me to keep notes/observations and just keep track of these kinds of links, at least in terms of scholarship. My blog is easily searchable, and I’m using previous entries quite a bit in the ongoing MOOC book project and in other things. Oh, and as an aside: this is why I still use delicious too, though yeah, I’m not that crazy about the way delicious works (or doesn’t work) anymore.

Beyond that, I have had tangible benefits from blogging in that some of my blogging (particularly about EMU and particularly about MOOCs as of late) have lead to some of the most important scholarly and writerly projects of my career. I don’t get a ton of readers here– I get around 2,000 views a month, which is a fraction of what a “popular” blog gets– but I am fairly confident in saying that in an average month, I get more “views” of content here than I have get of all of my published (and supposedly worthy) scholarship in a year– maybe every 10 years. And it seems to me that if you’re a writer (and scholars are writers), you want to share your writing with others. You want and need an audience. I know a lot of scholars and writers who seem hesitant about sharing their writing too early or in a format like a blog, but sometimes I think that goes too far (and if you’re a writer who doesn’t like the idea of other people reading your writing…), and for me, I’d rather share work in progress that helps me think and that others might find interesting. Thus the blogging.

Of course, if I’m going to give an assignment that asks my graduate students to write and read each others’ blogs about once a week, I probably need to up my blog writing game myself a bit this semester/this year. Thus this post.

Posted in Academia, Blogging about blogging, Teaching | 2 Comments

2015 Highlights

A quick and largely sequential set of highlights/lowlights around here for me in 2015:

  • Sabbatical! How long ago it seems now, but I was on sabbatical in winter 2015 (and basically during the spring/summer too). I did better than I did the first time I was on a sabbatical, not as well as the next time. Not that I know exactly when I’ll get my next sabbatical (if there is a next sabbatical), but I think a full year and one where I’m completely away from EMU would be interesting. Or maybe not; one of the things I learned about myself on sabbatical was/is I’m not close to ready to retire yet.
  • Yik-Yak hit the EMU fan in some interesting ways. I blogged about it a bit here, but more at the now defunct EMUTalk; here’s a good example of that.
  • I went to the CCCCs in Tampa, which was pretty good. Here’s a link to my talk.
  • I “dodged” the administrative track by applying for the position of Director of the Faculty Development Center. I have no idea if I didn’t get it because they meant to hire the person who was in the job before or because I dropped out of the search, but either way, it doesn’t matter. I’d say I’m about 90% pleased with the way this turned out, which is about as happy as I am with the way anything turns out. Interestingly enough, there’s been a lot of administrative turn-over recently. The person I would have reported to in this position, Kim Schatzel, is leaving EMU to become president of Towson University, which means that EMU currently has an interim president and an interim provost, and the College of Arts and Sciences is soon to have an interim dean too. This level of uncertainty might have been a good time to be a low-level administrator (like this position), or it might have been a terrible time to be an administrator. I guess I’ll never know for sure.
  • I went to HASTAC at MSU, which was interesting and I got to preside over a panel that was going on simultaneously between HASTAC and Computers and Writing. A lot of energy and excitement generated there, though unfortunately, there hasn’t really been anything in the way of a follow-up to the event.
  • This was a pretty popular post back in June— and I’ll want to/need to come back to this again soon for the MOOC book project (which is still moving along far too slowly). Of course, the big event in June was my son graduated from Greenhills!
  • Oh, also in June: I was in Ruston, Louisiana (of all places!) attending/involved with a “cyber-discovery” camp sponsored by the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center, and I was involved again in a version of the camp we held here at EMU. And I’m still involved in all this by helping out in putting together a new version of the camp and by being a part of the second version of the camp we’re going to be holding here this coming spring. It’s a long story explaining what it is, the strengths and pitfalls, and maybe I’ll explain that another day. Just thought I’d mention it for now.
  • In July, my whole side of the family (with sisters, brothers-in-laws, and kids it’s like a total of 18 people) got together at a house in southeast Wisconsin to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. It was a lovely and fun time and lots of good stories; here’s a video of a particularly stormy afternoon on the lake.
  • EMUTalk wrapped up in August; here’s a link to the last post I had on that site. I have to say I don’t miss it as much as I thought I might. Maybe it’s because there’s still some “talk” on the Facebook page; or maybe I really did quit it at the right time.
  • We had a grand week up in the Traverse City area at a quaint little cottage in the woods. I think the hands-down highlight was a magical night on the beach with our friends John and Karen Mauk, a night where (sometimes all at the same time) we saw a zillion stars, shooting/falling stars, the northern lights, and a lightening storm in the distance.
  • Will moved out/moved in at U of M (and that’s been going well so far, I think).
  • I started to (and continue to) chair a search, I became the associate director of the first year writing program, and now (because Derek is on sabbatical) I’m the interim director. So much for avoiding all responsibility.
  • I went to my first international conference and my first “solo” trip out of the U.S. (and I took about 1,000 pictures, too.
  • And I didn’t blog as much in November and December as I should/would have preferred to do; my hope is to change that in the new year.

So yeah, 2015 turned out pretty decent overall. Let’s see what’s what next year.

Posted in Blogging about blogging, Life | 1 Comment

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

Posted in MOOCs, Sabbatical II | 5 Comments

New and old thoughts on the challenges of fycomp and/or “why students can’t write” through the lens of John Warner

John “Just Visiting” Warner had a very good column/blog entry at Inside Higher Ed the other day called “I Cannot Prepare Students to Write Their (History, Philosophy, Sociology, Poly Sci., etc…) Papers.” It’s a smart piece; here’s how it starts:

Occasionally, one hears grumbling from faculty who assign writing in their courses about the apparent lack of preparation of students to successfully execute those assignments. They wonder what’s happening in the general education writing courses when so many students seem to arrive in without the skills necessary to succeed at college-level writing, particularly research-based analytical work.

As an instructor of first-year writing it can be hard not to take these things personally.

I do my best to help students succeed for the future writing occasions they’ll confront in college and beyond, but the truth is, I cannot properly prepare them for what’s coming.

And then from there, Warner goes on to a list that I’ll build on in a moment/after the break.

Warner’s piece really struck a cord with me for a variety of different reasons, most of them timing around the end of the semester and what-not. This isn’t new territory for anyone involved in first year composition– certainly not for folks who have some kind of quasi-administrative connection to writing programs– and, personally, I long ago stopped taking these things personally. The first time some professor from outside of writing studies (though not always from outside English or even the field of writing studies, frankly) or some administrator confronts you with “hey, how come students come out of that first year writing program you teach in (and/or run) can’t even write a decent sentence?!” you get angry and/or you kind of get that whole deer in headlights freeze. The 200th time you get some version of this question/confrontation, you just kind of smile and sigh.

Warner’s article here is basically a list– a good one, and one that I thought was worthy of embellishing, at least for my own purposes. After all, I’m finishing up this semester as the associate director of the first year writing program and while Derek Mueller is on sabbatical in the winter, I’ll be in the director’s chair. I might need this post in the near future. Maybe others will find my expansions on Warner’s points interesting and useful as well.

Continue reading

Posted in Academia, EMU, Teaching, The Happy Academic, Writing | 3 Comments

Actually, universities have always been a little like daycare

I can’t remember the last time I went this long without posting anything to my blog. It’s not as if I have been that crazy-busy with other projects– though I have been pretty crazy-busy. And oddly, with EMUTalk.org closed up and the Facebook group for EMUTalk moving right along, you would think I’d have more time and energy here. Maybe I just haven’t had the time (or I haven’t made the time) to sit down and write something worthy of a post. Or maybe a better way of saying it is every time I would have thought about writing something, I end up needing to or wanting to work on something else.

In any event: a couple of weeks ago, there was a blog post/commentary/whatever that got passed around the social medias a bit, “This is Not a Day Care. It’s a University!” by Everett Piper, who is the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Ostensibly, Piper was responding to a student at OkWU who “felt ‘victimized’ by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13” (don’t ask me what that means– I looked that passage up and it seems to be about the power of God and don’t kill or commit adultery), but he’s clearly responding to all kinds of college students proclaiming their “victim-hood,” from various injustices like yoga classes and costume controversies, to the ways in which race and the #blacklivesmatter movement has played out on campuses, particularly at the University of Missouri.  Piper’s post concludes:

Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a “safe place”, but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that’s wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that’s wrong with them. This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up.

This is not a day care. This is a university.

Piper’s post went viral and he had his moment in the mainstream media, even getting this not unsympathetic response from the New York Times, though most of the news favoring Piper’s approach was from places like Glen Beck’s TheBlaze.com and Fox News.

It’s easy for Piper to talk about OkWU as being “not a day care” because OkWU is a theocracy. This is not a university that moved away from its primarily religious mission long ago nor is it a church-sponsored institution that emphases a specific faith but welcomes a variety of different religious beliefs. No, as the OkWU student handbook makes abundantly clear, this is a university where everyone is expected to be a specific version of Christian, where the Bible is taken literally, where all drugs are strictly prohibited, as is all pornography. And, of course, no sex:

Oklahoma Wesleyan University affirms the exemplar and standard of heterosexual monogamy within the context of marriage as the singular, healthy, and holy expression of human sexuality. Behavior that promotes, celebrates, or advertises sexual deviancy or a sexual identity outside of the scriptural expectation of sexuality is prohibited.

By virtue of their voluntary enrollment, all students, regardless of age, residency, or status agree to engage in sexual behavior exclusively within the context of marital heterosexual monogamy. All students also agree to not engage in any behavior that promotes, celebrates, or advertises sexual deviancy or a sexual identity outside of the scriptural expectation of sexuality.

This place teaches students “about life” the same way as a Taliban Madrassas, just different religions and focusing on the Bible rather than the Qur’an.

(Though interestingly enough, there is a “daycare” element too since OkWU’s “Residential Parent Connect” provides several updates every semester to parents about “what your student is up to while away at college.”)

It’s also easy to point out that Piper’s concern about the “coddling” of college students isn’t remotely new. One of the many research holes I’ve leaped/fallen into with my ongoing MOOC project is about the rise and fall of teaching by correspondence in the early 20th century, and this has included some poking around Abraham Flexner’s 1930 book Universities: American, English, German. Flexner was a well known education reformer and his book is a purple-prosed and scathing attack on many different aspects of higher education just shy of 100 years ago. Here’s a rather fitting paragraph about “the kids today” back then:

Every jerk and shock must be eliminated; the students must be “oriented”; they must be “advised” as to what to “take”; they must be vocationally guided. How is it possible to educate persons who will never be permitted to burn their fingers, who must be dexterously and expensively housed, first as freshmen, then as upperclassmen, so as to make the right sort of social connections and to establish the right sort of social relationships, who are protected against risk as they should be protected against plague, and who, even though “they work their way through,” have no conception of the effort required to develop intellectual sinew?

Framed in the current debate, Flexner appears to be complaining both about coddling and “trigger warnings.”

And there have also been several very good and reasonable columns that I think anyone who is prone to complain about these “damn college kids today” needs to read first. For example, there’s “How Talking to Undergraduates Changed My Mind” by Steven Petrow in The Atlantic and “The Profound Emptiness of ‘Resilience'” by Parul Sehgal in The New York Times. Both pieces point out in different ways that there has been an alarming rise in racism that crosses over to hate crimes on college campuses, and thus there are good reasons why students are asking that their campuses be made “safe spaces.”

But here’s the thing: universities are kind of like daycare, and that’s a good thing.

Both daycare and universities are institutions which are potentially liable if something bad happens: that is, a serious toddler fall at the play-dough table caused by daycare negligence and a serious freshmen fall from a dorm window caused by university negligence are both going to lead to various kinds of charges and lawsuits. There were several notorious daycare sex abuse scandals years ago (though most of that was hysteria rather than reality); the most certain way a tenured faculty member will be fired from most universities nowadays is to get caught up in a sex scandal with a student, even if that student is 18 or older. And so on.

in loco parentis isn’t a new idea, though it does seem to me to be a responsibility that universities are taking a lot more seriously now than when they did when I was an undergraduate in the mid 1980s.  I’m no expert, but I think one big motivator for this is the change in drinking age, from a system that varied from state to state (in Iowa, it was 19) to a national age of 21. Before that change, it was legal for the majority of kids in the dorm to drink (or at least close enough to legal); after that change, it wasn’t and I think universities felt the pressure to crack down.

The other big change I think has to do with an emphasis on retention and increasing graduation rates, and one way to keep students in school is to pay more attention to their lives in way that is “parental.”  I actually know more about how this works at the University of Michigan rather than at EMU because my son Will is wrapping up his first semester at U of M right now. He lives in a dorm on a floor where a resident assistant “looks over” a group of about a 20 or so, a building that is clean, secure, and comfortable. He jokes that the dining hall is like eating on a cruise ship with its variety and availability (though perhaps not quite as much in terms of quality). He has an advisor assigned to him to guide him through his courses and registration. Annette and I receive regular email updates from U of M directed to parents, and we’re encouraged by some outside company (it looks like U of M sold a mailing list) to pay to have “care packages” delivered to our child, expensive boxes of cookies and candy Will tells me are a complete rip-off. The point is U of M works hard at reassuring parents like me that they’re taking care of and paying attention to my child/their student. It’s not as invasive as OkWU’s program that seems to me to be a mechanism for parents to spy on their kids away at college, but U of M’s day-to-day “care” for its students– particularly first year students and those living in the dorms– is evident.

And besides all that, it seems to me that universities (at least for traditional students) and daycare are similar in that both are spaces where children begin to transition away from parents, at least a bit. Well-run daycares and well-run universities both give our children access to a new level of self-confidence and independence. There’s an obvious degree of difference in the kind of independent moves our kids make, but don’t discount how that happens in daycare settings. I vividly remember a specific time in seeing this with Will. He was about one, maybe 18 months. I came into the daycare baby room to take him home and he (along with the other kids) was in a high chair wearing a bib with a bowl of some kind of baby food in front of him, and– and this is the kicker– he was feeding himself, sloppily, incompletely, but independently. “Wow, I didn’t realize he could do that!” I said to the daycare worker. “We always feed him at home.” She smiled and said “Yeah, we can’t do that with all of the kids here. So we hand them a spoon and they go at it.”

It was a little thing, sure, but it was moment where I realized that my son, even as a baby, had things in his life outside of what I knew and controlled as a parent. That independence grew throughout daycare and then school and now at college. All of these spaces protect and nurture children/students, but they also allow them to explore independence. In that sense, it’s better that universities are a little like daycare than not.

Posted in Academia, Family, Scholarship, The Happy Academic | 1 Comment

EMU in the CHE for all the wrong reasons, again: More secret presidential search follies

The latest news in the EMU presidential search process is it was one of the topics in this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, “In Search for College Chiefs, Faculty Input Can Feel Like a Mere Formality.” It’s behind the paywall, but let’s just say I “have my ways” and I did read it.

First off, the best observation in this CHE piece is not in the article itself but in the first comment I read, one signed by James H. Finkelstein. To paraphrase: the problem with what the EMU Board of Regents is doing (along with a lot of other boards since this article is about this trend at lots of other schools) isn’t that it’s a confidential search; it’s a secret search. A confidential search would be one where there’s no public information about the search leading up to the finalists, but once everyone knows who the top three or four candidates are, there is some kind of public “presentation” of these finalists to the university community. A secret search is one where there’s no public information at all, not about candidates who applied, about finalists, ad nothing about the final interview process. Someone just opens a door one day, introduces the new president, and that’s that.

Now, I don’t think anyone has a problem with a confidential search. If you are a mucky-muck provost or president or dean or whatever and you are looking to make the jump to president at a place like EMU, you don’t to give your current employer the impression that you’re on the job market. Everyone knows that; heck, it’s the same thing for most faculty looking to move from one job to another. But by the time the search is down to finalists, I think it’s fair to say there isn’t much need for confidentiality.

Look, we’re not picking a pope; we’re trying to hire the president of a public institution that involves tens of thousands of alumni, students, staff, faculty, and administrators who all deserve to have at least some role in the process. And frankly, I’m suspicious of a finalist who doesn’t want contact with people at the university and beyond the hiring committee before taking the job.

Second, I think this article does a pretty shitty job characterizing Martin’s presidency and departure. A quote:

The search at Eastern Michigan comes on the heels of two presidencies that ended in controversy. Susan W. Martin, who resigned in July, had been reprimanded by the board for having an “inappropriate” alcohol-fueled exchange at a public event. Her predecessor, John A. Fallon III, was fired, in 2007, amid outcry over the university’s bungled response to a student murder.

There is a lot of pressure to get this one right, and regents say a closed search provides the best chance of that.

This is a classic example of a journalist bending reality to fit the argument they want to make: that is, the last two presidents were so controversial that now the board has to do a secret search to “get this one right.” So much for the objectivity of journalism, right?

Say what you will about Martin’s presidency (I thought she was pretty good, certainly the best president I’ve dealt with at EMU) and you can even say what you want about the board reprimand over some kind of drunken argument (though I think that was mostly a bogus hack job promoted by some former board members who wanted her out). But there was zero connection between Martin stepping down as president and this reprimand, none, and to suggest that there was a connection– that is, that this reprimand is what lead to Martin resigning in disgrace– is slimy.

They get Fallon about right though.

Third, I hope that the Faculty Senate does take search chair/BoR member Michelle Crumm up on her offer to add faculty to the committee. As I wrote about before, I think simply walking away from the search entirely is a dumb and pointless protest. In my view, faculty could make a lot more difference by participating in the search committee and, simultaneously, advocating for at least some openness in the process.  And as Crumm points out, two more faculty on the committee would mean three out of the twelve members of the committee would be faculty. That’s a hell of a lot better than none, even if the search remains secret.

 

Posted in Academia, EMU, EMU-AAUP | 1 Comment

Hey EMU-AAUP & Faculty Senate: Quitting the Presidential Search Committee is a bad idea

A little less than a month ago, I wrote here about the problems of the EMU presidential search being conducted by the Board of Regents essentially in secret: that is, instead of bringing in candidates for a public vetting process of one sort or another, the search committee is going to do their work and at some point, they’re going to hire someone and that will be that. I think that’s a bad idea for all kinds of different reasons and my take is that the committee ought to bring in finalists to do some public presentations. They could easily do that because by the time they’re down to the three or four people they might want to hire, the cat is out of the bag about who is applying for the job for everyone. As far as I can tell, this could still happen but it’s not likely.

Anyway, there have been a couple of articles as of late in mLive about all this. Yesterday there was “Faculty tension mounts as EMU’s private presidential search moves forward.” And then this morning, it appears that the EMU-AAUP and the Faculty Senate have “doubled-down” on being tense and/or mad about the search process, as reported here, “EMU faculty members may abort advisory roles if presidential search kept private.” Here’s a quote:

Citing a lack of shared governance over the Board of Regents decision to conduct a confidential, private search, Howard Bunsis, the treasurer and spokesman for the EMU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the school’s all-union council voted to pull its lone representative from the advisory committee.

Judith Kullberg, a political science professor and the vice president of the faculty senate, also said the faculty senate would vote to remove its representative on the advisory committee if the board didn’t change the process to give faculty members the opportunity to vet potential presidential candidates.

She added that the faculty would not add two additional members to the advisory committee, which board chair Michelle Crumm suggested as a solution to the faculty’s complaints about its lack of representation in the presidential selection process.

That’s dumb.

I understand and even agree with Bunsis’ and Kullberg’s basic point about faculty governance, and like I’ve already said, I think they should at least bring the finalists to campus not only for the sake of the EMU community but for the sake of the candidates. I think we owe these people a little more information about what they are getting themselves into, and I don’t see how any of the potential presidents could get much insight about EMU if they only encounter people on the search committee.

Unless the plan is to hire Schatzel, though if that were the case, it seems to me they could have just skipped the search process.

But one thing is for sure: for the faculty to take what input they might have in the process now– and again, the board chair wants to put more faculty on the committee, which would indeed give faculty more input into the process– and throw it away is just dumb. It’s a pouty “I’m going to take my ball and go home” kind of ploy that won’t work because– surprise surprise– it ain’t the faculty’s ball to take home.

So I hope they rethink this. Go ahead and keep voicing opposition to the closed search process and keep pointing out that faculty ought to have more of a role here, I have no problem with that. But giving up the seats on the committee as a protest is just plain dumb.

Posted in EMU, EMU-AAUP | Leave a comment

Recapping the Federica Web Learning International MOOC Conference & Some Italy Sidetrips

Last week, I was in Naples and Capri, Italy to attend the Federica Web Learning International MOOC Conference. My brief talk/presentation/position statement (everyone just gave small talks) was more or less called “A Small View of MOOCs: A Limited Look at the Recent Past and Likely Future of MOOCs at the Edges of Higher Education in the United States,” and that link takes you to a Google Doc version of my talk– the slides and the script I more or less followed. Here are links to my tourism pictures of Naples, Anacapri, and Pompeii on Flickr.

After the break, I go into way more detail than necessary about the conference and the trip. Read on if you’re interested, though a lot of it is really me writing/thinking out loud for myself, which is often the case on my blog, right?

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Posted in Blogging about blogging, MOOCs, Scholarship, The Happy Academic, Travel | Leave a comment