The moral of the story might be that there is no such thing as “open education”

I will admit that it is at a minimum ironic that The Chronicle of Higher Education has the article, “Online, Bigger Class May Be Better Classes,” parked behind a firewall.  And I have some sympathy/some level of agreement with this post from Alan “CogDog” Levine about how this is bad, along with the complaints of one of the main sources in this article, George “elearnspace” Siemens.

But here’s the thing:  perhaps this is evidence that at the end of there is no such thing as “open learning education,” for two basic reasons.  First, perhaps what we’re getting at is the age-old difference between “learning” and “education.” Here’s a quote from the article (from behind the firewall, btw, which I get access to because of my connection with Eastern Michigan University):

“We have to get away from this whole idea that universities own learning,” says Alec V. Couros, who teaches his own open class as an associate professor of education at Regina, in Saskatchewan. “They own education in some sense. But they don’t own learning.”

Of course.  People can “learn” about all sorts of things without any connection with any sort of institution, and with college classes taking place in the open– in organized ways, as they discuss in the article, or less organized/visible ways, as I’ve been doing with my classes for years– and all the other “stuff” that is out there on the internets, it seems to me that someone self-motivated enough could literally learn damn near anything nowadays.

But if you want an education, something that is tied to some sort of institution, that involves a program of study/curriculum, where you have (in theory) reliable and trained instructors, and– and this is critical– where you get some sort of degree or certification that is recognized by others, if you want these things, it ain’t free.

Now, in some fields, it used to be there was no difference between learning and an education.  Someone can correct me if I’m wrong about this, but I believe that it used to be possible for someone to become a lawyer/member of the bar simply by “reading” the law– that is, literally going to a law library, reading on one’s own, and then taking a test.  But I’m pretty sure that has not been the case in the U.S. for quite a while.  And while someone could sit at home, in libraries, and/or in various online forums and do all the reading required to earn a PhD, I guarantee you that no university in the world– even one promoting “open learning/education”– would hire someone who claimed to have earned their education by participating in “open learning/education.”

Second, open learning isn’t really “free” and isn’t really completely “open” since it depends on “non-free” and “closed” institutions. As far as I know, everyone who has anything to do with the open learning movement is somehow tied to a “real” university.  In other words, the folks who are engaged in open learning/education really couldn’t do it without the financial support, resources, and credibility that comes about from being associated with a distinctly not open, traditional university.

Don’t get me wrong– I think that the idea and theory behind open learning is great, and it’s one of the reasons why I advocate moving classes from behind the firewall of CMS like Blackboard.  Education should be a public experience, and I think these folks– Dave Cormier, Stephen Downes, George Siemens, many many others– are doing great things.  But I also think that open learning is not going to transform education until we get to the point where we don’t think a college degree as a credential for a particular occupation.  And I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon ever.

New school year again– eventually

I say “eventually” because most of my pre-fall term thinking as of late has been occupied by the impending faculty strike, which I predict here will begin on September 1. I’m sure there will be more posts/news on EMUTalk.org about all this.  All I will say here is that it annoys and frustrates me that we’ll probably be going on strike, mainly because of insurance and the Board of Regents micromanaging.  It seems avoidable to me, but it will almost certainly not be avoided.  Hopefully, since classes won’t begin until September 8, that won’t happen this time around.  Hopefully.

Anyway, the new school year is still on my mind, and as I have written in the past here and elsewhere, the new school year feels more like “the new year” to me than the actual New Year in January. I tend to measure things more in school years, which I suppose is a given since I’ve been doing this stuff for a while.  Actually, this year I start my 23rd year teaching in college (counting my time as a graduate assistant), which means a) I am about to cross over to a point where I have teaching college classes for more than half my life, and b) I am not at a point where I am old enough to be a parent to all but the “non-traditional” undergraduates and most of my “traditional” graduate students. Insert music here about drag getting older, etc.

This fall, we go into the year in exile while the building my department is normally in is closed for remodeling.  For the next 18-24 months, our offices are in a dorm and our classrooms are all over campus.  I’m hoping to do a CCCCs talk about this dislocation, actually.  Stay tuned for details.

I’m teaching English 328, which I’ve probably taught 50 times by now.  So not much new there from what I’ve done in the recent past, though I had some good experiences/experiments this summer with peer review I will try to repeat, and since this is an online class where there are some collaborative elements, I want to play around more with some things like Skype and Tinychat to do some synchronous discussion.

I’m also teaching English 505, which is a grad course called “Rhetoric of Science and Technology” I’ve now taught twice before, once online and once in person.  It’s a bit of a bear of a class to teach, because it is one of those classes that is (potentially, at least) about everything, and also because this is the rhetorical theory class for students in our professional writing MA program.  Without getting into the wisdom of that, what I’m going to be doing to get students “up to speed” is to this time teach Crowley and Hawhee’s Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students as sort of a “basically, this is what rhetoric meant/means” before we get on to the more contemporary stuff.  We’ll see how it works out.

And last but not least, I’m teaching an Honor’s Section (that has to be capitalized, right?) of first year composition.  I did this years ago, and I think honors students are an interesting lot to work with.  I haven’t completely figured out the syllabus for this yet, and given some of my challenges with the 505 class, I probably won’t figure it out completely until either the term strikes or we go off strike, whichever comes first.  But basically, I’m going to have them watch RiP! A Remix Manifesto early on in the class and requite students to develop research topics around it.  I think it is generally a good idea and it is also something I hope to talk about at the CCCCs in Atlanta.  Once again, stay tuned/we’ll see how this works out.

A lot of potential out there right now, no?

A few miscellaneous thoughts on eReading and annotating

I have in mind a few more blog posts over the next few days about the end of the summer term/beginning of my 13th school year at EMU, but I’ll start this morning with some of the things/links/thoughts I’ve come across lately about publishing, reading, and writing.  Most of these have been left open in my browser for well over a week, and it’s time to clear them out.  And the clean the desk and then the kitchen.

First, there’s this helpful info-graphic, I believe from Newsweek:

Click on it to read it more clearly. Much more after the jump.

Continue reading “A few miscellaneous thoughts on eReading and annotating”

The “ground zero mosque” and maybe why blogs (and their “writerly spaces”) still do matter

Earlier today– I can’t remember if it while I was on my bike ride, grading/wrapping up stuff for the summer term, reading my Google Reader feed, or what– I had this feeling that my long suffering and delayed project, Blogs as Writerly Spaces, had kind of run its course.  I mean, I haven’t done anything with it in months and months (I have poked at it more recently than my link above might suggest, but still), and I kind of have a bit of a “milked dry” feeling about the whole thing.  I’ve worked my survey data (such as it is) and other research into at least five different presentations over the years, and it has been feeling a little wrung out to me.  Besides, blogging is kind of “been there, done that” nowadays, right?  How do I write a book-length project (or hell, even a decent article-length essay) about this phenomenon that has either become irrelevant in the shadow of Facebook, Twitter, and whatever is next?  Who cares about a medium that has either faded away or has been subsumed/consumed by MSM to the point where even freakin’ Stanley Fish has a “blog” as part of the New York Times?

Anyway, this was all in the back of my mind while listening to the radio on the way to Costco and I was listening to “Here and Now” and they had a story (mp3) about this story in Salon by Justin Elliott, “How the ‘ground zero mosque’ fear mongering began,” and I had a tiny twinge of second thoughts on my project.  Maybe there’s something there there after all.  Elliott has a time-line how this mosque/community center/whatever it is controversy got so out of hand, and how a right-wing conspiracy theorist blogger named Pamela Geller (her blog is called “Altas Shrugs”) started and fueled this whole thing.  Elliott has a time-line and corresponding links to Geller’s blog to make a pretty compelling argument how her blog made this into a story.  Granted, Geller is more “connected” than most bloggers (her bio points to appearances on various news outlets, and she was apparently on Hannity’s radio show, etc.), but I think Elliott makes a pretty compelling argument that this non-story turned into a story in part because of Geller’s persistence and blogging.  Take a look at Atlas Shrugs now and it’s clear that she’s still using this story, or it’s still using her.

The politics here are interesting in a way, but the dynamics of the rhetorical situation are much more interesting to me.  And maybe I ought to not completely close up that book project yet.

WIRED, you’re dead to me

And it’s not because of all the stupid “The Web is Dead” stuff, either– though I guess that’s part of it.  No, I am thinking of the still not complete saga of how WIRED screwed me out of my iPad application, which began back in early July and which still continues.  This has been a lot to go through for a five dollar app.  Anyway, after the jump, most of the story, but the moral of the story here is crappy customer service is a bad thing.

Continue reading “WIRED, you’re dead to me”

Notes on Grown-Up Camp and the End of Summer (more or less)

We have returned from just shy of a week at “The Inn” at “The Homestead,” which is up in Glen Arbor, Michigan.  Here’s a link to a Flickr set of pictures.  Some thoughts more or less as they occurred on the trip/occur in the photos:

  • We stayed at The Homestead, where Annette made a reservation back in May or June in a fit of “Argh! I need a vacation!” It is a huge property of condos, cottages, time-shares, private homes, and a couple small hotels which is part real estate scheme/part resort, a place where many things are named with a pretentious “The” (e.g., “The Homestead,” which includes a few shops and such in “The Village,” an area of rentals called “The Cottages,” and the small hotel where we stayed called “The Inn.”) I was sort of prepared to not like it because it’s too expensive and a lot of the reviews online are mixed at best.  But just about anyplace in this area of northern Michigan “in season” is too expensive, and since we wanted a comfy room with Internet access and close proximity to the beach (maybe 200 yards away from one of the best in Michigan) and a pool, this worked out great.  We had a room with a gas fireplace, a nice sitting area, plenty roomy, and it also included a great patio.  It was quirky though– for example, none of the doors quite opened or closed right.
  • This was designed to be a “vacation,” as opposed to a “trip” like the one we took to California and Oregon in June.  Will was away at Camp Lookout just down the road, so the idea was to mostly do nothing– sleeping in, hanging around the beach and the pool and the patio, reading, going out for nice dinners and drinking cocktails.  You know, camp for grown-ups.
  • We did go on a hike that was about seven miles long one day along the Bay View trail.  It was quite nice because it was beautiful views and because it gave us a chance to try out our new picnic/wine backpack (we bought at “the store” or whatever it was called at The Homestead– a good deal, too).  But that was the hottest day up there, so not necessarily the best timed trip.
  • That night we met with a friend from our PhD program who teaches up at Northwestern Michigan College, John, and his wife and all-around groovy person, Karen.  We also ended up out there with John’s parents, who were visiting, and some local-yokel friends of theirs too.  Low-key up-north fun:  sit around, drink a little wine or beer, light a fire, and wait for the stars to come out.  And we saw lots of stars, including the Milky Way pretty clearly.  It’s nights like that which make me think that the ancient’s belief that the sky was a roof high above the earth was logical under the circumstances.
  • But there was work on this trip.  For starters, I was (and am!) still teaching two classes online and Annette, despite her best efforts, just couldn’t stay completely away.  We had ethernet connectivity in the room, but no wifi (note to self:  next time I go on an extended trip like this, bring one of my Airport Express modems).  But there was wifi in the lobby area, which was probably better because we pretty much had the place to ourselves, room to spread out, and a tremendous view.  Older vacationers would look at us scornfully and mumble how we were “wasting” such a pleasant time.  Younger vacationers asked questions about how they too could get good wifi in this place.
  • We had a couple of hours of “drama” on Thursday when I thought I had lost my keys to the car, the only set of keys we had.  We turned the room upside down, looked through every stitch of clothing, walked on the beach and searched under chairs by the pool.  I had called a lock guy with the theory that I could get to a valet key in the glove box, though we were dreading that key not being there and having to get towed to Traverse City and spending lots of time and hundreds of dollars to get back on the road.  And then I picked up a bluetooth keyboard that was on the desk area, a keyboard that I am certain that both Annette and I had moved in the course of the last two hours, and there they were.  We both gasped as if I had just pulled off the greatest magic trick of the century.
  • We ate well on this trip:  two times at a place at The Homestead called Nonna’s, mainly because it was close, very good, and reasonably priced for this quality of food.  And then the last night we went to a place in Glen Arbor called Blu that was really really good, certainly as good as any really good restaurant I’ve been to just about anywhere.  Don’t tell Will, but that even includes Bouchon.
  • We picked up Will on Friday a little early, and then made a stop at Cherry Republic for him (and us too) before getting back on the road.

And then as soon as I got back to town and was running errands, I sensed the end of summer.  The grocery store had fall plants for sale out front.  A pile of end of the term grading awaits.  Fall term will start soon….

Canning/Pickling Experiment, Part 1

I’m not entirely sure what inspired this, but I got an itch recently to try to do some canning and/or pickling.  It’s one of those cooking/foodie things I’ve been interested in for a while now, and when we were in Iowa about a month ago, my mom gave me her old canning pot– the giant pot and rack you use to boil the jars to preserve them.  And about two weeks ago, I bought both a book on canning and a book on building an “earth oven.” (That’s right, folks– a pizza oven is still a possibility. Stay tuned for details).

So, following a very basic pickling recipe, I tried my hand at a few pickled vegetables. From left to right:

  • Green beans (which I really like pickled a lot, and we have an abundance of them around here and/or from the CSA share from Tantré Farms).
  • Carrots (this was kind of a last-minute thing– I had an extra jar and some extra brine, so I figured what the hell?  I also added onion and a hot pepper to this mix).
  • Green peppers (Annette’s request, based on a recipe from her grandmother).
  • Cucumbers (you know, “pickles”).
  • Beets (I have high hopes for this one because we have gotten a lot of beets from the farm this year).
  • Green peppers and onions (I think…).

Now, I have no idea if any of this is going to turn out and/or if it is not going to kill us when we try to eat it.  That’s why this is “part 1” of the pickling post.   I’m pretty optimistic, and it was surprisingly easy to do, but I am still up in the air about the extent to which it is “worth it.”  It seems to me that if you’ve got a lot of something that is going to go bad otherwise (beets, for example), then it might be worth it.  We’ll see in a couple weeks.

“Digital Natives” not so savvy (or, I could have told you that)

Read Write Web had a piece I’ve been meaning to blog about for a few days:  “So-Called “Digital Natives” Not Media Savvy, New Study Shows.” A quote from the beginning:

Having been born into a world where personal computers were not a revolution, but merely existed alongside air conditioning, microwaves and other appliances, there has been (a perhaps misguided) perception that the young are more digitally in-tune with the ways of the Web than others.

That may not be true, as it turns out. A new study coming out of Northwestern University, discovered that college students have a decided lack of Web savvy, especially when it comes to search engines and the ability to determine the credibility of search results. Apparently, the students favor search engine rankings above all other factors. The only thing that matters is that something is the top search result, not that it’s legit.

This study isn’t really so much about the extent to which young people “automatically know” how to use various computer/internet/device tools just by virtue of being “native” to the technology– in other words, “the kids today” just automatically understand texting and facebook and whatever because they are kids and have never known anything different.  Rather, this study is about how young people (the study included just over 1,000 college freshmen, I think) aren’t particularly thoughtful about evaluating the credibility of things they find on the Internet.  These students more often than not just picked the first thing that came up in Google, paying no attention to any citation information (authors, dates, sources, etc.).  It also turns out that students in this study thought less about the reliability of Wikipedia, perhaps because so many high school teachers hammered into these students that “Wikipedia is bad, m-kay?”

And then the comments on the article tell their own story about who is (and isn’t) “digitally literate.”  First, many commentators complain about the study itself as being too small (there was a typo that it was 100 instead of 1000 subjects) and not really to be about what it claims to be about.  Then there were a wave of comments that more or less say “I don’t believe it because I’m digitally literate,” along with a lot of comments that agree with the study’s results.

Well, first off, if you are reading and commenting about anything on ReadWriteWeb, you are not in the “general population” demographic, period.

Second, I suspect if you studied 1,000 (or more) people in the general population without any controls for age, class, education level, etc., etc., you would get similar results:  that is, one thing I always see missing from these studies is the acknowledgment that maybe the basic assumption that the age of users is not as significant as proponents of the “digital native” argument might think.

Third, it is hardly surprising to me (and to anyone else who has ever taught first year writing) that freshman doing research usually settle on the first piece of research they find, regardless of the quality and usefulness of that research.  Google searches and the like make it a lot easier to find that piece of research, but I can tell you as someone who started teaching freshman long before people just “googled it” that doing what can only be described as “lazy research” is not a new phenomenon.