If you’re on Twitter, you probably know about a ritual called “Friday Follow.” It’s a tradition in which people recommend to their followers other people whose Tweets might interest them. While I know this isn’t Twitter, I thought I’d bring the work of one of my tweeps to the attention of readers here because it’s very much in line with what this blog is all about.
Rebecca Schuman is an adjunct professor of German at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. She is also the new higher education columnist at the online magazine Slate. Earlier this week, she brought a lot of attention to what’s going on these days at Minnesota State University Moorhead:
Faculty members at MSUM make up 72 of its 100 highest paid employees (filter by “Moorhead” for accurate results), so the elbow patches on their blazers make them an easy target indeed. The issue, however, is that they are all pesky tenured, full professors who can’t be fired—or so most people think. But in fact you can fire a tenured professor—it’s just not easy. It’s one of the many misconceptions about tenure that one has a job for life no matter what. Tenured professors can be dismissed for cause (sexual harassment, ethics violations, acting alarmingly toward students, or just talking too much). But it would cost MSUM more than the university’s budget shortfall in legal fees to try to dismiss four dozen faculty members with cause. Another way to let go of tenured professors is to disband their departments. So, yes, MSUM can make up its shortfall by canning a few dozen of its best-paid professors, via axing their whole departments—call the collateral damage “additional savings.”
Last week, the President of the University of Texas at Austin wrote a campus-wide e-mail. While such things usually do not make news, this time it did because of its subject. Both the Chronicle of Higher Ed and Inside Higher Education covered it because educational technology is not usually the stuff of Presidential attention.
I found it interesting how the coverage of the story differed. While the Chronicle made Williams C. Powers’ note/report seem like an order ["Get Used to Sharing Digital Content," began the headline.], IHE‘s coverage made it sound much more benign:
Now it’s time for broader input, Powers said – and the call may be one that faculty appreciate, since they haven’t always been invited in.
Well, I’ve read the whole message now, and I can see the source of the confusion.
Powers touches all the bases that concerned faculty members would want to hear from a university president interested in reforming pedagogy. For example, his very first line is:
Face-to-face interactions among students and professors can never be fully replicated in cyberspace.
Later he writes:
Our faculty and academic units control the curriculum. Our faculty and academic units are responsible for ensuring that online resources, courses, certificates, and degrees reflect the content and rigor appropriate for a leading national university. Without compromising our deep commitment to the academic freedom of a world-class faculty, we should recognize that these technologies amplify the visibility and impact of individual faculty and staff as representatives of the University on a global scale.
So why then does this note bother me so much? Continue reading
If you haven’t read the letter from the San Jose State (SJSU) Philosophy Department to Harvard’s Michael Sandel about his “Justice” MOOC through MIT and Harvard’s edX program, you really should. I think it might become a classic document in the history of the long, slow decline of American Higher Education. For one thing, it’s interesting because it may be the first sharp published criticism of someone who’s decided to teach a MOOC. [I've written about that here.] But it’s also the first serious public attention that I’ve seen given to what I’ve called the academic freedom crisis of the twenty-first century.
To summarize, the philosophers at San Jose State don’t want Sandel’s MOOC to be given for credit in their department or at their university. It’s not that they’re opposed to online instruction. It’s that they think they should be the ones doing the instructing, not a Harvard professor on tape through a computer. “In spite of our admiration for your ability to lecture in such an engaging way to such a large audience,” they write:
we believe that having a scholar teach and engage his or her own students in person is far superior to having those students watch a video of another scholar engaging his or her students. Indeed, the videos of you lecturing to and interacting with your students is itself a compelling testament to the value of the in-person lecture/discussion.
The philosophers go on to note that the ability of a professor to control the content they provide is a fundamental part of what it means to be a college professor:
When a university such as ours purchases a course from an outside vendor, the faculty cannot control the design or content of the course; therefore we cannot develop and teach content that fits with our overall curriculum and is based on both our own highly developed and continuously renewed competence and our direct experience of our students’ needs and abilities.
To use the language of education technology, they do not want to be “unbundled.”
As Aaron has noted, he and a group of other professors will be taking and writing about Coursera’s “E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC.” I will not be one of them – not because I wouldn’t find it interesting, but because I’ve already been down the road, having taken a World History course last semester (and blogged about it here – scroll down a bit to get to the posts from when the course was still going).
That doesn’t mean I’m not tempted to join them. I’m also tempted by the other World History Course that I’m signed up for now, the Science of Gastronomy (whenever that comes around again), English Composition (because I have no idea how that could even work) or anything by Udacity just so that I can see how their MOOCs work.
The idea of shared governance proceeds from the notion that faculty are uniquely qualified to participate in the decision-making process with respect to academic matters. Since just about everything at a university affects academic matters, a healthy campus would solicit faculty input on just about everything. However, with respect to decisions about awarding credit, you’d think that the faculty would be the first folks who’d be consulted. You’d be wrong:
The clearest path to college credit for massive open online courses may soon be through credit recommendations from the American Council of Education (ACE), which announced today that it will work with Coursera to determine whether as many as 8-10 MOOCs should be worth credit. The council is also working on a similar arrangement with EdX, a MOOC-provider created by elite universities.
Now I admit I had to check, but ACE represents university presidents, not faculty. Now hopefully all of those university presidents might, in turn, consult faculty before implementing credit for MOOCs, but why not bring in faculty representation here at the preliminary stages? You know, like a certain association we all know about that starts with two “A”s and ends in “UP?”
Yesterday, I found out that my university is the first school in the nation that will accept the completion of a course through the MOOC-provider Udacity for transfer credit. OK, it’s not my university exactly. I work for Colorado State University – Pueblo. That’s a large branch campus in the Colorado State University system located in Southern Colorado. You probably know about our sister institution, the main campus up north in Fort Collins. The institution accepting the transfer credit is CSU-Global, an entirely online “campus” that started in 2008.
I’m of two minds about this development. On the one hand, all that’s involved here is a single introductory computer science class. I’ve read enough about Udacity’s computer science offerings to know that they’re not exactly easy. I’ve also been to enough presentations on my campus to know that CSU-Global might as well be Harvard compared to a lot of the other for-profit online institutions out there. In other words, this MOOC isn’t threatening my job or the standards of rigor on any campus in the CSU system. CSU-Global is almost certainly accepting this credit because it has no like offerings and hopes to entice Udacity participants into taking other, more expensive online courses.
I’m a historian, blogger and longtime AAUP member who’s delighted to have the opportunity to post here from time to time on the kinds of issues that concern Academe readers. While I started off blogging about history, I’ve spent the vast majority of my time at my home blog in the last year or so writing about education technology. The more I read about the subject, the more I realized that most faculty had no idea what was happening to their profession despite the fact that ongoing technological transitions will have a huge effect on their lives and livelihoods.
In pursuit of this self-imposed objective, I’ve read a lot of literature written by ed tech enthusiasts of all kinds. Cathy Davidson is one of the good ones. Her book, Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century, is full of tales about how she and others have tried to change teaching at all levels to reflect the learning styles that today’s students have picked up as a result of their being brought up in an Internet-infused world.