The following guest post is by Jonathan Rees, a professor of history at Colorado State University-Pueblo and vice president of the Colorado AAUP conference. It is cross-posted at his blog, More or Less Bunk.
Somebody call the AAUP! I think I’ve found the academic freedom crisis of the twenty-first century. From IHE:
[Lasell College] wants 100 percent of faculty to be actively using the college’s Moodle-based learning management system (LMS). And it wants comprehensive LMS usage — every course, all sections — before the end of this year. That means at a minimum, an instructor will have to use the online platform to take attendance, post assignments, and post grades.
“We’re basically mandating it,” says Michael B. Alexander, Lasell’s president.
I’m surprised this hasn’t happened before. After all, LMSs (even the open source ones like Moodle) are expensive to operate and universities want to make the most of their investments. Moreover, it’s easy to track students (and faculty) when you use them, thereby satisfying the urges of administrative control freaks everywhere. That article even introduced me to a new term: “LMS usage deficit.” I think any administrator who uses that term is basically showing their hand. They want all faculty to use the LMS whether they want to or not.
Why might some faculty resist using a particular LMS? Leave aside the fact that they might be philosophically opposed to the concept of online learning. What if the system itself…cough…Blackboard…cough…stinks? After all, how many institutions actually have enough shared governance to give faculty a significant say in educational technology decisions? I recently approached a faculty member on our IT board to ask about getting the university to run WordPress on our servers and he started laughing hysterically. Apparently, I’ll be lucky if that happens before I retire.
Despite such rather obvious concerns, the faculty at Lasell haven’t quite digested the implications of all this:
The plan does not appear to have run up against much resistance from Lasell faculty. But while the usage thresholds proposed by Alexander are slight, the president might be treading a fine line when it comes to requiring that faculty use particular features in Moodle. “If you’re going to see faculty resistance, it’s going to be if they are told what tools they have to use,” says Cristina Haverty, chair of the department of athletic training and exercise science.
I guarantee you that the situation she describes is coming somewhere, sometime soon. If it’s not done in the name of cost-cutting, it will be done in the name of “customer service.” At that point, the AAUP and every other defender of academic freedom is going to have to make the case that how educational content is being delivered is just as important as what educational content is being delivered. Otherwise, academic freedom is going to go the way of the face-to-face class in the all-online higher education utopia that is apparently just over the edge of the horizon.