What I gleaned from the start of the semester faculty meetings.

Note that "gleaned" might suggest more in the way justified true belief than I actually acquired; at least some of these bullet points have all the tannins you'd expect from tea leaves. Also, there's maybe a little sarcasm, but I'm trying to get most of it out of my system before my first class meeting tomorrow. You have been warned.

Anyway, in no particular order:

  • Our university president and the governor of our state are super-excited about MOOCs. They're the wave of the higher ed future, y'all! And that excitement extends to entering a partnership wherein faculty at our university will develop MOOCs and the university will pocket a whopping 51% of the proceeds! The other 49% of the proceeds will go to a private company that will do ... something to add value to what our faculty build. No reason at all for California taxpayers to worry that this amounts to converting public funds to private profits!
  • Also, no need to worry that the University of California's bold initiatives MOOCward in UC Online have been much less successful than hoped. Because the California State University system will be able to figure it out!
  • Some faculty with an awareness of history pointed noted that, in the 1950s, precisely the same bold future of revolutionizing college education and broadening access to it was predicted, only with television as the delivery method. Remember how classroom instruction at colleges and universities had totally disappeared by the end of that decade? And this is why history departments must be phased out immediately!
  • So, our campus is phasing in its fourth "Learning Management System" (with which we develop and deliver content and interaction with students online) in 10 years. Faculty are scrambling to work out kludges to get the functionality with the new system that they had (but will be losing) with the old system. It combines all the hassle of a new prep with none of the intellectual thrill of a new prep. Bonus: Owing to the partnership with Udacity to develop and deliver MOOCs, there is absolutely no guarantee that the campus won't end up ditching this new LMS in favor of a (proprietary) LMS that Udacity prefers (and could yank out from under us in the event that the partnership founders). This is awesome incentive for those who have never used online tools in their pedagogy to start!
  • Faculty can reach a stage where they are so battered by directives from administrative levels beyond their department that they will hear their chair's proclamation "We will be doing [X] over my dead body" and ask "When must we implement [X]?" (I assure you, these are faculty who sincerely desire their chair's continued health and well-being.)
  • Administrators who think that they can appease disgruntled factions of the administrative units they oversee by making sure those factions are heavily represented on key committees and then listening to their concerns sometimes discover that listening to those concerns is not sufficient to appease the disgruntled factions.
  • Indeed, sometimes the disgruntled factions will make and distribute hundreds of fliers trying to rally the support of the less-disgruntled factions of their administrative units, including agitating for what could maybe shape up to be a coup against the administrators who listened to grievances but did not acquiesce to demands.
  • Such attempts to rally support from colleagues might be more successful if they showed awareness of the real challenges those less-disgruntled factions of the administrative units face, and especially of ways giving the disgruntled faction everything it wants might impact the resources and effective functioning of the less-disgruntled factions.
  • I have what feels like a memory that at least one of the first few start-of-semester faculty meetings early in my career here saw faculty generally gruntled. It's possible that this is baseless nostalgia, though.
  • You know what we hear that area employers are looking for in recent graduates? Good critical thinking skills. You know what core component of our General Education package the powers that be are seriously considering eliminating? Critical thinking! Of course, the proposal on the table is to fold the existing critical thinking requirement into another required course (the second semester freshman composition class), but some of us are fairly certain that student papers with solid mechanics but lacking critical thinking are going to end up being a horror show to grade.

I hope the rest of you in academia are experiencing a smooth start (or continuation, as the cas may be) to your term.

14 responses so far

  • bill says:

    Is it time for you to go back to the bench yet? University teaching looks more and more like a sideshow ride designed by malevolent aliens.

  • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

    I suspect my benchfoo is more shriveled at this point than my heart is. I think I'm going to have to take on the malevolent aliens.

    If anyone has good alien-fighting weapons or strategies, get in touch!

  • MOOCs fail the "If it's too good to be true, then it isn't" test. How do we end up with so many simplistic minds running universities?

  • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

    I was watching Margin Call last night, and there are some obvious parallels.

    (1) The "If it's too good to be true, then it isn't" test seems like one that could be as helpful in investment banking as in academia.

    (2) The further up the org-chart one got in the fictional investment banking firm in the movie, the less likely the executive had any grasp of how the algorithms worked or what the numbers meant. Like, maybe the people who understand the operation of stuff on the ground, and who can judge the plausibility of particular initiatives, are for some reason not the ones with the power to make those decisions. But don't worry, nothing bad is going to happen!!

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    Back in the Antideluvian period, we were overwhelmed with the number of students wanting to take our two introductory biology/general education courses. At the time the university had black and white TV equipment. We proposed doing the two courses in question in the form of taped TV lectures. We got some funding for this, and, as I recall, I got a couple of months summer salary out of the deal.

    Anyway, several of us participated . The videos were shown in class with a faculty member or TX present, and ten minutes alloted to discussion and questions. It worked fairly well, and the number of biology majors doubled.

    Our deal with the university was that when color TV became available, the university would fund the transition, or we would quit the program. When the time came, the university did not fund us so we went back to the instructor in front of the class format.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    That is TA, not TX.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    In TX, they would find a way to outsource, run some scam for a private company, or become a diploma mill. Or all three.

    People keep cutting budgets and then green lanterning possible unicorn solutions. Unicorns are not soluble. I need this on a tee shirt.


  • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

    I think unicorns are soluble, but the solvent is really nasty. Wear appropriate protective gear.

  • Ewan says:

    Over here on the East Coast, SUNY appears to have taken the same direction: we're told that there is about to be a massive online expansion "done right."

    Meanwhile, I twist in the wind of no-word-on-tenure-yet-dom :-/. Hence the rest of this comment has been redacted 😛

  • becca says:

    Tell them twitter + facebook is your new LMS.

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  • Ewan says:

    The money quote from our Chancellor's address:

    "And once we have our 64 campuses and over 34,000 faculty using the same platform to teach online, we’ll take this capacity to scale by officially launching Open SUNY in 2014.

    No institution in America – not even the for-profits – will be able to match the number of offerings and the quality of instruction. We’ll start by adding 10 online bachelor’s degree programs that meet high-need career demands – piloting three this fall. We’ll offer a credit assessment of prior learning experiences and credit validation for online offerings from high profile, accredited institutions. And not only are we going to do it best – we’re going to do it big. In 3 years, we will enroll 100,000 degree-seeking students in Open SUNY, making us the largest public online provider of education in the nation."