Tuesday, December 13, 2016

3 Before Me

The dreary season of 2016 is rushing past my ears, sounding like a hummingbird heading for home. I thought there would be time...to reflect, to learn new tools, to come to conclusions regarding practicing practices and troubling tech. Instead, I ran as fast as I could just to stay in same place.

But I promised a few colleagues that I would document '3 before me' - Academic Technology's ode to setting tech limits in Canvas - in time for Winter quarter. Here's '3 before me!' in micro-content form:

The Practice

Tell you students not to email you, unless it's personal/private/confidential. Tell them you will not answerIf they have a question on the content, others probably have the same question and you don't want to answer it 30 times. Tell them here are 3 places to go before your mailbox. You can do this! 

#1) The course FAQ thread in Discussion Board. Someone will answer it there, often before you, the instructor, even sees it.

#2) The University Help Desk. You're not Tech Support and you don't need to know why their Windows Vista/BB9/IE8 combination doesn't display PDFs correctly. IT is paid to explore those issues, and some of them enjoy working on the problem.

#3) The syllabus. Doh! Time, due date, requirements, process is usually outlined there. If it's about course content issue, they should look there first.

3 before me. Easy rule. Put it in the syllabus and your online teaching becomes easier and your students become less dependent. Scout's honor.

Lots of faculty think they'll be seen as "nice" if they ignore this advice. Do so at your own peril. Online options can grow work at exponential rates when you start obsessing. '3 before me' is especially gold in online teaching. Why?
  • so you don't burn out teaching online
  • so students take ownership of their learning and problem-solving
  • so they form community unto themselves
You can do this. You can set limits, encourage problem-solving, create more collaborations.
3 Before Me.

Living on Hope and a Prayer

Seems every time I opened my Inbox or Facebook page last week, some friend would send me another link from the net telling us how quickly the higher education milk is reaching the smelly moment when you gag. Right now, most brave souls either don't stop to sniff or they think "What the heck. It's still ok. It's...fine." They have hope - and strong stomachs.

We admire people with strong stomachs. The weak and squeamish? Too bad. Let them drink water. Eat dry cereal. Sip black coffee. Dip cookies in Coke. It's good enough. Of course we remind them it would be better to just buck up, suck it up, endure. Like Marines. If the student debt doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger. If the 20th century curriculum doesn't break your spirit, you'll be tougher to kill later on. If the adjunct campus-hopping commute at inconvenient hours doesn't conflict too much with your employer's expectations, you'll make it through another quarter. Until quarter by quarter and deeper in debt, we will give you a degree. That may or may not help you get a job. We make no guarantees. As Rolling Stone magazine points out in their crushing story on Ripping Off Young America,,

Between 1950 and 1970, sending a kid to a public university cost about four percent of an American family's annual income. Forty years later, in 2010, it accounted for 11 percent. Moody's released statistics showing tuition and fees rising 300 percent versus the Consumer Price Index between 1990 and 2011.

But, hey, that's not our fault. When milk spoils, you don't blame the milk. We had to raise tuition rates. We needed a climbing wall and new stadium; a gourmet dining hall for our honor students; ones that look like the Hilton penthouse suites. You made us do it. Remember when the country was spending like mad and we wanted a seat at the party? Still paying the bill.

Plus, everyone reminded students that it was worth the cost: A better life, better job, more stuff. Again, not our fault that this may not be true. Not our fault. No one told you to major in history. Didn't you see the flyer on STEM? Science technology engineering math, dude (and dudettes; especially dudettes!). In a very bad economy, there are still a few good jobs out there. But just in the applied professions. With a history degree, there's a good chance you'll be working retail. Sorry we didn't explain that, but you didn't ask and we don't actually work out there. How would we know?
Not our fault. Happy new year.

Get thee behind us, 2016!

2016. Blech. Feeling inconsolable and thus a bit lazy. Wish I could share some thoughtful, insightful, encouraging words as we wrap up a very perplexing 2016 and inanely place our hopes in a basket for the coming year. I'm writing a 2017 essay for the Evolllution regarding looking forward, not looking back and doing right for higher education with technology. Will pull myself out of the soup, find renewed confidence in my community's ability to do good in the face of...bad, and post when it's published.

Meanwhile, let me instead just send you on in these cold dark and dreary days of December to the annual review of a writer who never loses her spunk and energy to rouse rabble in the face of infuriating odds. One of my favorite hackers, activists, feminists, thinkers: Audry Waters.

Here's her take on 2016. It's in six thoughtful parts on life, ed-tech, staying sane, doing good. If you can't read them all, give up showering for a week and read them all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Meaning of a College Education

Today's reading: A college degree is worth less if you are raised poor. 

My friend Debra, a sociologist dedicated to "doing the work" of social good, would often talk with me about what was broken and what was beautiful in a college education. In this knowledge age where industry jobs are disappearing, the American dream now includes the expectation that college is available to all. Which means higher education is being asked to rethink what we do and who we do it to. 

Many campuses must now change their mission from one of exclusion to something greater where every American who wants to go to college can find a way. The challenge is not to simply expand and admit, but to CHANGE (ouch) and adapt ourselves to the needs of the post-traditional / new traditional learner. 

Debra and I used to talk about what that might look like and what it would take not just to teach history and math and science and lit...but to teach that "je ne sais crois" that allow first generation and socio-economically disadvantaged students to demonstrate what used to present as old-school educated.

The topic, fraught with land mines, was really about class and culture. Which college never taught us. Wealthy students came to college with the trappings of class: how they spoke, ate, dressed, their manners, their confidence with peers and deference to those above them by age, expertise, power.

Coming from an inner city lower middle class, but having traveled all around the world, earned a PhD, lived in France and spent most of my life working at universities, I asked my very-privileged class friend if I had adapted and passed? "Sometimes," she replied. 

Wait, I live a life of privilege and still sometimes I don't pass? WTF?? Debra would say using that acronym is an example of 'where one comes from'. But it's my choice: an acronym I'll use on this blog with you, dear reader, but not in the Board room, classroom, stiff social settings I'm now often and unhappily placed. They are settings still outside my class and comfort zone but I know how to put on class airs to please, to disappear, to pass. Sometimes. 

So what about our students that are now $30,000 in debt for a bachelor's degree? Who have not traveled and tried? Who never realized that their instructors did not dare approach the difficult topic of how to behave in a way that will make student debt a return on investment? 

Not our job, we lofty historians, mathematicians, scientists, scholars. It is a hard topic, easily shunted aside as impolitic as we do what we've always done. But sometime soon when the longitudinal studies show us that we took the money and didn't deliver what the new traditionals needed? When we read that they are no longer young, in debt and not getting out? Will we still be saying "not our job?"

If so, I hope we have the class to show shame and remorse. So, a start at conversation from the Brookings Institution and how next to "do the work" -
A college degree is worth less if you are raised poor.