A Critique of Online Education

“Online Education is the future, or, another reason the future will suck:”

Online courses are, for lack of a better term, shit. No one who has taken or taught one can claim in earnest to have learned more than they do in traditional courses. Few could honestly claim that they learned anything at all. When the author of DIY U describes a model of students “cobbling” together a self-guided degree consisting of “course materials readily available online,” I cannot convince myself that the Yale-educated author believes that even as she is paid handsomely to type it. Perhaps 1/10 of a percent of undergraduates are mature and motivated enough to effectively direct their own course of study. What Kamenetz describes feels more like replacing the 12-course tasting menu at El Bulli with a trip to Old Country Buffet and calling it a wash. The idea that anything meeting her description would qualify as an education is prima facie ridiculous and requires no further discussion.

The real benefit, though, is that it will let more people go to college because everything will be cheaper. The adjuncting wave of the early 1990s was supposed to make education cheaper. It didn’t. Now online courses are supposed to be making education cheaper (price being conflated with accessibility in this line of argument). Despite spreading like wildfire in the last decade – from dedicated online schools like University of Phoenix to the best (and worst) brick-and-mortar schools – the price of higher education only increases. So who benefits from replacing tenured faculty with adjuncts if not the students? If students aren’t getting cheaper or better education from online courses, why are colleges so eager to establish them? The answer, as anyone on this side of the looking glass knows, is that it’s cheaper – for the university

Read the whole post here

Delightful Excuses…

A student email (I left the horrific composition in tact):

Dear Prof Shahar:

I am so sorry to tell you that I am taking off today. This morning, when I was about to go to school, i got diarrhea. It took me about an hour. So I couldn’t go to school on time. I ‘ll ask my friend about homework. And if we have a test today, could you please allow me to take it another time? Therefore, can you tell me when can I see you and do it?
Thank you so much.

File under: Too much information.  Funny, yet disturbingly inappropriate, but funny…

The Tyranny of Academia

Via Lumpenprofessoriat: an article from IHE:

For the adjuncts at the six universities and 13 community colleges governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents, the solution they came up with was to ask politely. They worked with administrators to craft and re-craft a proposal to raise the maximum pay offered to adjuncts so that someone working a 5-5 course load (the kind of load that many tenure-track faculty members would consider unworkable) could be assured the chance of topping $20,000 in annual income. They weren’t even talking about such matters as health insurance (which isn’t provided). Continue reading

College for All? Failure for Many?

Someone sent me this recent article from The Atlantic Monthly. It’s quite interesting and a good deal of the issues that come up should be interesting to anyone that teaches college. The question that grabbed me was on the author of the article, Professor X, broaches towards the end: Is college really for everyone? Is it actually doing as much good as we think by making a college education a necessity? One could point out to Professor X that er…according to my unscientific knee jerk poll about half (or less than half) of the American population actually holds a college degree. Regardless, Professor X tells us about his or her students, a good many of them can’t string together a coherent sentence and are subsequently perplexed (shocked) by the craptastic grades they are doled out. After all, they have gone back to school to “do themselves and their kids right” (as some of my students have said to me) and equally important, satisfy the demands of the broader culture. Anyway, here’s an excerpt, but the whole article is worth a look:

Sending everyone under the sun to college is a noble initiative. Academia is all for it, naturally. Industry is all for it; some companies even help with tuition costs. Government is all for it; the truly needy have lots of opportunities for financial aid. The media applauds it—try to imagine someone speaking out against the idea. To oppose such a scheme of inclusion would be positively churlish. But one piece of the puzzle hasn’t been figured into the equation, to use the sort of phrase I encounter in the papers submitted by my English 101 students. The zeitgeist of academic possibility is a great inverted pyramid, and its rather sharp point is poking, uncomfortably, a spot just about midway between my shoulder blades.

For I, who teach these low-level, must-pass, no-multiple-choice-test classes, am the one who ultimately delivers the news to those unfit for college: that they lack the most-basic skills and have no sense of the volume of work required; that they are in some cases barely literate; that they are so bereft of schemata, so dispossessed of contexts in which to place newly acquired knowledge, that every bit of information simply raises more questions. They are not ready for high school, some of them, much less for college.

America, ever-idealistic, seems wary of the vocational-education track. We are not comfortable limiting anyone’s options. Telling someone that college is not for him seems harsh and classist and British, as though we were sentencing him to a life in the coal mines. I sympathize with this stance; I subscribe to the American ideal. Unfortunately, it is with me and my red pen that that ideal crashes and burns.

The Awesomeness of Students: End of Term Cheating Edition

I spent this morning reading the final argumentative essays for one of my Logic and Critical Thinking sections. Happily, out of 21 papers, I only found one paper that was shamelessly and egregiously plagiarized, mostly verbatim from Wikipedia. I found myself mildly annoyed, but more at the fact that I (with my 70 pound dog) had to go back inside my house on such a lovely day, fire up the computer, and google the offending passages (er..whole paper) instead of being crippled with some sort of moral outrage or worse, feelings of betrayal. Luckily, this student was dumb enough to copy from Wikipedia, which made for a fast corroboration, but the student also peppered the paper with paragraphs lifted from other websites which took a bit more time to dig up. Sadly, every semester I fully expect to have at least one offender in each of my courses. In one of my Introduction to Philosophy courses this semester I had a chronic plagiarizer who I found consistently copying passages (from Wikipedia) for a journal entry which I do as a sort of non-threatening say-whatever you want as long as you are engaging the text type of thing.

Very silly, despite his protestations that he didn’t copy the passages (even thought I stapled them to the front of his papers) or was confused about “how to cite them” after the second time I flat out told him he’s going to fail the class next time and be referred to the disciplinary committee. What did he do? He played the old maybe if I don’t show up to class all that much Prof. Shahar will surely forget. Wrong, and he totally fucked himself. The question I always ask myself is why do they do it? Are my assignments impossible? Are they too dumb? Poor time management? Are they too lazy? Just desperate for the “A”? Continue reading

Philosophy as Creative Repetition

I came across Badiou’s article, “Philosophy as Creative Repetition,” in which he discusses the very conception and role of and the subsequent “disciplining” of philosophy. For one, since it’s the end of the semester, I’ve been thinking of these types of questions that have been bothering me for a long time. In fact, it seems to be everywhere, for some of the discussions recently here at PE and other places have touched on questions like “What is philosophy,” “What does philosophy do, if anything?” or even as one PE writer asked “Is philosophy irrelevent?” or finally “What is a philosopher?” After drawing on Althusser’s notion that philosophy has no history and is a continual repetition of the same, Badiou writes:

What is the sameness of the same, which returns in the a-historical destiny of philosophy? Behind this question we naturally find an old discussion about the true nature of philosophy. There are roughly two main tendencies. For the first one philosophy is essentially a reflexive knowledge. The knowledge of truth in theoretical fields, the knowledge of values in practical fields. We have to organize learning and the transmission of knowledge. And the appropriate form of philosophy is that of a school. The philosopher is a professor, like Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger and so many others., including myself, when you address me under the name of “Professor Badiou.” Continue reading

End of the Semester…All around Frustration

It’s nearing the end of the semester and in my logic and critical thinking courses this means there is just the final exam left. As a way to get my students thinking about all the great and useful evaluative skills they have learned over the course of the semester I wrote a new assignment that revolves around William Paley’s infamous Watchmaker Argument for the Existence of God (hijacked and recasted as new by those ID types). I thought that it would work nicely because forms of it have been in the news recently, we spent some time talking about analogical reasoning, it reviews some concepts about fallacies (circularity/begging the question, regression, false cause, false analogies etc) we dealt with early on, and it tests both the reading and evaluative/analytical skills of the students when they appraise the argument. Win Win, right? Wrong.

Overwhelmingly, my students have had a very difficult time with this assignment not least because they accuse Paley of being intentionally incomprehensible. I’ve never had quite a disparity in the classroom, in which some of the class “got” it and others (read many others) completely missed the point. I have students look at two short passages, then we go over it in class, which usually ended with me begrudgingly spelling out the analogy. And still many students tended to misinterpret the analogy so that all of the questions I ask based on the analogy are wrong. I don’t know…Perhaps it’s me? Continue reading

Things as They Are: A Rejoinder

Mikhail touches on some good points in his post, “Things as they Are: Academic Paysage,” and I have a few points to add. Mikhail suggests that

A book contract will always beat 10 years of teaching experience, publications in known journals (even though not many read those, including the authors themselves) will always beat a good record of students evaluations – why?

Yes, a good point about hiring practices and no doubt true, but it may be much worse then this given the often unacknowledged laws that govern the system. Not only is it possible to do everything “right,” e.g. finish the doctorate in a reasonable amount of time or quickly (and beating the 45% attrition rate), have some teaching experience, publish an article and/or write some reviews, participate in conferences etc., and not get placed into a tenure track position, it’s possible that this is exactly how the system of labor is structured. In his recent (and quite excellent ) book, How the University Works, Marc Bousquet discusses how earning the doctorate degree (however counterintuitive) actually serves to flush the degree holder out of the system:

Many degree holders have served as adjunct lecturers at other campuses, sometimes teaching master’s degree students and advising their theses en route to their own degrees. Some will have taught thirty to forty sections, or the equivalent of five to seven years’ full time teaching work. During this time, they have received frequent mentoring and regular evaluation; most will have a large portfolio of enthusiastic observations and warm student commendations. A large faction will have published essays and book reviews and authored their department web pages. Yet, at precicely the juncture that this “preparation” should end and regular employment begin–the acquisition of the Ph.D.–the system embarrasses itself and discloses a systematic truth that every recent degree holder knows and few administrators wish to acknowledge: in many diciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career (23). Continue reading