Monday, January 28, 2013

I Write Like (exposed?)

In a recent tweet, Lisa Lane mentioned a neat little site called I WRITE LIKE that compares your writing style to various famous authors . I submitted one of the posts from this blog and learned that I write in the style of HP Lovecraft (American author of horror, fantasy and science fiction, especially the subgenre known as weird fiction). I was suspicious, since Lisa’s writing was also supposedly like this author's. I’ve much appreciated her blog and wonderful resources, but didn’t think we had very similar styles. So I submitted a second blog and was told this time that I write like Dan Brown (American author of thriller fiction, best known for The Da Vinci Code). Perhaps everything I’ve written is pure fantasy, (though perhaps thrilling or horror-filled). Or perhaps the people behind this site want us all to think we have a penchant for fantasy and horror (not realizing how connected we etmooc folks are and that we’re sure to catch on to their limited author list).

Between excitement and despair

I find myself swinging between excitement about using emerging educational technologies in my teaching and despair (or cynicism, or anger depending on the day) about unrealistic expectations around these technologies. Etmooc offers many reasons for the excitement—but also provides important connections to the wider debates—and thus to the despair.

Today I am thinking especially of the spate of writings in the popular press about MOOCs as a revolution that presages the end of higher education as we know it and the congratulatory tone regarding anticipated cost-savings to universities from offering more online education options (illustrated by California State University’s pilot project with Udacity to offer several remedial courses at San Jose State University). There are some helpful analyses out there too. Here I point out three that I’ve found useful this past week: Audrey Watters' “MOOCs for Credit come to California”; Ian Bogost’s Inequality in American Education Will Not Be Solved Online; and
David Theo Goldberg’s “MOOC Mania” with Siva Vaidhyanathan identifying some missing considerations.

So, with these authors, I’ve been pondering questions about inequality and about the consequences of this “online movement” for post-secondary faculty. Today I begin with a little background on my own context and offer a brief comment on inequality. I’ll talk about the faculty issue in another post.

I am a professor of sociology at Eastern Oregon University, on sabbatical this year (making it possible for me to participate in etmooc with some free attention). Eastern is a small rural state school that serves a geographic region the size of the US state of Pennsylvania, and has 17 regional centers (assisting the 50% of our students who attend online). As the de-facto community college option in our county, Eastern also admits a growing number of transfer students , especially from the two community colleges within a hundred-mile radius, and offers 4-year degrees in the usual liberal arts and sciences fields, and professional degrees (both BA and MA level) in education and business. Over 88% of the students are of white ethnic background, and many are the first in their families to attend college. How does this national debate around “remedial MOOCs” affect us?

In a recent NYT article about the partnership between San Jose State University and Udacity, SJSU provost Ellen N. Junn, asserts that this pilot project is a response to a crisis – in this case the problem that 50 percent of entering students cannot meet basic college requirements. The anecdotal evidence presented in the Times' article about a former successful Udacity course attended by a small number of “at risk” students may be hopeful, but I’m not convinced that this can scale well to resolve the problem at SJSU.

Students who have suffered the hidden injuries of social class in poorly funded k-12 schools deserve access to high quality education, requiring the kind of commitment evident in the work of creative teachers participating in Etmooc. Perhaps Udacity will provide all the mentors, facilitators, personalized approaches, accessible and easy to navigate tools needed to create a positive learning space for these students to be successful. And perhaps they can do it with the kind of corporate support for new initiatives that has made possible the development of this massive open course model. However, unless the funding model envisions continuing private initiatives and grants in a time of continuing public disinvestment, I don’t see how Udacity can afford to continue such a partnership. Further, as Siva Vaidhyanathan asks in his comment on Ian Bogost’s article (referenced above):

So shouldn't we be pushing for universities to host and publish their own MOOC content? Why do we need Udacity and Coursera? No one has been able to answer that. The Universiteit van Amsterdam runs its own MOOC service. It's not complicated. And a university that runs its own can collect its own data (and protect student privacy) for study and analysis instead of allowing the corporation to monetize it.

Regarding the question of students needing remedial courses, I don’t have the exact figures for students at my small university who are not ready for college level coursework, but I don’t think they are much lower than those at San Jose State. The reasons for this are complex, and a resolution would require new approaches much earlier in students’ lives, involving richly varied educational opportunities that tax-averse citizens have been increasingly unwilling to fund.

The despair side is winning out today. I see the present (and imagine a future) with the creative and curious children of wealthy parents exploring the far reaches of galaxies and human cultures, guided by caring and demanding teachers with access to amazing digital resources; and the creative and curious children of poor parents having a very different experience. With regard to inequality, predictions about a MOOC revolution don't do much to transform my despair to hope.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Doing the Doctoral Dance

Here's a tech tool saga....with a happy ending that I hope you enjoy. After updating my MAC OS so I could update my i-movie software; and after learning how to convert a videocamera file to one I could use with i-movie; and after learning how to convert an .mov file to a form that could be used with You-tube (whew!). . . . Here is my contribution to the 72 hours of videos uploaded to You-Tube every minute. Doing the Doctoral Dance. I am so grateful for both the tech assistance and encouragement from my sister Theresa. Now I just need to keep using the tools so that the process sticks in my mind.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tech tools are like manure

In my first post about #ETMOOC, I ended with a reference to Auntie Mame's statement that "Money is like manure . . ." *
I was relating this to the sharing perspective that I can see so clearly among people in this MOOC who are excited about using emerging technologies to "encourage young things to grow" (and old things as well!). Right now, though, I am feeling a bit daunted by the amount of "manure" that folks are so generously spreading. I expect I'll settle on a few that work best for me with my level of skill and focus, and that I'll benefit greatly from the kindness of new colleagues. But I wanted to think out loud for a minute about the way the ground could be prepared for this rich material, stretching the metaphor a bit. The other day I was taking a try at Camtasia, recording a tutorial for how to contribute to a Wikispace resource site for a Tacoma, Wa. area organization that assists persons transitioning out of prison. I was assisted by my sister Theresa, who directs a home for women in transition,and has a background in information technology. She had never used Camtasia before, but had that "sense" of how things might work that people seem to develop after some experience. She wanted to plunge right in to create the tutorial, learning how to use the program as we went along. I balked, even with her trusty companionship, because I hadn't read everything through, and I thought I should create a "throw away" example of a tutorial before doing the "real thing." Ever the patient teacher, Theresa suggested that the best way to learn how to do this was to "just do it." We are planning to team-teach a course next year on Gender, Race, and Crime, and we'll need this resource anyway, so....why not get it ready now? I did feel like the young girl ready to go down the ski jump (that Alec shared during orientation). I was so aware, in talking this process through with my sister, of the differences in how we approached new learning experiences. True to my comfort with reading, and my many years of successfully moving through the academic world surrounded by texts, I wanted to understand it all before I did the real thing. True to her applied background, first as a carpenter and then as an information technologist, and now a community leader, my sister knew the powerful exhilaration of trying something until you learn it--and of potentially understanding at a deeper , and more embodied level. While I recognize some of this as general differences in learning styles, I stand at the top of the ski jump imagining what it will feel like to know, in my body, the thrill of having more tools in my toolkit for "encouraging young things to grow." ("Manure"image from Occupy*Posters at Shared through Creative Commons license)

Irish scribes and the challenge of #ETMOOC

ETMOOC 2013 comes at a very good time for me. I am currently on a year-long sabbatical from my sociology professor role at Eastern Oregon University, and my major focus is learning as much as I can about emerging educational technologies and new media. I am new to most of this, and I admit that I have devoted more time to collecting information about these technologies and their social consequences than to learning how to use them. It is hard, anxiety-producing work to step out of comfortable patterns, and my technology-related brain muscles are still quite weak. Sometimes when I am practicing a new tool, the instructions just swim around in front of my eyes and my brain checks out. As a high achieving academic sort, I have to smile (with gritted teeth at times) that this isn’t something I can just get by osmosis. But I count on patient friends with more experience in these things to keep me going. That’s the most specific reason why I’m here and what I hope to gain. Another reason has to do with what sociologists call social location.