As network of Chinese-funded institutes at American universities expands, some professors see opportunities. Others worry about academic freedom and whether centers promote "culturetainment," not scholarship.
Here's a course topic not currently offered by any of the providers of massive open online courses: "The Implications of Coursera’s For-Profit Business Model for Global Public Education." The course was proposed last week by Robert Meister, professor of political and social thought in the department of the history of consciousness at the University of California at Santa Cruz and president of the Council of UC Faculty Associations. He sent a letter with his idea to Daphne Koller, a computer science professor at Stanford University and co-founder of Coursera, and then published his letter on the blog of the American Association of University Professors.
Among the topics Meister proposes covering:
Why venture capitalists "are willing to provide an even greater abundance of knowledge in the service of greater economic and social equality than is the State of California, which clearly has the means to spend much more than it has cost your company to reach a worldwide enrollment in the millions."
The way "free MOOCs weaken the link between scarcity and quality on which the business model of all higher education, both public and private, unfortunately depends."
Teaching students to "think financially about the socio-economic spreads created by our public educational system as a potential source of private profit."
"[T]hat the for-profit logic of their online educational empowerment depends on the fact while they are consuming information, they are also producing information that Coursera can correlate with other data to predict what prices students with particular profiles would eventually pay for courses they are presently consuming for free."
The piece ends by asking Koller if she would co-teach the course, saying "I’m sure that together we could reach a very large audience indeed."
Via e-mail in response to an Inside Higher Ed question, Koller indicated that potential students might not find the course listed in the Coursera list of offerings any time soon, and that she does not consider that she was really being invited to co-teach it.
"If you've read the (rather long) letter, you'll have seen that it's not actually an invitation to co-teach a course, but rather a thinly veiled attack on Coursera and the whole MOOC model," she wrote. "When we launched Coursera we introduced a completely new model for providing learners everywhere free access to a great education. It is not surprising that a model this transformative brings out skeptics and critics, and, indeed, some caution is appropriate whenever the world changes this quickly. I am happy to respond to concrete criticism of our actions or words, but Mr. Meister's letter criticizes the model not based on what Coursera has done, nor even on what we have said we would do in future, but rather based on a speculative trajectory of his own construction. Our mission, to enable anyone around the world to have access to education, and to do what's best for students, remains clear today and will not bend in the future."
Undergraduate students should join professors in selecting the content of courses taught in the humanities.
This is the conclusion I came to after teaching Humanities on Demand: Narratives Gone Viral, a pilot course at Duke University that not only introduced students to some of the critical modes humanists employ to analyze new media artifacts, but also tested the viability of a new, interactive course design. One semester prior to the beginning of class, we asked 6,500 undergraduates -- in other words, Duke¹s entire undergraduate student body -- to go online and submit materials they believed warranted examination in the course.
Submissions could be made regardless of whether a student planned on enrolling in the course. In response, hundreds of students from a variety of academic disciplines, including engineering, political science, religion, foreign languages, anthropology, public policy and computer science, submitted content for the class.
This interactive approach, which I call Epic Course Design (ECD) after German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s theory of epic theater, represents a radical break with traditional course-building techniques. Generally, humanities instructors unilaterally choose the content of their syllabuses -- and rightly so. After all, we are the experts. But this solitary method of course construction does not reflect how humanists often actually teach.
Far from being viewed as passive receptacles of instructional data, humanities students are often engaged as active contributors. With this in mind, ECD offers a student-centered alternative to traditional course-building methods. Importantly, ECD does not allow students to dictate the content of a course; it invites them to contribute, with the instructor ultimately deciding which (if any) student-generated submissions merit inclusion on the syllabus.
Nevertheless, when a colleague of mine first heard about my plans to allow students to determine what was to be examined in Narrative Gone Viral, he was deeply skeptical: "But students don¹t know what they don’t know," he objected. In my view, that is not a problem -- that is the point; or at least part of it. For crowdsourcing the curriculum not only invites students to submit material they are interested in, but also invites them to choose material they believe they already understand. Student-generated submissions for Narratives Gone Viral included popular YouTube videos like "He-Man sings 4 Non Blondes,""Inmates Perform Thriller" and "Miss Teen USA 2007- South Carolina answers a Question." While my students were already exceedingly familiar with these videos, they clearly didn’t always see what was at stake in them.
All of these works are worthy of academic scrutiny: the "He-Man" piece is interesting because it confronts preconceived notions of masculinity; "Inmates Perform Thriller" prompts questions of accessibility to social media; "Miss Teen USA" is notable because it reveals how viral videos often appeal to a viewer’s desire to feel superior to others.
I am not proposing that all humanities courses should integrate this approach. What I am suggesting, however, is that ECD represents a viable alternative to more familiar course-building methodologies. This includes classes that do not focus on social media and/or popular culture. Importantly, whether students will be interested in suggesting texts for, say, a course on medieval German literature is not the crucial question; in my view, the crucial question is: Why should we refrain from offering motivated students the opportunity to do so, if they wish?
There was relatively little repetition in student submissions for Narratives Gone Viral, an indication that students were reviewing posts made by their peers, weighing their options, and responding with alternative suggestions.
To put a finer point on the matter, students were not merely submitting course content: they were discussing the content of a course that -- in every traditional sense -- had yet to even begin.
Michael P. Ryan is a visiting assistant professor of German studies and the American Council of Learned Societies new faculty fellow at Duke University.
Former New Mexico Governor Garrey Carruthers earlier this month won a 3-to-2 vote to become the next president of New Mexico State University, but his political baggage has been met by protests from some faculty members.
Two years after he left the governor’s mansion, Carruthers, a Republican, proceeded to chair the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, a lobbying group sponsored by the tobacco giant Altria, then known as Philip Morris Companies. The group served to counter the growing concerns over man-made climate change, among other topics. “I think that we're facing one of the most serious environmental crises of our time, ... and I think that universities across the country should be dealing with finding solutions to the effects of global warming and climate change,” said Gary W. Roemer, an associate professor in the department of fish, wildlife and conservation ecology. “I’m not so sure Garrey Carruthers is the kind of visionary leader to do that. I hope he is.”
Asked by Roemer last month during an open forum for faculty and staff about his views on global warming, Carruthers appeared to distance himself from his work with the coalition, which he left in 1998.
“I can tell you that, as an economist, I’m not up on the science of global warming,” Carruthers said. “And I think that science is moving rather rapidly, but the evidence appears to me to be leaning more and more toward we’ve got a problem with global warming. I think there are a whole host of people who would disagree with that -- some very fine scientists who would disagree with that -- but it seems to me that the science is moving in the direction of saying we have a global warming problem, and we need to begin to take care of it.”
Despite Carruthers’ response to Roemer’s question, other professors said Carruthers’ work as a lobbyist serves as a warning sign for how he will approach his work as president.
“He believes in the use of science for business purposes, whether it’s good science or bad science,” said Jamie Bronstein, professor of history. “I think it really calls into question the integrity of everyone’s research on campus when you have somebody who doesn’t have any respect for the scientific process chairing the university."
The Middle East Studies Association is charging that San Jose State University has failed to stand up for a professor under political attack. The association on Thursday released a letter it sent to Mohammad Qayoumi, the university's president, asking why he had not spoken up to defend Persis Karim of the university's English and comparative literature department. Karim organized a seminar in April, financed in part by the U.S. Institute of Peace, called "Peacebuilding, Nonviolence, and Approaches to Teaching the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." Some pro-Israel groups have criticized the seminar (and did so before it took place), saying it was anti-Israel.
The letter from the Middle East Studies Association said: "It is our understanding that even before the workshop took place, Professor Karim was subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation by individuals and organizations, mostly based outside San José State, who objected to the workshop's content and participants. This campaign has continued even after the workshop, most recently by means of the circulation of a fabricated statement falsely attributed to Professor Karim and intended to damage her reputation, but also in the form of a request under the California Public Records Act that Professor Karim make available all documents and correspondence related to the workshop and its funding." The letter went on to say: "We urge you to issue astrong and clear public statement expressing the university’s support for academic freedom in general and that of Professor Karim in particular, and its firm condemnation of the smear campaign being waged against her."
A spokeswoman for the university said that San Jose State could not respond to the letter on Thursday.
Ball State agrees to investigate course -- taught by professor of physics and astronomy -- that critics say is too focused on Christian views for a science class at a public university. Is this issue one of church and state, or of academic freedom?
Alberta College of Art + Design announced Wednesday that it has reinstated Gord Ferguson, days after dismissing the art instructor for his role in a performance art project in which one of his students killed a chicken in the college's cafeteria. The statement, issued jointly by the college and its faculty association after the two reached an agreement on the matter, said that the college’s decision to terminate Ferguson "was never intended to be about academic or artistic freedom," but that administrators conceded "the perception this action may have created." It went on to say that Ferguson "acknowledges that he wishes he could have had a greater opportunity to advise and support his student before he undertook his performance" last month, and that the incident had raised awareness about both the importance of academic freedom and the meaning of academic responsibility.