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Seeking "Celebrity," Evaluating Worth
May 16, 2012 - 9:00pm

I’m facing a conundrum this summer; I am scheduled to teach an online class in Canadian literature in the fall, but with zero students currently enrolled, I know in my heart that the class won’t “make” and will thus be canceled. I had intended to go ahead and develop the course anyway and simply run the course “for free” anyway (there are currently no freely available courses online on Canadian literature, at least that I could fine; correct me in the comments if I’m wrong) as a mini/pseudo-MOOC (if people are interested, let me know in the comments; I’d like to make it more interactive and user-generated, but I need an clear audience for that).

Developing this course would be partially selfish: I love Canadian literature and longed to be able to teach it again, so this would be a perfect outlet. It also allows me to practice using digital tools that I am learning on the fly, in an environment where student evaluations won’t potentially threaten my job security. Creating an online resource for Canadian literature that includes works from Quebec would also, I think, provide a public service to the discipline, even if it would only be appreciated by a handful of other teachers and scholars. And, heck, it means more public exposure for me, as a brand.

And there’s where I start to chafe. With the rise in popularity of MOOCs, there has also been a rise in rhetoric around the “Super Professor” or the “Academic Celebrity.” The latter article I linked to isn’t objectionable insofar as it advocates professors and academics reaching out to mainstream media outlets to get their voice and face in front of a wider audience. I have no problem with this type of public intellectual engagement and I do think it’s important to do these kinds of things (a great example is historian/Tenured Radical Claire Porter). But I start to shudder at the thought of our value being determined by a celebrity Q rating. Our system is already tiered enough as it is (R1, SLAC, CC, adjunct, etc) and I’m not sure I want to become a consumed commodity (not that I’m not already, it just becomes even more conspicuous).

And this is coming from someone who is all about shameless self-promotion.

And if it isn’t some celebrity Q rating, how do we decide what we are worth? I am also worried about “giving it away”, so to speak, by making the course available for free online. I’m all for liberating education, but I am also for being fairly compensated for my work. It’s fine that tenured professors at private institutions (or more generous public ones) are offering their words “for free” as their work has/is already been/being adequately compensated and rewarded. But what about the rest of us? I can “give it away” in the name of building my brand or getting my name out there, but at what point do I have to stop and say, enough, I need to earn a living?

This is not a new concern for academics. As grad students, we are trained to see our worth only in terms of our ability to get a tenure-track job while simultaneously being told we are the reason college costs too much. Once we become academics, we shy away from charging what we are worth when it comes to our speaking engagements or other uses of our skill sets like editing. As an instructor, I am all too aware of the amount of work I do “for free”, as research and administrative tasks are NOT a part of my job description. I also now avoid pitches to use my writing (specifically my blogging but also my educational materials) that do not compensate me. I might not yet know how much I’m worth in specific dollar amounts, but I also know that that dollar amount is not $0.

I’m leaning towards doing my Canadian literature class online, for free, starting in the fall. If you’re interested or have any ideas, get in touch. But I do this with some trepidation, worrying about how this impacts my worth and my “brand.”

But even if I don’t make any money off of it, at least no one else will, either. 

 

 

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