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    A blog about education, higher ed, teaching, and trying to re-imagine how we provide education.


MOOCs, Machines, and Music

Some thoughts on what's been going on in higher ed.

April 20, 2012

Remember how I said that we should take "clapping for credit" classes more seriously (and more often)? Coursera (which Audrey Watters alluded to here on IHE but examines more fully here) is offering a MOOC in Listening to World Music. And Science Fiction and Fantasy! There is a whole list of interesting classes being offered. I'm drawn to the humanities offerings (I admittedly need to brush up on my Greek mythology, and I am a sucker for SF), but if I am trying to improve the digital side of my DH academic identity, the computer science courses might be the way to go.

Because, as Audrey says, I have so much free time on my hands.


Machine grading. There has been quite a lot of discussion about this lately. I've been following the discussion on the WPA listserv, and added to the conversation by sending out Mark Bousquet's piece outlining how robot grading is a logical conclusion to the drive to automate education. It's a longer piece, but it's really instructive and an important wake-up call. I was astounded by the response I received, if only because more and more online/digital "services" for students are basically quote mining to make the research and writing process more efficient. 

As one response put it, we are the Ctrl (or Apple) +F generation. I wonder, though, how much (once again) the way higher education is set up actually makes us as complicit in this shift. In a publish or perish environment where quantity often outweighs quality, how much do we actually read, think deeply, and truly understand all of those secondary sources we are required in many cases to include in any of our work. I remember for my qualifying exam in World Literature, we all received the comment, "superficial" on our answers from one of the professors (who, notably, didn't teach any classes in the program because of various course releases for research). My response was, what did you expect when you try to teach us ALL of world literature in two semesters, then ask us to study for four more months, then give us two hours to hand-write our answers to two questions? 

It's amazing to me that the two (politically) opposite Mark's over at the Brainstorm blog (Bousquet and Bauerline) seem to be coming down on the same side of an issue. Bauerline talks about speed and how we publish too much, which fits in with the ideas Bousquet puts forward regarding the industrialization of education (and research). We are a Ctrl+F generation of academics because that's what we have been told to become. Is it any wonder that we teach our students the same habits.


This week's #FYCchat talked about ecocomposition and sustainable composition. I wonder if students don't see deep thinking and research/close reading as sustainable given their chaotic lives and the speed at which the world moves today. Productivity is key. And I know that they are more interested in breadth, not depth. I'm not saying they're right. I'm just saying that it's an uphill battle, not only because of our students' attitudes, but also because of the messages that we ourselves and the institutions are sending the students. For many of my students, between working to help pay for school, taking care of family, and having a life, there isn't much time for deep thinking and close, slow reading.


Oh, by the way, the people over at Coursera apparently are trying to move AWAY from robot graders. Go figure. There's more to writing and understanding than an algorythm? Radical notion.


This is late because I took the kids to see the Imagination Movers in concert in Cincinnati. There were lots and lots of families with both parents there at a 4 PM show, and I doubt very much they were all academic couples taking advantage of the flexibility academia provides. Looks like people get to take afternoons off in the "real world" as well.

I'm not sure who was more excited about the show, me or the kids. We also got to go to an smaller after-party with the band. I highly recommend checking these guys out if you have kids under about the age of 8. Their music is great (and not just tolerable); they use rock, ska, New Wave, and punk influences in their music, and the lyrics range from goofy to downright poignant. I also appreciate the fact that they never talk down to kids, nor do they try to dumb-down their music. They are genuinely nice guys from New Orleans who started making music for their kids and became (relatively) famous. They asked us to spread the word about them. 

Consider it spread.


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