Academic labor conference panel discussion focuses on contract provisions for adjuncts that go beyond better pay. Data suggest larger gains for part-timers in bargaining units that are separate from full-time faculty.
Kevin Carey has written a book called The End of College -- by which he means the end of college as we know it… and he feels fine. At least we assume he does, because The End of College is a celebration, not a lament. The traditional college education is dying, he says. As it should, he adds. No more buildings, no more exclusively face-to-face classes, no more libraries, no more graduation ceremonies. Everything will fall by the wayside, Carey predicts. The good news, he posits, is that it will all be replaced by what he calls the University of Everywhere.
Carey's book comes at a time of rising college costs, swelling student debt and cuts to university courses, faculty and majors. From students to parents to taxpayers, everyone is alarmed about higher education’s most pressing challenges. As an education technology writer and scholar of higher education policy, we are, too. Unfortunately, many people will find false hope in TheEnd of College and its fantastical promises of the University of Everywhere.
“The University of Everywhere is where students of the future will go to college,” Carey writes. “The University of Everywhere will span the earth. The students will come from towns, cities and countries in all cultures and societies, members of a growing global middle class who will transform the experience of higher education.”
How will such a thing be possible? The Internet, of course: the University of Everywhere, says Carey, will be digital, personalized, networked, virtual, intellectually rigorous, hybrid, cheap if not free and lifelong.
Parents of future undergraduates will be understandably relieved to know that someone finally has figured it out. To know they will not need to mortgage their home or take that second job. To know that technology is coming to save them. Like Netflix or Amazon, like Uber or Fitbit, the University of Everywhere will soon emerge from the cloud, ready to disrupt the status quo with its flexible, accessible tools. Or so we're told.
The University of Everywhere is the response, led by venture capitalists and ed-tech entrepreneurs, to “ancient institutions in their last days of decadence,” Carey writes. And we are to believe that an end will come soon for the oppressive regime created by colleges and universities, as he personally has numbered the days until they either “adapt” or become extinct.
In the book and with his platform with the New York Times's Upshot blog and in various essays on the subject written from a perch at New America, Carey professes to possess a deep understanding of higher education. He genuinely believes his plan for online degrees will disrupt recalcitrant institutions, unleash individual ingenuity and power the jobs of the 21st century. He is “angry” about the “chronic neglect of undergraduate education” that he assures us he has witnessed in personal meetings and read about in a single volume with hotlycontested findings, and he isn’t going to take it anymore. This book is his response.
One of Carey’s strongest objections is to the way in which higher education confers enormous benefits on the privileged and powerful (an issue that we agree is a major problem and have each written abouttime and again). And so, in this age of extreme inequality, Carey declares that the University of Everywhere will serve to flatten and erase hierarchies of social status and socioeconomic privilege. The future of education in his vision will be, as edX C.E.O. Anant Agarwal has also pronounced, “borderless, gender-blind, race-blind, class-blind and bank account-blind.” It will be, in other words, the ultimate meritocracy.
This vision of the University of Everywhere is endowed with such grandeur that it can leave one breathless; it is so hopeful about the future that any doubt or critique may seem unkind, even inappropriate. Why ask questions about how or why or who or what? Carey and his University of Everywhere want you simply to believe. And if you do have questions, you must be a defender of the status quo, an insufficiently “careful reader,” or, worse yet, a professor in a traditional institution.
Indeed objections seem to offend Carey, as they would any true believer. He promotes the online and hybrid future of higher education and extols the innovations that have spun out of Stanford’s artificial intelligence lab -- startups like Coursera and Udacity -- with a fanatical sustained passion that sets aside the far more conflicted reality of these initiatives. While the University of Everywhere purports to be a meritocracy that will save us all from social inequities, it's worth noting that it is being built and promoted by three of the most elite of America’s universities: Harvard, Stanford and M.I.T.
These universities are at the center of the recent push for massive open online courses (better known as MOOCs), which are the cornerstone of Carey’s University of Everywhere. In his telling of their history, the Golden Three and their new MOOC initiatives can do no wrong.
Except they have already done much wrong. Take the experience of San Jose State University with MOOC-like instruction provided by Udacity. Beginning in early 2013, this experimental effort at one of the most racially diverse universities in the country was promised to “end college as we know it.” Yet the data show that the pilot was an unmitigated disaster. The students in the Udacity-run classes -- remedial algebra, college algebra and statistics -- did far worse than students in traditional, face-to-face classes. Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun blamed the students, whom he said “were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives… [For them] this medium is not a good fit."
Here is Thrun in a Silicon Valley tech blog: “If you’re a student who can’t afford the service layer, you can take the MOOC on demand at your own pace. If you’re affluent, we can do a much better job with you, we can make magic happen.” Incredibly, as Tressie McMillan Cottom has noted, the University of Everywhere is also magically postracial. No wonder, since, as the data from MOOCs around the country clearly show, this university is for the highly educated, not the underserved.
Given the sheer vehemence of his argument and a professed lack of responsibility to warn off “careless misinterpretation,” perhaps it is unsurprising that Carey omits the evidence about the real and disturbing flaws of online and even hybrid education. To support his contentions that information technology can lift all boats, he turns to William Bowen, author of a study using a randomized experiment to assess the effects of online versus face-to-face instruction. He reports that Bowen found no differences when it came to the outcomes he measured: course completion rates, scores on final exam questions and a standardized test.
“Bowen had previously been skeptical of the idea that technology could fundamentally change higher learning. Based on his new research, he wrote, 'I am today a convert. I have come to believe that now is the time.'” Rather than question the wisdom of sudden conversions based on single studies, Carey wonders, why didn’t colleges immediately hop on board and begin embracing what he calls “a golden opportunity to charge students less money without sacrificing the quality of instruction”?
The answer, of course, lies in empirical research and respect for the scientific process, both of which Carey has little time for. Bowen’s 2012 study was then and remains today one of only a tiny number of such studies producing these sorts of results. Despite efforts, including those of Ithaka S&R, where Bowen works, to suggest that instructional format does not affect outcomes, there are just four rigorous yet also stylized and idiosyncratic studies that even somewhat support the conclusions that Carey promotes. And the most robust of them, a study of 700 students at the City University of New York, identifies negative impacts for lower-achieving students placed into online-only courses.
Moreover, none of the studies examine the outcomes commonly used to assess the utility of educational interventions -- for example, year-to-year retention and graduation rates. A thoughtful reader of the research might ask: What responsible educator, and indeed, what responsible educational policy expert, would recommend wholesale changes in higher education based on such a paltry body of knowledge? When a long and detailed body of scientific evidence (the most recent example is the evaluation of ASAP at CUNY) details the intensive attention required to bring first-generation and low-income students from college entry to graduation, why run in the opposite direction, offering less personal contact and coaching?
Carey's book invokes education research only when it serves his narrative. Otherwise, education research -- indeed all manner of research -- is framed as one of the many flaws that weigh down certain elements of our current higher education system.
Carey does not ask questions of experts who are unlikely to agree with what he is arguing, including noted economist David Figlio. “When I look at the weight of the evidence, it looks like online education might come at some sacrifice to student learning,” said Figlio in a recent article. “Thoughtful administrators will need to weigh those sacrifices against the cost savings. You can see a situation where schools for the haves will continue with face-to-face instruction, perhaps enhancing it with technology. And the have-nots will get this mass online instruction. That can be potentially problematic from an equity perspective.” Of course, Figlio works at one of those “traditional” institutions that Carey abhors and thus he can be ignored.
Of course, credentials like those held by Figlio will not matter in the future, thanks to the University of Everywhere. The prestige associated with certain institutions will be flattened. Opportunity, access, biases -- all swept away by the Internet.
The University of Everywhere, in Carey’s telling of it, will be free of racists, trolls, harassers or stalkers. Despite all empirical evidence that the single greatest change in higher education over the last 50 years is a remarkably diverse and diversifying student population, Carey’s vision for U.S. higher education also has no race, class or gender. These are unexplored and unmentioned in his book. In his version of the future, the Internet, site of the University of Everywhere, is open equally and safely to everyone. Who cares that M.I.T. emeritus professor Walter Lewin, once the star of YouTube for his videos demonstrating various physics experiments and featured by Carey in The End of College,has been accused of sexually harassing female students in his MOOC? M.I.T. has scrubbed much of Lewin's course materials from the Web. But the University of Everywhere remains unscathed.
The University of Everywhere that Carey promotes cares not for intellectual property, neither the professors’ nor the students’. He writes, “We can already, today, replicate much of what colleges are charging a great deal of money for and distribute that information electronically at almost no marginal cost.” Students can hand over their content and data to technology companies to mine, with the promise of more efficient personalized learning. By transferring their data to technology companies and not to universities, “people will control their personal educational identities instead of leaving that crucial information in the hands of organizations acting from selfish interests,” he writes. Universities, not the tech sector, are the ones with selfish interests here, according to Carey. Similarly, faculty will manage their classrooms, including their syllabuses, lectures, lessons and course design via those same companies.
As for research, it will happen elsewhere, beyond the University of Everywhere, as Carey argues that existing universities have erred by trying to fulfill a mission of both research and teaching. The University of Everywhere is “unbundled.” That is because the "roaming autodidacts" of the University of Everywhere do not need these services. The learners of the University of Everywhere need their MacBooks and Wi-Fi, and the world is theirs. As such, they don't look much like today's students in community colleges. Nor will their experiences look like the experiences of undergraduates working with faculty in university laboratories today -- experiences that studies show are demonstrably effective at creating cadres of scientists from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Without an explicit attention to diversity, the University of Everywhere will ignore it -- much like Silicon Valley has already proven to do with the demographics of its employees and investment portfolio and much like Carey's history of the development of higher education does as well.
Echoing Silicon Valley, the University of Everywhere envisions a meritocratic labor market, just waiting to be filled by those with badges and certificates, though not necessarily by those with bachelor’s degrees. The person with the right badges and MOOC certificates will get the job and the promotions, and there will be no discrimination based on prestigious universities; indeed there will also be no discrimination based on race or gender or sexual identity. These are the proclamations and promises made over and over in the book despite their direct contradiction to rigorous studies of how employers treat job candidates with nontraditional credentials from new or no-name institutions.
Such facts matter little as Carey sweeps his readers through the book into this magical world and takes them into a new age of higher education in a text that makes no mention, offers no analysis of race or gender or sexual identity. These facets of today’s life simply do not exist in his dream. This is a story told by a white man about other white men -- indeed, all other voices, with the exception of Daphne Koller's, are mute. [Editor's Note: Subsequent to publication of this essay, commenters have noted other voices quoted in Carey's book from people who are not white men.] The story is set entirely in an America that isn’t part of global communities. Despite the nod to "Everywhere," there are apparently no universities in the rest of the world that might respond to the technological imperialism of MOOCs or to the cultural imperialism of standardized general education classes.
As should be clear by now, this entertaining narrative about higher education is an inch deep in shallow waters. It zooms past debates of history with barely a note of documentation for its claims (indeed a total of 21 endnotes are provided for 5 entire chapters of text, with some supporting statistics about "achievements," such as those about the new "elite" online college Minerva, provided by unverifiable sources including the founder of the school himself). Research findings that fit the storyline are termed “shocking” and “mind-boggling,” while those that contradict the tale are simply left out.
Certainly, Carey is not alone in constructing such accounts. There is a plethora of higher education prescriptions funded by respectable think tanks and nonprofit organizations. They are issued nearly weekly, many hopping onto the excitement and hype (and hefty venture capital funding) for MOOCs and other education technology efforts. Carey references very few of these even when his arguments are clearly influenced by them (think of the formative DIY U by Anya Kamenetz and the forward-thinking prescriptions offered by Andrew Kelly and Rick Hess). Many in this space value “outsider” takes on higher education for their supposed unbiased clarity. They also seem to value the gravitas of wealthy technologists and data scientists who pose as being too serious for identity politics or culture wars.
In this political economy, the experts on education are rarely experts in education, and that is just the way an increasing number of powerful people seem to like it. Books like these and the speeches and essays accompanying them eat up the landscape of popular discourse. With the microphone, these voices have the gravitas of maleness and whiteness and wealth. They are so loud they must be expert. They look like, walk like and talk like leaders.
And the story that they tell is quite comforting for many who look at the rising cost of college and the fragile economy and hope that their children will be able to follow the right path toward a more secure future. As such the University of Everywhere is a consumer fantasy of the future of higher education, a fantasy that purports to be about freedom for learners, about more personalized learning, but that is traced through the history, at least in Carey’s book, of programmed instruction. Machines will teach. Artificial intelligence will replace teachers and tutors.
Swept away by the mystical magic of technology, Carey sees a world of possibility. That is the moral and the lesson of The End of College, his prescription far more than his analysis. Carey promises, as the title of the opening chapter suggests, a new "secret of life." It's a secret that, once unleashed and fulfilled, will disrupt institutions -- much like Uber, which Carey describes with fascination and glee when he visits Silicon Valley. Designed to replace the taxi service -- like higher education, a service that's deemed outmoded -- all you need to summon an Uber is a mobile app. Like the future of higher education that Carey predicts, Uber is always on, always on demand. It is also unregulated, well funded by venture capitalists, collecting personal data not simply for efficiency and algorithms but for dubious purposes, and based on a precarious labor force. But we're not supposed to ask questions. No one should ask questions when the end is nigh.
Audrey Watters is a journalist specializing in education technology news and analysis. Sara Goldrick-Rab is a professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
You’ve probably heard about the distracted seaman in California who was secretly caught on camera. Sitting on a boat floating near Redondo Beach, the seaman was staring blankly at his cell phone when he failed to see or hear a giant humpback whale rising up dramatically from the sea just a few feet away from his boat.
Pundits joined eyewitnesses and other observers to poke fun at the clueless man who was in fact left entirely alone by the surprise beauty -- too dull a person, it would seem, too boring a catch for the huntress craving more than a voracious textual appetite.
Sadly, the case of the distracted seaman is merely the tip of the texting iceberg. Nationwide something far more costly and dangerous is happening to civilization (I mean something besides Brian Williams’s lie and 50 Shades of Grey) -- that is, the whale of a problem surfacing daily in today’s college classrooms: texting during class.
From New York to California -- and with a frequency of up to 11 or more times per class period, researchers find -- today’s college student is texting off with wild -- and sometimes wildly erotic -- abandon. And thus they are missing out on -- and blatantly reducing the quality of -- their own classroom education and opportunity to learn and contribute.
These are not the students of Howard Becker’s Outsiders, just a few eccentric misfits dressed in black and stretching the boundaries of social deviance. No. Texter-offers are all the way in, vanilla as can be, and that’s the problem.
Texting off in class means just as it sounds. It begins when a texter-offer has the urge to text off or when he feels in his pants the vibration of incoming text or data, which might, in fact, have been delivered by a classmate seated close by to him. Even in courses strictly prohibiting texting during class, today’s texter-offer can hardly resist, and many give in to the temptation.
Texting off begins when he or she surreptitiously leans back a little in his or her seat, and removes from her or his pants the urgent object of desire. Next thing you know the head drops down low, the chin heads for the chest and hands are held close, facing inward on the lap. Breathing is sometimes halted or hesitant at this stage, as the new text is read and replied to.
There then emerge two at first very wide and then increasingly narrow and squinting eyeballs staring fixedly at the little glowing object (or the big one, so to speak: iPhone 6 Plus).
The student with long experience texting off is frequently touching and stroking with their fingers so quickly -- and with such determined concentration -- it looks from the outside as if they can’t tell that their classmates, and especially their irritated professor, are staring back at them, interrupting class for everyone.
Theirs is a practiced and deliberate lack of cognition. The texter-offer only pretends to be invisible. He uses game face, strategically, to unsee what is seen. In this she is sort of like the celebrity on Main Street who stares mainly into the far middle distance, a technique she uses to avoid speaking or making actual eye contact. Post-Facebook, the pretense of hiding while being watched is probably a big part of getting off on texting off.
Sometimes the head of a texter-offer pops up immediately, a text-off quickie, before tucking the thing back inside his pants. You can always tell when the texter-offer has completed a nice session because seconds later a little blush arises in the cheeks, a wry smile, a frown or a faraway look might ensue.
Other times, the texting-off activity can last for many minutes in a row. Intense texting off produces many strong feelings causing such symptoms as more blushing, rapidly blinking eyes, those “I can’t believe it”-type head shakes (well, that’s what they get for texting Mom and Dad during class, or the toxic boyfriend or girlfriend), and those audible grunts of frustration or relief.
Put simply, if you’re texting off in class you can’t contribute to the conversation of learning. You’re not even trying to learn. Imagine the dialogues of Galileo or Plato in today’s texting-off culture:
Gorgias: Click click. Click click click. Arg! [Types into phone]: OMG u r kidding. [Sighs to himself, but audibly. Says aloud]: Huh? What?
Socrates: I said, “Gorgias, I wonder if your rhetoric is a science, such as medicine is a science?”
And texting off is a social problem in other regards. For example, if you text off in class, that tempts others sitting nearby to text off, reducing further everyone’s understanding of the invisible hand, statistical significance or another topic of the day.
I’ve noticed that even the tiniest sidewise glance at someone else texting off can cause other students to text off. Texting off is contagious. One observes rows and rows of students texting off together, like a team of synchronized swimmers going furiously nowhere.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t agree with those hypocritical moralists who waltz around like drunk monks claiming that texting off is a shameful act in and of itself, a sin to be managed and limited by church and state. As the old saying goes, there’s a time and a place for everything, and texting off can be a perfectly healthy supplement to actual human intercourse. I myself have texted off with great abandon. But I wouldn’t dream of doing it in a church or classroom, God forbid.
Recent research is consistent with another fact I observe: today’s college student does not want to be caught texting off. Texting off is a private activity, surveys and common observation suggest, or anyway it is something that is reserved for a special friend and time and place (at home on a Saturday).
In fact, a study of the in-class texting behavior of more than 1,000 students at the University of New Hampshire showed that about one-half of the students (49 percent) confess feeling guilty for texting in a class with a strict no-texting policy.
It’s helpful to recall what Adam Smith observed long ago in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1790): that perfect knowledge of the “awful” and “amiable” virtues is not sufficient for virtue. To be great, to be virtuous, one must marry the knowledge of virtue with what Smith called after the Stoics “perfect self-command.”
“The man who acts according to the rules of perfect prudence, of strict justice, and of proper benevolence, may be said to be perfectly virtuous. But the most perfect knowledge of those rules will not alone enable him to act in this manner: his own passions are very apt to mislead him; sometimes to drive him and sometimes to seduce him to violate all the rules which he himself, in all his sober and cool hours, approves of. The most perfect knowledge, if it is not supported by the most perfect self-command, will not always enable him to do his duty.”
“Easier said than done,” today’s texter-offer replies (via text message). True.
In the same 2011 University of New Hampshire survey, two of every three students (65 percent) surveyed admitted to texting during class -- a figure that, while disturbing enough, might turn out to be below average. A similar survey was conducted by researchers at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Their data suggest that about 9 of every 10 students (86 percent) are texting during class.
Until recently my own students showed enough self-command to abstain from texting in class. I’ve been teaching device-free or what I call hands-free classes for 19 years -- ever since my first job as an assistant professor of economics. For 19 years the moral economy has sufficed. No longer. A new cohort of students is texting off to the point of finger blisters, and moral shaming in front of others is not powerful enough to stop them. The damaging digital indulgence is dumbing them down, they need to know.
They’re silently asking now to learn it the hard way, the decadent way. In a prescient book, The Culture We Deserve, Jacques Barzun offered an essay titled “Look it Up! Check it Out!” Barzun lamented the postmodern decline to “decadence” he saw in what passes for education today. He called the newly educated person Alexandrian, in mock homage to the Alexandrian decline of dialectics and replacement with idealization of reference books and handbooks, knowledge as factoids to be looked up and checked as necessary.
Barzun was understandably worried about a culture educated in the idea that knowledge could be acquired by looking up facts or names or book titles in “handbooks” and “reference works” that Barzun, a Columbia University professor and polyglot scholar, found crowding bookstores and library stacks. Strange thing is, Barzun’s lament was issued in 1989 -- at least 5 years before Google and the Internet first appeared in the computer laboratories of major university campuses, and around 15 years before the birth of texting in mainstream America. Barzun would have an Alexandrian cow if he could see the look-it-up-check-it-out culture of the Smartphonean Era.
If a professor is a mere conveyor of information, a talking head at the pulpit (and yes, some professors we know are) one could have more sympathy for students who text off in class.
I’m a professor of economics who also teaches history, statistics, rhetoric and theories of justice to economics and social justice studies majors. My teaching style is dialogical, Socratic, pluralistic and rhetorical. A simple social rule follows: each student enrolled in the course has an equal right to speak, and each in turn has an equal duty to listen and reply. The professor plays the role of Socrates and any other characters -- from Shakespeare to Rihanna -- he deems necessary to fill in the blanks, reveal a truth or falsehood, or otherwise advance the conversation. Texting, I find in the classroom, not shyness; texting, not sloth or ignorance, is the main obstacle to advancement.
When I was in graduate school in 1994 at the University of Iowa, I was made an unusual offer from the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry (POROI) that ought, I realize now, to be copied elsewhere: I could work 24-7 on my research in a quiet, monastic-like environment -- a private, big and beautiful office located in one of the old academic halls -- so long as I agreed to two restrictions: no Internet, no telephone. In other words, no outside distractions.
I did it, I accepted the offer. And it paid dividends. During the next three years I earned a Ph.D. in economics and a Ph.D. certificate in rhetoric, I published two papers (one of them is now a seminal paper of econometrics), and meantime raised two children under the age of eight. The discipline I started in grad school is now strong enough to beat today’s biggest distractions -- cracking out on e-mail, Internet searching and, yes, mindless texting off.
We need to recover again the value of concentrated thought. Rilke took a house in Rome to create the best environment he could imagine for the flowering of his own creativity and innovation: writing poetry and criticism. Rilke’s Letters shine with the illumination of one who’s logged some time concentrating on the words and thoughts and feelings of others, and especially on the conditions for the full flowering of his own creative genius. The result of his experiments in concentrated thought? Rilke’s poetry.
Think of National Football League player Marshawn Lynch, who recently grabbed national headlines when at the close of a pre-Super Bowl press conference, and with all cameras pointed at him, he grabbed his crotch. Even with the ball in play, Lynch has acted like a comfort-loving baby, or the compulsive texter-offer.
It wasn’t Lynch’s first time testing the mainstream limit of tolerance for public fondling or whatever you’re comfortable calling it. For previous crotch grabs, the NFL had already tagged Lynch twice with a fine (most recently, a $20,000 fine) and the professional football organization threatened further to levy a 15-yard penalty against Lynch’s own team (the Seattle Seahawks) during Super Bowl XLIX should Lynch feel himself up even once.
Texting during class and crotch grabbing are not the same thing, true. Texting off is worse, much, much worse: its losses are large and widely distributed to others, including innocent classmates.
The larger economic fines seem to be working for the impulsive crotch grabbers. For example, during Super Bowl XLIX not one player grabbed his crotch in the big game.
That’s why I’ve decided to join the NFL and make useful my own science, economics, to get the incentives right in the classroom.
From now on I will fine any student who texts off in class. I don’t care if you’re texting the pope or Janet Yellen. No free pass, no exception to the rule. From now on if students text off in class they’re going to pay for it on a sliding scale of taxes. First violation: lose 10 percent from your final exam or project grade. Second violation: lose 20 percent. Third violation: lose everything, that is, 100 percent of your final exam or project grade. Consider this first, and then do the right thing and turn off your phone. Vibrators included.
Stephen T. Ziliak is professor of economics at Roosevelt University.