Monday, February 03, 2014

The Future of (Mostly) Higher Education (week 1 "field notes")

In my continuing journey to become a lifelong learner, I am now enrolled in my third Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Taught by Cathy N. Davidson of Duke University, the course is called The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education. As part of the MOOC, we are encouraged to participate in a f2f learning community. My friend Katie King, professor of Women's Studies at UMD, has organized such a community in association with her course Experiments in Feminist Learning and has invited MOOC enrollees to participate to the extent possible in the course. She suggests that we make "field notes" as we go. I am not exactly sure what this means, but I do know if I don't keep any kind of record of what I hear and read, I will forget it as completely as if I never encountered it.

Last week was the first week of the 6-week MOOC (although Katie's course is for the whole semester). I listened to Cathy's lecture and took notes--too long to transcribe here. A few high points:

  • We are living in the 4th great information age (the age of the internet).
    • 1st - the invention of writing
    • 2nd - the invention of printing (movable type)
    • 3rd - the advent of mass printing
  • In every information age, nay-sayers have feared and decried the same things as a result of new technologies (loss of memory, skill, authority figures; distraction)
  • Each time, society poses the question: What is the function of education?
    • Is it to prepare the next generation for their future?
    • Or is it to ensure the status quo?
  • In the Internet Age, we require new literacies, e.g.,
    • privacy (how to maintain it)
    • security (how to ensure it)
    • intellectual property (who has the right to it?)
    • safety (how to get it)
    • "crap detection" (Howard Rheingold)
    • collaboration 
    • global consciousness
  • As online learners, we all have the responsibility and the right to be teachers as well as students.
We were to ask people who their most important teacher was.

Who was my most important teacher? I find I cannot really answer this question. Were it phrased differently (Who was one of your most important teachers?), perhaps I would be better able to pick someone. I am thinking: at what level? K-12? I do remember some favorite high school teachers: Donald Otis, Mario Picarelli, Al Eyde (not actually my teacher), Paul Hannabury (Why are they all men???). Do their teachings (or their personalities) continue to inform my life? I can't see how, really. What about college? My very favorite professor, who was also my dear friend, was Alexander (Sasha) Wieber. How does he inform my life now? (Now I am feeling guilty because I have not contacted him in years.) Grad school? I remember David Harris, who taught history of English and testing. He impressed my with his dedication. I would ask an offhand question, and he would go off and research the answer and bring it back the next time. He worked extremely hard for his students. As a teacher, I have tried to do the same. At least, my husband always assures me that I must work harder than anyone else at my institute. Whether that is true or not, I cannot say. But I find myself spending many hours at my job--even when I am supposedly on vacation, so perhaps that is what he means. Whether David Harris inspired this (self-destructive?) behavior, I do not know.

Also last week, I dropped in on the first meeting of Experiments in Feminist Learning, but due to a meeting and a bus schedule I had to arrive late and leave early. I doubt I will be able to devote much time to this. But I will try to follow a little bit. Katie has been very encouraging, and I would hate to disappoint her. 

Although it is already week 2, I am reading "How a Class Becomes a Community: Theory, Method, Examples" by Cathy Davidson. This was a reading from the first week. In it, she describes how in every class she teaches at Duke, she and the class collaborate on a manifesto or constitution for the class. They decide together what the class will be about. I cannot figure out how this can actually happen in real life--certainly not in my life, where I am required to teach certain things (particular grammatical structures or language skills--I teach English as a Second Language) and I have to order textbooks long before the semester begins. What if my students decide they want to learn something else? (Most of my students, if asked, would prefer to be in a test prep class for the TOEFL or IELTS. They see getting into a university as their end goal; they never consider how they will survive and learn once they get there--kind of like an infertile couple who focus on getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term, rather than on parenting an actual child.) Could I defer to their wishes? (no) Would I want to? (no) And if Cathy Davidson has the freedom to let her students choose the direction of a course, does she relinquish her authoritative role as professor by admitting that they are all learning together? (apparently yes) If the answer is really yes, why would the students want to pay a lot of money to be in the course? Couldn't they learn as well in a (free) MOOC? Do they need to enroll at Duke in order to get what they are going to get in the course? (Clearly, I am struggling with this concept of getting off the stage in my own classroom.)

Reading further, I see that she is describing a process she initiated with eight graduate students, and she confesses having played "a professorial role" in creating the document. She chose the textbook (but then "morphed, mashed, remixed, hacked, and modded" (???) it for the purpose of the class. (how?)

The project for the class was the book that this reading begins: Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies. (The class was entitled  Twenty-First Century Literacies: Digital Knowledge, Digital Humanities.) And they did produce a book. I have not finished the first chapter. It seems to be circular: a link to the manifesto brings me back to the same document? I am confused.

A second week 1 reading is Forum: A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age. But it's time to have some dinner here in the real world....


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