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13 March 2013 @ 06:27 am
Brush strokes  
Thomas Friednman wrote recently of the future of higher education (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/06/opinion/friedman-the-professors-big-stage.html?_r=0). Whie MOOCs might be new to Friedman, I can assure him that they are not new. Nor are they the magic bullet he suggests. What bothers me is not that Friedman suggests there is a need for change in education (though, please, it is so easy to do this from the outside). What troubles me are the folks like Friedman who paint these pictures with such broad strokes, make such sweeping assertions, that everyone and everything gets painted. There is no room seemingly for nuance, for the tiny brush we need for detailed work.

For instance, here is a particularly broad stroke criticism: "We demand that plumbers and kindergarten teachers be certified to do what they do, but there is no requirement that college professors know how to teach. No more. The world of MOOCs is creating a competition that will force every professor to improve his or her pedagogy or face an online competitor."

Well, I hate to bring the experience of someone who has BEEN a college professor for 20+ years, but there is a requirement that I know how to teach. It is part of my annual assessment. Students evaluate my teaching; so does the chair of my department. Plus, guess what? Most of us in education departments (you know, the ones who help prepare the K-12 teachers) ARE teachers; most of us come from that classroom to the college classroom. We know how to teach.

Second, I doubt it is the PEDAGOGY of poor profesors that needs to be improved (yes, just like any profession, not all profs are equally successful in teaaching). I suspect Friedman means something more along the lines of PRACTICES in the classroom. I had a prof who taught about Shakespeare classes I took as an undergrad. His classroom practice was to read lectures from yellowed note cards. Not exactly exhiliarating, I agree. But the depth of his knowledge was amazing, and I still managed to learn a great deal from his class.

Next, the idea that MOOCs are somehow removed from poor teaching is wrong headed. There are still the "sage on the stage" MOOCs. I know. I took one this past year. Lecture (video, so that must be OK?) followed by quiz followed by an essay. Repeat over the course of 8 weeks. KILL. ME. NOW. I hung in for about half the semester and then dropped out. What drove me to opt out was not the poor techniques of the instructor, it was the capricious nature of the courseware that did not permit me to do assignments on a tablet (had to be connected to a desktop for all the various forums to function properly), the time limits (there was not really ab=n "at your own pace" since there were weekly deadlines) that were set that did not always mesh with my schedule, and the nature of the quizzes themselves that required reall of tiny details.

Now, let me also point out that, along, with several of my colleagues, I have created a MOOPD (professional development and not a long term course). We put together a sort of Web 2.0+ set of MOOPDs centering on social emdia, web site evaluation, etc. We did some videotaping some podcasts, some screenshots, etc. for each of the pieces. I think MOOCs and MOOPDs are tools I can use in my own teaching. Since we are an online program, I have implemented elements of the MOOC that are beneficial to my students. Since I do not meet FTF, there is a screen cast showing them how to log into Titletalk. There is a Sound Cloud that greets them so they can ear my voice. There are samples and examples of assignments.

My bottom line: it is an easy task to point out the shortcomings of education, especially from a cushy chair outside of the ivy-covered walls (which do not do well in the Texas heat, so are non-existent where I teach). It is easy to take that big old brush and slap color onto a surfacce. This works well for painting but not for ART. You see, I still think teaching is an art, that it requires a wide range of tools. The ART of teaching needs broad strokes, but it also requires small stokes, squiggles, dots, etc. If the devil is in the details, then the real work of the classroom is devilish.
 
 
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