Stupid smart people; and an amazing choice of photo.

Two things you can be sure of when you teach online via a campus platform:

1. Your university is watching.
2. There’s a written record of everything you say.

All sorts of eyes are peering into your online course: Your students, naturally; but also university administrators, on-campus tech people, the for-profit firm your school has probably hired to manage various course functions, etc. This is not a … freedom-rich environment. Not for blowing off the course and giving everyone an A, and not for sexual harassment.

MIT has removed the lectures of a retired faculty member from a popular online learning platform after determining that he had sexually harassed a woman on the Internet, the school’s News Office announced Monday.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology began investigating the matter after a learner on the platform MITx filed a complaint against Walter Lewin in October. According to the MIT News Office website, the alleged victim said the harassment began when she was a learner in one of Lewin’s online courses.

During the investigation, MIT also looked at additional interactions between Lewin and other online learners.

UD is guessing that the actual harassment occurred outside of the course’s comment threads; she’s guessing that some relatively light, slightly off-color badinage happened in those threads, and that the badinage at some point moved onto gchat or email exchanges… Though it’s always possible Lewin was stupid enough to put harassing words into the course interactions proper…

But anyway. Get a load of the picture the Globe ran with the piece!

Spectacularly mature and well-written piece on laptops in the classroom…

… by a Wesleyan University undergrad. One of the keenest, calmest, most honest, considerations UD has seen of the phenomenon.

It is our obligation as students to delve more deeply into the impacts of technology on our education and our values, and this can only happen through reflection about the influence of technology on what and how we learn… The questions raised by technology are not just questions about distraction or temptation. They are deeper human questions about how we learn, and they must be addressed if we ever hope to reach an understanding of how technology should be used in the service of learning. Whatever decision professors or students might make about the use of technology in the classroom, these questions can serve as springboards for discussion about the importance, for example, of an engaging classroom environment, and about why complete focus and open interaction with one’s classmates are essential to this environment.

Concisely, incisively, she gets to the core of why professors who allow – much less encourage – laptops in their classroom are guilty of pedagogical malpractice.

But – as UD has said for years on this blog – laptop lecturers, who totally grasp the advantages of talking to an audience that ignores you (especially if, like many of these lecturers, you spice up the classroom sizzle with extensive PowerPoint use), will never shut down the enterprise. Nor will their university’s administrators, who after all have been giving these drones awards for innovative use of technology in the classroom. As UD has always said, and as this and other student editorials suggest, change will come only from a popular revolt.

“[W]hen I do have a specific reason to ask everyone to set aside their devices (‘Lids down,’ in the parlance of my department), it’s as if someone has let fresh air into the room. The conversation brightens, and more recently, there is a sense of relief from many of the students.”

Another slow-witted tech expert finally bans laptops from the college classroom. Turns out

Asking a student to stay focused while she has alerts on is like asking a chess player to concentrate while rapping their knuckles with a ruler at unpredictable intervals.

Turns out

[D]esigners and engineers have every incentive to capture as much of my students’ attention as they possibly can, without regard for any commitment those students may have made to me or to themselves about keeping on task.

Turns out

[M]ultitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content.

Turns out

Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class — it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them.

Turns out

(To the people who say “Students have always passed notes in class”, I reply that old-model notes didn’t contain video and couldn’t arrive from anywhere in the world at 10 megabits a second.)

Turns out

Anyone distracted in class doesn’t just lose out on the content of the discussion but creates a sense of permission that opting out is OK, and, worse, a haze of second-hand distraction for their peers. In an environment like this, students need support for the better angels of their nature (or at least the more intellectual angels), and they need defenses against the powerful short-term incentives to put off complex, frustrating tasks. That support and those defenses don’t just happen, and they are not limited to the individual’s choices. They are provided by social structure, and that structure is disproportionately provided by the professor, especially during the first weeks of class.

Wow. Who knew.

Everyone. A decade ago.

Some people have to learn by doing.

In my freshman seminar, weeks passed with all of us typing aimlessly on our computers and staying silent when my professor asked questions to the group. Finally, she had all of us stand up as she walked by and checked our computers. At most, two students were actually typing up notes. She banned computers from then on, and class discussions improved drastically.

A Dartmouth student recalls her very wasteful freshman seminar professor.

Professors can avoid this scandalous waste of time and money by investing five minutes acquainting themselves with the state of research on laptops in the classroom.

“The act of typing effectively turns the note-taker into a transcription zombie, while the imperfect recordings of the pencil-pusher reflect and excite a process of integration, creating more textured and effective modes of recall.”

And no, it doesn’t matter whether students are connected to the internet during class or not. Research was done with

the laptops … not connected to the Internet. This means the results are not due to students spending time checking e-mail or surfing the Web. In most settings, such distractions will only impair performance even more. Indeed, prior research has found that laptop multitasking impairs learning and can even have negative effects on non-laptop users sitting nearby.

If you ask UD, who has been railing against classroom laptop use for years (see some of her posts here), this activity is on the face of it obviously any idiot can see plain as the nose on your face socially as well as intellectually destructive. A lot of professors – for murky reasons – have been sitting on their asses waiting for the research we all knew would come out to come out… But even with insane amounts of research confirming what anyone with common sense would have known a decade ago, plenty of professors will cleave to the laptop. Why?

(And by the way don’t even think about fully laptopped/online degree programs and their capacity to teach people anything. There’s a reason UD calls online programs cheesy.)

Well, the reasons aren’t pretty. Let’s see.

Do whatever you want! I’m afraid of you… I want a good course evaluation… The university is worried about attrition rates and has decided to give in to all of your demands… You pretend to be taking a class, and I’ll pretend to teach. This won’t put a strain on either of us… Lecturing is authoritarian. The last thing you want is some Hitlerian up here talking to you as if she has something to impart that you don’t already know or can’t find on your computer… You’re all too timid to look up from your screens and contribute to a discussion… Thank God for the laptop, which allows you to hide behind your screens and keep to yourself during class rather than be challenged in the unpleasant way of the seminar!…

And if you have a professor with a fully laptopped classroom who also depends almost exclusively on PowerPointed lectures where she (head down, monotonally) reads from each slide? Yikes.

Some old guy’s failure.

In my film and philosophy class, for example, I have to insist that students put their devices away while watching movies that don’t immediately engage their senses with explosions, sex or gag lines. At first they see this as some old guy’s failure to grasp their skill at multitasking, but eventually most relearn how to give themselves to an emotional and intellectual experience, one that is deeply engaging partly because it does not pander to their most superficial habits of attention.

Thus laptops do make louses of us all.

Yet another professor allows himself to be reduced to a low-level Stasi operative.

From the extensive official directives issued to students in a class at the University of Santa Clara:

(b) When in class, you may not disturb me or your classmates with irrelevant computer or phone activities.
(c) Examples of violations: watching videos, checking Facebook, texting, playing games, doing anything related to your phone, or walking in late yet talking loudly while getting settled.

L.R. 4.1 Penalties for violation:
(i) For each violation of L.R. 4, points will be deducted from the 200 “professionalism” points available this term. (That is the same value as your revised CF2 memo.)
(ii) I dislike public shaming, but to encourage professional behavior, when I observe impermissible conduct I will announce a reminder about the problem. I will also note the student(s) involved, and later email notice of how many points were lost.

It’s pretty clear that this professor spends most of his prep time drawing up class conduct contracts, and most of his actual class time calculating demerits. The simple expedient of banning laptops and phones seems not to have occurred to him. As it is, he’s well on his way toward becoming a higher-level operative.

I Am A Camera.

[The University of Florida] is now studying new ways to combat cheating as it launches an online university in the spring. This includes software that uses cameras to monitor students as they take tests, said Jen Day Shaw, dean of students.

Surely you can do better than that. Multiple cameras monitored by multiple camera monitors glaring down at a person trying to be engaged in independent thought is nothing. After all, getting a friend to dress up like you and take your exam (take your whole course) is a piece of cake.

No, no. Here’s where you have to go, UF. Body sensors. That person trying to focus, think, and write needs to be hooked up – heart rate, sweat production, digit-movement patterns… Fingerprinting each time the person logs on. And more.

And what of the authentication of the professor/ facilitator/ air traffic controller? Ever met the person you’ve hired (or your for-profit vendor has provided) to teach the course? Even if you have, how do you know that’s the person teaching the course? If you can’t authenticate the instructor’s identity, the instructor can give the course to a drudge in India, take payment for the course, and give the drudge a cut. That way the instructor can spend her time in a spa or writing an article or something. Just like Julius Nyang’oro, she has figured out a way to collect a salary for doing nothing.

So the instructor will have to be surveilled pretty constantly too. Recall the AAUP draft report on online courses:

Online teaching platforms and learning management systems may permit faculty members to learn whether students in a class did their work and how long they spent on certain assignments. Conversely, however, a college or university administration could use these systems to determine whether faculty members were logging into the service “enough,” spending “adequate” time on certain activities, and the like.

Dylan said it long ago:

I would not be so all alone. Everybody must get stoned.

Everybody – student, air traffic controller, supervisor of online air traffic controller, executive vice president in charge of whether faculty members are logging in often enough — everybody must get filmed.

Well, they’ll film ya when you’re trying to be so good
They’ll film ya just a-like they said they would
They’ll film ya when you’re tryin’ to go home
Then they’ll film ya when you’re there all alone
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get filmed

Well, they’ll film ya when you’re walkin’ ’long the street
They’ll film ya when you’re tryin’ to keep your seat
They’ll film ya when you’re walkin’ on the floor
They’ll film ya when you’re walkin’ to the door
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get filmed

They’ll film ya when you’re at the breakfast table
They’ll film ya when you are young and able
They’ll film ya when you’re tryin’ to make a buck
They’ll film ya and then they’ll say, “good luck”
Tell ya what, I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get filmed

Well, they’ll film you and say that it’s the end
Then they’ll film you and then they’ll come back again
They’ll film you when you’re riding in your car
They’ll film you when you’re playing your guitar
Yes, but I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get filmed

Well, they’ll film you when you walk all alone
They’ll film you when you are walking home
They’ll film you and then say you are brave
They’ll film you when you are set down in your grave
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get filmed

“We’d all be better off if more professors [would ban] laptops.”

Students – like this one at the University of Maryland – know it. But many can’t stop playing screen games, even in class, so they won’t back a ban.

“Why,” asks this same student, “do professors take this lackadaisical approach when they can ban laptops and get rid of such high levels of distraction altogether?”

Because many professors like what UD has called The Morgue Classroom [scroll down]. A night of the living dead classroom — lights set low, silent students enrapt before screens, professors intoning PowerPoints — this is, let us admit, a beautiful thing, a mystical thing, a floating atmosphere that frees the dreaming mind to roam…

Emily Fish, who calls for the ban, is a freshman at College Park, and, as such, still educable. She can still be brought to feel the dark pull of the new classroom. But there’s undoubtedly a learning curve. Many of the changes occurring in twenty-first century classrooms need to be clarified to students. Think here of the problems Murray Siskind, in Don DeLillo’s White Noise, had with the students in his seminar celebrating the car crash.

“[My students think these more and more massive car crashes in movies] mark the suicide wish of technology. The drive to suicide, the hurtling rush to suicide.”

“What do you say to them?”

“These are mainly B-movies, TV movies, rural drive-in movies. I tell my students not to look for apocalypse in such places. I see these car crashes as part of a long tradition of American optimism. They are positive events, full of the old ‘can-do’ spirit. Each car crash is meant to be better than the last. There is a constant upgrading of tools and skills, a meeting of challenges. A director says, ‘I need this flatbed truck to do a midair double somersault that produces an orange ball of fire with a thirty-six-foot diameter, which the cinematographer will use to light the scene.’ I tell my students if they want to bring technology into it, they have to take this into account, this tendency toward grandiose deeds, toward pursuing a dream.”

“A dream? How do your students reply?”

“Just the way you did. ‘A dream?’ All that blood and glass, that screeching rubber. What about the sheer waste, the sense of a civilization in a state of decay?”

“What about it?” I said.

“I tell them it’s not decay they are seeing but innocence. The movie breaks away from complicated human passions to show us something elemental, something fiery and loud and head-on. It’s a conservative wish-fulfillment, a yearning for naivete. We want to be artless again. We want to reverse the flow of experience, of worldliness and its responsibilities. My students say, ‘Look at the crushed bodies, the severed limbs. What kind of innocence is this?'”

“What do you say to that?”

“I tell them they can’t think of a car crash in a movie as a violent act. It’s a celebration. A reaffirmation of traditional values and beliefs. I connect car crashes to holidays like Thanksgiving and the Fourth. We don’t mourn the dead or rejoice in miracles. These are days of secular optimism, of self-celebration. We will improve, prosper, perfect ourselves. Watch any car crash in any American movie. It is a high-spirited moment like old-fashioned stunt flying, walking on wings. The people who stage these crashes are able to capture a lightheartedness, a carefree enjoyment that car crashes in foreign movies can never approach.”

“Look past the violence.”

“Exactly. Look past the violence, Jack. There is a wonderful brimming spirit of innocence and fun.”

The Morgue Classroom breaks away from complication to make the classroom a chapel of private fantasies – sex fantasies, sports fantasies, gun fantasies, crash fantasies, whatever you seek from the screen.

Perhaps eventually the Morgue Classroom will shake itself awake and morph into something like a circle jerk. But that’s probably not for a few more years.

There’s been a series of fine sunsets over the last three days…

… and fine sunrises too, like the one I enjoyed early this morning, walking to the commuter train steps from my house (Mr UD usually drives me to the metro, but he’s out of town).

I’ve been so busy from morn ’til night these three days that it’s been hard for me to blog… I watched last night’s sunset from an incredibly well-appointed meeting room on the top floor of a fancy building at George Washington University, where I sat listening to sales pitches from online vendors who’d like to run programs at GW. Yes, GW is exploring all sorts of online initiatives, and UD has been asked to be part of this exploration because of her modest MOOC acclaim.

Yet if you read this blog with any care, you know that despite her online poetry lectures, UD is way skeptical of online education. So she is an oddball, a misfit, a brother from a seriously other mother, on this particular committee… Though she thinks she may be of some use to it, since her elaborate resistance to what these vendors represent is perhaps representative of a certain slice of the professorati, and GW might as well know what to expect by way of trouble as it tries to get some of this stuff up and running.

Still, UD is reflective enough (though just barely) to wonder, as she squints paranoiacally at this techie parade, whether she herself is sort of like totally well like over. Hopelessly twentieth century. Apparently everyone’s supposed to want to learn things by sitting by yourself and playing Sesame Street-like games and watching coached professors on a screen. Or on a phone or whatever. Everyone’s supposed to be dying to have a university-level discussion that’s organized like the opening of the Brady Bunch except that instead of the Brady Bunch it’s your fellow discussants. Students want this. Students demand this. Said the techie parade.

And actually there’s a lot to like if you’re a certain kind of professor. UD gathers that some online teaching will appeal to the self-important among us – displaced German university professors who enjoy being fussed over by a team of people whose job it is to sense what they will like and do that thing for them… Who will, let’s be honest, actually write and even sorta teach the course for them if they would like… Who’d run interference in such a way that they’d never have to get all down and dirty with, well, students… Bothersome things like that…

And, you know, it’s like that Monty Python thing… I s’pose I’m very old-fashioned… very old-fashioned… (Did I make that up? I can’t find the source of it.) But I just can’t wrap my head around it.

For the first time in her teaching life…

UD allowed her students today to persuade her to use the enormous monitor superimposed over the whiteboard in her way-smart classroom (it has all the techno bells and whistles) in order to show them a short YouTube.

This is her honors seminar in modernism and postmodernism (main text), and she was talking about postmodern music – specifically Michael Daugherty’s Dead Elvis.

She was reluctant to do things this way, though she could see how watching it while talking about it together had its attractions; and she was reluctant mainly because she was convinced simply getting the thing going would waste class time. But this guy in class just strode up to the podium, pushed a button and then another button, and there it was on the screen.

And UD will admit that it was rather wonderful watching this ten-minute performance with her class and being able, in real time, to talk about the elements of Daugherty’s composition. She had sent the students the YouTube earlier that day, but there hadn’t been enough time for everyone to see it; and even if there had been, there’s no denying that watching it together was a good thing.

So I suppose I’ve broken a techno-barrier.

‘I took an art history class at Truman in which we spent endless hours flipping through PowerPoint slides of paintings while the professor read, one by one, the title of each work. We received mountains of information, but toward the end of the semester, one student sitting next to me actually pleaded under her breath, “Teach us something!”’

I quoted this in a post a long time ago, and its source – Truman State University’s newspaper – no longer has it online.

I’ve always been moved – angered – by what that student found it necessary to plead. Her Teach us something! haunts me. It’s so easy to put away the PowerPoints and the laptops and smartphones and the rest of the other barrier technologies and just turn the lights back on and look at people and talk to them. Assuming you have something to say beyond a verbal data dump. The PowerPointed plus laptopped classroom is what UD has long called, on this blog, The Morgue Classroom, where everyone ‘s dead – instructor and students.

We can expect more outbursts like this one in our secondary schools and colleges – more Teach Us Somethings – as teachers and professors continue their dance with death in the classroom. The outburst has gone way viral; Jeff Bliss’s statement (“They need to learn face to face.”) is getting national and international attention.

It’s icing on the cake that this happened in Texas, one of our most ignorant states. What are they up to in Texas high schools that’s making the news? A one million dollar football scoreboard.

*********

(UD thanks JND and UD‘s sister.).

“I mean I could be talking about a, you know, Rwandan genocide, and someone in the back is laughing because they’re watching a YouTube video.”

Ah, the wondrous rich diversity of the laptopped classroom.

Prosumer.

UD is back at the online education conference at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, where she continues to learn new words.

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But not just words. There’s the whole thing of whether universities will continue to exist at all if we can download MIT educations via MOOCs. (MOOCs are totally the star of this show. It sometimes sounds a like barnyard here – MOOMOOMOOc.)

The answer to that is you can’t download a college education, which includes not just the social, rite of passage stuff, but also immediate intellectual interaction with professors and smart fellow students – in classrooms, outside of classrooms.

Universities also collect smart people to think valuable thoughts and make valuable things. You can take all of those people and put them in think tanks and corporations, but only the university offers an environment reasonably free of ideology and the profit motive.

UD is aware that both ideologies and commercial activities exist on campuses; she is merely pointing out that unlike Brookings or the Heritage Foundation or Pfizer, the university stands at some remove from ideology and the profit motive. It enables a special sort of intellectual independence, and we rightly value and want to preserve that.

****************************************

“What is the unique value of physical presence?”

Too right. One of the breakout sessions lists this as a “very important” question.

What? You want me to set the scene? Okay, I’ll set the scene!

Hold your horses. You know the scene. A dark rainy very early Washington morning. The conference hotel has an entrance directly from Metro Center – underground, see, so you don’t have to deal with the rain – but UD‘s wild guess as to which entrance took you to the Grand Hyatt was as wrong as it’s possible to be, so she just splashed through three long blocks but is now richly rewarded with a BIG ol’ breakfast buffet in one of your basic insanely beautiful American hotels. Everything’s brownish spartan eco in style — huge bamboo crammed into speckly brown containers kind of thing.

UD has been invited by a very confused organizer to attend this NSF-sponsored event which seems to be about er computers and their implications for higher education. Or something! It’s a mark of how wrongheaded this organization was in directing its invitation to UD that she barely understands its… er… ground of being. But she’ll blog this. Whatever.

****************************

Humanoids? Okay, well, we’re all stretched out at long table-clothed tables and we’ve all got our scones at the ready and our laptops fired up. Bit of conversation behind me:

And you’re the director of … what?

For a bunch of techies, seems a genial, outgoing group. Many small gatherings chatting at the long tables. Fifty fifty men women? Think so. No doubt UD‘s invitation is about evening out the gender thing… What? Because she blogs? Has two blogs? Has a poetry MOOC? UD has also lately been invited to be on a panel at next year’s MLA about technology and the status of women in the profession… A colleague has asked her to talk to his grad seminar about the digital humanities which UD isn’t even sure what the fuck that means… Her photo is emblazoned on the front page of the last edition of the George Washington University newspaper, featuring her as the first GW professor to have a MOOC…

So is UD a pioneer??? A tech pioneer? Lordy.

I mean, read this category, Technolust. No, UD is not a Luddite, exactly – but she has always had strong Luddische tendencies… I think it’s safe to say that over the last thirty years UD has resisted every single new form of screen technology offered her… And she’s got that cranky old English professor thing about technology really being our enemy… But over the years she has gradually caved.

*******************************

Introduction taking place. Guy pronounces academia as if it’s macadamia.

“How do you do high-quality online education” seems to be the focus.

Uses “ideation” for “thinking.”

“Recent awareness of MOOCs and whatnot.”

“The elephant in the room is the MOOC phenomenon.”

“Cheating is a big problem.”

*******************************

Okay, so I knew some of this was going to piss me off and here we go. A totally stupid PowerPoint about how all students are bored in school because school isn’t like a Facebook session in your bedroom. Bullshit, honey. Have you ever heard of different experiences, different places for different sorts of experiences? Oh no – universities have to be exactly like online gaming dens or we’re failing our young people!


AGENDA: CURRENT EDUCATION IS BORING AND INEFFECTIVE.

Oh yeah we need to wire and film every moment of our students – are their fingers moving faster on the mouse? Great! They’re excited! Wire their fingers! Follow their fingers.

*****************************

WHY DO WE LOOSE JOBS?

She cannot even spell. She reads this big PP headline off the page for us – pointing her lighted pointer right over it – and lots of us laugh but she doesn’t even notice. She doesn’t notice that even as she pontificates about the importance of education, she cannot spell LOSE.

*******************************

Next speaker seems offended by MOOCs because they don’t reflect the educational technologies he prefers. He complains that there’s no science and research behind MOOCs. First, that’s not true. And second, even if it were, so what? He spends the rest of the talk flacking his particular journals, ed-tech approaches.

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Bio break.

Collaboratories.

UD learns new words.

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“There’s an audio narration that worked on my pc last night.” Plenty of tech fuckups in these way-tech settings.

******************************

UD has just taken part in a breakout session (she thinks of acne and Alcatraz, but it just means a discussion made up of only some participants in a conference) in which computer science guys from MIT talked with UD about whether computers could capture the sort of thing she does – or say embodies – in James Joyce seminars. Of course the answer is no bloody way, but we tossed it around.

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Big Data. That’s this hour’s buzz word.

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Plus Affective Computing, where you connect a sensor to my groin while I check out the best deer poisons, and find the phrases that get me going.

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