“An Avalache is Coming”

This is a essay that is floating around right now in the context of Duke’s decision to join the an consortium of schools that will accept credit for undergraduate online courses offered by one of the member schools. More on that soon.

The essay, called “An avalanche is coming” seems a little inflammatory to me. One of the promotional quotes on the website is:

‘Our belief is that deep, radical and urgent transformation is required in higher education as much as it is in school systems. Our fear is that, perhaps as a result of complacency, caution or anxiety, or a combination of all three, the pace of change is too slow and the nature of change too incremental.’

I completely agree that the environment we are working in is changing, but the tone of the piece is trying to bully people.  It’s basic stance is that even though we haven’t spent much time thinking about the short and long term consequences, everyone should jump onboard with their agenda or else they will be wiped out. What’s the rush? What’s gonna happen if we don’t completely transform academic pedagogy immediately? Have we really been suffering so much before now? Most the leaders in this debate are themselves products of traditional elite university education. Have they been handicapped because of it? Can we talk about the digital turn without insulting people who still value the engaged pedagogy of a liberal education?

One of the big complaints in the piece is that the student consumer is “king” now and they rule with their money. But students aren’t getting the most for their money in universities that spend a bunch on research and influencial scholars, since that supposedly doesn’t influence their learning. The focus needs to be on good teaching. So instead of funding more professors so the class sizes can be smaller, they argue that we should fund less professors and have students all over the world learn online from a few good teachers.

Why is Duke rushing to join this online courses consortium without running it through the traditional channels of faculty governance? Are they afraid that the faculty will shut the project down? Someone suggested to me today that Duke is rushing because they want to become one the dominant schools that can then sell it’s classes to smaller and poorer universities, whose junior faculty and adjuncts will be out of luck.

I’m looking forward to our meeting this week so I can hear ya’lls thoughts on these issues.

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