Best Ed-Tech Trends of 2012: The Politics of Ed-Tech

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

Hack (Higher) Education

Part 10 of my Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2012 series

Education is political — inherently so and despite the protestations from some quarters when what happens in our schools, in our textbooks, in our brains “;becomes politicized.” Education is political not simply because of the governmental role — federal, state, local — in school funding and policies. It is political because of the polis — the connections between education and community. Education is political because learning is at once personal (and, of course, “;the personal is political”) and social; it is both private and public.

But I’ll leave a round-up of all that happened in 2012 with regards to the “;politics of education” — the U.S. Presidential Elections, the Chicago Teachers Union strike, the Dream Act — for someone else to write. I’m interested here in the “;politics of ed-tech.”

Of course, if education is political, then ed-tech must be as well. As such, “;the politics of ed-tech” isn’t really a trend; it’s a truism. (And wait, “;what is ed-tech?”) So why frame this as the penultimate trend in my year-in-review series? I think it’s because, much like the first trend I examined — the business of ed-tech — we witnessed in 2012 the (education) technology sector discovering, seizing, wielding its power and influence.

The year began with the Internet’s protests against SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (the Protect IP Act). The proposed legislation would give U.S. law enforcement more authority to crack down on online copyright infringement, allowing them to ban search engines from linking to “;infringing” websites and require Internet service providers to block access to these sites as well. The technology industry was very vocal in its opposition to SOPA and PIPA (except GoDaddy. I hope you all changed domain registrars!), arguing the laws would “;break the Internet” — in technology and in spirit. Internet co-founder Vint Cerf penned a letter to the author of SOPA, Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas), stating that "Requiring search engines to delete a domain name begins a worldwide arms race of unprecedented ‘censorship’ of the Web.” On January 18, the English Wikipedia, Reddit, Wired, and thousands of other websites coordinated a protest, “;going dark” to express their opposition to the bills. Access to pro-SOPA websites was difficult as Anonymous called for DDOS attacks against them. Rep. Smith put work on the legislation on hold 2 days later.

The Internet had won.

dee2a Education wikipedia blackout

The (Ed-)Tech Lobby

The Internet — whatever we mean by that — isn’t a new political force, by any means. But in 2012, at both the grassroots and the corporate levels, the Internet flexed its political muscles. Major Internet/technology companies increased their lobbyist presence in Washington DC. According to Opensecrets.org, Google had over $ 14.3 million in lobbying expenditures this year (it was the fifth highest spender). Microsoft spent $ 5.6 million. Facebook spent $ 2.5 million, almost twice what it had in 2011. Apple spent $ 1.4 million. Compare that to $ 790,000 spent by Pearson Education, the $ 540,000 spent by the Apollo Group (parent company to the University of Phoenix), the $ 5 million spent by Ford, or the $ 9.8 million spent by Exxon.

What, if anything education-related, did these tech companies get for their efforts? For starters, an updated COPPA, just released today. The updated version of privacy law reflects changing technologies, adding geolocation data and photos to the types of “;personal information” that sites cannot capture from those under 13 without parents’ consent. The new rules also state that platforms like Google Play and the Apple App Store are exempt from liability if they sell apps that violate COPPA. Facebook had protested some of the proposed changed that would have required the “;Like” button (and similar social media plug-ins) to comply with COPPA. That language didn’t make it to the final version, which will allow sites to collect data without parental consent

”for the sole purpose of supporting the website or online service’s internal operations, such as contextual advertising, frequency capping, legal compliance, site analysis, and network communications. Without parental consent, such information may never be used or disclosed to contact a specific individual, including through behavioral advertising, to amass a profile on a specific individual, or for any other purpose.”

Allowing contextual advertising has led several blogs to speculate if this means kids under 13 can join Facebook (I don’t think it does, but I’m neither a lobbyist nor a lawyer so I could be wrong.)

9134b Education alecLobbying doesn’t just happen at the federal level, of course. Salon recently reported on the lobbying efforts of the University of Phoenix to defeat proposed legislation in Arizona that would have allowed some community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees.

And it’s at the state level where the efforts of ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) are focused. As I wrote in October (as part of yet-another series I penned this year — this one on “;What Educators Should Know About Tech”), ALEC is

a powerful non-profit organization whose membership is comprised of corporations and conservative politicians. This isn’t merely a lobbying group, as corporate members craft legislation introduced at the state level that promotes free-market and conservative ideals — all behind closed doors.

While ALEC has been in existence for decades now, it’s only recently found itself in the spotlight, in no small part because of the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and the invocation of the ALEC-sponsored Stand Your Ground Law as a defense by his shooter George Zimmerman. Other legislation that the organization has promoted include the spate of voter ID laws that some argue prevent voter fraud and others say are an organized campaign of voter disenfranchisement.

ALEC currently runs 9 initiatives to impact legislation at the state level, including one specifically devoted to education reform. “;The mission of ALEC’s Education Task Force,” according to its website, “;is to promote excellence in the nation’s educational system, to advance reforms through parental choice, to support efficiency, accountability, and transparency in all educational institutions, and to ensure America’s youth are given the opportunity to succeed.”

ALEC’s legislative efforts in education include legalizing and expanding charter schools and vouchers, passing parent trigger laws, eliminating caps on virtual school enrollment, penalizing students who take longer than 4 years to graduate college, breaking teacher unions, weakening teacher certification requirements, and eliminating tenure. In short: dismantling and privatizing the U.S. public school system.

The list of education and tech-related ALEC members includes AOL, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, AT&T, Comcast, the Entertainment Software Association, the Foundation for the Excellence in Education, the Innosight Institute, iNACOL, K12 Inc, Kaplan Higher Education, Microsoft, News Corp, Reed Elsevier, Scantron, Verizon, the Walton Family Foundation, Wireless Generation, and Yahoo.

Politicians, Policies, and Pundits

2012 was an election year, but education wasn’t much of an issue in the Presidential Presidential campaign (compare Republican and Democrat Party platforms to gauge why). Education technology, even less so. Similarly, education was important in a number of state-level races (see Education Week’s Voters’ Guide for edu-related campaign results), but ed-tech was a question at stake in just one — in Idaho where voters rejected 3 measures dubbed the “;Luna Laws" (so-called for their connection to State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna).

Voters rejected a proposition that would have required students take 2 online classes to graduate and mandated they all lease laptops. They also rejected a law that would have linked teachers’ pay to standardized test scores and one that would have curbed teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

This trio of “;Luna Laws” should make it clear why it’s hard to extract the politics of ed-tech from the politics of education and/or the politics of tech. Online classes. Mandatory laptops. Performance pay. Standardized testing. Anti-union measures. It’s all part of the education reform agenda, and as such it’s near impossible to just talk about the ed-tech and not situate it in politics/policies/practices.

Five more points of interest:

New Jersey: Until December 14, and the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut I would have said New Jersey was the site of the most devastating stories of the year: Hurricane Sandy. In the wake of the storm, I think folks saw a different side of Chris Christie. I think they saw the massive vulnerabilities we face in light of climate change. And John Merrow, in a PBS NewsHour segment, highlights why in light of all this “;schools matter” — as teachers and principals help maintain the safety of their students.

Hurricane Sandy wasn’t an “;ed-tech” story per se, although there were elements — thanks to social media — of its being a “;community tech” story, particularly with real-time, crowdsourced news via mobile devices and via Twitter.

Bonus points for New Jersey for Newark mayor Cory Booker, avid tweeter, friend of Mark Zuckerberg, teen media startup founder, and part-time superhero. Also not an ed-tech story. Still somehow relevant.

Lousiana: Louisiana’s story isn’t particularly “;ed-tech-y” either, unless you link, as some folks do, charter schools to ed-tech. (There’s a sense — in some quarters at least — that charter schools, less encumbered by district bureaucracy, are more apt to adopt new computer technologies, more willing to experiment with “;blended learning” (that is, a blend of face-to-face and computer-mediated instruction), more interested in data and learning analytics.) Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has had to rebuild much of its infrastructure, including its school system — and charter schools have proliferated. (About 80$ of New Orleans schools are charters.) New Orleans is also the site of a thriving ed-tech startup community, with the 4.0 Schools lab helping to support some of that innovation. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal also expanded a voucher program this year that allowed public funding to be used for almost any sort of “;school.” This has since been found to be unconstitutional. Phew, because if you see the list of the “;14 Wacky “;Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools,” it’s pretty clear that this was the anti-STEM initiative of the year.

Virginia: Virginia made the “;Politics of Ed-Tech” news this year with the decision at UVA to fire president Teresa Sullivan. In June, the political appointees who make up the university’s Board of Visitors (none of whom were educators) ousted Sullivan (long-time educator, sociologist, administrator), in part because they felt she was slow to hop on the MOOC bandwagon. Massive outcry from alumni, professors, students, academia followed. Sullivan was reinstated. And a few weeks later, the university announced it was joining Coursera (it had already been in discussions to do so when Sullivan was fird.) Ell Oh Ell,.

Minnesota: Insisting "this has been a longtime requirement in Minnesota (at least 20 years)” the state informed Coursera this summer its residents were not allowed to take MOOCs, prompting the startup to clarify its Terms of Service:

Notice for Minnesota Users:

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.

After much pointing and laughing from the Internet (and suggestions that entrepreneurial-minded folks set up coffeeshops just across the state line where Minnesota folks could legally MOOC), the state said it would revisit the law. “;Obviously, our office encourages lifelong learning,” said the Office of Higher Educaiton. I mean, obviously.

Florida: See also: Jeb Bush.

(Note all the names here that come up as possible contenders for the White House in 2016.)

Plenty of ed-tech is clearly tied to education policies. You can see it in the Race for the Top competition and its requirements that states and districts comply with the administration’s demands for more testing, more data-driven decision-making, more tech. And you can see it in the Common Core State Standards — the new curriculum and the associate development of new, computer-based assessments. (It’s worth noting here too that one of the creators of the CCSS, David Coleman, was named the head of the College Board this year. You know, the highly profitable “;non-profit” that handles the SAT and AP exams.)

All this — the testing, the RTTT, the Common Core — necessitates new procurements, new technology, new apps, new (digital) textbooks, new hardware, new tests, kaching, kaching, kaching — link the business of ed-tech to the politics of ed-tech.

Workers versus Machines?

Will computers replace teachers? Can computers replace teachers? Should computers replace teachers? Folks keep asking these questions — and not just as link-bait-y blog headlines either. I think that people are genuinely concerned. Are their jobs in jeopardy? Are their relationships in jeopardy? Will education be cheaper? Better? Faster? Do we just need a handful of "superstar professors," some webcams, and an Internet connection and we can ditch everyone else?

Oh no no no, we have no plans to replace teachers, most ed-tech companies say reassuringly. But sometimes it feels like they doth protest too much. (Khan Academy, I’m looking at you here.) But then there are the folks who make that agenda overt: “;Why the Chicago Teachers’ Strike Will Help Education Entrepreneurs,” read a headline in Inc Magazine. “;If there’s a bright side to the Chicago teacher’s strike as it continues to victimize (for no good reason) hundreds of thousands of kids and parents, it’s that it will provide an opportunity for many Chicago-based entrepreneurs and education start-ups.” Or take former DC mayor Adrian Fenty who told the crowd at the Education Innovation Summit at the ASU campus in April, “;if we fire more teachers, we can use that money for more technology.”

Some trade-off.

Education Politics and Internet Culture

But remember: the Internet stopped SOPA. Not just the big tech co’s. The Internet. Us. I think about that a lot in relation to the politics of ed-tech: whither the Internet?

What role might the Internet play in demanding better education? More access? More opportunities? Will the Internet be interested in protecting user (learner) data? What does Internet culture have to say for and about education politics? There are some profoundly anti-teacher and anti-school narratives being told (particularly in the tech industry, I think): how do these shape our tech, our ed-tech? Are these narratives being spread or being countered by the Web? What stories do we tell about learning and learning online? I mean, we the Internet, not just the corporate voices.

And how do "the politics of ed-tech" run through of the trends I’ve looked at in this series: data, platforms, DARPA and the Maker Movement, MOOCs, open textbook initiatives, startups, investment, and so on.

9134b Education bbirdworking

Sure, there weren’t a lot of great education-related memes this year, I lamented at one point, in a year rich with political meme-ry. A couple of Sesame Street-related GIFs popped up after a presidential debate, but not much more. But I'd wager education had its fair share of viral TED videos, a viral Clay Shirky blog post for good measure. PBS autotuned Mr. Rogers. And somewhere along the way, a Web of teachers and techies and movie critics convinced the world not to go see the pro-“parent-trigger” education reform movie Won’t Back Down, which can now boast the worst box office opening in history. So we have the Internet to thank for that.

One final note: in April, education historian Diane Ravitch started a blog. I know, right? A blog? In 2012. Heh. But also, wow. Ravitch posts incessantly — on average 10 post a day. Commenters flock to it. While Ravitch is not much of a fan of education technology, she has certainly embraced Web 2.0 tools — the blog, the Twitterz — as a platform for her message. She noted just this week that her site has already seen 2 million pageviews since its launch, invoking just the sort of metrics that the tech industry loves to hype. And really, her blog's become quite the year’s big political ed-tech thing.

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


Lastest Academic Job Interview News

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European Online Job Day 2011 #EOJD
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And Now For Some thing Fully Different

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


Mayan predictions for the end of the world aside, the years ahead are likely to be quite different for higher education than the past 100 years.  As our holiday gift to you, we have put together this anthem for the end of higher education as we know it.  Sing along!

Please sing to the tune of The End of the World As We Know It by R.E.M.  If you’re not familiar with it, you can see a video of R.E.M. singing it and/or read the original lyrics. 


The End of Higher Ed As We Know It

That’s great, it starts with a MOOC quake.

Talk and tape, cost defrayed, and Science Guy is not afraid.

Eye of a hurricane, it’s unclear who will reign.

We want it for free, budgets stretched wildly.

Go online faster now, get more know-how.

Ladder start to clatter with fear that adjuncts matter.

Fire in a wire, course gurus need to hire.

Creativity sparked, new funding earmarked.

Seems blurry and coming in a hurry

With the provost breathing down your neck.

School by school dive in now, edX, Udacity.

Liberal arts in the dark? Fine, then.

Uh, oh, overflow, class askew, TA new, but it’ll do.

Save yourself, education, improve the nation.

Present seems absurd, students with dreams deferred.

And the left and the right.  Right.

You technologic, patriotic, change, strange.

Bubble here?  Not quite so clear.


It’s the end of the world as we know it.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.

And I feel fine.


Here’s wishing you a very Happy New Year!


All the best,

Margaret and Dayna

Dayna Catropa
Margaret Andrews

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


The Library as a Free Enterprise

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Library Babel Fish

Mita Williams, of the University of Windsor, recently posted her slides from an amazing talk that she gave last month. Anyone who follows me on Twitter might have noticed my ALL CAPS enthusiasm for what she had to say. It was a wide-ranging talk, but it projected the kind of future we can have if we pay attention to what’s going on and keep hold of one important idea: the future of the academic library is free.

Free as in freedom.  Free as in access to ideas without gatekeepers or tolls. Free as in enabling the creation of new things, of bringing the community to the world instead of the other way around. Free as in . . . well, libraries.

She points to our increasing dependence on corporations for both proprietary content and for access platforms. Library software providers are dwindling in number, being bought and sold like pork bellies by private equity firms, and in spite of all that market fermentation, the catalog still sucks. If academic libraries pooled their funds, instead of each being a customer individually negotiating with a limited number of vendors, we could do so much more. We have let the idea of libraries as nodes in a world of idea-sharing lapse in the face of license agreements and defining our hyper-local value propositions.

We’re also frantically trying to spend our way into making our websites look and act more like Google, which is really hard when we don’t have Google’s deep pockets for R&D investment or its enormous scale. Its stated mission, “;to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful,” is what libraries used to aim for. Now each library is more or less on its own, each one trying to recreate a Google experience by buying expensive discovery layer software that searches multiple databases and the catalog at once, spending countless hours making it work, then pleading with users to use it. From what I can gather, most libraries are marketing it to lower division undergraduates, even though we know students don’t want more results; they are already overwhelmed by choices. So why, exactly, are we doing this? 

So we license our content, we license tools to connect our databases, we license layers to hide all the messiness, and managing all that is messy, too, and while we talk about preserving the past and curation and enabling discovery, it turns out we’re really not doing much of that at all. But we could, and we should.

At about the same time that I read Mita’s post, I read about another talk given by the representative of a major publisher on how publisher and librarians can work together.  We both serve science, she said, publishers by getting reports of scientific research peer reviewed and organized for public consumption, libraries by helping scientists get their hands on it. As publishers’ revenue streams shift from subscriptions to author-side fees, librarians will still be useful because . . . well, we could license software to document our local scientists' productivity, which will help bring grant dollars to our institutions. Also, we can explain everything to students. 

Mita’s expansive vision of the future of academic libraries was exhilarating. In contrast, this felt like being told publishers will do the important work while we can try to make ourselves useful and take a seat at the children’s table because we’re so good with kids. 

No wonder non-librarians have trouble envisioning a future for us. We don’t really enable discovery; people turn to their local library to procure things they identified elsewhere. We don’t curate or organize knowledge; we license packages of it curated and organized by others. We do help students navigate it all, but it’s misleading to say we’re promoting information literacy. We’re teaching college literacy, helping students compete assignments by showing them how to find content that will become unavailable the minute they graduate. This is why Mita's alternative sounds so much more exciting. It's a return to what we originally cared about.

Around the same time I also read a piece by Cathy Davidson about technology and the thirst for education, and that led me to a Forbes article about MOOCs and the potential they have for new kinds of revenue generation by disaggregating education and selling it through giant global corporations, and I thought about Cory Doctorow’s warning about the war on general-purpose computing and all of these things seem strangely connected. We can let others take control of the things we value and hope we can afford to play, or we can do it ourselves, openly, and share it.

David Weinberger has written about the library as platform, as a real-and-virtual place where interactions happen and new things are made and shared. Yochai Benkler has written about the wealth of networks and the potential of "commons-based peer production.” We’ve seen endless hours of labor voluntarily contributed to Wikipedia, a project that hews to old values of providing sources, even-handedness, and the value of making knowledge accessible to all.

We have the capability of deciding for ourselves what we want out of libraries, or education, or technology, but we won’t be free to do that unless we are free to make our own choices. There isn’t an app for that.  


Barbara Fister

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


Access: A Resounding Theme

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Law, Policy — and IT?
Access to medical journals so that inventors, including high school students, can innovate to save lives.
Access to copyright materials for the purposes of not-for-profit education as an expanded understanding of the fair use exception in statutory law and further embellished in the doctrine of transformative use in current case law.
Access to higher education, new models for determining credit and programs to encourage completion, or, access to graduation notwithstanding the formidable challenges that contemporary students face.   
Web accessibility for people with cognitive and physical disabilities.
Access Denied:  the results of Berkman Center research into how governments control the Internet, and more recently, courtesy of the United States Senate, for a signature on a U.N. Treaty to include disability rights as a human right, with former Senator Robert Dole, 89 years old, sitting in on the vote from his wheelchair, hopes dashed by the political bug-a-boo among his fellow Republicans about abstract notions of U.S. sovereignty.
Over the course of the next few blogs, I will explore this theme of access and how it resonates in technology and higher education.  As I suggested about the term "privacy," terms such as access gain a transcendental currency often in defense of that which is being lost as it does for that which is hoped.  What does access mean?  Why does it resonate with so many particular issues?  And what policies: global, national and institutional, can help us achieve goals future generations will look upon with admiration.

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On-line Teaching: For Naught or Skill to be Sought?

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04dd8 Education laptopRob Gee is a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Maine and a permanent author at GradHacker. You can follow him on twitter at @robgee18.

Rob Gee is a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Maine and a permanent author at GradHacker. You can follow him on twitter at @robgee18.

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/collaboration-experimentation-and-solving-worlds-problems#ixzz2DThNT65s
Inside Higher Ed It struck me as a bit odd, given the orientation of GradHacker towards technological tools that can support and promote grad student research, organization, and productivity (basically…life), that online teaching did not make more frequent appearances in the great pantheon of blog topics.  I went back a year or so in a staggeringly unscientific survey of GradHacker offerings and found only two posts dedicated to the topic. One was a piece last spring in defense of online teaching and learning generally, written by Nick Sproull.  The other a great piece last winter from Andrea Zellner about the more nitty-gritty aspects and approaches to online pedagogy—a piece I could not recommend more highly for anyone who missed it.  Because I was sensitive to the criticisms by online and distance education detractors that all of the proponents of online tools and techniques in higher education were coming from the ed, ed tech, and library science corners, I wrote my own defense of it last summer, which you can find here.

It struck me as a bit odd, given the orientation of GradHacker towards technological tools that can support and promote grad student research, organization, and productivity (basically…life), that online teaching did not make more frequent appearances in the great pantheon of blog topics.  I went back a year or so in a staggeringly unscientific survey of GradHacker offerings and found only two posts dedicated to the topic. One was a piece last spring in defense of online teaching and learning generally, written by Nick Sproull.  The other a great piece last winter from Andrea Zellner about the more nitty-gritty aspects and approaches to online pedagogy—a piece I could not recommend more highly for anyone who missed it.  Because I was sensitive to the criticisms by online and distance education detractors that all of the proponents of online tools and techniques in higher education were coming from the ed, ed tech, and library science corners, I wrote my own defense of it last summer, which you can find here.

I'm inclined to leave the technical aspects of online pedagogy and teaching tools to those who, like Zellner and Katherine O'Flaherty (whose piece on Blackboard you can read here), have greater experience and expertise than I.  What I want to talk about here is whether or not online teaching makes sense for you as you strategize your trajectory through graduate school and into whatever professional future compels you.  So this is not about how to do it better, this is about whether, as a graduate student, to do it at all.  As with most questions you encounter in this business, there is no definitive answer—merely a disjointed collection of more questions and things to think about.

Online Teaching in Theory

Despite what critics would have you believe, there is a vast spectrum of online teaching, and what it looks like in practice varies dramatically from one learning management system to another, one institution to another, and one discipline to another.  One thing most experts and probably most students would agree upon is that courses that are created by merely making face-to-face course material available online are among the least successful.  Course content, approaches to instruction, assignments, and assessment and feedback all need to be completely reimagined in order to succeed in an online format.  This means that the work load of delivering an online course may (depending again on the system, institution, and discipline) be wildly out of step with what you've grown accustomed to either as a TA or instructor for more conventional courses.

For starters the semester's timeline will look very different.  While much of the time commitment to a conventional course falls during the semester itself as you write lectures, prepare lessons and activities, and generate and ultimately grade assignments, much of this type of preparatory work in an online context needs to happen before the semester begins.  In my own experience I would take the time spent writing a syllabus and choosing texts and multiply that by, say, 15x to 20x.  Certainly these figures would ease a bit for courses you've offered multiple times.  Additionally course evaluations from online courses demonstrate that students report the best experiences when their instructors are highly visible.  Just as you can't simply transplant content, you also can't transplant the concept that you only need to appear before the students one to three times a week.  You need to carve out time to be active and visible to your online students EVERY day.  Your daily time demands may not be large, but may require different approaches to time management than you're used to. Consider this and be prepared to adapt if you opt to undertake online teaching.

Online Teaching in Graduate School

Generally speaking, I would say that the greater breadth of experience and skills you can amass during graduate school the better.  If you're interested in online teaching there are a number of things you can do to get started.  If your institution offers online courses at any level, they likely also offer faculty development seminars that you can take for free to get some orientation to the learning management systems supported.  Even if you don't seek to teach a course, being able to list these completed seminars on your CV and honestly claim you have some familiarity with them can be a positive step.  You can also seek out faculty members in your department or college who teach courses online and offer to TA or help with grading in exchange for some orientation to the process of online teaching.  Given the need for visibility and frequent contact, many instructors would be overjoyed by such an offer—and may even be compelled to reciprocate with a nice recommendation and/or teaching evaluation, which will come in handy down the road.  Armed with this experience you can develop a course of your own, either for your own institution or for others that may have a broader commitment to online teaching and learning.

A number of institutions also have pre-packaged online courses—not unlike courses at community colleges or business schools where you inherit your syllabus and textbooks when you get hired.  Here you will need to be familiar enough with the delivery platform to maneuver in the course and provide content instruction and feedback, but the development work has been done for you.  While not ideal from a variety of perspectives, these can be a means to some valuable experience, and may yield opportunities to develop curricula and course content down the line.  We can have the philosophical debates about promoting the use of adjunct labor and relocating more teaching away from content experts another time—the fact of the matter is the job market it tight, both inside the tower and out, and if you can position yourself as someone conversant in the issues and technologies germane to your chosen industry, I think you probably owe it to yourself to do that.  And if in the process of doing so you can rake in a little extra gas money (assuming you don't drive much) then that doesn't hurt either.

Online Teaching in the Job Market 

As I've said, experience teaching online, knowledge of the tools, and some sense of pedagogical issues at play are all good things to bring with you into the job market. What you inevitably find when you get there though is that the academy is a far wider and more diverse place than your experience of two or three campuses would ever have led you to imagine.  You may be applying for jobs outside of the discipline in which you were trained, and you may also find that your own discipline is imagined in dramatically different terms, such that prospective colleagues are compelled by a whole different range of issues and priorities than what you've grown accustomed to.  You will find some places very interested in your online teaching background.  You will find other places very NOT.  Try to discern this up front when crafting your cover letters, but certainly take steps to find out before engaging in a phone or campus interview.  A search committee may be interested in your online teaching background because it jives with their own commitment.  They could also believe that online education is the bane of their existence, the origins of their exploitation, or merely the topic of unsavory discussions with their administration.  If they take no interest, ask yourself how important online teaching is to you and if you'd be satisfied to see it relegated to the less active regions of your CV.  If they are interested, ask yourself (hell, ask them) if it's because it is reflective of their institutional mission, orientation and interests—meaning, you'd be joining a team of like-minded professionals—or if it's because someone has told them they need to begin to embrace online teaching and rather than comply and do so themselves, they've opted instead to merely hire someone who will.  If that be the case, ask yourself if you're willing to teach every online course the department offers.

More and more academic job ads feature references to online teaching.  In some cases they make clear what the job will actually look like in that respect.  In most cases though, the reference is vague and underdeveloped—almost as though someone else edited the words in there!  It's the 21st century and regardless of what we might think of its merits or shortcomings, I think we owe it to ourselves to be the strongest job candidates we can be, while recognizing that those jobs, while not as plentiful as we'd like, are actually tremendously diverse.  You do not need to dedicate your life to online teaching, but some familiarity with the tools, and even just the ability to carry on an informed conversation about the future of technology and approaches to higher education may serve you very well—both in thinking about your own research and development of course content and in preparing for your next step.

What's your approach to online education? Let us know in the comments below.

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Producing the Most of MOOCs

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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Higher Ed Mash Up

noria(1)Let’s begin with an old story about using technology to innovate in the classroom. In the 1990s, when the Internet was coming into its own, Professor Antonio Gonzalez at Wesleyan University found an early way to utilize this technology to enhance his class. He recited and recorded a poem, by early 20th century poet Antonio Machado, that students would listen to over the internet while they looked at the text of the poem. At a particular place in the poem, students would click on highlighted text to find a picture and explanation of a “noria,” a water well used traditionally in rural Spain, whose circular imagery and use of water are key to the understanding of the poem. When students arrived in his class, instead of listening to Professor Gonzalez read the poem and needing to imagine the symbol’s image and context, students were ready to dive into a discussion of its meaning.

Today more than ever, Inside Higher Ed and other daily higher education reports are replete with new ways of using technology that purportedly will transform colleges and universities.  Truth be told, many are not so new, others are not really scalable, and most are not transformative. As Alexandra Logue argues in her recent essay in Inside Higher Ed, “;it is not the existence of the latest technology or its potential uses that will help us to maximize student learning, but using what we know and have.”

To be sure, there will be major technological innovations that contribute to the shape of higher education.  The expanded use of MOOCs (massive open online courses) may rise to the top of the new ideas and have a very significant impact on higher education.

In the fall of 2011, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig offered a MOOC on artificial intelligence and 160,000 people signed up.  While on-line learning is certainly not new, this course caught people’s imaginations given the large number of enrollees and the fact that the instructors came from Stanford.   Since that time, Thrun announced that he would leave Stanford and form Udacity, a company that specializes in MOOCs.

Within the past year, many prestigious institutions have jumped on the MOOC bandwagon. MIT, Harvard and, subsequently, Berkeley and the University of Texas, formed edX. Coursera was formed with a dozen or so high profiles institutions, Princeton and the University of Michigan among them, and now has 33 colleges and universities on board. Beyond the “;big three” of Coursera, Udacity, and edX, it was recently reported that course management systems, including BlackBoard, will incorporate MOOCs into their platforms. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the MOOC phenomenon is that there is no clear business model for how this mix of for-profit and not-for-profit entities will generate income.

This rapid rise of MOOCs and their endorsement by the most prestigious institutions in the country suggest that all institutions of higher education need to examine whether and how this innovation will change the way they operate. The question for Mash Up is: what impact does the growth and broad institutional acceptance of MOOCs have on institutions which blend the liberal arts with professional training?

The initial reaction of many of the institutions which strategically provide both liberal arts and professional degrees will be to reject the incorporation of MOOCs into their planning. After all, such institutions would claim that the liberal arts curriculum is about learning higher order skills like critical thinking which cannot be engendered in a class of thousands. They would add that professional training also requires interactions between professor and student as well as between student and student in a way that will build problem-solving skills for the workplace. MOOCs will be beneficial to some students and some institutions, but not ours.

There are many reasons to think again about the value of MOOCs.  All students, especially younger ones, are tech savvy and ready to utilize on-line learning resources.  MOOCs, TED talks, the Khan Academy, and related ventures offer exciting, current content that is difficult to match in a campus lecture hall.  And, most importantly, these on-line resources offer institutions the opportunity to realign their costs so that they can apply resources to strategic priorities.  

It is this last reason that is critical to the future of many institutions of higher education, including those trying to prepare students who are career ready and prepared for life.  Doing so is an expensive proposition.  It involves providing intimate settings where faculty, students and even staff interact and learn from one another.  While these settings are the opposite of a MOOC, they do not need to be in opposition.  Faculty and staff should be asking themselves how students can utilize MOOCs and other on-line resources to enhance the classroom experience. 

The answer could be as simple and elegant as recording a poem and linking to images that add visual meaning or as complex as linking an entire MOOC to a semester of activity in a traditional classroom setting. The goal should be to reserve classroom time for activities that can only be done in the classroom.  Similarly, instead of preparing and giving lectures, faculty time can be reallocated to the more intimate experiences that achieve instructional and institutional goals.  At Educause, Daphne Koller, of Stanford and Coursera spoke about utilizing MOOCs to get the “;mundane content” out of the classroom. She states as a goal to use precious classroom time for activities that can best be conducted in the classroom, for example, “;just-in-time teaching, real-world case studies, and team problem solving.”

Institutions should take stock of their mission and current strategic planning initiatives to ensure that they are not simply chasing after the newest trend in higher education.  It also is critical that they involve faculty and students in the process of determining how to incorporate MOOCs into their specific institutional culture.  If the planning is done in a strategic and inclusive manner and then communicated well to the outside, institutions stand to gain a competitive edge.

Historically, higher education has incorporated technology into the classroom -; e.g., slide projectors, video tapes, computer projection — at a snail’s pace. Because events are moving faster than ever and many institutions are facing existential threats, analyzing the value of an innovation too slowly puts an institution at risk. While at first glance MOOCs may not appear to be useful to you, looking more closely to see where they might be of use is a timely question.

William H. Weitzer is currently a Senior Fellow at the Spencer Foundation. After completing his Ph.D. in Environmental Psychology, he has served for thirty years in administrative positions at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Wesleyan University, and Fairfield University.

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