Consider the state of higher education today. Since the late 1970s, the total of poorly paid untenured and contingent faculty has far outstripped the number of tenured faculty on college campuses all over the world and now accounts for roughly 76 % of faculty in U.S. higher education.A bit sensational but an interesting article, to say the least.
The shrinking number of tenured academics has been paralleled by a growing number of very well-paid administration positions, filled by MBAs or Educational Administration doctorates who have spent little or no time in the actual educational trenches. The current corporate administrative pattern emphasizes a profit model of efficiency, cost control, and knowledge delivery, which is fundamentally different from the academic and pedagogical model of knowledge creation, a messy, individualistic but often life-changing process. This new emphasis is evident in the constant rise of tuition (going to grandiose building projects and bloated administrative salaries mirroring the corporate world), increasing demands for the quantification and standardization of instruction, larger class sizes, and the devaluing of educators’ professionalism, expertise, mentoring, innovative pedagogy, and the kind of student-centered, highly personalized learning opportunities I had at my small liberal arts college in the 1980s.
If these trends continue unchecked, the educational “opportunities” I and many other educators foresee will look like something out of that science fiction dystopia. For the sake of efficiency and the bottom line, students will be “educated” (although it will be more like indoctrination with facts than true education) en masse, remotely, in MOOCs (massive online open courses) by a few “star” academics who record their lectures and require the purchase of very expensive texts and materials from a few monopolistic academic publishers. Low-salaried “tutors” (today’s adjuncts with Master’s degrees and doctorates) will be standing by at what amounts to a call center with scripted responses to students’ questions. There will be little or no discussion of the material, little opportunity to interact with other students, the professor, or even ideas that are not in the book or online, and virtually no support for struggling students beyond a disembodied voice or image on a screen. This is the logical extension of the model of knowledge delivery vs. knowledge creation, which requires teacher-student interaction, argument, discussion, questioning, practice, and widely varied pedagogical methods—teaching the student, not the material.
If this sounds far-fetched, you should know that one attendee at the recent Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) conference reported that her Canadian college, Athabasca University, is already in the process of moving its adjunct instructors into that call center, hiring non-academic operators to determine whether student questions are administrative or academic and route them accordingly, and requiring its “tutors” to use a script penned by the textbook publisher. Remember the last time you called tech support and got an offshore technician who insisted on running through the entire customer-service script, even though you’ve already tried everything suggested? Imagine this as your educational experience. Just as bad, MIT and Harvard have already formed a company called EdX to provide machine grading of academic essays. Not for Harvard or MIT, of course. Machine grading, though possibly cost-saving, would lead to a “beating the machine” or “gaming the system” mentality of teaching to the test rather than real learning, the kind of instruction we see in test prep centers for the college boards. I’m sure the testing companies will jump on that opportunity too.
Inevitably, this sets up a two-tier system of education: the intimate, personalized educational experience for those who can afford a “traditional” education, and the cheaper, technology-heavy/professor-light so-called education of the masses.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
We Don't Need No (Higher) Education
We don't need no thought control: