January 12, 2024
And Were Off
I’ve had a realization. In preparing my syllabi for this semester—two sections each of courses I have taught often: ENGL 1102 and ENGL 2111—that most of my work these days as an educator has little to do with education and more to do with supporting the jobs of middle management—the administrator class.
There’s a new fiat that requires us to put language on our syllabi in core courses—all of those I’m teaching this semester—about “Core IMPACT.” Apparently, it’s to justify (or is that to vindicate?) the ways of the university to students (or is that customers?). Simply, this language explains the practical reasons students are required to take the course. Of course learning outcomes are something I had on my syllabi anyway, but now they are official. No big deal, right? It’s just another addition to our syllabi that students will not read. Yet, it stinks of EduCorp.
It used to be that faculty—you know the educated proles of the university—could write a syllabus, teach, and evaluate the students at the end of the course. As long as we taught the material germane to the course, we could do so however we wanted. This is called “intellectual freedom” and has generally be a cornerstone of higher education. Though we are the working class of the university, we are highly education professionals—content experts, both in our disciplinary materials and pedagogy. Yet, more and more, the trust in our ability to teach has been eroded for some reason. So it’s not enough for faculty to evaluate students for a course, but we have all of this additional reporting and documenting and standardization and responsibility in teaching: like particular language in syllabi, required assignments where data is collected after the course, and now a requirement to use sanctioned delivery method for online courses.
From our chair’s recent email:
Brightspace for Online classes: Remember that if you are teaching an online class, Brightspace needs to be your primary delivery platform. Syllabus and course schedule need to be posted in the content area in an easy-to-locate location. If you use another website (and/or link in a textbook, other outside resources), make sure those links to any outside material are provided in the content area in an easy-to-navigate way—and that Brightspace is the “default” for where students log in for class activities and information. All assignments should be submitted and scored in Brightspace. Also, when using Brightspace, make sure you have regular communication and “appearances” (announcements, grading feedback, etc) in your online class.
What’s up with this reminder? Across the campus, student complaints about online professors not using Brightspace and/or “ghosting” students by not appearing to be present in the class have reached the deans, and ours has asked us to make sure we are all in compliance with the use of Brightspace and with regular contact with online classes. Basically, for us, continue your good practices. If this policy presents a problem to you or you have questions about your class, let me know; for the short-term, I may have suggestions to help quickly, and for the long-term, in-person classes are always needed and valued.
Brightspace, or (formerly?) D2L, is our official LMS. I suspect that the complaints she mentions were from my grad course last semester. While I was in constant communication with students (I certainly can’t accused of “ghosting”), I generally use D2L only to keep grades and for quizzes and tests. This has never been an issue in the past. Other than the occasional student complaint about this web site—which I suspect is the result of the issues I outline elsewhere—I have always been able to use my own web site for content—since I came to Macon State College in 2002. In fact, I think it was this expertise that helped me land this position in the first place. Now, it appears the next EduCorp initiative is to make Brightspace compulsory.
Each of these things isn’t that big of a deal, but taken together, teaching is less of what I do; facilitating, or maybe accounting, would be more accurate. Reporting? It really feels like my Ph.D. and my expertise and my 20+-years experience is increasingly unnecessary, and in some cases, actually a disadvantage. In other words: the more that the administration insinuates itself into our specific classes, the less intellectual freedom we have. Is the intellectual freedom of faculty less important than the initiatives of the powers-that-be?
Do they just want accountants? All I seem to hear about are metrics, data, and other quantities like “student success” numbers (which we are told doesn’t mean much, but is still an important indicator of faculty efficacy somehow). It seems the answer is increasingly yes: run your classes in these sanctioned ways. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe not. But, like a colleague told me yesterday in a discussion we had in the hall: “this institution is not the same one that hired us.” I think this is certain.
It would be really easy for me to phone it in and get all good scores, but at the cost of actually educating students to be critical, engaged, and creative thinkers. I thought we were moving away from the priorities of capitalism in producing workers and automatons who sell their lives for the privilege of further enriching the rich. Why should (would) higher education support the status quo of capitalism? These are the priorities of EduCorp which seems to increasingly becoming the priorities of higher education to the nation’s detriment.
Anyway, happy new year. Here we go.
- It seems that we are increasingly doing the work of the middle-management. Another example: we’re getting a new faculty annual evaluation process where we actually grade ourselves in a more granular way than we used to. Isn’t this the job of the admins? I know they’re busy thinking up our next initiatives, so let’s take on more work to be sure we support that effort. We proles need to be kept busy so we don’t have time to write things like this. Sorry to be so flip.