"No doubt all of you recall the incident in Madison, Wisconsin, last Fourth of July, when American citizens were afraid to say they believed in the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights. One hundred and twelve people were asked to sign a petition that contained nothing except quotations from these two immortal documents, and one hundred and eleven refused to sign the paper. Most refused because they were afraid it was some kind of subversive document and thought that if they signed it they would be called Communists." - JAZZES H.
John Gee has responded to my recent writings about higher education — for the blog called Penn Political Review. Here is the link. Gee's piece is titled "In Which I Take a Thought by Al Filreis and Run With It." "We will continue to evaluate students on their retention of information in addition to their analytical skills. But we might, however, stop gathering students together for the purpose of taking in that information."
Hillary Reinsberg, one of my advisees here at Penn and a fabulously snarky blogger and twitterer, is writing pieces now for The Huffington Post. Her first piece is about technology in the classroom. The power-point-aided lecture of today puts her to sleep.
Despite great claims made for the introduction of computer and other new-media hardware and software into the classroom, and huge expenditures made by colleges and universities, 60% of the undergraduate students surveyed for a 2007 report by the Educause Center for Applied Research said that they disagreed with the statement, “I am more engaged in courses that use technology.”* The issue, of course, is not whether we should be equipping our classrooms with the necessary current tools; we should. No the issue is whether teachers feel that in such a setting the box marked "learners' engagement" has been checked.
“The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2007,” September 12, 2007, educause.edu/ir/library.
I jotted this note in 2002: 'For people who run universities, especially those hard pressed to claim innovation and to respond somehow to the "information age," the allure of cliche postmodernity is great. The medium, to them, is the message. (Finally.) "Distance learning" is a fat pipeline, a delivery mechanism for content, the content being secondary ("x," a curricular blank to be filled out of material already in the course catalogue). But content, roughly speaking, has been the means by which intellectual communities have formed, and in the politics of the supposed coming cyber-university, real virtual communities are labor-intensive and expensive. And they have all the down sides that any communal activity does when it functions freely within a centrally organized organization. To resist, we assert that the medium is not the message. If the message has been experimental, either pedagogically or aesthetically (or both), then we can say that the message is (and has long been) the message. The phrase "distance learning" is replaced by "distributed learning." The community is enriched rather than dispersed by the introduction of e-media to teaching and learning.'
Forcing our students to write conventional literary-critical essays is no less a form of pre-professionalism than the assignment given by a marketing professor who tells his students to create a new ad for Coke.
I've happily joined a university-wide committee that will spent the next four months pondering how to promulgate a new policy guiding faculty as they publish articles and books: open access. The idea is simple: make scholarship and research widely and freely available to as many people as possible; don't restrict by protected access, fees, firewalls, subscription, limited physical circulation. Such a change is likely to upset the well settled ecosystem of professional societies, academic journals that depend on subscription, and university presses that depend on sales of their books to libraries that currently provide access to knowledge in these books only through the book itself. It might even augur major changes in the peer-review process.
The question for the committee will be a classic: how to put forth a unified policy for a huge faculty in diverse fields with varying and distinct practices. On the medical science side, there are already rules in place (such as those imposed by NIH and other government funders) that make the immediate wide and free release of new papers mandatory. Why would a government fund research, only to have the results readable by a small group who have access, and even then only six months after the paper is finished and edited (in a printed journal which publishes its issues slowly)? On the other hand, humanists who write and publish books feel no pressing need and might rather publish with a trade press; the latter is less likely to pay an advance if some or many or all chapters are made available, as finished, in a world-wide-readable web-based Scholarly Commons.
MIT faculty recently voted on a new open access policy. A number of other fairly complex universities have done so. But Penn, if and when we do it, is likely to be the most complex university yet to create a unified policy.
Readers of this blog will likely know where I stand. Open access. The wider and freer the better. In my field--poetry & poetics--most of us have wanted to get the stuff out quickly and without restraint, and the 'net has fortunately enabled this. This is in part the case because poetry has never been very remunerative, so less, it seems, is at stake in providing a shortcut in the process that has for centuries kept the writer from joining quickly and freely with readers.