Thursday, March 7, 2013

Scattered Thinking

I've just crested the hill of grading a set of essays from an online class and need some distraction. Here are some fragments of thoughts occupying my attention on this overcast morning as I wait on the very delayed snow set to hit the Hudson Valley.

The Sky is Falling and It's Full of MOOCs

I'd been off Twitter for awhile, but am trying to tap back in as the time away felt like I was getting more and more out of the loop. My pessimistic self is drawn to the many discussions of MOOCs and the potential future consequences for a community college anthropology professor, purveyor of introductory liberal arts blather. Take this quote from Random Reflections:
As more of these courses become available, and it becomes apparent who the best professor is for a given topic, students at brick and mortar universities might ask why they shouldn’t just take a MOOC if the professor quality is far superior to what’s available at their own university. Will MOOCs become the norm for lectures and you just have discussion sections at your home campus?
From my own completely self-interested perspective, this sounds awful. Simply put, I don't want to become a full-time TA. Even more, I fear the wholesale hiring of adjunct TAs at much reduced salaries to lead such discussion sections. In saying this, I realize I sound like a Chicken Little sort of fossil that fears change of any kind, but I can't help but think that something very human will be lost if such changes unfold. Makes me wish I were a couple of decades older so that my retirement would precede these transformations. Confessions of a Community College Dean has been a source of thoughtful and more positive/productive thinking than me in this area.

More Please...
In light of such fears, I'm increasingly drawn to more and more administrative duties. Such work isn't nearly as gratifying as teaching, but one wants to make oneself useful and as institutionally embedded as possible. So yes, I think I will agree to that search.

Attempting Clarity
On the teaching side of things, I've been experimenting in my cultural anthropology sections with a clearer and recurrent framework to structure the sequence of typical topics. I'm fairly conservative in my approach and I cover topics long the lines of the contents of most introductory textbooks (culture, language, subsistence, economics, etc). In the past, I felt this often created a the feel of a disconnected list of topics rather than an integrated, and holistic, yes holistic take on anthropology. My latest strategy to integrate the material throughout the class is to repeatedly contextualize each area within a matrix of the cultural, the social, the material, and the historical, each being an mutually constructing aspect of human life (here's a link to a blog I run for my classes where I try to succinctly layout the ideas for students). While I realize that teasing them out in such a way runs the risk of reifying them as separate, I am getting the sense that the repeated framework does help students hold onto a central narrative throughout the semester.

That's it for this of to a meeting full of articulation agreements, and regional accreditation talk.

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