Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers wonders what will happen, should campuses go exuberantly online, to the intangibles — the late-night bull sessions, the serendipitous strolls with professors, the chance to feel one’s oats in student government? And what will one more switch to electronic conversation do to our need for intimate human connections, he asks?
I like face-to-face conversations as much as the next person, but I think there are other opportunities that online education allows that can be similar to the ones of a residential college. Why can’t late-night bull sessions occur with your neighbors or spouse, for example? Or they might happen online in a chat room. Strolls with professors? Again, perhaps a virtual stroll in Second Life or maybe the prof pops his or her head into the chat room on occasion. What if taking classes online allows you to volunteer for your local political candidate or community organization? Who says that electronic conversation isn’t intimate? I have more human connections online than I do in real life. Some might interpret that as a bad thing, and I think it would be if I didn’t have any connections in real life. I feel the two “worlds” as it were are symbiotic. I need both.
Here’s another point of resistance. The fact that in an online course, the possibility for students to learn as much from each other is increased:
They [students in an online class] point out that online postings are more reasoned and detailed than
off-the-cuff classroom observations. Students learn as much from one
another’s postings, informed by the real business world, as they do
from instructors, they say.
The dynamics are completely different in an online class. There’s no professor standing at the front of the room. Just that alone is enough for many students to open up to the possibility that they have as much to offer as the professor.
I honestly don’t know what the landscape is going to look like in ten years. Will schools like my slac move into online education at all? Will there be a backlash against technology that sends lots of students to colleges that focus on face to face education? If the costs of that education continue to rise at the rate they are now, I doubt this will happen. A lot of schools are pricing themselves out of range for many college students. Of course, I don’t want online education to be delivered at a cost that prevents paying the faculty well or providing a good education otherwise. So there’s still lots to work out in this area. But irrational fear about the loss of human contact is not going to help us wrestle with those issues.
I’m in the middle of reading Everything is Miscellaneous, which I highly recommend to anyone who regularly creates, stores, uses, or interacts with information of any kind–which is almost all of us. This video in combination with the book are really hitting home. There are challenges, of course, with information being less neatly organized. But the biggest challenge is to the idea of information organization itself. We are the organizers, not some group of gatekeepers.
Then, there’s this video about Today’s Student.
Some very interesting information here. One thing that I thought about was the way that small liberal arts colleges really are positioned well to take advantage of information technology tools. Larger colleges and universities seem to be focused on using technology for more efficient information delivery, not for finding ways to engage students and create collaborative learning opportunities.
cross posted at ETC@BMC
And are my pals in Academic Technology ceding too much ground as they
institutionalize via CMS’s and server virtualization tools and custom
database design? Or is this where they step aside and provide support
to a vision articulated elsewhere? Workshops and training can provide
software savvy, but what does it mean to be a 21st century knowledge
producer? Who decides and what do we teach? Before Academic Technology
becames so institutionalized, way back in 90s a decade ago, we hoped to
think we were part of the revolution. Does maturity = reform, not
The answer to the first question is yes. I think that there is great tension currently in many computing departments between the need to become an enterprise operation vs. the need to remain agile and flexible. It’s easier to go enterprise than to try to figure out what people really need and meet those needs. The idea is if you’re meeting the needs of the majority, then everything is a ok. I’m understand the idea behind the second question about stepping aside, but I kind of bristle at it because I think the underlying subtext is that an academic technologist cannot be a part of the vision. In fact, I think both the questions have an us vs. them quality to them–a quality that was quite tangible at the conference. I think we really need to get to a point where academic technologists and faculty are on the same team and thinking together about the possibilities for 21st century knowledge. In fact, there was a great session about these issues, which I hope the facilitator will blog soon. I, too, have lots to say about this complex issue. Consider this a first volley.
RSS has changed the way I get information. I can quickly scan hundreds of blogs and other feeds and see what might be important. It really makes finding and reading information more efficient. But many journals don’t have RSS feeds, so I have to go to the site and keep checking to see if something new has happened. Even journals in a technical field don’t have RSS feeds. How crazy is that? These networks are also still functioning on email subscriptions rather than RSS. Maybe many people don’t want to use RSS, but those of us that do should at least get the option. I really think RSS can form a backbone for research networks. It can help scholars connect and keep up with important work in the field. Currently, what we have is fragmented network. If people would move themselves into the 21st century, we could mend that, but until then, we’ll be wasting all our time digging around looking for information.
One of the comments Mr. Geeky made was that email was essentially free, so what are you complaining about. Email is not free. Even if you use an open source solution as we do now, there are costs for the server, for the staff to support the server, for the staff to train and support people using various clients, and even for the electricity to run the server. However, some of us have been saying for a while now that email is becoming like a utility. Would you complain about someone having a personal conversation while using the heating/cooling/lighting that the college pays for? Not on the basis of the cost of those utilities. What you’re really complaining about is the time that that conversation is taking away from work or they that conversation prevents you from working because it’s loud or whatever. So, I think to some extent, the author is using the costs of providing these tech services as an excuse for dealing with a completely different issue.
Another issue Olson mentions is installing non-university software on a university computer. Olson puts the issue of software installs in an odd context. He says:
[M]any faculty members attempt to install their own software on machines assigned to them, arguing that they will use the software primarily to
conduct official business.
Campus information-technology departments don’t see it that way. They
are charged with serving the tech needs of faculty and staff members,
but they are also obligated to report infractions by those users. That
conflict often creates an unnecessarily adversarial relationship
between the two.
Umm, not really. I don’t know anyone in my department who serves as the software police. Now, I do know that if we see obvious conflicts, we might make suggestions about removing certain software. The real issue for most of us has nothing to do with possible system conflicts but with expectations of support. I’ve had people ask me how to use x piece of random software they bought at Best Buy and that’s just annoying.
Some people do cause a significant amount of difficulty in regard to using equipment, accounts, and other resources for personal use. Is it fair, for example, for someone to store gigabytes of their music files on the college server when space is at a premium? If someone uses physical equipment–laptops, computers, hard drives–and doesn’t treat them carefully, allowing, for example, their young children to play with it, is that problematic, especially if it means that the college must buy another computer for them more often than they have to buy ones for other people? Is it fair to make someone spend an inordinate amount of time working with you to install or use software that you’re using for something personal? This last item the author mentions. When a request for help clearly regards something for personal use, I steer clear and say no, but I’ve been blindsided before. I’ve had people ask for help installing home DSL, setting up iPods (for personal use), working with various software to be used to create a home movie, family Christmas card, poster for an event. Because most faculty have such blended lives, working both at home and on site and not drawing clear lines between the two, they often don’t realize that most staff do draw clear lines and don’t, for example, check email after they go home for the day. I and my colleagues have all had the experience of coming in on a Monday morning to find email or voice mail or both sent on, say, Saturday morning asking for something to be done by first thing Monday morning. Probably a few of those requests have not been related to their work.
Both Mr. Geeky and Kathleen are tech savvy folks. They know their way around the web and a computer. They can install software without help and they don’t install crazy toolbars and cursor crap–or worse–that might infect their computers. In fact, they are Linux and Mac users, respectively, and even if they did accidentally install something crazy, it wouldn’t hurt their computers. Both have been on the net long enough to know how to behave themselves on listservs.
Sadly, they are the exception, not the rule. Olson does go over the top, especially for those of us at private institutions, where, honestly I’ve never seen anyone send something personal or offensive to the mailing lists. But he does provide some food for thought. On the other hand, if we all wanted to bean count . . . I think somebody owes me some vacation time.
ETA: If this is a bit incoherent, it’s because I’ve slept for 5 hours and I wrote this between flights.
When I started, it was all about a need for immediate communication: I
had all these small thoughts leftover from having just completed the
book manuscript, and needed to get myself back into active conversation
with other scholars after the isolation of grinding through such a long
project. Lately, however, it seems like what I’ve been communicating
has devolved into little more than rants and P.R., either complaining
about being too busy or announcing the results of what I’ve been busy
doing. And this dynamic doesn’t feel like it’s working anymore.
I, too, started blogging because I felt isolated. I craved connection to the more scholarly side of my academic world, a connection that was missing in my interactions with people at my institution where I was viewed primarily as “the help.” I found that connection and more. From a personal perspective, I’ve met many, many wonderful people, some of whom I’ve had the great pleasure to meet in person. They’ve added a richness to my life that I never expected. From a professional standpoint, this blog has done more for me than I ever could have imagined. It lead to a renewed interest in writing pedagogy which lead to a dissertation and Ph.D. I’ve done numerous presentations and talks, written articles, and have been consulted for advice at many institutions. Among some people, I’m actually considered an expert on social software. That boggles my mind and humbles me, since I am connected to and know so many people, primarily through this blog, who know so much more and do so much more to forward scholarship in this area.
Like Kathleen, I’ve watched my readership first plateau and then start to decline. Blogging never was completely about the audience, but it always was a little about the audience. At the very least, it’s a good indicator that your writing is losing its appeal. What Kathleen said about making her blogging serve a bigger project, about the need “to make the blog part of the process, rather than something that’s working against the work I need to do” really struck home with me. As the school year started, I had been thinking about this, about trying to focus the blog a little more, to use it as a space to think about what I’ve read, to try to make connections between ideas. Basically, I want to step it up a notch. I really think I can do that and still keep within the general parameters of the blog. After all, I still think of this blog as a place to put stuff that has no other place, but I think I want that stuff to be a little more thoughtful and I want some of that stuff to have the potential to develop into bigger and better stuff. After all, that’s how I gained my original success. I expanded on what I’d done here. At some point, I quit expanding and thinking expansively and just went through the motions. The thing is, having just come off of writing two articles about blogging, I still love blogging and social networking and whatever else this crazy Internet is going to throw at us in the future. I’m not tired of it yet. I still have more to say and much, much more to read and think about. So watch this space. It could get interesting around here.
I was inspired by AAYOR.
- I woke up twice last night. Once, I decided that it was not a good idea to not be wearing my night guard, so I got up, brushed my teeth and the guard and went back to bed. Mr. Geeky had gotten up some time before that because he just couldn’t sleep. Then, Geeky Girl came down sometime in the wee hours, sniffling and upset because her nose was stuffy and she had run out of tissues. So she got in bed with us, of course. So, I didn’t sleep well.
- I *still* have not finished writing two pieces that I have been working on for what seems like forever. I just cannot seem to squeeze enough time in during any given day to work on it. So I work for 1/2 – hour and that’s just not enough. I’m taking time off tomorrow to finish. They really are close.
- I also have a talk to prepare that I have not started on. I’ve got ideas in my head, but I can’t focus them yet. Ugh.
- I’ll be at 3 conferences next week. Two one-day conferences followed by a 4-day conference. Thus, why I need to get the writing done.
- The house, falling apart. Like AAYOR, there’s laundry everywhere, stacks of books and papers and mail. I can’t take it, but I’m too exhausted in the evenings to touch it.
- I’ve been watching Kid Nation. It’s a pretty good show.
- I’m looking forward to The Office tonight. Yes, I know, I should write instead of staring at the tv, but I’m not a machine okay? And the brain, she does not function past about 8 p.m., especially not after the beer/martini/glass of wine I’ve had to de-stress post work.
- Calgon, take me away.