The burgeoning interest in education and educational technology is the result of a multitude of forces, pressures, and failures: demographic, political, social, technological, and economic just to mention a few. And the outcomes aren’t just technology-enhanced or better courses. Educational institutions, academic roles, academic life itself, the student experience, and so on are changing. A recent call for proposals from The American Association of University Professors’ Journal of Academic Freedom (due: January 31, 2014) calls for authors to explore the relationship between academic freedom and some of these issues:
Electronic communications and academic freedom
- How has the growth of electronic communications facilitated and impinged on academic freedom?
- What are the implications for academic freedom of the proliferation of open access publications?
- Are commercial entities contributing to the commodification of knowledge through various electronic gatekeeping mechanisms?
- How can institutions cope with hacking and other forms of electronic piracy while maintaining accessibility?
- To what extent are social media such as Twitter and Facebook changing forms of scholarly communication and knowledge dissemination, and what is the upshot for issues of academic freedom?
- How are the increasingly elastic and intangible walls of the electronic classroom challenging existing definitions of academic freedom, shared governance, and intellectual property?
- In what ways can we promote faculty participation in the shared governance of various forms of electronic communications?
- Are faculty e-mails considered the property of the institution? Can administrators read faculty e-mails without notice or permission?
The abridgement of academic freedom in instruction
- The case of former Indiana governor Mitchell Daniels’ efforts to purge scholars’ writings from the classroom has drawn attention to renewed attacks on academic freedom in instruction. Where are such attacks coming from and how have they been resolved?
- The Gates Foundation has devoted millions of dollars to supporting MOOCs and other experiments in online teaching. To what extent are such experiments curtailing or facilitating faculty input into course design?
- The suspension of University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan in 2012 drew attention to the increasingly tense relationship between university boards of trustees and university faculty and executives. In what ways, if any, are such institutional dynamics transforming academic freedom in instruction?
- Federal and state assessment protocols are putting pressure on curricula in many fields. We are interested in both case studies and overviews that detail the impact of these pressures on academic freedom.
The increased use of suspensions
- In September 2013, a professor at the University of Kansas tweeted a comment about gun control that led to a barrage of hate messages. The university suspended this faculty member in order to “avoid disruption.” To what extent are such misused suspensions proliferating, and how might faculty members be made more aware of their rights?
- As university work has become more complex and extensive, the number of duties from which professors can be suspended has proliferated. Examples include relationships of researchers to outside funding agencies, access to email and computing services, and workplace provisions against sexual misconduct, just to name a few of the complex domains in which professors often operate today. What kinds of problems of academic freedom do partial suspensions in these and other areas represent?
- University administrators often seek to cloak suspension in duplicitous language. Does reassignment to duties other than teaching constitute a form of suspension, for example? What is the distinction between such a sanctioning of faculty rights and total suspension?
In July of 2010, I published Emerging Technologies in Distance Education with Athabasca University Press. The book was published in print (for purchase) and e-book (open access) format. In the spirit of openness, I shared the book’s download statistics, one year after publication. It’s time for an update. Here it goes…
Writing an academic book is not about royalties. I’m elated when people read my work, and the value of that is immeasurable. So, thank you to all of you who downloaded and read this book – and above all, thank you, once again, to all the authors who contributed to this volume.
The most recent download statistics, 3 years after publication, show that:
- The full book was downloaded approximately 12,000 times.
- The full book and individual chapters were downloaded about 32,000 times.
- The three most downloaded chapters were:
- Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open and Social Learning (pdf)
- Personal Learning Environments (pdf)
Trey Martindale & Michael Dowdy
- A Definition of Emerging Technologies for Education (pdf)
- Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open and Social Learning (pdf)
The download statistics, broken down by month, are as follows:
The book, or chapters of it, have been used in the following courses:
- EDTECH 597: Social Network Learning, Boise State University (Fall, 2010)
- EDU 7271: Information and Communication: Social and Conventional Networks, Northeastern University (Spring 2011, Fall 2011)
- EDU 6407: Essentials of Multimedia for Distance Learning, Northeastern University (Spring 2011)
- PLENK 2010: Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge, Athabasca University and the University of Prince Edward Island (Fall, 2010)
- OLIT 538: E-learning Course Design, University of New Mexico (Fall, 2010)
- EDUC60602: Teaching and Learning with Emerging Technologies, University of Manchester, UK (Spring 2011)
- EDEE 203: Technology in Education, The Open University of the Philippines.
- EDTC 6432: Computer Authoring, Seattle Pacific University
- EDLD 871 Special Topics in Instructional Leadership: Focus on K-12 Virtual Schools, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
- Emerging Technologies to Improve Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Cape Higher Education Consortium (University of Cape Town, University of Stellenbosch, University of the Western Cape, Cape Peninsula University of Technology)
- Exploring Personal Learning Networks: Practical issues for organizations (Fall 2013), Northwestern University
- EDU-681100, Learning with Emerging Technologies: Theory and Practice, (Fall 2013), State University of New York, Empire State College
Last week’s big news was that Udacity intends to switch its focus from higher education to corporate training. A number of colleagues have provided thoughtful responses to these news, including Michael Caulfield, Audrey Watters, Rolin Moe, George Siemens, and Bonnie Stewart.
Here’s my take on this development: Maslow once said: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” It seems that Udacity has discovered a solution and after realizing that it’s not a solution for the perils facing higher education, that solution is taken elsewhere. Reflecting on the xMOOC phenomenon it appears that this is a consistent approach. If MOOCs don’t work for X, they must work for Y, and if they don’t work for Y, they must work for Z.
I have drummed this tambourine in the past. This is educational technology history repeating itself. During the mid-90’s the instructional media/design field was engaging in The Great Media debate. In short, on the one side of the debate were individuals who argued that media do not influence learning outcomes. On the other side of the debate were individuals who noted that media provide affordances for learning. In the midst of the debate Tennyson (1994) noted the following:
I refer to this transition from scientist to advocate as the big-wrench approach to complex problem solution: The advocate, with the big wrench in hand, sets out to solve, suddenly, a relatively restricted number of problems. That is, all of the formerly many diverse problems, now seem to be soluble with the new big wrench (or panacea).
If educational technology companies (and Centers for Teaching and Learning) are eager to improve education, rather than searching for problems to apply their solutions, they should focus on identifying problems and designing solutions to those problems. Higher education may lack a lot of things, but what it does not lack are problems in need of solutions. Talk to any faculty member and ask: What problem are you facing in your teaching? Observe classrooms and see what things appear commonplace but hinder practice. For example, one of the projects that I had the good fortune to work on emanated from the observation that instructors asked students to borrow video cameras, record assignments, and return tapes to the instructor to watch and return feedback. This process usually took 6 weeks. We automated a lot of this process by developing an online assessment environment through which students recorded their assignments on webcam, instructors were notified of the availability of the video, and were then quickly able to student feedback. By eliminating the need for video cameras and tapes, and introducing an environment that addressed needs and problems, we were able to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the process and drastically reduce the amount of time by which students received their feedback.
Tennyson, R. D. (1994). The big wrench vs. integrated approaches: The great media debate. Educational Technology Research & Development, 42(3), 15–28.
On Wednesday, I gave a talk to the Canadian Institute of Distance Education Research focused on scholars’ (researchers and instructors’) practices and experiences with social media/networks on the open web. The feedback from the organizers was positive: “We had about 40 attendees, which is at the high end of our usual crowd, and their activity in the chat was much greater than usual – a very good sign. It was a great session, I’m pleased, and hopefully you enjoyed it as well.”
I had a great time, though I wish we had more time for questions and answers. If you are interested in the topic, the session was recorded and it’s now available for your use/viewing. The slides I used appear below: