Speculative futures: Gig Profs

The future that Tim Maughan describes in Zero Hours – involving zero contact hours, bidding on multiple contracts with multiple employers, pitting workers against each other, lack of transparency, unknown work hours, and so on – is one that (unfortunately) isn’t too far off from the current path that sessional and adjunct faculty are currently placed on.

In imaging what the current situation may look like in the near future, I came up with the dystopia shown below. I’d love to hear your reactions to this. Is such a future far-fetched?


An example of algorithmic bias


Flexible learning as a value


  1. This is too far-fetched, and will never happen. There’s no way someone would pay $53 for an expert to provide feedback and grades for a paper! Maybe $5 and we’re talking speculative futures… Mechanical Turk meets Fiver.com

    • You’re being generous, D’Arcy. Why can’t an algorithm provide the same feedback for just a tad less than $5?
      (But, seriously, thank you for the comment!)

      • The speculative future I’d bet on is students buying algorithmically-written papers from an essay mill, hiring a bot to do their course interaction and upload the paper as an assignment, where an instructor uses a bot to grade the paper via an API. No human interaction needed, aside from providing payment – but hey maybe there’s a blockchain integration or something to automate that…

  2. I worry about this with online learning particularly, but it doesn’t have to be limited to online learning. But if we reduce learning to just a transaction where you do X work and get Y credit and remove the need for “high touch” with a professor, then this is a strong possible outcome.

  3. It’s a provocative scenario exercise, but have to say ProfGig is maybe a bit unrealistic to me.

    * Is feedback on an essay really a core “service” that professors provide? Does it represent the work a professor really does? If so, I am out the loop.

    * In what kind of scenario would a student really have this need? If you look at the present, there already is a robust business in essay writing. What kind of program would have a student need to put ut bids for this kind of work?

    * I would suspect ProfGig is not a student to gigging professor arrangement; there is going to be some service provider brokering this (and taking 5%? 8% fee off the top).

    And true it would suck financially. D’Ary is right, that’s a big heap of money for feedback (I have no idea what the going rate is to write an essay, and that is a lot more work). The prof would also be needing to put aside ~20% for taxes, more for healthcare.

    And look at how thing are done now. On a whim, I entered an app for a provider of cheap online courses aimed at basic course support. The add asked for “experts” in science for “contract” work answering student’s questions about their work. It sounds like tutoring, I’ve done that before.

    After applying (I had to also give an example response to 2 questions, meaning they got free service), I found out the contract rate was… $2 per answered question. I did not go farther, but I bet its some kind of set up like Amazon Turk where you get access to a big board of “gigs” and have to do them as quickly as possible. I am not even sure what criteria is done to determine if my answer is worth $2.

    It could be someone’s project maybe to do an educational version of Online Nickel and Dimed? (not me)

    I’d suggest anybody who gets a regular paycheck take stock of how privileged that is. As an independent consultant, I typically deal with heaps of paperwork, unresponsive HR departments, that sometimes takes weeks to collect pay for work. When following up recently on an unpaid invoice I got a “sorry but we got busy last week. You should get it soon.” If I could only tell that to the bank that owns my overdrawn account.

    It’s not far fetched, and it’s coming for you!

    • Thanks for this, Alan! I’m not hoping to predict the future and I’m not quite sure what kind of program would invite students to bid on services, but as I see institutions unbundling many of their core functions (looking at the image under exhibit 2 a third of the way down the page in Phil’s post about the Purdue-Kaplan OPM contract it seems like there’s little end in sight), I wonder about the line. Where does one draw the line? At course design? At teaching? At assessment? At feedback?

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