Mountebank Blog

"There is nothing so impossible in nature, but mountebanks will undertake; nothing so incredible, but they will affirm."

I Wish I had Created this one!

A great quick introduction to Web 2.0, and while it makes points that many others, including me, have made before, I like it a whole lot better than the other ways the points have been made.

It does a great job of using the medium to illustrate the medium…and all in less than five minutes.

Best of all is the conclusion: “We’ll need to rethink copyright/ authorship/ identity/ ethics/ aesthetics/ rhetorics/ governance/ privacy/ commerce/ love/ family/ ourselves.”

Excellent work by Michael Wesch and Digital Ethnography @ KSU.

Walled Gardens and Larger Communities

Over at, I jumped rather harshly on a pretty innocent careless remark by Luke:

No faculty member really wants to teach a course entirely online

and it’s grown into a very interesting discussion in the comments there. My colleague Phil Pecorino joined in, Luke responded with some fascinating further challenges and thoughts, so did I, and I think some excellent questions are being raised.

And it’s traveling a bit farther, with a great blog post by Jim Groom at bavatuesdays. Jim makes some good points about choosing (and conceptualizing) the “space” of an LMS. But I want to expand a bit on one point he makes near the end. He says:

On a space like BlackBoard there is no way to engage a community space beyond that defined by the course unit. A different kind of social experience that necessarily flows out from the classrooms into the building halls, dorms, cafeterias, etc. has no real outlet in a BlackBoard environment. It is this space of collaboration, socialization, and interaction beyond the unit of the course that is not being translated adequately into these virtual learning spaces.

I think this is an extremely important criticism of Blackboard–and of Learning Objects (which is promoted as blogs/wikis/etc. for Blackboard). It’s a criticism that I’ve made quite loudly about Learning Objects, both to them and to our own CUNY people, for almost two years now. In my mind, a blog or wiki that is closed, not public, defeats about half (or more) of the benefit of these tools. Every time I’ve made this argument, though, I’ve been met with the claim that because the LO tools can be “exported,” they’re really public after all. But that export is just a static website–a collection of files. It’s no longer, once it’s exported, a blog or wiki or anything of the kind. (But there is a promise that they will, soon, actually be shareable and open within a program or institution, or at least for a specific student across courses, even if they’re not truly completely public)

But all is not lost, or so terrible, really, even with these tools. Over time (and with the opportunity to use them myself), I’m a bit more convinced of the utility of a “walled garden.” There is something to be said, there are productive uses, for closed (or semi-open) social software tools, too. “Walled” means “closed,” but it can also mean “protected,” and that’s not always a bad thing for all students.

And here’s the other important consideration–the fact that the institution (or program, whatever) uses Blackboard (or whatever closed CMS) does not mean that that’s the only thing available to classes in the program. It’s obvious, I know, but I think it’s worth pointing out. Sure, in the CUNY Online Bac, or my own campus, Blackboard is the “official” CMS, but all the tools of the public Web 2.0, all the social software, is still out there. It’s possible, and really not too difficult, to have the best of both worlds–use Blackboard for what Blackboard’s good for, and use wordpress blogs, writely, YouTube (as my colleague Tony Picciano wisely recommends), mediawiki, tikiwiki, flickr, wikispaces, myspace, etc., etc., as needed, and when desirable.

It’s important to keep looking, and keep developing, new tools–even while “stuck” within the walled garden of Blackboard. Link in, link out, and get the benefits of public and open, at the same time and in the same course as Blackboard is the official “big” tool.

I can’t say I’ve done too much of this myself recently, since my own teaching has been so limited to just the one course–but I’ve done a lot of it in the past, and I’ve encouraged and helped faculty at my own campus to do the same.

But there’s more to be done with this theme, definitely–especially in campus-based open solutions (or part-open, or closed/open), to create more effective virtual campus-wide learning communities. And cross-campuses (cross-CUNY for example), and within regions, or interest areas, or academic disciplines, or nations–all the way out to the whole huge wide open public of the interblogowebsphere.

A New Podcast–TWT Spotlight

TWT SpotlightI’m announcing it here, first, even though it’s not really being announced publicly quite yet. But I think it’s ready, and I think it’s worth announcing. I’ve been working pretty hard to get this up and running, and I like the way it’s turning out. The TWT (Teaching with Technology) Spotlight is my effort to get some informal but informative conversations with BMCC faculty out into the audiospace–so that colleagues can hear and think about what other colleagues are doing in their classrooms. I also wanted to give an example (a very basic one) of how educational podcasting can work beyond lecturecasting. It works well, in my opinion, when it’s short, frequently updated, conversational, and directed at a specific audience with a real interest in the content. There are other criteria, too, but these are the main ones for this podcast. It could be the first of many (or at least, several), and student voices might be the next step.

The I in IT

Last week I was at the Educause Conference in Dallas–the biggest Instructional Technology Conference around. Thousands of attendees (I heard anywhere from 7,000-10,000), all the vendors in the world, giving away all the pens and post-its and rubber balls and tootsie rolls in the world, and me. This conference (and Educause generally) is heavily tilted toward people serving as Chief Information Officers (by whatever alternate title), Instructional Technology (or even Information Technology) Directors, with some Instructional Designers, and some faculty. Mostly, though, this is a conference for the tech side, the T in IT.

Educause is good about making sure that vendors pay for making the conference-goers comfortable–nice conference bags (faux leather backpacks), delicious snacks in the exhibit hall, and so on. They’re even better about organizing a good number of sessions where people actually get to talk to one another, instead of sitting passively and checking email while a speaker goes through a powerpoint. But where they really do well at this major conference is in getting some big names for the general sessions (held in an arena that’s about two-thirds the size of Madison Square Garden). Ray Kurzweil, for example, who blew my mind quite thoroughly (intelligent virtual personalities for interacting with software, and handheld devices without screens–displaying information or immersive virtual reality directly on our retinas…all by 2010!)

But for me, the most impressive and inspiring session was S. Georgia Nugent’s closing general session, “The Tower of Google.” Dr. Nugent is the president of Kenyon College, and more importantly, she understands the promise and the perils of educational technology, and much more importantly, she’s a classicist.

It was that fact, the fact that she’s a professor of classics first–that she’s an experienced and skilled teacher and scholar in an academic field (more particularly in the liberal arts, and even more particularly in the humanities)–that made me think about my own position, and what kind of technology position (or technology person) is really most important for an institution of higher education.

Dr. Nugent was able to connect history, and philosophy, and she understands and struggles with the concept of translation. She thinks not just about efficiency, but also about freedom–academic and otherwise. A college is not a corporation…we have different goals, we have different methods, we have different needs. And the people best-prepared (not exclusively, and not always, but generally) to work in that environment are the people who are themselves academics.

Too often, I think, technology gets pushed under the “IT” people–with the emphasis on the “T” (technology), rather than the “I” (instructional). And that doesn’t work well in an institution that really is about the “I”–and is really about more than just the “I,” but also the “P” (philosophy) and the S (scholarship). We’re not really producing anything in a university…we’re thinking–thinking deeply and thinking widely. Sometimes that mission conflicts with the T, but in higher ed, the T should really be at the service of the P and the S (and probably the rest of the alphabet, too).

Which brings me to another “I”…me! The kind of position I see for myself (eventually, probably not as soon as I would like), the I that I would be, has to be at a level where I can use and apply my own experience as a teacher…and as a humanist. Not sure where that would be, or how it could happen. For one thing, it has to be a position that recognizes how integral technology is to all the endeavors of the college, by giving the position policy-making power, budget, oversight and insight into the whole range of college departments. For another, it has to be a position that is clearly situated in the academic side of the college administration, with authority over the technological side.

If I’m going to be an “I” in IT (or even, if I can hope, an “I” in CIO), I’m going to be that in a way that sees my academic background as primary, and my technological strength as an added bonus. In most places, I’m afraid, the I’s in IT are people who have technological strength primarily or sometimes, unfortunately, only.

The University of the Future

Red LightningJust finished John Varley’s excellent new novel Red Lightning, and one passage really deserved quoting. The narrator is a seventeen-year-old (maybe eighteen at the point of this passage), just graduating from Burroughs High School on Mars.

His description of his plan for his college education is a near-perfect match to what my favorite art historian has been saying in several posts.

As usual in SF, Varley is commenting more on what’s going on now, then what will be going on then, and the approving nature of that comment made me want to quote the whole passage, even though it’s a long one:

Blame it on the web, like so much else. These days you could attend classes virtually. The universities resisted it, but eventually they were confronted by a de facto situtation, and gave in. You no longer have to go to Boston to attend Harvard. If you know enough to log on to online classes you can become a web freshman. No entrance exam necessary. Hooray for equality!

Of course, there’s equal, and then there’s equal.

And there’s practical, and there’s impractical. There’s nothing to prevent you from attending an advanced seminar at the Sorbonne, everything but some highly select honors courses is webcast these days. That doesn’t mean you will understand what they’re talking about. so all but a few supergeniuses start out in the traditional way, with Physics 101 or Introduction to African History, and work their way up. When you think about it, it’s good for everybody. The geniuses can proceed at their own pace, and they can do it from Manhattan or the rudest sheet-metal hut in Calcutta. People who never had a chance to see so much as a blackboard in the past are now able to get an Ivy League education, if they’re up to it. Excellence can now actually select itself in academia, at least until the point where you actually arrive on campus and are faced with prejudice and politics and academic bullshit. Or so I’ve read, in researching the pluses and minuses of web school. Mostly pluses, to my way of thinking, the big one being that I could stay on Mars for a few more years, at least, just like that boy or girl in Calcutta doesn’t have to figure out how to pay for transportation to and lodging in Paris.

But eventually, the different levels of equality come into play. You can get a degree from Stanford and never leave your igloo in Nome, but it’s not quite the same kind of degree you’d get if you lived in the ivy-covered dorms. The sheepskin itself will look identical, but simply by googling the student you can find out if her or she actually attended in the flesh. So, people being what they are, an Attending Degree, or AD, was more prestigious than a Web Degree, or WD.

But there’s a remedy for that, and so far as I can tell it adds up to what Mom calls “that rarest of human institutions: a meritocracy.”

You can start out as I plan to, attending classes via the web. You get graded like everybody else. Then, if you look like Hah-vahd material–that is, if you are smarter than some of the legacy admissions already there–you will be invited to attend in corpore. Doesn’t matter if you’re our boy from Calcutta, or a girl from Chad, or some poor child who actually lives in Boston but never had a chance to attend a good school.

As for picking a school, there’s another alternative these days, and it’s what I’m leaning toward.

Don’t pick.

If I’m going to be on Mars anyway, what do I care about singing “The Whiffenpoof Song” with a lot of drunken Elis? I’d never make the rowing team to bring glory to dear old Cambridge. I don’t give a hoot about either American football or real football. Other than reasons like that I don’t see the point of identifying myself with any particular school. In this academic strategy, you simply attend the classes that appeal to you. On Monday morning you can be in a class in Johannesburg, follow it up with a seminar in California, and that afternoon attend lectures in Japan and Buenos Aires.

If a certain professor turns out to be boring or incompetent, just stop going. Professors hate this, they call it the Neilsen Rating system of education. It’s mostly the ones whose web attendance is low who complain, though.

You can cobble together your own educational strategy, chart your own path, design your own specialty, if you wish. You may not even want to pursue a degree, you may just want to learn sutff and go from there.

That’s really what we’re seeing the beginning stages of right now. Varley seems to be implying a little more synchronous contact in these classes than I think is going to be ideal or common. But he’s not quite explicit about that, and thinking further, he is talking about distance learning from a pretty huge distance (Mars), and the speed-of-light limitation alone would have to require that the courses be asynchronous. Generally, though, he’s got the right picture, and the plausible extension of it that he provides could be a roadmap, or at least a guidepost, for the directions we’re heading. Not utopian directions (especially not in the novel as a whole), but positive ones, generally, nonetheless.

It’s a very fun book, even beyond this one (sort of a throwaway) prognostication, with some great gadgets, well-developed colonial society, gripping post-tsunami landscapes, evil post-nationalist governments, plenty of 9/11 references, and much more. The fact that it’s narrated by a teenage boy makes comparisons to Heinlein’s juveniles unavoidable. Varley gets compared to Heinlein plenty–he has a similar libertarian strain (some very strong Second Amendment rhetoric in this one), and a similar tendency to sneak in lectures without letting them bog down the plot or detract from the likable and eminently competent characters. Like Heinlein’s juveniles, this one would work very well for teenage readers (and I don’t think the sex and drug use should change that at all–although Heinlein’s editors, but not Heinlein, would probably disagree with me on that). And it also works very well for this adult reader.

Red Lightning is a sequel to Red Thunder, and it really made me want to go back and re-read that one. Unfortunately, I can’t find my copy! Looks like I may be placing another order with the SFBC soon.

Responding to anti-podcasting

Jeff Cooper, from TappedIn, is working on an article arguing against podcasts in education, and he asked for feedback on some of his points. I gave it to him there, but I think they’re points that could come up elsewhere, too…so I’m giving that feedback here, too…quoting his points and then giving my responses. My “hacksaw is not a hammer” theme is one that I hammer on quite frequently, but it’s one that I think is relevant to a lot of the critiques of a lot of technologies. So it bears repeating.

I argue that text (chat) means a step forward in education, whereas podcasting actually represents a step backwards.

I think we have to be very careful in making any kind of broad claim, whether positive or negative, about any specific educational tool. Podcasting is neither a step forwards nor backwards–and the same can be said for text (chat) or multimedia, or the chalkboard or overhead projector or even writing.

Any technology should be used for what it does well, and not used for what it does badly. A hacksaw makes a terrible hammer, but that doesn’t make it a bad tool. It’s only a step backwards if you try to use that tool for driving nails.

However, it’s certainly the case that (particularly in education) we’re often subject to trumpets and drumrolls announcing that each new tool is going to be ultimate answer to every question. And of course, that’s not true for podcasting.

1. Audio needs real time listening. Time is a commodity missed by most educators and students. Text may be easily scanned and searched and read at 400 wpm. Archives of Podcasts will not be listened to in the future whereas text will be read.

This is a deficiency of audio only if you think of audio as a replacement or substitute for text.

But there are things that audio can do that text quite simply can not do. Books have been available for some centuries now, but people still tell stories to children, present orally at conferences, and listen to music. Written letters have been available even longer than books, yet people still enjoy conversation.

If podcasts are seen (as is too often the case) as just a way to distribute the exact same content, thoughtlessly “translated” into the audio medium, then, yes, they fail in that regard. But if the content is intentionally and thoughtfully produced for the audio medium, taking advantage of its strengths, then it can be much more successful. All the best podcasts do exactly this.

In addition, the idea that podcasts can not be scannable or searchable is no longer accurate (although it was at one time). Podcasts can be played at fast speeds for scanning (without any distortion) thanks to Apple.

Even more exciting, Podzinger and Podscope have begun the process of indexing the content of podcasts by keywords, so users can go directly to a specific point or subject in the cast. Although this is not yet perfect, it’s a very good start.

2. Audio is one to many and basically perpetuates the “sage on the stage” rather than “guide on the side” approach… old style didacticism vs. constructivism.

Although many podcasts do replicate the one-to-many, “sage on the stage” approach, this is far from the only way to use this technology. Podcasts at their best recreate conversations–and allow students, as well as faculty, to participate and broadcast. In this sense, opening up the world of “radio” to a huger audience–allowing production rather than just reception, podcasting can be revolutionary (not just for education).

Podcasting makes a perfect medium for producing “think alouds” and conversations where experienced and novice learners can model how to approach a text (or image, or math problem, or science experiment). It’s also excellent for oral performance (by students, by authors, by teachers, etc.) of literary works (poetry, stories, drama).

3. Lack of hyperlink. Text chat not only allows multiple threads (many to many and indeed even synchronously), but also allows quick and easy hyperlinking to resources. You’re not going to get that easily in a podcast (if at all).

On the other hand, text chat does not allow the same emotional contact and nuance of expression as the human voice. And the “enhanced podcast”–rapidly becoming easier to produce and easier to receive–certainly does allow hyperlinks…as well as pictures, video clips, emphasis by combination of text and sound.

Additionally, podcasting can include musical enhancement (or other types of sound files–bird calls, heartbeat sounds, ambient sound, etc.), which is completely absent or impossible in text, and which can greatly enhance the educational experience.

4. Bandwidth and connectivity. This tech issue will increase the digital divide. Not only do podcasts require higher end connections, speakers, mikes, etc. they represent another level of what may go wrong with tech.

Bandwidth is always an issue–but audio files do not require a very high end connection at all, and the speakers and microphones involved need not be anything more than the standard included with every desktop computer and most laptops.

5. Lack of multitasking. With text you may be holding several simultaneous conversations, researching links in other tabs and reporting back, copy/pasting prepared dialogue and getting access to a whole realm of resources you can’t get with audio.

One of the main benefits of podcasting is that it does allow (some kinds of) multitasking. It’s perfectly possible to listen to a podcast at times and during activities which would make reading impossible. (Podcasts are great for driving, for riding on a crowded bus or subway, for washing the dishes, for working on restoring an antique radio in the basement–OK, that last one might be personal to just me!).

Also, podcasts are (at least potentially) mobile–both for listeners and for producers. A podcast can be heard and learned from in a museum or on a walking tour–where it would not be possible to read. And students can produce podcasts by recording interviews or comments “in the field”–to be edited later.

The experience of interviewing and editing and thinking about how to make the points in this medium is an experience which is different from writing a paper…but it’s not an experience which is necessarily educationally inferior, by any means.

I think that to argue *against* using podcasts in education is just as much a mistake as it would be to argue in favor of *always* using podcasts in education.

We should, instead, be arguing for using podcasts (or any other technology) in education–but using them well.

Let’s not use hacksaws for driving nails, or hammers for cutting a piece of pipe. Instead let’s work on the best way to design and use a hammer for its specific purpose, and the hacksaw for its purpose.

Public at last

CUNY Online Baccalaureate logoAfter a lot of work, and a lot of time, finally, as of yesterday, the CUNY Online Baccalaureate for Degree Completers is officially open for business, with a real live website, ready to enroll students to begin their studies in the fall. The website looks good, and I think that as the word gets out, I’m going to get very busy–as a member of the curriculum committee, there are going to be a lot of decisions to make. And as a member of the faculty, I have to re-design my online course, completely, too!

Digital Gallery

looking at learningAfter a lot of work (how long? about a year? a year and a half? probably more), my colleague Rachel Theilheimer and I agree that our Digital Gallery, Looking at Learning, Looking Together (I call it “3LT”) is ready for public unveiling. We had plenty of help in the web design and HTML/Flash coding, as well as the thinking and structuring, from our friends at CNDLS and VKP, and we’re very happy with the way the site turned out. The challenge was to represent student work, and our collaborative inquiry into student work. I think the site does that very well, and it makes a good demonstration of how the web can be a medium for publishing scholarship of teaching and learning projects…a better medium than plain old print. One of the key considerations was to display the process, as well as the conclusions, and to keep the student work at the center.

Hoping it gets a lot of attention…and people contact us to talk about it further.

The OBD for Degree Completers

OBDThe CUNY Online Baccalaureate Degree is a program for degree completers, specifically and explicitly. Our research tells us that there are approximately 60,000 people in the New York area who left college without a degree, but with good academic standing, and between 60 and 90 credits successfully earned. For most of these students, their reasons for leaving school were not lack of interest or desire or motivation, and not academic problems (they were successful academically, up to the time they stopped). So why did they stop? The answer is pretty predictable, and CUNY’s research (focus groups, surveys) confirms that prediction. The majority of these students became ex-students for logistical, practical, reasons. They needed to work more hours at their jobs, to support their families. Or they had children whose needs had to come first. Or older relatives who needed care. Their schedules changed, or they moved to a new apartment with a more lengthy commute to school or work. Another group of students (of undertermined size at this point) had physical disabilities which interfered with their ability to attend class. In all these cases (and others), these were people who wanted to finish their degrees, who would welcome the opportunity, but who were not able to attend regular, scheduled, face-to-face classroom sessions.

So the purpose of the OBD was to offer this specific audience, this specific group of students, the opportunity they wanted and needed to complete a degree they had already started. With that purpose, we decided early on that the program should be (to use my colleague’s phrase) “flexible on the front end and tight on the back end.” We wanted to take in students with the widest possible range of prior academic experiences–being as flexible as possible in accepting transfer credits from all kinds of programs. That would widen our pool of applicants, and help to prevent frustration for students who might feel like the credits they had already earned were “wasted” if they weren’t accepted by the program.

But that wouldn’t be enough to make a program we could feel proud of, or one that would really make a difference for our students. We didn’t want to just hand out degrees as degrees, or just allow completion. We wanted to have a program with real academic rigor and intellectual quality, and more importantly, a program that could use the qualities and innovations of online education–not just for convenience, but also for their value and place in the emerging structures of education and knowledge and information in this culture.

That’s the “tight on the back end” part, and that’s what will give these degree completers a real degree, a new degree, not just a filling-in-the-blanks of their previous degrees. We decided (at least at the beginning) to offer only one “major,” one concentration, and to move all students from their entrance with partial degrees in a variety of subjects and majors, to a complete degree in that concentration…Communication and Culture.

Students, in so many cases, see the bachelor’s degree as a credential, a requirement for promotion or progress in a career. And that may be especially true for degree completers. The lack of a BA constructs a ceiling to their aspirations, and completing the BA is valuable to them because it will allow them to rise above that ceiling. That’s quite understandable, and we certainly want to acknowledge that fact (and will even use it in the “marketing” of the program). But we’re all educators, and all want something more than that for our students. They need the credential. They need the ticket to a better job. And they need the broader, deeper, value of education–not just for job training or professional advancement, but for all the value that a liberal education brings to a whole, growing, complete educated citizen. And that’s what makes this a degree for completers, and makes that completion so desirable for the students, teachers, and society.

OBD Resistance

I mentioned in an earlier post that the CUNY OBD had been facing some resistance. The source of that resistance has been the CUNY University Faculty Senate–especially a few of the very loudest voices in the UFS leadership. The way I see it, there are at least two lines of reasoning for this resistance, and it’s when both of these lines overlap that the resistance is the strongest.

The first, which I expected, but which I did not expect to have as much credibility, popularity and power as I’ve seen it have in this case, is the objection to online learning generally, and fully-online degrees in particular. CUNY offers several hundred online classes, including offerings on just about every campus, and in just about every academic discipline. For almost a decade, all the serious research and literature on the subject of online learning has been clear–a good class online is at least the equal of, and sometimes superior to, a good class face-to-face. I would think that any responsible, well-informed teacher, especially in higher education, would be aware of this. But that’s apparently not the case. I’ve seen colleagues, people whose judgment I should be able to respect, trot out the same uninformed, superstitious prejudices about the subject that have already been thoroughly discredited for years. “No effective education can take place online!” “Without being in the same room, looking into the eyes, nobody can learn anything!” “There can be no humor, no personal contact, no emotion online!” “This is a cheapening of education!” I’ve been truly surprised, and truly disappointed, to read these statements. It’s been especially ironic because my primary exposure to these sentiments from UFS members, the primary means they’ve had of communicating these emotional and personal protests, has been email to a listserv. In other words, they’ve been using online communication, almost exclusively, to proclaim the ineffectiveness of online education.

Now, protests of this sort, as disappointing and surprising as they may be to me, are really not a threat–they’re so easy to disprove, so easy to discredit. They all come (obviously) from people with zero experience of teaching and learning online, and it seems that even people who agree with their conclusion (that the CUNY OBD shold not go forward), are somewhat embarassed by this kind of rhetoric. But what about those other people, the ones who claim that they do approve of online education, that an online degree can be a good thing, but that this online degree is not a good thing? Their reasoning is somewhat better informed, and much more reasonable, although it is, nonetheless, still mistaken.

This second camp, the camp that claims to support online education at the same time as they oppose the OBD, base their arguments on the origin of the plan for this degree, and the structural and University governance issues that it implies. Specifically, they object to the fact that this degree is being based in, and run through, CUNY’s School of Professional Studies. Apparently, when the SPS was founded, there was a great deal of resistance to that from the UFS (this was before my time–at least before I was really aware of these issues). They did not want a school that was separate from the campuses, that could run under the auspices of the CUNY central administration. The story is (and this is a matter of a great deal of controversy) that the UFS agreed to allow the SPS to go forward (could they have stopped it?) only with the assurance (which is not written down anywhere, but which the UFS maintains was given, and is binding) that the SPS would never grant undergraduate degrees.

But it goes beyond that. The idea for this degree, and most of the structural details (note–not the curricular or educational details–just the structural) came from the CUNY administration, specifically the (relatively new) Executive Vice Chancellor. This seems to bother the UFS most extremely–it’s a political issue, or a power issue–because their stance is that any program of this kind should be conceived and invented only by faculty, and that if the original impetus came from administration, it must be a bad thing. Connected to this are some objections to the speed at which the program is proceeding and being implemented.

I’m just as committed to faculty sovereignty as anyone else, but these arguments are actually hollow and unsupportable, because even though it was the EVC’s original idea to have this program, and she has been in charge of sheperding the process along, it’s not at all true that this is a program in which faculty members have had no say, and which faculty members would never have thought of themselves. Quite the opposite. It’s been a committee of faculty (including several UFS executive committee members) who gave the degree program its initial study and design, and it’s been faculty only, not administration, who are designing the curriculum and educational policies (I’m one of those faculty!). It’s true that the official curriculum committee (on which I serve) for the OBD does not include UFS representation…but that’s not a matter of exclusion, but of the UFS’ choice. When the curriculum committee was in formation, the UFS was asked to nominate three representatives to that committee. They declined to nominate anyone, and refused to have any involvement in the process, except to oppose it.

And that opposition has taken some very ugly and dishonest turns. There have been personal attacks on the people who are involved. There have been claims that the curriculum (which I’ll describe in another post) is educationally unsound. There have been (seemingly intentional) mischaracterizations of the field of study, and then critiques that the degree does not do what it never set out to do or promised to do.

So those are two lines–one, that an online degree is just no good, and two, that an online degree in the SPS is just no good.

In fact, I said above that the resistance is virulent when these two lines overlap–and I think that that overlap is much more frequent than is usually admitted. That is, even when people claim “I have nothing against online degrees in general, it’s just this online degree,” they’re not being fully honest (maybe not even with themselves). It does seem like for most of them, the fact that the degree is online is an issue–beyond the fact that it’s located in the SPS, or separate from the UFS, or moving ahead very quickly. It’s not that all of those objections aren’t real, it’s just that all of them are enhanced by the fact that this degree is online–and thus an innovation, a break from tradition, with all of the anxiety that that entails.

And it probably goes both ways–even for the people who claim that no online education can be worthwhile, a large part of the argument might really come from the fact that they dislike and distrust the CUNY administration, and feel that opposition to anything proposed by the administration is a political or ideological necessity. So for these people, they just might be very glad to approve and accept online education, if it came from the UFS, rather than the CUNY administration.

It may sound like I’m accusing the opponents of the OBD of arguing without principle, in bad faith. That’s not true in every case, certainly. There are people who have sincere and principled objections to this degree, on either of the two lines of reasoning (or combinations of both). At least I think there are. But I have definitely seen dishonesty, and I have definitely seen personal attacks, and I have definitely seen uninformed or disingenuous arguments from the vast majority of those who oppose the OBD.

And all of this is just a real shame. Because this program is one that is going to happen, and it is going to do a lot of good for a lot of students. If the UFS (or anyone else) wanted to support the true goals we all share, they should try to be part of the process, try to improve the program (and we certainly could use help!), rather than just acting as obstacles or roadblocks because of doctrinaire opposition or uninformed prejudice.