One of the main affordances of the emergence of digital modes of scholarship in the humanities is the manner in which they have opened the question anew about the relationship between the content of humanities research and the genre through which that content is best expressed.
We at Penn State are engaged in an intense, ongoing and, in my view, very healthy dialogue about General Education reform.
In order to integrate the research endeavor into the undergraduate experience, we ought to more intentionally engage leaders of our university institutes and college centers as we develop coordinated clusters of courses around specific research themes.
I have always sought to integrate my philosophical commitments into my administrative life.
So, when Noëlle McAfee came to campus to deliver a paper entitled, “Deliberation and the Affective Dimensions of Public Will-formation,” I found myself returning to the question of general education reform at Penn State.
As the debate over Massively Open Online Courses, also known by their unfortunate acronym: MOOC, rages on, I thought I would begin by curating a few articles here:
The impetus for this little Diigo collection is the recent appearance of two articles, one skeptical of MOOCs, the other more sanguine about their transformative power.
In their December 17, 2012 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “For Whom Is College Being Reinvented?,” Scott Carlson and Goldie Blumenstyk gather the skeptical voices who insist, as Peter Stokes of Northeastern University, puts it:
“The whole MOOC thing is mass psychosis,” a case of people “just throwing spaghetti against the wall” to see what sticks…
Of course, if the MOOC is psychosis, it is born of a deeper pathology; for as Robert Archibald of the College of William and Mary is quoted there as saying:
“At most institutions, students are in mostly large classes, listening to second-rate lecturers, with very little meaningful faculty student interaction. …Students are getting a fairly distant education even in a face-to-face setting.”
It is a response to this deeper pathology of contemporary Higher Education that seems to be at the root of Clay Shirky’s analogy between the MOOC and the MP3 file format.
Shirky’s Higher Education: Our MP3 is the MOOC is the second article to which I’d like to point as a way to begin thinking through the implications of the MOOC for higher education. Shirky’s argument is based on this analogy:
mp3 : album : music industry :: MOOC : curriculum : higher education
Just as the mp3 file format, by making music accessible and sharing simple, unbundled individual songs from albums and transformed the music industry, so too will the MOOC, by making education accessible and massively open, unbundle courses from curricula and transform higher education.
Shirky presses the analogy further: just as the mp3 unbundled individual songs from the albums the record companies forced us to purchase, so too will the MOOC unbundle specific courses from the degrees for which institutions of higher education force students into debt.
Shirky emphasizes that the promise of MOOCs is that “the educational parts of education can be unbundled.”
But that, of course, is a packed suggestion itself not so easily unbundled. For there is a difference between taking a course or series of them and being educated.
Just as one swallow does not make a spring (Aristotle, Nic. Ethics, 1098a19), neither does a course divorced from a course of study make an education. The educational parts of education cannot be unbundled like a single from an album, for the education is both in the curriculum and the manner in which that curriculum is delivered.
The challenge the MOOC posses to institutions of higher education is that they will force us to re-imagine the curriculum into which we have placed our individual courses. And institutions of higher education have not historically been particularly nimble when it comes to creating and implementing innovative curricula responsive to new forms of literacy and public communication.
If our courses are not to be unbundled from the curriculum without perverting the education they together offer, then we in higher education will need to articulate and develop new, more coherent, well crafted, and, yes, even efficient curricula capable of enriching student lives and preparing them in a relevant way for a world in which many will have been taught, but fewer well educated.
Words do things. What they do, depends on the manner in which they are said, written and received.
What they did, and failed to do, last night is something that requires some reflection.
That is the purpose of this post on my visit to the Catholic University of America to deliver a keynote address to the 2012 freshman class.
When I was invited, I was encouraged to do something innovative and unconventional with technology, so I invited students to use twitter to participate in a shared experience designed to perform the central idea for which I advocated in the lecture:
The real value of a liberal arts education is political because it teaches us how to speak, act and respond to one another in ways that enable us, if we are willing and graceful enough, to create enriching public communities that are the conditions under which a fulfilling human life is possible.
The lecture was designed as a performance in which students would be empowered to actively and publicly engage with the question of the liberal arts and politics so that we might directly experience our shared ability (and inability) to create an enriching public space of community and communication.
The lecture was designed on three levels.
First, the written text was rather traditional. It was organized around Athena’s encounter with the Furies in Aeschylus’s Eumenides. I argued that the story illustrated how our ability to imagine our way into the position of others, particularly those with whom we disagree, is the central virtue of a liberal arts education and the key to establishing healthy and flourishing communities.
Second, I used Keynote to create slides with images and quotations that supported and augmented the points the written text made. These slides were not merely designed to reinforce the written text, but were themselves meant to add value to the lecture by exposing students to a rich history of artwork and imagery about Athena, the Furies, and the judgment of Orestes.
Third, through my keynote slides, I was able to live tweet my own lecture: when a slide appeared, I had pre-written a tweet to go with it. These tweets, like the slides themselves, were designed to add another layer of meaning and texture to the lecture.
To give you a sense of how the images and the tweets were designed, I created a specific Storify just with my tweets and some of the artwork included in the lecture.
A Good Plan and a Calculated Audible
Because I had experience using twitter in front of a large audience of first year students at Penn State that deteriorated quickly once students realized they could tweet snarky comments to a screen that everyone would immediately see, I knew I would need a way to moderate the tweets before they appeared on screen. We used the #cuafye hashtag (Catholic University of America, First Year Experience) to curate the tweets, but we needed a way to filter out those that were immature, overly snarky or otherwise impoverishing of the community we wanted to cultivate.
The plan was to have Taylor Fayle use the @MyCUA_FYE twitter account to retweet only those tweets he felt added value to the conversation. The idea was not to censor students–they would still be able to see anything posted to the #cuafye hashtag on their personal devices. Rather, we wanted to add a layer of review to ensure the level of the conversation reinforced the points the lecture articulated.
We thought we had it worked out too, but about 20 minutes before we started, we realized that the way it was set up would not update and scroll quickly enough to accommodate the tweets we were by then already receiving.
So I called an audible and told Todd to allow the raw hashtag feed to run, knowing full well that the dynamics of the entire lecture would thereby be altered.
It was … and not for the better.
And yet, strangely enough, I think the shared experience was educationally richer, if intellectually and emotionally more taxing.
Here is the Storify of the event with tweets from the students to give you a sense of what happened.
But this doesn’t really capture what was happening in the room. That is partly because students went back and deleted some of the more vulgar and disrespectful tweets (about Penn State, Sandusky, and other immature rudeness). But it is also because the twitter feed did not capture the overwhelming sense of respect and maturity I felt from a majority of students in the room itself. That respect and maturity was felt more palpably in the question and answer period, when we had the chance to reflect upon what we had together experienced.
What we experienced, however, was a failure to use words to create an enriching community. The twitter stream deteriorated quickly into immature snark, and students were not able to pull themselves out of that cycle of immaturity, despite some valiant attempts by some to convince their colleagues to imagine their way into another possibility.
Now, for my part, I knew exactly what was happening, though I could not follow all the posts as they were coming so quickly and I was, after all, trying to speak and tweet my lecture. Still, by calming the students down at specific points, speaking extemporaneously to refocus their attention and by emphasizing the things I had written into the text to invite their generosity and grace, we were able to proceed … for a while.
Then someone of the faculty decided the twitter feed needed to be shut down.
When it was, you could feel the frustration of the students, but you could also feel their attention turned more fully to me, and I was able to finish the lecture in a much more traditional way – with more passively receptive students for the words I was articulating. Of course, students still had access to the live stream on their devices, but not having the feed up on the “big screen” robbed them of a shared experience and thus diminished the allure of the snarky tweet.
The most rewarding aspect of the lecture for me was the question and answer period, because we were able to reflect together on the experience we’d just had. A central point of the lecture was that a well cultivated ethical imagination is required if an enriching community is to be created.
What we experienced, among other things, was a collective failure of ethical imagination. But it is not only that the students failed to imagine their way into the position of a visitor who had travelled a distance to speak with them and who had put a lot of thought and energy into the design of an interactive lecture. Rather, more fundamentally, we failed together to imagine another possibility for ourselves as a community.
Perhaps once I called the audible to allow the raw feed to roll, the die was cast and we were destined to descend to the shallowest expressions of ourselves.
But even so, there was something redemptive about that failure and the opportunity we had to reflect upon it together afterwards. During the question and answer period, we tried to come to terms with what we had experienced: was it right to have the feed pulled? Did that go against the very points I was trying not simply to argue, but also to perform? Were the students treated fairly by requiring that they attend a lecture in which they would be expected to participate freely and in good faith?
And what about the content of the lecture itself? There were excellent questions in this regard; questions that demonstrated without a doubt that many students were not too distracted by the experience to understand at a deep level what I was trying to accomplish.
One does not often have the privilege to reflect so candidly and insightfully with one’s audience about the very dynamics that emerged between us during the performance of the lecture itself … perhaps that elusive, more enriching community began to take root during those shared reflections reflections at the end. Perhaps those roots are continuing to grow as faculty teach into the experience in their classes.
Here, in fact, is an example of what can happen when faculty do just that:
As I think further about it, and as I continue to engage in ongoing conversations with students via twitter about what we experienced, I have come to recognize that the performance of the lecture itself had all the beauty, and all the ugliness, all the hopefulness, and all the disappointment, all the complexity and nuance and texture of all our attempts to enter into public communication with one another in order to establish a more fulfilling community together.
Words do things; and what they are capable of doing depends on our capacity to imagine an enriching life for ourselves and our ability to put that shared vision into words.
An education in the liberal arts is schooling in the beautiful life.
On Thursday, October 25th, at 4:30 PDT, I will read a paper entitled, Plato and the Politics of Reading at the University of San Francisco. One of the main points of the paper is that reading is fundamentally a collaborative endeavor.
Traditionally, when one delivers a paper in the discipline of philosophy, one simply reads, that is, one “lectures” (from the Latin legere, to read). But it would be ironic to read a paper on the collaborative nature of reading without inviting those listening to become actively engaged in the reading.
So, I intend to invite those attending the lecture and anyone following along on twitter, to join in an ongoing discussion of the lecture during the lecture itself.
The idea is not only to talk about collaborative reading, but to perform it as well.
Now, there are certain influential voices in the discipline who say anyone who tweets a lecture on philosophy should be ejected from the lecture post-haste, so I surmise that my attempt to use twitter to enrich and expand the reach of the philosophical ideas I am presenting will meet with more than a little skepticism, if not dismissive derision. There is, however, at the root of this skepticism the valid concern that a technology like twitter is unable to offer anything more than a truncated, impoverished and fragmented account of the lecture’s content.
Given that the skepticism is not unfounded, let me articulate how I intend to use twitter and, through it, other digital technologies to address each concern in turn.
From Truncated to Extended
Anyone who actually uses twitter knows that its 140-character constraint forces each tweet to extend somehow beyond itself. This occurs most effectively by means of shortened links to more substantive resources.
In order to point my listeners to those resources, I have set up the Keynote presentation I will use during the reading of my paper to tweet for me. For those of you interested in how, precisely, one might do that, take a look at this video:
So, during the lecture, I will have populated certain Keynote slides with tweets that will extend the discussion in at least three ways:
- I will post phrases and formulations I think are important for the listeners in the room and beyond to reflect upon and remember. This will allow them to favorite the tweets to return to them later or to retweet them in order extend the discussion to their followers.
- I will link to references to important secondary sources to which I appeal during the lecture so listeners can follow up on specific passages I discuss in more detail.
- I will tweet links to my own published work on the nature of Socratic and Platonic politics, so listeners can deepen their understanding of the wider project into which this lecture fits.
From Impoverished to Enriched
Anyone who actually uses twitter recognizes that its power comes not from what one pushes out, but from what one receives. This is felt most palpably when one invites those with whom one tweets to share the wisdom they bring to the issue under discussion.
To facilitate this sort of sharing, I will explicitly invite those present at the lecture to actively tweet during the lecture itself. The hope is that the questions and suggestions posted will cultivate a vibrant back-channel discussion that will add insight and value to the reading itself. At the end of the lecture, questions and ideas raised on the back-channel can be brought into the discussion and other voices from outside the room can be integrated into the discussion we have there. As an author, I hope to encourage robust and lively engagement with the ideas I present in the lecture so that I too might learn something in the process that I can, in turn, integrate into my ongoing scholarship.
From Fragmented to Integrated
Anyone who actually uses twitter knows that the deployment of hashtags is the best way to mitigate against the fragmentary nature of a conversation on twitter.
In order to curate the tweets related to the lecture, I will append the hashtag #bacpa (one of the sponsors of the talk is the Bay Area Continental Philosophy Association) to my tweets and invite others to use that hashtag as well. To further integrate the tweets related to the lecture, I will curate them using Storify.
This will allow me to add other digital artifacts related to the lecture and to weave a story around the tweets I receive from those participating. This will afford me the opportunity, after the lecture, to consider in a more reflective way the things others have added to the lecture.
The Storify story will be embedded into the blog post on my Digital Vita I will have written outlining the basic argument of the lecture, a post that will, I hope, be a platform for further discussion.
To that end, I would like to invite anyone who has been interested enough in this endeavor to read to this point to join the lecture on twitter (following me @cplong or the #bacpa hashtag) or to come in person on Thursday, October 25th, 2012 at 4:30 PDT in MC 252 on the campus of the University of San Francisco.
Here is the Storify:
University budgeting and strategic planning was the focus of the final Academic Leadership Program (ALP) sponsored by the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) held at Penn State, April 12-14, 2012. No two topics have more impact on the life and direction of an institution than these.
In reflecting on this final ALP seminar (the other two were at Indiana University and the University of Chicago), I began to imagine what it might look like for Penn State to pursue a bold strategic vision of the new public research university in the 21st century. The vision would need to be grounded in the history of Penn State as a public institution, even if it would likely involve greatly diminished support from a Commonwealth intent on systematically starving the University of the resources that first made it possible over a century and a half ago.
At the center of the vision would be an unwavering commitment to the excellences of rigorous public research. The rigor would be rooted in a curriculum designed to cultivate in each student, undergraduate and graduate alike, a sense for the transformative power of inquiry and the imaginative intellectual abilities to discover new knowledge. The university would be “public” less because it receives public funding, and more because it is oriented toward public concerns and intent on pursuing the public good. Its research endeavor would be integrated into undergraduate and graduate teaching at all levels of the university. The historical commitment to ensuring that education remains accessible would be pursued on a global scale through the reach of the World Campus, and new technologies would be used to create new opportunities for innovative collaborative research and teaching. The new public research university would be smaller, more nimble, bolder and unwaveringly focused on initiatives that strengthen its core mission to pursue rigorous public research.
In her address to the Committee on Institutional Cooperation‘s Academic Leadership Program at the University of Chicago last Thursday, Martha Nussbaum offered a compelling defense of a liberal arts education. She advocated for an education for democracy in the face of increased global emphasis on education for economic growth.
In the United States and around the world education policy has come to be driven by a concern more for economic growth than for a flourishing democracy. One need only look as far as the 2006 Spellings Report (pdf) to see this trend at work:
“America’s national capacity of excellence, innovation and leadership in higher education will be central to our ability to sustain economic growth and social cohesiveness. Our colleges and universities will be a key source of the human and intellectual capital needed to increase workforce productivity and growth.” (Spellings, 7)
Nussbaum sought instead to articulate a set of educational virtues for democracy around which our institutions of higher education should mobilize. The three on which she focused were:
- Socratic self-criticism: the ability to argue coherently, to criticize thoughtfully and to hold one another accountable for the implications of our political policies and beliefs;
- Becoming a citizen of the world: the ability to understand and converse about global problems, the recognition that we are part of a global community;
- Narrative imagination: the ability to “read” the stories of others, to recognize that everyone has a internal life and a set of motivations that determines the way they relate to others.
These three virtues, decisive for the long term well-being of democracy, are cultivated largely through the traditional liberal arts curriculum which is increasingly under attack by those pressing for a more focused, narrower, professional education oriented toward economic growth.
As the Academic Leadership program at the University of Chicago unfolded, the tension between an education for democracy and an education for economic growth came more fully into focus. When we turned our attention to the research mission of the University, it seemed that the economic argument for research came to eclipse the concern for the virtues of democracy for which Nussbaum advocated.
Joseph Walsh, Vice President for Research at Northwestern University, began his presentation by emphasizing the educational mission of research, suggesting that in the classroom, we teach our students, but with research, we teach the wider world. However, he focused most of his comments on those research discoveries at Northwestern that had the most palpable impact on the economy, reminding us that four-fifths of all economic growth comes from technological development, and that much of that development happens at research universities. In this context, he outlined the argument he offers to the politicians in Washington whose funding support research universities seek: economic growth is driven by the research done at our best research universities; funding research increases employment opportunities. It is all about “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
As we returned from Chicago, I found myself reflecting on this tension between education for democracy and education for economic growth. Then, we were lucky enough to miss our connection from Dulles to State College. I say ‘lucky’ here, because the long drive from Dulles offered a number of us the opportunity to talk further about our experience at the University of Chicago. Driving through rural Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, we began to focus our attention on what a major land-grant research university has to offer students educationally that they can’t get from smaller, private liberal arts colleges. We kept coming back to the research mission of the university.We began to consider ways to integrate the research enterprise more tightly into the undergraduate experience at Penn State. Students need to be exposed to the passion for discovery that animates all great research endeavors. They need more opportunities to work closely with our research professors so that they might feel the power and excitement of research as an educational endeavor. To accomplish this on a grand scale at Penn State would likely require substantive changes to the general education curriculum and other significant financial resources, but I am convinced that if we are able to integrate the research enterprise more deeply into the undergraduate experience, we will have begun to cultivate in our students the very virtues Nussbaum suggests are critical for a flourishing democracy. Students engaged with research will learn self-criticism, the concerns of a global community and narrative imagination as they come to experience precisely these abilities at work in our most excellent academic researchers.
Following such a path at Penn State would, I imagine, illustrate the extent to which economic growth is not so much a goal of research, but an important, albeit secondary, outgrowth of an education rooted in traditional liberal arts virtues infused with a deep engagement with the research enterprise. Perhaps an education for democracy can also be an education for economic growth–the history of the American land-grant system of higher education seems to suggest that this is precisely the case. Perhaps the best way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act is to redouble our efforts to combine rigorous research with the long standing virtues of an education in the liberal arts.
Sometimes without looking, one finds a paradigm – an example that can serve as a model.
Last week I visited Indiana University as a one of Penn State’s Academic Leadership Fellows in the Academic Leadership Program of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (Big 10 Academic Alliance).
I went expecting to hear administrators from across the Big Ten speak about best administrative practices and about the role of the public research university in the 21st century. Although I received what I expected in that sense, I did not anticipate encountering a figure who embodied some of my own most deeply held educational convictions: Herman B. Wells.
Wells, who died in 2000, was the 11th president of Indiana University. Born in 1902, he was the youngest state university president at the age of 36, in 1937. While there are many important contributions Wells made to the educational mission of Indiana University, I would like to focus here on three, each of which embodies one of the themes that became important to me during the seminar at Indiana University entitled The Evolving University.
In 1958, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation was established by the presidents of the Big Ten Conference. Herman B Wells was one of its founding members and lasting champions. As I listened to former president of Michigan University, James Duderstadt, speak at Indiana about the importance of increased collaboration between public universities in the 21st century, the foresight of Wells and his generation of presidents came into focus.
Duderstadt described a 21st century world that does not respect traditional boundaries between regions and geopolitical borders. He spoke about the need for more collaboration between universities and the hope that we might reduce the zero sum attitude that establishes intensely competitive relationships between us and places us in extremely predatory environments with one another. The vision of cooperation Wells laid out and helped put into practice, places the CIC universities in a strong position to cultivate yet more cooperative relationships given the 50 year history of collaboration and interaction on which we can draw.
Wells was well known as an advocate for student self-governance, for a desegregated university and for academic freedom. He worked tirelessly and unobtrusively to end racial segregation in the dining halls and on campus housing; he protected Alfred Kinsey’s controversial and ground breaking research on human sexuality, and he worked to preserve the woods on campus. These are all elements of what I would call his highly cultivated ethical imagination: the ability to imagine one’s way into the position of each individual other. Wells held office hours for students, and they came to talk with him about their individual experiences. He signed each individual diploma himself, over 62,000 of them, because he wanted “a sense of direct identification with each graduate.”
This capacity for ethical imagination serves as a model for what is possible when administrative service is able to make decisions for the mission of the university by attending carefully and with care to each individual member of the community.
In her remarks, Provost Karen Hanson spoke of the suspicions faculty have about administrators. She traced that suspicion to the late ’60’s and early ’70s when the institutional authority of universities were called into question. She then spoke about the qualities of a good administrator: the ability to disagree without being retributive, the need to be open and patient, circumspection. She also reminded us that the word “administer” derives from the Latin, “ministrare“, which means “to serve”.
I left Indiana with a much deeper appreciation of the nature of administration as a way of serving.
Wells put it this way: “Remind yourself daily that general administration must be the servant, never the master, of the academic community. It is not an end unto itself and exists only to further the academic enterprise.”
And as we left Indiana, the news about the Sandusky indictment broke, and we returned to a Penn State transformed. In the week since, the nature of administration as service and the need for ethical imagination and cooperation have taken on a deeper and more urgent meaning.
It is widely recognized among educators that student engagement is a key to academic success. Disengaged students erode the social dynamics in the classroom, have a negative impact on their peers and drop out at a high rates. Thus, it is no surprise that the desire to move students from a disengaged attitude to one of engagement has become a major goal of our pedagogical practices.
Of course, student engagement has many meanings. Engagement might be measured by certain behaviors, as when students write effectively and with nuance; it might be felt in certain emotions, as when students express excitement about the ideas they encounter; or it might be understood by way of certain cognitive activities, as when students demonstrate an ability to analyze and synthesize in sophisticated ways. 1
Yet, despite its many dimensions, engagement itself seems too impoverished a pedagogical ideal. We ought to aspire to something more for our students and ourselves.
Let us move from the ideal of engagement toward that of genuine cooperation.
Strange as it sounds, focus on engagement remains too student centered. Its primary emphasis is on changing the habits, behaviors and attitudes of students, and often fails to consider those habits, behaviors and attitudes of faculty that close off the possibility of cooperative education.
Cooperative education takes seriously the social and reciprocal nature of teaching and learning. It recognizes that students, both individually and in the aggregate, have something to teach even as they have much to learn. It empowers teachers to relinquish authoritarian control, and encourages them to weave their expertise into the community of learning that emerges dynamically in the courses they teach.
Cooperative education understands that the teacher-student relationship is reciprocal, even if it is also asymmetrical. It is reciprocal insofar as students teach and teachers learn, but asymmetrical insofar as the teacher retains a certain privilege as one who has learned and thus has earned a certain expertise.
Cooperative education does not seek to elide this asymmetry, but rather, to invite teachers to carefully consider how their authority operates in the delicate ecologies of learning in which they participate. How we as teachers respond to this invitation is critical; for our authority is operative in everything we do. It can be used to close off discussion and shut down debate, or it can open students and, on our better days, ourselves, to new connections, richer and deeper insights and surprising discoveries.
Cooperative education, then, must cultivate certain excellences in those faculty and students committed to it. It will need to teach and learn openness, comfort with ambiguity, generosity and equity. It will need to affirm the value of difference, embrace diversity and seek common ground. It will need to be animated by mutual respect for the experience of students and for the wisdom of teachers. It will need to empower students to take ownership of their education and faculty to move from imposition to collaboration.
Cultivating these excellences is no easy task, but they can be learned, if they are practiced.
The American philosopher (who was also a Dean at Columbia University), Frederick Woodbridge, has articulated the sense of cooperation that informs this vision of education:
“There is cooperation in the pursuit of knowledge, an interchange of discoveries, opinions, and results, a communication which would put agreement in the place of disagreement. We are not left each to his own devices, but employ the aid of others.” 2
For Woodbridge, this sort of cooperation is rooted ultimately in the human ability to work together with Nature in such a way that we are able to respond in meaningful ways to the world we encounter. The pedagogical significance of this robust naturalism is that we humans are deeply cooperative beings who naturally learn by working with one another in order to come to a deeper understanding of the world in which we live, together.