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Ed Webb

The academy's neoliberal response to COVID-19: Why faculty should be wary and... - 1 views

  • In the neoliberal economy, workers are seen as commodities and are expected to be trained and “work-ready” before they are hired. The cost and responsibility for job-training fall predominantly on individual workers rather than on employers. This is evident in the expectation that work experience should be a condition of hiring. This is true of the academic hiring process, which no longer involves hiring those who show promise in their field and can be apprenticed on the tenure track, but rather those with the means, privilege, and grit to assemble a tenurable CV on their own dime and arrive to the tenure track work-ready.
  • The assumption that faculty are pre-trained, or able to train themselves without additional time and support, underpins university directives that faculty move classes online without investing in training to support faculty in this shift. For context, at the University of Waterloo, the normal supports for developing an online course include one to two course releases, 12-18 months of preparation time, and the help of three staff members—one of whom is an online learning consultant, and each of whom supports only about two other courses. Instead, at universities across Canada, the move online under COVID-19 is not called “online teaching” but “remote teaching”, which universities seem to think absolves them of the responsibility to give faculty sufficient technological training, pedagogical consultation, and preparation time.
  • faculty are encouraged to strip away the transformative pedagogical work that has long been part of their profession and to merely administer a course or deliver course material
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  • remote teaching directives are rooted in the assumption that faculty are equally positioned to carry them out
  • The dual delivery model—in which some students in a course come to class and others work remotely using pre-recorded or other asynchronous course material—is already part of a number of university plans for the fall, even though it requires vastly more work than either in-person or remote courses alone. The failure to accommodate faculty who are not well positioned to transform their courses from in-person to remote teaching—or some combination of the two— will actively exacerbate existing inequalities, marking a step backward for equity.
  • Neoliberal democracy is characterized by competitive individualism and centres on the individual advocacy of ostensibly equal citizens through their vote with no common social or political goals. By extension, group identity and collective advocacy are delegitimized as undemocratic attempts to gain more of a say than those involved would otherwise have as individuals.
  • Portraying people as atomized individuals allows social problems to be framed as individual failures
  • faculty are increasingly encouraged to see themselves as competitors who must maintain a constant level of productivity and act as entrepreneurs to sell ideas to potential investors in the form of external funding agencies or private commercial interests. Rather than freedom of enquiry, faculty research is increasingly monitored through performance metrics. Academic governance is being replaced by corporate governance models while faculty and faculty associations are no longer being respected for the integral role they play in the governance process, but are instead considered to be a stakeholder akin to alumni associations or capital investors.
  • treats structural and pedagogical barriers as minor individual technical or administrative problems that the instructor can overcome simply by watching more Zoom webinars and practising better self-care.
  • In neoliberal thought, education is merely pursued by individuals who want to invest in skills and credentials that will increase their value in the labour market.
  • A guiding principle of neoliberal thought is that citizens should interact as formal equals, without regard for the substantive inequalities between us. This formal equality makes it difficult to articulate needs that arise from historical injustices, for instance, as marginalized groups are seen merely as stakeholders with views equally valuable to those of other stakeholders. In the neoliberal university, this notion of formal equality can be seen, among other things, in the use of standards and assessments, such as teaching evaluations, that have been shown to be biased against instructors from marginalized groups, and in the disproportionate amount of care and service work that falls to these faculty members.
  • Instead of discussing better Zoom learning techniques, we should collectively ask what teaching in the COVID-19 era would look like if universities valued education and research as essential public goods.
  • while there are still some advocates for the democratic potential of online teaching, there are strong criticisms that pedagogies rooted in well-established understandings of education as a collective, immersive, and empowering experience, through which students learn how to deliberate, collaborate, and interrogate established norms, cannot simply be transferred online
  • Humans learn through narrative, context, empathy, debate, and shared experiences. We are able to open ourselves up enough to ask difficult questions and allow ourselves to be challenged only when we are able to see the humanity in others and when our own humanity is recognized by others. This kind of active learning (as opposed to the passive reception of information) requires the trust, collectivity, and understanding of divergent experiences built through regular synchronous meetings in a shared physical space. This is hindered when classroom interaction is mediated through disembodied video images and temporally delayed chat functions.
  • When teaching is reduced to content delivery, faculty become interchangeable, which raises additional questions about academic freedom. Suggestions have already been made that the workload problem brought on by remote teaching would be mitigated if faculty simply taught existing online courses designed by others. It does not take complex modelling to imagine a new normal in which an undergraduate degree consists solely of downloading and memorizing cookie-cutter course material uploaded by people with no expertise in the area who are administering ten other courses simultaneously. 
  • when teaching is reduced to content delivery, intellectual property takes on additional importance. It is illegal to record and distribute lectures or other course material without the instructor’s permission, but universities seem reluctant to confirm that they will not have the right to use the content faculty post online. For instance, if a contract faculty member spends countless hours designing a remote course for the summer semester and then is laid off in the fall, can the university still use their recorded lectures and other material in the fall? Can the university use this recorded lecture material to continue teaching these courses if faculty are on strike (as happened in the UK in 2018)? What precedents are being set? 
  • Students’ exposure to a range of rigorous thought is also endangered, since it is much easier for students to record and distribute course content when faculty post it online. Some websites are already using the move to remote teaching as an opportunity to urge students to call out and shame faculty they deem to be “liberal” or “left” by reposting their course material. To avoid this, faculty are likely to self-censor, choosing material they feel is safer. Course material will become more generic, which will diminish the quality of students’ education.
  • In neoliberal thought, the public sphere is severely diminished, and the role of the university in the public sphere—and as a public sphere unto itself—is treated as unnecessary. The principle that enquiry and debate are public goods in and of themselves, regardless of their outcome or impact, is devalued, as is the notion that a society’s self-knowledge and self-criticism are crucial to democracy, societal improvement, and the pursuit of the good life. Expert opinion is devalued, and research is desirable only when it translates into gains for the private sector, essentially treating universities as vehicles to channel public funding into private research and development. 
  • The free and broad pursuit—and critique—of knowledge is arguably even more important in times of crisis and rapid social change.
  • Policies that advance neoliberal ideals have long been justified—and opposition to them discredited—using Margaret Thatcher’s famous line that “there is no alternative.” This notion is reproduced in universities framing their responses to COVID-19 as a fait accompli—the inevitable result of unfortunate circumstances. Yet the neoliberal assumptions that underpin these responses illustrate that choices are being made and force us to ask whether the emergency we face necessitates this exact response.
  • The notion that faculty can simply move their courses online—or teach them simultaneously online and in person—is rooted in the assumption that educating involves merely delivering information to students, which can be done just as easily online as it can be in person. There are many well-developed online courses, yet all but the most ardent enthusiasts concede that the format works better for some subjects and some students
  • Emergencies matter. Far from occasions that justify suspending our principles, the way that we handle the extra-ordinary, the unexpected, sends a message about what we truly value. While COVID-19 may seem exceptional, university responses to this crisis are hardly a departure from the neoliberal norm, and university administrations are already making plans to extend online teaching after it dissipates. We must be careful not to send the message that the neoliberal university and the worldview that underpins it are acceptable.
Ed Webb

Why hard work and specialising early is not a recipe for success - The Correspondent - 0 views

  • dispelling nonsense is much harder than spreading nonsense.
  • a worldwide cult of the head start – a fetish for precociousness. The intuitive opinion that dedicated, focused specialists are superior to doubting, daydreaming Jacks-of-all-trades is winning
  • astonishing sacrifices made in the quest for efficiency, specialisation and excellence
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  • Most things that people want to learn do not resemble language, golf or chess, but rather a game in which the generalist has an advantage. A hostile learning environment
  • Seemingly inefficient things are productive: expanding your horizons, giving yourself time, switching professions. 
  • early specialisation is a good idea if you want to become successful in certain fields, sports or professions. In fact, in some cases, it’s the only option. Take chess, for example: if you don’t start early, you won’t stand a chance at glory.
  • learning chess is not a good model for learning other things. Epstein explains this using the work of psychologist Robin Hogarth, who makes the distinction between friendly (kind) and unfriendly or hostile (wicked) learning environments.
  • In a friendly learning environment, such as chess, the rules are clear, the information is complete (all pieces are visible on the board), and you can (ultimately) determine the quality of every move. In other words, the feedback loop
  • friendly learning environments are the exception. The world is not as clear-cut as golf or chess. So early specialisation is often a bad idea. 
  • In hostile learning environments without repetitive patterns, mastery is much harder to achieve. The feedback loop is insidious. Unlike chess, experience does not necessarily make you better. You may stick with the wrong approach because you’re convinced it’s the right one. 
  • The better a teacher scored on their own subject (i.e., the higher the grades their students got in that subject), the more mediocre students’ scores were across the complete programme (all modules). The explanation? Those teachers gave their students rigidly defined education, purely focused on passing exams. The students passed their tests with high marks – and rated their teachers highly in surveys – but would fail later on. 
  • In learning environments without repetitive patterns, where cause and effect are not always clear, early specialisation and spending countless hours does not guarantee success. Quite the opposite, Epstein argues. Generalists have the advantage: they have a wider range of experiences and a greater ability to associate and improvise. (The world has more in common with jazz than classical music, Epstein explains in a chapter on music.)
  • Many modern professions aren’t so much about applying specific solutions than they are about recognising the nature of a problem, and only then coming up with an approach. That becomes possible when you learn to see analogies with other fields, according to psychologist Dedre Gentner, who has made this subject her life’s work.
  • Another advantage generalists and late specialists have is more concrete: you are more likely to pick a suitable study, sport or profession if you first orient yourself broadly before you make a choice.
  • Greater enjoyment of the game is one of the benefits associated with late specialisation, along with fewer injuries and more creativity.
  • which child, teenager or person in their 20s knows what they will be doing for the rest of their lives?
  • Persevering along a chosen path can also lead to other problems: frustrations about failure. If practice makes perfect, why am I not a genius? In a critical review,
  • The tricky thing about generalist long-term thinking versus specialist short-term thinking is that the latter produces faster and more visible results.
  • specialising in short-term success gets in the way of long-term success. This also applies to education.
  • (Another example: the on-going worry about whether or not students’ degree choices are "labour market relevant".)
  • Teachers who taught more broadly – who did not teach students readymade "prescribed lessons” but instilled "principles" – were not rated as highly in their own subject, but had the most sustainable effect on learning. However, this was not reflected in the results. These teachers were awarded – logically but tragically – lower ratings by their students.
  • the 10,000 hour gang has considerable power with their message "quitters never win, winners never quit".Epstein’s more wholesome message seems weak and boring in comparison. Some things are simply not meant for everyone, doubt is understandable and even meaningful, you can give up and change your choice of work, sports or hobby, and an early lead can actually be a structural disadvantage. 
  • "Don’t feel behind." Don’t worry if others seem to be moving faster, harder or better. Winners often quit.
Ed Webb

7 Major Learning Styles and the 1 Big Mistake Everyone Makes - LearnDash - 1 views

  • while the learning style theory—that individual students might have a style that helps them learn better—may be complete bunk, presenting material in a variety of ways does have a lot of merit.
  • just because a person learns one item of information according to a certain style doesn’t mean they can only learn through that style, or that that style is their best learning tool.
  • important not to conflate preferential learning styles with diagnosable learning disabilities. Someone who is dyslexic doesn’t have an aural learning style, they have a reading disorder that hinders them from being able to process textual information rapidly. Similar can be said of learners with visual or auditory impairments. They will need to access your content through a variety of different methods, not because they prefer one style over another, but because they are unable to consume certain kinds of content.
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  • you shouldn’t try to optimize material for one kind of learning style over another, but rather, you should present course materials in a range of learning styles so that all learners can engage with it on multiple fronts.
Ed Webb

Seventy-One Stories About Being Trans in School - 0 views

  • (a) some of the biggest challenges trans students face are infrastructural, both bricks-and-mortar structures (the housing of trans students; bathroom facilities), and digital architecture (course information software, transcripts, diplomas and email databases all routinely misidentify students);(b) an overwhelming majority of students and graduates described the experience of being misgendered and/or deadnamed by their professors as an extremely common experience.
  • I do think there’s real value in hearing stories of what it feels like to be misgendered or deadnamed
  • Anti-trans academics who claim that their rights are being infringed are heard far more frequently in the mainstream media than are the students who are apparently doing the infringing.
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  • academic freedom is a value of deep institutional importance to the independence of the University from entrenched power. Free speech demands no such institutional defense, and is rightly deprioritized when in conflict with other interests such as equity of access to education, or the health and wellbeing of students
  • To listen to trans students and graduates is to be sure that, whatever the British gender critical academics argue, the training of the professoriate on this issue is woefully inadequate
  • Many trans and non-binary students reported challenges finding built environments where they could feel safe at college. “They keep housing me with men,” wrote one trans woman; another trans woman reported that, despite being roomed with “transphobic students,” her administrators “weren’t, in general, willing to cut me a whole lot of slack because I hadn’t legally changed my gender marker.” A trans man reported being “placed on an all-girls floor even though I stated clearly on my housing form that I’m a trans guy.” Another student described the non-accommodation of trans students as an official policy: “my school matches roommate based on assigned sex, and refuses to accommodate trans students.”
  • Many students wrote with great enthusiasm about LGBTQ support centers on campus, which provide trans students with community and guidance. One writes that “younger uni empoyees and employees who were queer or allies were actually pretty great”; another says “the campus LGBT centers at two of the institutions where I experienced […] discrimination were amazing”; another writes that “the gender equality center is really working to help students and we have queer profs and Pride programming.” Another describes the vibe at the LGBTQ center as “quite tumblr but very supportive.” Students reported valuing the opportunity to invite speakers and guests themselves, though some report a wish that more resources for such programming were available.
  • A number of students wrote to express their dismay at the poverty of counselling resources for trans students
  • A large majority of respondents – close to all - explicitly reported experiences with “deadnaming” and “misgendering” by their academic advisors – their professors and mentors. Some of these instances were “deliberate,” “malicious,” “continued,” or “transphobic,” while others were merely “ignorant” or “accidental.” One respondent reported having been taught by two kinds of teacher: “profs who never asked for pronouns and always misgendered me, and profs who asked for pronouns but would still misgender me every time and apologize every time under the guise of ‘trying their best’.”
  • Sometimes being misgendered at a key moment in one’s school career throws students into emotional disarray at an inopportune moment.
  • colleges and universities are failing to establish adequate infrastructure for trans and non-binary students (especially in respect of digital architecture, which perhaps receives less attention than bricks-and-mortar)
  • staff and faculty, far from being the mindwiped drones of the gender critical academics’ fantasy, are mostly pretty incompetent at addressing and discussing trans students
  • I have a responsibility as a teacher to ensure minimum standards of care and equitable access to education for all my trans students, but also that I have a responsibility to push back against those institutional disincentives
Ed Webb

Who Ya Calling a Grader? - CogDogBlog - 5 views

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    Here are some thoughts I told my college students many years ago http://www.textbooksfree.org/2%20B's%20or%20an%20A%20and%20a%20C.htm
Ed Webb

University of Akron offers buy-out to 47 percent of faculty - cleveland.com - 2 views

  • No law school, polymer science, or engineering faculty can take the offer.
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    "No law school, polymer science, or engineering faculty can take the offer."
Martin Burrett

Girls Section - 0 views

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    "How girls in an area of Pakistan are quietly fighting for their right to get an education."
Martin Burrett

Conformity vs Individuality in Education - 1 views

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    "At its inception in the Victorian era, mass education in the UK focused very much on conformity, based on the prevailing 'factory production' mindset on the age. But how much has changed? With top down curricula and a rigid exam system testing the merest fraction of what is actually important, has education really left the production line behind?"
Martin Burrett

Run An Empire - 2 views

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    Looking to keep a fitness resolution this year? Find motivation to get moving and keep fit with this superb location-based strategy game for runners and walkers. Gain virtual coins for being active which you can use to advance your settlement. Locations are not precisely show nor in real time, so you can use it with pupils without safely concerns. If using it for yourself, it can link to Strava to keep you motivated to lace up your running shoes without extra hassle. But don't you come around here and fight me for MY castles!
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