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Ed Webb

Lucy Kellaway: what my students have taught me about race | Financial Times - 1 views

  • By the time I left the FT I had spent the best part of six decades associating almost exclusively with people who had been to top universities and did grandish jobs and were all white. I sometimes felt sheepish about this but never thought it was my fault. I was merely a product of class, generation, education and profession. 
  • this uncomfortable audit began, not with the killing of a black man in Minnesota, but three years earlier, when I started teaching in a school in Hackney. At the age of 58 I was lifted out of a world in which everyone was like me into a world where I was in a minority as a white Brit. My pupils’ families came from all over the place: first-, second- and sometimes third-generation immigrants from Nigeria and Ghana, from the Caribbean, from Turkey and Bangladesh and Vietnam.
  • It wasn’t a question of being “politically correct”. The matter was as simple as this: if I say something that causes offence, then I have to learn to stop saying it. Right away. 
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  • I know my heart is in the right place on race, but I also know my heart is an irrelevant organ when it comes to traversing this minefield. I need instruction. 
  • what things used to be like is an irrelevance to these young women. What matters to them is the present — and their account of it is both important and distressing.
  • In the absence of any better ideas, all I think I can do for now is to listen to my students talking about their world, while continuing to talk to them about mine. I am educating them. And they are educating me.
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

Flip This: Bloom's Taxonomy Should Start with Creating | MindShift - 7 views

  • The pyramid creates the impression that there is a scarcity of creativity — only those who can traverse the bottom levels and reach the summit can be creative. And while this may be how it plays out in many schools, it’s not due to any shortage of creative potential on the part of our students.
  • Here’s what I propose: we flip Bloom’s taxonomy. Rather than starting with knowledge, we start with creating, and eventually discern the knowledge that we need from it.
  • I’ve come to realize that it’s very important for my students to encounter a concept before fully understanding what’s going on. It makes their brain try to fill in the gaps, and the more churn a brain experiences, the more likely it’s going to retain information
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  • I think the best flipped classrooms work because they spend most of their time creating, evaluating and analyzing. In a sense we’re creating the churn, the friction for the brain, rather than solely focusing on acquiring rote knowledge. The flipped classroom approach is not about watching videos. It’s about students being actively involved in their own learning and creating content in the structure that is most meaningful for them.
Ed Webb

Grading and Its Discontents - Do Your Job Better - The Chronicle of Higher Education - 8 views

  • Most students bring with them an unhealthy attitude toward grading that has been instilled in them by parents and schoolteachers, an attitude based on the flawed assumption that grades are supposed to function as "carrots and sticks." Consequently, it's not enough for me to simply convey the mechanics of my grading policy; I must also ensure that students acquire a more accurate conception of grading, one that will enhance—rather than impede—their learning.
  • Since grades have only instrumental value—rather than any intrinsic value—they must be treated as only means to some end, and never as ends in themselves. I tell my students: If your primary goal in college is to receive good grades, you will probably view the required work as an onerous obstacle and you're not likely to feel very motivated to do the work. But you are most likely to receive good grades when you are so focused on learning that grades have ceased to matter.
  • The students seems to be assuming that they already had a full score and that the professor is therefore responsible for taking away some of what rightfully belonged to them. Needless to say, that is a mistaken assumption.
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  • Learning is never directly caused by anything that a professor does. It happens as a result of the student's own activities (reading, thinking, writing, etc.), while the professor can only facilitate that process. Since the responsibility for learning lies with the student, so does the burden of demonstrating that he or she has actually achieved that learning.
  • You are not your grades. I want my students to avoid defining themselves in terms of a grade. I want them to know that grades represent nothing more than someone's assessment of one or more instances of their academic performance. Given the nature of the grading process and the limited purposes for which it is designed, the grades they receive are in no way a reflection of who they are as people or even what they are capable of achieving in the long run.
  • Professors rarely observe their students outside of the classroom or lab, which is why we are in no position to judge how hard or long someone has studied. We can only assess their actual performance. A student using ineffective methods of study would have to work a lot harder and a lot longer than a student who is using effective methods
  • Some students must invest more time and effort than other students in order to receive the same grade. That may seem unjust, I tell students, but it simply mimics the way "real life" functions
  • being told that the entire life plan of a young man or woman depends on what grade I give them does put me in an awkward situation psychologically: I don't wish to be the person who destroys someone's dream, but I also have a strong need for integrity. It would be best for both parties if students simply do not share this kind of information with faculty members.
  • I believe that when students see their grades as pieces of information, rather than as external rewards or punishments, or as mechanisms of control, they are much more likely to discover the joy that is inherent in the very experience of learning.
Ed Webb

The threat to our universities | Books | The Guardian - 0 views

  • It is worth emphasising, in the face of routine dismissals by snobbish commentators, that many of these courses may be intellectually fruitful as well as practical: media studies are often singled out as being the most egregiously valueless, yet there can be few forces in modern societies so obviously in need of more systematic and disinterested understanding than the media themselves
  • Nearly two-thirds of the roughly 130 university-level institutions in Britain today did not exist as universities as recently as 20 years ago.
  • Mass education, vocational training and big science are among the dominant realities, and are here to stay.
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  • it is noticeable, and surely regrettable, how little the public debate about universities in contemporary Britain makes any kind of appeal to this widespread appreciation on the part of ordinary intelligent citizens that there should be places where these kinds of inquiries are being pursued at their highest level. Part of the problem may be that while universities are spectacularly good at producing new forms of understanding, they are not always very good at explaining what they are doing when they do this.
  • talking to audiences outside universities (some of whom may be graduates), I am struck by the level of curiosity about, and enthusiasm for, ideas and the quest for greater understanding, whether in history and literature, or physics and biology, or any number of other fields. Some members of these audiences may not have had the chance to study these things themselves, but they very much want their children to have the opportunity to do so; others may have enjoyed only limited and perhaps not altogether happy experience of higher education in their own lives, but have now in their adulthood discovered a keen amateur reading interest in these subjects; others still may have retired from occupations that largely frustrated their intellectual or aesthetic inclinations and are now hungry for stimulation.
  • the American social critic Thorstein Veblen published a book entitled The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Businessmen, in which he declared: "Ideally, and in the popular apprehension, the university is, as it has always been, a corporation for the cultivation and care of the community's highest aspirations and ideals." Given that Veblen's larger purpose, as indicated by his book's subtitle, involved a vigorous critique of current tendencies in American higher education, the confidence and downrightness of this declaration are striking. And I particularly like his passing insistence that this elevated conception of the university and the "popular apprehension" of it coincide, about which he was surely right.
  • If we are only trustees for our generation of the peculiar cultural achievement that is the university, then those of us whose lives have been shaped by the immeasurable privilege of teaching and working in a university are not entitled to give up on the attempt to make the case for its best purposes and to make that case tell in the public domain, however discouraging the immediate circumstances. After all, no previous generation entirely surrendered this ideal of the university to those fantasists who think they represent the real world. Asking ourselves "What are universities for?" may help remind us, amid distracting circumstances, that we – all of us, inside universities or out – are indeed merely custodians for the present generation of a complex intellectual inheritance which we did not create, and which is not ours to destroy.
  • University economics departments are failing. While science and engineering have developed reliable and informed understanding of the world, so they can advise politicians and others wisely, economics in academia has singularly failed to move beyond flat-Earth insistence that ancient dogma is correct, in the face of resounding evidence that it is not.
  • I studied at a U.K. university for 4 years and much later taught at one for 12 years. My last role was as head of the R&D group of a large company in India. My corporate role confirmed for me the belief that it is quite wrong for companies to expect universities to train the graduates they will hire. Universities are for educating minds (usually young and impressionable, but not necessarily) in ways that companies are totally incapable of. On the other hand, companies are or should be excellent at training people for the specific skills that they require: if they are not, there are plenty of other agencies that will provide such training. I remember many inclusive discussions with some of my university colleagues when they insisted we should provide the kind of targeted education that companies expected, which did not include anything fundamental or theoretical. In contrast, the companies I know of are looking for educated minds capable of adapting to the present and the relatively uncertain future business environment. They have much more to gain from a person whose education includes basic subjects that may not be of practical use today, than in someone trained in, say, word and spreadsheet processing who is unable to work effectively when the nature of business changes. The ideal employee would be one best equipped to participate in making those changes, not one who needs to be trained again in new skills.
  • Individual lecturers may be great but the system is against the few whose primary interest is education and students.
Ed Webb

Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education - 3 views

  • there is little to no attention being paid to giving full-time faculty the training to teach students who have a wide range of capacities when it comes to what counts for normal classroom discipline:  sitting still for an hour and taking notes, being in crowded rooms where they risk being bumped and touched, overcoming obsessive behavior to get to class or hand in a paper on time, working in small groups with other students, or being in large classes with crowds of strangers.  It is also happening in a context in which being full-time faculty is becoming anomalous, and the financial “flexibility” of running higher education on per-course labor makes it unlikely that the vast majority of faculty will be eligible, or open to making unpaid time available, for the training that would make their classrooms accessible to autistic students
  • People with autism, Gilman notes, also tend to have disordered sleep, affecting the capacity to function at high-stress times of the semester when we assume that most students are pulling all-nighters.  They have difficulty relating to someone they are intimate with (much less an impatient, overworked faculty member who wants all students to act like the adults they appear to be), what they are experiencing and what is wrong, which would make even the most generous office hours not useful. So when we are putting together arguments for hiring full-time faculty in the next round of budget cuts and declarations from foundations that tenure is holding us back, think about adding this one in.  The demands on faculty to be well-trained, knowledgeable, creative and flexible teachers are growing — not subsiding — and attention to this will make all the difference in keeping our classrooms truly inclusive
  • colleges and universities don't have the infrastructure to replicate what these students have relied upon in high school
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  • please don't generalize from specific autistic traits to all the students on the spectrum. Our autistic daughter isn't a visual learner, she's a voracious reader. Still, the number of times people have assumed that she learns in a visual or tactile way, in the style of Temple Grandin? Too many to count.
  • a good first step would be to listen to autistic undergraduates themselves and to put the needs they express first instead of responding primarily to the perspective of the neurotypical parents of autistic children. The perspective of autistic undergraduates, which seems to me to be the most important on the subject, is entirely missing from this post
Ed Webb

What teachers really want to tell parents - CNN.com - 12 views

  • if I get an offer to lead a school system of orphans, I will be all over it, but I just can't deal with parents anymore; they are killing us
  • if you really want to help your children be successful, stop making excuses for them
  • it's OK for your child to get in trouble sometimes. It builds character and teaches life lessons. As teachers, we are vexed by those parents who stand in the way of those lessons; we call them helicopter parents because they want to swoop in and save their child every time something goes wrong. If we give a child a 79 on a project, then that is what the child deserves. Don't set up a time to meet with me to negotiate extra credit for an 80. It's a 79, regardless of whether you think it should be a B+
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  • Before you challenge those low grades you feel the teacher has "given" your child, you might need to realize your child "earned" those grades and that the teacher you are complaining about is actually the one that is providing the best education
  • more and more lawyers are accompanying parents for school meetings dealing with their children
  • never talk negatively about a teacher in front of your child. If he knows you don't respect her, he won't either
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