Questions on online ed

A few questions for those of you more familiar with the landscape in online education:

  1. In your view, is the current state of video conferencing technology adequate to simulate a lively, seminar-style discussion session?
  2. Do you know if any schools have tried to offer such a thing, as either a substitute for or supplement to “traditional” online pedagogical methods?
  3. Do you believe that there would be a significant market for such an approach? (I ask this particularly in light of the fact that the necessarily synchronous nature of such class sessions might cut down on one of the primary appeals of online ed, namely its flexibility.)

Counting the cost on technology

Rebecca Solnit has a diary in a recent LRB in which she reflects on the shift in the texture of time that has taken place since the mid-90s. It would be easy to read this piece and start debating some of the generalizations she makes, though I think she steers clear of Luddite cliches. Yet for me the most salient point is that no one actively decided that our new technological era was desirable or beneficial. Or to be more precise: we all just rushed to adopt new technologies basically because they were new technologies, because they sounded cool.

I have long shared Solnit’s view on the destruction wrought by cell phones. Read the rest of this entry »

AUFS and “digital humanities”

How big a stretch would it be to say that we here at AUFS are “digital humanists”?

Calendrical Questions

My method for keeping track of appointments is appallingly primitive — I have a desk calendar in my office at home, and I just write everything on that. In terms of getting all the appropriate information onto the calendar, this actually works better than one would think, given that most appointments are made via e-mail. (In the last resort, I’ll e-mail myself to remind me to write down said appointment when I get home.) Yet the system has one glaring hole: I can only refer to it when I’m at home. It also seems likely that I’m only going to get more busy over time, and so it makes sense to form new habits now when things are relatively calm.

How do you, my readers, keep track of such things? I’ve considered using Google Calendar, which would be convenient given that Shimer uses Google for their e-mail, etc. I’m also due for a phone upgrade this summer, at which point I could get an Android phone so that it would all integrate, preferably without seams. (I’ve also hypothesized that I could put my files in which I take notes on students on Google Docs and have instant access to that, because I’ve noticed that I have a hard time remembering paper topics, etc., to write down once I get back to my office.)

A theory on “digital natives”

One often hears that today’s young people find computers and the internet to be totally natural and easy to use — i.e., that they are “digital natives.” I’m going to say that that’s false, at least of college students.

Some pieces of anecdotal evidence:

  • Getting college students to check their e-mail regularly is often a challenge.
  • College students frequently display a lack of understanding of how basic computer programs work (using manual headings in a word processor, creating manual footnotes, etc.).
  • College students only rarely take advantage of Google or Wikipedia to answer small factual questions for themselves. (If they do look something up, they make a point of mentioning that they have done so, indicating that it’s not taken for granted.)
  • Supplemental online discussions (i.e., within course-management software) are generally no better than in-class discussions.
  • If students give presentations requiring the use of computers, snafus generally abound, even for simple tasks such as opening files.

In short, I’m inclined to suspect that young people do not have a special aptitude or bond with computers and, therefore, that any educational strategy that relies heavily on computer technology is not making education automatically richer or more “relevant” — indeed, for many students, it’s adding an obstacle or impediment to learning.

Technology for the sake of it: With negative remarks about Apple’s new education initiative

I hope it’s okay to say now that Steve Jobs has left us, but it seems like Apple’s education initiative is wrong-headed for all the reasons Kieran Healy cites. It’d be great if Apple could create an “actually good” version of course-management software, but as Kieran says, their idea of interactive textbooks seems like a rehash of Microsoft Encarta.

This leads me to a curmudgeonly observation: it seems to me that we often rush into new technology because it seems new and cool, without really thinking about what works best. Perhaps the Amish have the right idea, though their openness to new technology is probably a little too limited. Take the printed book, for example. Read the rest of this entry »

Kickstarter: A scam?

Gerry Canavan points toward an account of why Kickstarter is a scam. As someone who has long suspected that Chicago’s great start-up, Groupon, may actually be a conscious scam to defraud investors — and I’m so dedicated to this view that I actually read a good chunk of their IPO prospectus — I was of course pleased to see yet another “cool” web service taken down.

The basic point is that Kickstarter amounts to a hugely expensive web-hosting service, which makes its money by skimming a percentage off the financial transactions it intermediates. Yet this is supposed to be okay, because they’re cool people:

People who think outside the box, creative types who don’t want to be told what to do, trailblazers and mavericks with new ideas. They’re rethinking everything, breaking down barriers, and bringing their fresh, youthful flair to overturn staid, conventional, old-fashioned paradigms. These people support lcoal artists, local musicians, local bakeries, local apps and locavorism; social enterprises, organic food, micro-breweries, open source software, peer-to-peer production, collaborative consumption, volunteering, making the world a better place, community-supported agriculture; simplicity, minimalism, spiritual but not religious, being a maker, not just a consumer; digital nomadism, owning less and experiencing more; being your own boss, being passionate, being connected, being involved; DIY and knowing exactly who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning.

Surely we’re all willing to pay a coolness premium.

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