Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Which an Administrator Bloviates

So I'm starting at a new institution this semester. And in general, I'm happy to be there. After all, I have a job as an instructor in my field. That alone is a coup, these days. No, the pay is not good. No, the students are not really very intelligent (so I hear). And no, my new place of employment is not what you'd call "cosmopolitan." I'm okay with all those things.

It's the fucking administrators I can't fucking stand.

Tonight there was an "orientation" for new faculty, which involved some training sessions on how the school handles certain attendance and grade procedures (informative, useful), some stuff from the police department on where to go if there's a tornado or a fire and what to do if there's a gunman loose on campus (informative, useful, mildly frightening), and break-out sessions with our division heads to go over issues specific to our disciplines (informative, useful, mildly entertaining). They even fed us.

But I suspect the food was a lure, much as it is with rodents. And the swinging metal bar that, unmercifully, did not deliver us to the sweet embrace of death was the disjointed and frankly alarming babbling of our dean. This guy has been with the school for maybe five years. He started in Financial Aid. He's never set foot in a classroom. And he's trying to get us all to buy iPads.

I didn't catch all the details, even though he mentioned the program six (!!) times through the course of the meeting. Apparently all faculty can get an iPad through the school. Which was recently given a Technology Partner award by Apple. I wonder if he has a quota to meet?

Of course, the iPad obsession was just a part of a more sweeping vision of the "mobilized classroom," as he called it. Half an hour, I swear to god, was spent demonstrating various apps he just thought were neat, and repeatedly emphasizing how "today's students" are "tech savvy" and "plugged in." He had no substantive suggestions for how we might use any of this whiz-bang tech to actually teach anyone anything, but I'm pretty sure he never saw that as a problem. He was just fascinated by the shininess of it all, as if the fact that it was new and nifty automatically made it useful to us as teachers, somehow.

I'm slamming this one guy particularly, but the other admins were no better. Every single one rattled on about "embracing technology" and "interfacing with students in an idiom they're familiar with." Content-free buzzwords were thrown around. Week-long "educational technology training" sessions were advertised. iPads were offered, naturally.

Now, I'm sure there are fields where this stuff could be useful. But, seriously, some of you may have figured out what my field is when I use the pathetically-weak pseudonym of "hamsterosophy" to refer to it, and talk about having discussed ethical issues or material implication. You know how I interface with my students? I assign readings, and we talk about them. Jumping Socrates, people. Will showing these kids a picture of the bust of Plato suddenly give them understanding of the Euthyphro? Will zapping the problems directly to the students' mobile devices rather than just writing them on the board help them with predicate logic? Will playing a YouTube video of Monty Python's "Philosophers' Football" give them a better grasp on German idealism? Even if not, the last one is still worth watching, but you get my point.

I don't want to sound like an old fart, but I am deeply suspicious of using technology just for the sake of using technology so I can... I don't know, look "technological." Maybe it has uses for content delivery. Fine. But the point is to teach them how to interact with the content - how to think about it. Not how to blog it or tweet it or do some other godawful 21st century thing to it. That's just abstract busy-ness. It's not learning.


  1. I'd like to see that dean interface with an idiom.

    1. The offspring of parents who are idiots and dumb?

  2. I liked computers better when they were still indispensable tools of the sciences and engineering, and not much else. Drugs were better when they were something that blues musicians did. Since hitting the mass market, both have become burdensome bummers, and create their own demand, much like lawyers do.

  3. Our wonderful NSWBSLAC (non-S wanna-be LAC) has a Center for Technology and Curricular Innovation. Like the two are inseparable.

  4. Our campus got a grant last year to buy ipads for faculty only (very small campus in a very big system, fewer than 20 full-time tenured or TT faculty) for some of the reasons your Dean babbles about. Productivity, efficiency, etc. etc.

    I use mine for email while waiting to pick up my spawn from school. And I found an app for grading for our LMS (which the update promptly made worse than useless, just before final essays in May). It has made shifting to paperless grading a breeze. I take pictures of the whiteboard after we have had a really good, free-wheeling discussion of the material, so that I can remember what we talked about (because I don't lecture out of a can, most days). That's pretty much it for work-related use. And to an extent, I am somewhat more productive. I can answer emails in my kitchen at 4:30 rather than sitting in my office listening to the crickets.

    I have friends who are fully on board with the Digital Humanities--having their students blog, and write Wikis, etc. I can see how it might be useful. The problem is, that when I run a google search for something, a lot of what comes up is...student blogs about what I am searching for...and the blogs...they are...painful to read. Often with missing or incorrect information. I assume that someone is grading them (on an ipad?) but they're out there, uncorrected. It's a bit scary, really, and has basically added a layer of caution I have to teach my students about internet research.

    Technology is a tool. In the right hands, with the right training, it can be transformative. But mostly it's a distraction, especially for our students. Could I live without the ipad? You betcha.

  5. Indeed, my online humanities class has a big discussion component, and the vast, absolutely astronomical extent of the stupidity the students display there each week makes me want to weep and vomit. I don't really get how writing a blog or wiki is any different from an essay, other than the format in which it appears. Though blog/wiki formats tend to imply less formality than other forms of writing, and a more casual approach to their writing and thinking is emphatically NOT what my students need, no matter how fucking "engaging" they find it.

  6. ' I am deeply suspicious of using technology just for the sake of using technology so I can... I don't know, look "technological." '

    Thank you for this. And the rest.

  7. Sure he was a whack-job, but sometimes Nietzsche got it right: "For philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all: to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow - it is a goldsmith's art and connoisseurship of the WORD which has nothing but delicate, cautious work to do and achieves nothing if it does not achieve it lento. But precisely for this reason it is more necessary than ever today, by precisely this means does it entice and enchant us the most, in the midst of an age of 'work', that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to 'get everything done' at once, including every old or new book:- this art does not so easily get anything done, it teaches to read WELL, that is to say, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers..."