Love is a Drug

It’s a variation on a theme that has developed alongside “quit lit”—the notion that the humanities Ph.D. is a multitool, and it will serve its holder well in any number of nonacademic jobs. The idea that frustrated humanities Ph.D.’s should abandon the broken adjunctification of higher education in favor of the alt-ac path is even picking up institutional steam: The American Historical Association recently received a $1.6 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support its efforts to expand career tracks for history Ph.D.’s.

Encouraging people to think creatively about their career paths is, of course, just fine. And humanities Ph.D.’s can and do find jobs outside of the academy all the time. But we shouldn’t start pretending that that’s what we’ve been training them for all along. Turning a solution that may work for some individuals into a systemic fix isn’t easy—and it’s not necessarily appropriate.

“Alt-Ac Isn’t Always the Answer,” Jacqui Shine.

I suppose it’s a sign of aging or something but I really dislike “Alt-Ac.” It’s one of those ugly instant clichés that obfuscate far more than they reveal. Let’s hope it dies a quick and well deserved death. That said, I think this is a nice piece. My only issue with it is that it– or the writer– seems to have no sense of teaching as a compelling vocation. Perhaps it is simply that she doesn’t want to seem sentimental or soft.

Many of us stick to teaching, not simply because it is what we have trained to do, but because we love it. It’s our great strength as teachers and our great political weakness. The U.S. higher education system works because there are so many of us– the majority– who are willing to fight one difficult uphill battle after the other, again and again, year after year, to pursue what we feel we were born to do.

A New Review of “A Taste for Language”

A growing number of composition theorists (Hooks; Peckham) have noted the relative lack of discussion of social class in our field. James Ray Watkins Jr.’s A Taste for Language: Literacy, Class, and English Studies provides a theory of “middle class” language production for post-WWII education and reformulates a responsible cultural capital in the 21st century world outside the university. Watkins provides a multigenerational family autobiography to construct a revisionist history of composition studies that supports the proposed 21st century forms of cultural capital. To his credit, Watkins also provides a pedagogy to achieve this new cultural capital, although his “writing in the wild” pedagogy may not be as groundbreaking as a theory pressing for new cultural capital would demand. That said, A Taste for Language is a welcome addition to the discussions of social class in composition and the future of English and composition studies.

Book Review: Watkins’ A Taste for Language,” Liberty Kohn, 2014

It’s a nice review, positive but not fawning or anything, and I think his criticisms make a certain amount of sense. It’s worth reading in full.

Stop Making Sense

One widely quoted dropout figure for students in massive open online courses is 90 percent. The number would be staggeringly high for a traditional class and has been used to cast doubt on the promise of MOOCs.
The number is simple to come up with: take the number of users who register for a course and compare it to the number still participating at the end. But is it fair?

Some researchers say MOOC dropout figures being bandied about do little to describe why hundreds of thousands of people across the world are signing up for MOOCs in the first place. All but a few of the courses offered by MOOC providers are free and don’t earn students any college credit. There are also no enforced prerequisites as there are for normal college courses.

That’s why it may not make sense to compare the number who register to the number who finish. The widely cited numbers may be “largely missing the point,” said Andrew Ho, a Harvard University assistant professor of education who is involved in some MOOC-related research.

Measuring the MOOC Dropout Rate,” Ry Rivard

I suppose that MOOC hyperbole has a predictable half-life; after a certain amount of time, the claims decay down to the point where we might consider them realistic. The first MOOC claims were rooted in the huge numbers of students signing up for them, a set of numbers used to sell the idea of the MOOC to an increasing number of schools. It was instant karma at work, a quick fix that must have made these schools feel both generous and modern.

I think there might be real research potential in these courses, simply because their sheer size and the resources behind them allow for some interesting experiments and for large-scale data collection. Or, rather, they could facilitate this sort of research if they were able to keep more than 10% of their students in the classroom for the duration of the class. If they cannot, well, MOOC’s may turn out to more (expensive) fad than intellectual meme.

Topsy Turvy Teaching

New data from a long-term study by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College suggest that some of the students most often targeted in online learning’s access mission are less likely than their peers to benefit from — and may in fact be hurt by — digital as opposed to face-to-face instruction.

Who Benefits From Online Ed?” Doug Lederman

One of the first things I learned about college is that the academic pecking order is upside down. It’s especially dramatic in an English department, where the students who need the most work and help– the college freshman– tend to get the lowest paid teachers, that is, adjuncts and graduate students. The students who need the least help– junior and senior English majors– get the best paid, most experienced tenured professors.

Traditionally, English professors (each a literary specialist) taught freshman, if they did at all, only as a part of a kind of hazing ritual. Once you earned tenure you got the small classes with the (self-selected, experienced) best students. This has changed as Rhetoric and Composition nears a kind of numerical equality with Literary Studies. The more Rhetoric and Composition matures, however, the further it seems to go from those freshman.

Online education has tended to duplicate these patterns in curious ways, by focusing on those very students who seem least likely to do well in an online setting. Here, as elsewhere in academia, those students who most need the sorts of help you can only get in the traditional classroom– and in small classes– seem to be the main target audience for online education. And online education has even fewer full-time tenured professors.