Teaching for and in the 21st Century

I set out to write a blog post about Seth Godin’s Tedx Talk: Stop Stealing Dreams. Truthfully, I don’t have it in me. I grow so weary of the hegemonic idea that Silicon Valley, tech entrepreneurs, coding, Raspberry Pi, etc. are going to save us all. Let’s get rid of teachers and replace them with online lectures. Let’s stop memorizing things and let our computers think for us. Let’s all be rugged individuals who innovate alone at a terminal. We’re all supposed to “think different” but only within the narrow confines of neoliberal capitalism.

I’m tired of it and I don’t have the strength at the moment to write a full critique. So instead I want to write about what I think education ought to look like in the 21st century. The most valuable thing Godin asks is: What is school for?

School is for exploring ideas.

School is for learning how to think critically.

School is for teaching children how to build communities.

School is for teaching students how to recognize illegitimate structures of power and domination. And for developing the tools to dismantle these structures.

This sort of education can happen in any field, any discipline and any setting. There are no discreet spheres of life. Politics, economics, science, family, etc. all are interwoven strands of individual and collective life.

School, then, is for teaching and learning how we can more fully build solidarities, technologies, and organizations that open up spaces for human flourishing.

New Technologies are Scary(?)

Is Google Making Us Stupid? Are rock albums evil? Do comic books lead to truancy? Who knows? Perhaps, who cares? I take seriously the historical point that Jason Farman makes that new technologies, media, etc. have often caused alarm and likely flurries of whatever the historical equivalent to a “think-piece” is. It’s an interesting question whether new forms of communication, research, interaction and so forth facilitated through digital technologies change how we think.

But, it’s also one I’m not too concerned about. Though I have noticed on the rare occasion that I drive I rely heavily on GPS in a way I didn’t before, I find I can’t get too worked up about the dangers of the internet on attention. I do worry about the disconnection of people from each other and whether “slacktivism” and internet petition signing are eroding the emancipatory potential of actual social movements. But, I don’t personally find my attention wavering or my depth of reading changing. Studies purporting to show a rise in people “skimming” and “bouncing” from website to website rather than deeply reading are unconvincing to me. Is it an intrinsic virtue to slog through the dense and antiquated language of Shakespeare, for example, rather than read a summary? I’m not sure.

There are, to be frank, a lot of long and uninteresting things to read both on the internet and in print. And neither length nor difficulty equate, necessarily, with more depth or complexity. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, for example, is more than 1,000 pages and contains one very silly idea repeated ad nauseam. I mention this very stupid book because people with real power in U.S. government claim it as their intellectual foundation. Additionally, I find some of Jacques Derrida’s ideas engaging, but I mostly hate the complex and obtuse prose in his work.

In any case, I’m not wholly convinced it isn’t simply a matter of rose-colored nostalgia (or perhaps even elitism) that sees shorter, more varied media on the internet as a worrying influence on the brain. And indeed it is now much easier as well to produce and engage with audio and video information than in the past. Are we trading reading for listening? Maybe? Again, if this were true I’m not sure it’s really anything to be concerned about.

All technologies stretching back to settled agriculture and the wheel have changed human life and likely how we think about the world. And I remain unconvinced that the internet has degraded discourse, conversation, or engagement with ideas. Indeed no “golden age” can ever be said to have existed. Novels were once seen as a distraction, and perhaps danger, not the height of bourgeois culture they seem to be now. So, maybe War and Peace is boring? Maybe it’s wonderful? I don’t know, I haven’t read it. I probably never will. That doesn’t worry me.


* As a slight aside and footnote, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how funny it is that Nicholas Carr keeps referring to “the Net” in his piece “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” It’s interesting how fast language changes as I would hazard no one calls the internet “the Net” anymore. And indeed, in my mind this seems anachronistic for an article published in 2008. I think of the Net as a term akin to others like “cyberspace,” “world wide web” and, best of all the, “information superhighway” from the those heady, early digital days of the 1990s.

Critical Pedagogy and Liberation

With the strong emphasis on liberation, I find Paulo Freire’s work, pardon the bad joke, critically important to thinking about how we as educators risk reproducing oppressive structures of society even as we attempt to teach our students to recognize and resist those structures. Power and domination implicit in the teacher/student relationship unconsciously train students to accept hierarchy, power, and domination in their lives, in their workplaces, and in their politics.

In chapter 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire makes the import point that teacher-student relationships are often “fundamentally narrative” in character. The teacher/professor/instructor is a “narrating Subject” while students are “patient listening objects.” In this conception, education can be thought of through the metaphor of “banking,” where instructors deposit knowledge into passive student receptacles. Freire makes the point that we cannot liberate ourselves if we maintain this type of education.

In the alternative, as Dr. Shelli Fowler aptly summarizes, rather a critical pedagogy recognizes the importance of “dialogic exchange” between teachers and students. No longer is education a one-way transmission of knowledge from instructor to student but rather a relationship in which both learn, question, reflect, and participate in meaning-making. As Freire writes in Pedagogy of Freedom, an educator with a “democratic vision… cannot avoid in [their] teaching praxis insisting on the critical capacity, curiosity, and autonomy of the learner.”

Such a critical pedagogy seeks to bring students into subjectivity along with instructors. Students then move from passive objects to agentic subjects. But, and this is an essential insight to remember, the oppressed (a position occupied by students in banking education) are not “outside” or “marginal” to society (in this case the social/economic/political space of the university). They are already “inside” of the structures which oppress them. The oppressor and oppressed are co-constitutive of structures of hierarchy and domination; one cannot exist without the other.

Therefore, it is not simply a matter of “integrating” the oppressed into structures of oppression. Liberation requires -demands- a fundamental transformation of those structures. By way of example, we might take what I will call the “Lean In” ethos. This form of essentially neoliberal feminism sees the solution to oppression of women in (U.S.) society as bringing more women into corporate board rooms and perhaps making small concessions that will allow more women to occupy positions of power. This is integrating women into the structures that have thus far oppressed them. By contrast, a liberatory feminism might advocate dismantling corporations altogether and working to build alternative economic structures that are non-hierarchical, democratic, ecologically sound, and so forth.

This sort of liberatory/emanicaptory approach is deeply threatening to existing power structures, which is why to return to Freire, the banking concept of education remains a tool to suppress the threat that students will raise their consciousnesses of their oppression. The “humanist revolutionary educator” (something I aspire to unreservedly) does not -cannot- passively wait for such a consciousness to materialize. Such an educator actively works with their students to “engage in critical thinking and [seeks] mutual humanization.” Such an educator is a partner of their students and maintains a “profound trust” in their creative power.

I try to carry this with me as I teach and as I interact in the world more broadly. The demands Freire’s work makes upon us are stringent. It is not easy to remain conscious of the ways in which we reproduce power imbalances at the same time we attempt to overcome them. But, this is a central challenge of a critical pedagogy and, truly, of all social change.

Who Am I in the Classroom?

Who do I try to be while I’m teaching? That’s the question. I took my broad categories from Sarah E. Deel’s article on finding her teaching voice and from Shelli Fowler’s authentic teaching self article. As I reflect on five semesters of TAing and then teaching as instructor of record, I try to be:

Authentic (Broadly) – I’m not an actor or a performer by personality. So, I decided early on that I would be myself in the classroom. Each class I plan to have topics to cover and to leave time for discussion. I try to relate to the students in a back and forth way when they ask/answer questions and I try my best to provide nuanced clarifications or supplemental information when students assert things that are, shall we say, not quite empirically sound. I teach in Political Science, so opinion is part of the game but I want opinions of all sorts to be well-informed and thought out. I tell jokes and sometimes they land, sometimes they don’t. Lame jokes are part of my out of the classroom personality so I try to bring that into my teaching. I also try to show when a particular topic/issue/theme is genuinely exciting or thought-provoking for me and, perhaps more importantly, I try to be encouraging when a student brings into a discussion something that makes a connection for them or that they find interesting and engaging.

Prepared – I never walk into class without a plan for what I want to cover for the day. I also try to prepare just the right amount of material for each day. I worry more about running out of material but I also don’t want to assign so much reading that we don’t have time to talk about most (ideally all) of the key ideas. I taught two days a week in the fall (75 minutes) and this semester I teach three days (50 minutes). It has been a learning experience adjusting and understanding how much I need to plan for different length sessions.

Organized – I order my notes typically in the order that the chapter or reading for the day covers the material. I try my best to take each concept or topic one by one and exhaust explanation and discussion of them before moving to the next concept. I taught Israeli history in the fall and so this worked somewhat more organically in that course as I taught the history chronologically while stopping to talk about important themes and events. History seems to lend itself to organization in this way.

Flexible – Even though I try to be prepared and organized I also try to remain open to shifting needs and interests in the classroom. If someone asks a question that prompts 20 minutes of discussion, and therefore we don’t get through all of my planned material, I don’t stress about it. Often the discuss is more interesting than it would have been for me to go through the material. Ideally the students will have done the reading (I live in the real world and I know some ((most?)) don’t) but they have it in any case. They can refer to it for content but the discussion is where hopefully a lot of the learning and critical engagement happens.

Approachable – One of the best parts of teaching is when students come to office hours to chat more about a class topic. It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does it’s really great to connect with the students about the course material, about ideas and issues raised in class and about their individual interests in the course and how it connects to their broader educational and intellectual growth. Because of all of this, I try to remain approachable. Unless I’m running to a meeting, I’m around to talk after class and I try to meet students for office hours (as much as possible) when their schedules allow.

These four aspects, authenticity, preparation, flexibility, and approachability, have (in)formed my teaching style so far, and it’s going well. Practice, as they say, makes perfect and I am approaching teaching as an on-going practice and learning process.

Experts Declare: Gaming is Good!

I am now working on my third degree and I have taken classes at no less than 9 colleges and universities between my first semester as an undergraduate in 2004 and spring semester 2017. Most of the courses were components of working toward a degree but many were also for fun (French 101 at Monroe Community College and Colloquial Egyptian Arabic at the University of Chicago, for example).

In that time I have had exactly two large lecture hall style courses. The first was Introduction to Sociology at Ithaca College in fall 2004 and the second was International Public and NGO Management at Syracuse University in fall 2009. The majority of undergraduate courses I took were pre-digital lectures (no PowerPoint, professors speaking from notes or extemporaneously) and my Master’s and Ph.D. level course work has been mostly discussion based seminars.

My focus has been decidedly social science and humanities and so I allow that my experience is likely quite different than the, perhaps, more rote focused lectures in engineering or physics. Yet, I have to say, I love lectures. I learn very well from sitting and listening to someone with a good grasp on a topic explicating it for an hour. I realize many people do not learn well this way and I certainly wouldn’t advocate this as the sole method of instruction (or in all fields).

But, the lectures I have been fortunate to attend (even the two large lecture halls) have also been reflective and interactive. Instructors didn’t simply read off faded notes. Questions were encouraged and posed to the class. So, in my (again particular, situated) experience lectures can have the benefits that Robert Talbert describes. They can be great for giving context and for telling stories. Good lecturers are in many ways performers. They present material in interesting and entertaining ways and that facilitates, at least for me, learning.

As I noted, I am acutely aware of the plurality of learning styles, needs, and preferences and that not everyone learns best this way (or enjoys sitting through a lecture). In light of this, I’m very much in favor of finding what works and, per Mark C. Carnes, incorporating games (of all sorts) into education. I’ve always liked video games and chafed at the idea that they can’t be art or that they are waste of time, etc. I and others I know learned a lot of history in middle school from playing through campaigns in Age of Empires in which Saladin’s forces face off against European crusaders. And who can forgot learning the valuable lesson of only shooting as much buffalo meat as you can carry from marathon sessions of Oregon Trail in elementary school. The below video even says the game was created to teach history!

I was also a Dungeons and Dragons player in my salad days and I learned, for example, what a halberd and a glaive were that way. Not only that, but such games teach problem solving skills: Do I negotiate with or stab this goblin? D&D (as those of us in the know call it) involves a lot of math and literacy skills as well. I learned that rolling a 1 on a 10-sided die is the same probability of rolling a 1 or 2 on a 20-sided.

In any case, text-based and creative role playing games like this, and the more explicitly educational versions Carnes writes about can be great educational tools. I would have loved to take one of his classes. We did a lot of role-playing/simulations in my international relations Master’s program, in fact the program’s capstone project is a cohort-wide (~100 students) two day simulation of UN climate change negotiations and it was a great experience. There can be no doubt that, as sociolingiust James Paul Gee (2003) argues, (video) games can teach us in various ways.

Finally, I’m aware I started my post-secondary education right at the cusp of the digital education age in a sense (my first semester of college we actually filled out paper course request forms!) and so my experience straddling that line may be different than the “digital natives” of a half or full generation behind me. Yet, I want to be careful not to, excuse the gruesome metaphor, throw the baby out with the bath water. We should take seriously the idea not only of a shift from “a teacher-oriented system featuring lectures delivered to passive audiences” to a “learner-centered process in which students become more actively involved in their own education” but an incorporation of both types of learning and teaching. There are those, such as me, for whom the former works well and is an enjoyable way to learn. I can’t be the only one? Can I?


References

Gee, James Paul. 2003. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Second Edition. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Grades, Non-Monetary Motivations, and the A Shaped Elephant in the Room

It may come as no surprise that many of the critiques I made last week of Michael Wesch hold for Dan Pink as well. I found his animated video on the existence of non-monetary motivations for work engaging until he made the slightly ludicrous claim that a tech firm allowing its employees autonomy and “self-directed” work ONE DAY PER YEAR was “almost radical.”

Now, I don’t want to beat a dead horse – so I will try not to. I want to make two brief points on this before moving on to the less irksome work of Alfie Kohn.

First, it takes a deeply ideological perspective to be surprised (he calls the science freaky!) that humans are motivated in their work by things other than monetary reward. “Homo Economicus,” profit-maximizers, and other utilitarian conceptions of human behavior are ideological constructions of economists not neutral representations of objective reality. Well-known anarchist Peter Kropotkin made the argument in his classic work “Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution” more than 100 years ago that cooperation and reciprocity characterize human social life as much if not more than purely self-interested competition and maximization.

Second, the idea that there are alternative structures for workplaces that place more emphasis on autonomy, mastery, and purpose and less emphasis on strict hierarchy and ranked performance IS NOT NEW! There is nothing novel about this idea. Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin, and countless other anarchist and socialist writers and practitioners have been advocating for this for more than 150 years (not to mention those pesky Luddites). The history of unionism more generally is full of skilled workers resisting efforts by capitalist owners to strip their work of autonomy mastery, and purpose (see: Workers’ Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles by David Montgomery). Furthermore, the way Pink describes corporations putting these ideas into practice, with the goal of instrumentalizing their employees’ creativity and desire for more control to generate more profits, is problematic to say the least.

I just so happen to have written a post on this very topic for the great SPIA blog: RE: Reflections and Explorations. The post “Cooperative Organizations: Toward an On-Going Practice of Democracy” briefly explores what VT’s own Joyce Rothschild has called “collectivist-democratic” organizations. Such organizations come, in my opinion, the closest to the anarchist ideal of truly worker self-directed enterprises in which those who do the work own and control the business. Some even, shock and horror, pay all of their employees the same wage!

Heterodox economist Richard D. Wolff has written numerous books on the topic and runs an organization that helps businesses transition into worker self-directed enterprises. There are more than 200 in the US alone and thousands around the world. The largest and most famous organization of this kind is the Mondragon Corporation in Spain, founded in 1956, employing 74,000 people, and earning around $13bn per year. It’s not perfect, but it’s the “freaky” result of 60 years of attempts to build more autonomous and democratic workplaces.

All of this is to say: cite your sources Dan Pink! Do your research!

Okay, I did beat that dead horse – I couldn’t help myself.

Moving from hierarchy in the workplace (which is both the outcome of grades received in schooling and a continuation of the impulse to sort people by perceived ability, proficiency, etc.) to grades in the academic environment, I was struck by one aspect in Alfie Kohn’s article “The Case Against Grades.”

Kohn quotes English teacher Jim Drier on his transition to a no-grades classroom. Drier said “I think my relationships with students are better” after removing grades. I think about the interpersonal aspect of grading a lot as an instructor. I have felt that the first few weeks of the semester are a grace period in which students can form opinions of me as an instructor and interpersonally in a somewhat natural way. Once the first graded assignment gets back to them though, I always worry it will have damaged rapport I have built with students who didn’t perform well.

I am inclined to think that there is some drop off in effort by students who get discouraged by a poor grade early in the semester and that they may be less willing to come to me for help as a result, particularly if we don’t have a pre-existing relationship. I do think it would be easier to maintain a positive student-teacher relationship if I didn’t have to decide which students are excellent and which are only adequate (and then essentially tell them this).

Asserting my authority in this way through grades is currently a necessity but I certainly do not enjoy it. Kohn discusses various iterations of qualitative feedback and I have tried this as a strategy. On written assignments I try to give substantive comments (both positive and negative) to help the student grow and understand that it’s not “personal.” But, since I also must give a letter grade, I worry, as Kohn points out, that students may ignore the comments and go right to the grade (I myself have been known to do this).

I am persuaded by Kohn’s argument, particularly in the social sciences where I teach, that we should be prepared to “jettison” grades in favor of alternatives. As a grad student, I’ll keep tinkering around the edges looking for those alternatives.

Politicizing the “Crisis of Significance”

I set out to write about Ken Robinson’s talk “How to escape education’s death valley,” which contains a number of interesting observations about education in the 21st century. Robinson makes important points about the role of human creativity and curiosity. However, after reading Michael Wesch’s short piece “Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance,” I felt a certain compulsion to render a critique.

In 2008 Michael Wesch made the bold claim that: “The most significant problem with education today is the problem of significance itself. Students – our most important critics – are struggling to find meaning and significance in their education.” He uses his own students for the primary examples of this phenomenon noting that his students often completed less than half of their assigned readings, many bought expensive textbooks that they never used, and only around one quarter found readings relevant to their lives.

I don’t dispute his findings, they largely track with my own anecdotal experience as a high school and undergraduate student as well as my experiences teaching undergraduates. I do, however, dispute the notion that what he calls the “crisis of significance” is somehow a new problem and I dispute the assertion that it is, absent larger context, the most significant problem in education today. Without reference to earlier studies, opinion polls, historical narratives, etc. it is quite impossible to know whether students in the past completed more of their assignments, felt more engaged in classes, and saw a greater “significance” in education. Maybe this is the case, but Wesch makes no attempt to demonstrate that the current period is different than previous periods. My “commonsense” hunch is that some students have always half-heartedly engaged in the materials and processes of learning. Some research seems to indicate students study less than in previous decades but it’s unclear exactly why this is the case (or that this is necessarily a bad thing).

Rather disappointingly, Wesch seems to place significant blame for student disengagement squarely on teachers. He writes: “As teachers we have created and continue to maintain an education system that inevitably produces” students focused on instrumental measures of success rather than asking critical questions. And no doubt we can all learn new techniques for better engaging our students. Certainly ideas such as Ellen J. Langer’s suggestions on mindful learning including “side-ways learning” and skepticism of rote learning are helpful (1997, 14;22).

But, what’s completely missing from Wesch’s interpretation of contemporary university teaching/learning are recent structural changes and challenges to universities and macro-economic structures that may contribute to a crisis of significance for students. Universities face budget cuts, faculty face challenges to their control and direction of curricula, and there is a push to instrumentalize education. These processes are typified by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s attempts to fundamentally restructure (dismantle is my preferred verb) some of the best universities in the country.

Such changes are part of what some call the “neoliberal revolution” begun in the 1970s, which has seen an ideology of so-called free-markets permeate all facets of life. As Wendy Brown writes, neoliberalism works by “extending and disseminating market values to all institutions and social action” (2003, 7). Michel Foucault described this turn as the generalization of markets “beyond monetary exchanges” and to the realms of social and individual behavior (Senellart 2008, 243). In popular discussion and imagination this ideology is exemplified by the late Margaret Thatcher’s assertion of TINA – there is no alternative – to the spread of capitalist free-markets around the world.

Wesch’s concentration on individual teachers’ approaches to education/learning fits well within a neoliberal framework that focuses on “personal responsibility” rather than institutional or collective action. Many in the “education reform” camp have attempted to place all the woes in education on the shoulders of teachers (Uetricht 2014). Furthermore, it is within this ideological hegemony that students are educated and within this context that they must, after graduation, make their way in the world. So I put forward that a crisis of significance may cause students only to ask instrumental questions – will this be on the test? and how will I be graded? – partly because they recognize that they are located within an economic system that offers no guarantee of a materially comfortable life – even with a college or post-graduate degree. In fact, capitalism celebrates this insecurity and precarity. Students must compete in a volatile market to find a job and successfully completing their undergraduate education is increasingly seen as a part of this process. How will I be graded? then implicitly queries how comfortable and secure will my life be? Will an A in this course allow me to pay back my student loans?

Furthermore, students may be asking themselves: what difference does critical thinking make when the system I must enter upon graduation tells me repeatedly that my ability to live a decent life is predicated on accepting the vary narrow parameters of a politics of TINA?

I want to put forward, tentatively, that one of the greatest crises in education may be one of significance brought on by a mismatch between intrinsic human creativity and curiosity, mindful learning practices and brute realities of very narrow options for students. Furthermore, these realities do not exist in a vacuum. Wesch presents his crisis as ubiquitous. He doesn’t allow for the possibility that his anecdotal experience is simply that. I want to suggest that such a crisis cannot be understood as a universal – it must be located in particular temporal, cultural, and political milieus that have brought it about. Truly, how can learning and education be significant at all without such particularities?

Finally, though I find Wesch’s project of a world simulation interesting, I want to argue that confronting a crisis of significance can only be done in an explicitly critical, reflexive, and (re)politicized way. The choices students have available to them are constrained in various ways. However, in many cases, these constraints are not laws of nature but rather human inventions, rules, and institutions. Understanding, debating, altering, and in some cases eliminating these constraints must be an integral part of mindful education. I don’t read this commitment to structural change in Wesch’s argument.


References

Brown, Wendy. 2003. “Neo-Liberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy.” Theory & Event 7 (1).

Langer, Ellen J. 1997. The Power of Mindful Learning. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.

Senellart, Michel, ed. 2008. Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–79. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Uetricht, Micah. 2014. Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity. London and New York: Verso.

Networked Learning

I finished my undergraduate studies (unbelievably) ten years ago this spring. As I reflect on that experience, it is entirely possible I didn’t know what a blog was when I was an undergraduate student. Twitter existed though I wouldn’t learn of it until about 2008 and iPhones didn’t exist until several months after I graduated. Suffice to say, I did very little digital networked learning as an undergraduate. Since then, I have kept travel blogs, blogs on politics and current events, I’ve blogged for organizations, and I’ve blogged for academic purposes.

I enjoy the ability to easily, and without the gate-keeping of traditional publishing, put ideas out into the world. However, I think we should be clear-eyed about the revolutionary character of digital communications. Tom Peters, for example, wildly oversells blogging as something new and unique when he says: “No single thing in the last 15 years professionally has been more important to my life than blogging. It has changed my life, it has changed my perspective, it has changed my intellectual outlook, it has changed my emotional outlook…” Maybe I’m not doing it right, but my experience with blogging has been positive but not life-changing. Self and alternative publishing of heterodox views in the forms of handbills, newspapers, and “zines” has existed likely since at least the invention of the printing press.

Furthermore, platforms such as blogging offer potential for greater publicity but do not guarantee it. So while I agree with the notion one should “Work openly by default,” I have to quibble with the assertion that “An email reaches a much smaller number of people than a blog post. Unless it contains sensitive information, publish your work to a public URL that can be referenced by others.” A blog post has the potential to reach more people than an email but it does not necessarily do so in reality. Again, having blogged a fair amount, I know that it takes a lot of work to build even a small readership. I can email everyone in SPIA on a listserv, for example, reaching hundreds while many of my blog posts (sadly) have only been seen by 5-10 people.

Despite this tempering, digital platforms like blogging do seem to offer interesting new approaches to network learning.  The idea of having students keep blogs and/or complete their writing assignments in a more public way is quite compelling. As Tim Hitchcock argues: “By forcing students to write ‘publicly’, their writing rapidly improves.” I know that working with editors on my writing has greatly improved it. The reflexive, back and forth process can clarify thoughts and create deeper argumentation. I have also found that answering questions on blog posts I have written can have a similar clarifying effect. I would certainly be open to incorporating strategies of public, “networked” assignments in courses I teach.

While blogging seems a strong platform for such an approach, alas, I am much more skeptical that “micro-blogging” such as Twitter would be a suitable venue. Twitter is great for sharing links to lengthier information (such as blog posts) but the times I’ve attempted to interact with people about ideas or events I’ve found the 140 character format much too limiting for complex thought and argumentation. Brevity, on Twitter, does not seem to be the soul of wit.

The Future of the University

What should “the university” look like as we lurch further into the 21st century? If there were one thing I could change about higher education in the United States it would be to expand access, broadly speaking.

It is hardly a unique observation to point out the exorbitant cost of college attendance in the US. This is true even of public schools. The US is, in my opinion, behind the curve on recognizing that tertiary education, like primary and secondary, should be a right guaranteed to all of its citizens (and residents). A college education remains a privilege only available to some because of its large cost. And while I believe we should consider it a privilege to have the time to study and learn access to education should not be a restricted privilege available only to those who can pay.

I hope to see the university accessible financially but also physically. By this I mean I hope to see all universities and university buildings literally accessible to any and all students. Though slightly out of date, Inside Higher Ed reported in 2005 that students with disabilities were half as likely to attend college as their peers without disabilities. We need to ensure that the physical space of the university is accessible to people of all abilities. As importantly, we need to ensure that the university is a space in which those with disabilities are welcome and treated as an important part of the make up of the student body, staff, and faculty.

Moreover, black students and faculty are underrepresented on college campuses as well. I would like to see universities that are open, encouraging, and actively seeking students of all backgrounds and therefore reflect the composition of US society. Addressing the economic inequality that high costs perpetuates by making tertiary education free (or very close to free) is one way to address this. The other is to continue the work of education within the university and without to create the understanding in our society that all members, regardless of their socio-economic, racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and/or sex background, have equal rights and claims to a decent life.

Given recent trends a more accessible university will likely mean more online and distance learning classes. I think this can be an avenue to ensure that the university is open and accessible but it is not a foregone conclusion. It is important that online courses are carefully crafted to ensure that the level of instruction and deep engagement is the same as in a “traditional” classroom. Perhaps technologies such as VR could facilitate this in the decades to come. Even better, investment in high speed rail, another area the US lags behind in, could better allow students to travel to and from universities.

However it is accomplished, the most open and accessible university will be the best university in the future.