Our faculty council met with the Consultant yesterday, who, by the way, is a tech person and not a teacher. She was supposed to get our "feedback" on this ill-conceived plan of making all sections of our online courses exactly the same.
Rest assured, I asked our faculty council president if they did indeed want "feedback," or were we supposed to fawn all over the plan or keep our mouths shut. She said, "we are expected to give our feedback on this stupid plan for Big Brother to have full control." I knew that I was in.
Now before anyone gets their knickers in a bunch about, "but shouldn't all sections of a course be the same? Is it right that one teacher is going off on one thing and another is going off on another and what about the old deadwood?" First, most of your stereotypical deadwood -- if they exist -- won't use a word processor, much less teach an entire course online. Second, we aren't talking about ensuring that everyone teaching the U.S. history survey includes the American Revolution, or World War II, or anything like that. We are talking EXACTLY THE SAME.
According to this plan, a Team Leader -- who will get the dubious title of "coordinator," but actually will be acting like a combination of a chair and Big Brother -- will design the course. She (and, at our school, we have far more "shes" teaching than "hes" teaching) will write all of the assignments, write all of the exams, make up all of the lessons, choose ALL of the readings (not just the textbooks, but also the supplemental readings, the online resources, and so forth), and generally create her own class from the bottom up.
That's not the bad part. That's what everyone does. No, the bad part is that, in order to save on the cost of training new faculty for the online platform and in order to save on the cost of paying the faculty extra to design their course -- an argument for which I would have much more sympathy if the online learning department was actually paying for that instead of failing to inform anyone that faculty are supposed to be paid for that (a long story that ends with everyone in the meeting pissed off because they were bilked out of about a full semester's worth of pay by the online learning department -- but I digress -- the bad part is that any other faculty teaching that class will now have to use that very same class and will have absolutely NO authority or power to change even a word on the syllabus.
Maybe I'm being unfair. The non-designing instructors CAN change things, they just have to go to the designing instructor. The designing instructor then calls a meeting of the "team." The team then debates the change. Then, if the change is accepted, everyone must adopt the change. A year later.
This is how the consultant explained it. "The coordinator will design the course, set everything up," she said. "The other instructors on the team will still be doing just what teachers do. They will have contact with the students and they will grade assignments."
Already pissed off because I had only moments before found out that I was supposed to have been payed not double, but quadruple what I was paid for developing four separate courses, I said, "that's not what a teacher does. That's what a t.a. does."
"No," she said, "you still grade and meet with students."
"I also design my own course," I said. "This is the online equivalent of me going to a new teacher and saying, 'here are my lectures, my assignments and my tests. You have to use these and you can't do anything new or different.'"
I continued, "We have highly talented, highly educated, highly experienced people working for us -- even as adjuncts! I don't want to make them my t.a.s I don't want to lose the unique perspective that they bring to their classes. For instance, we have an adjunct who can teach the Civil Rights Movement using popular music and hip hop. He can weave the history of hip hop through his entire course. He can't do that under this plan. You are killing the creativity and intellectual expertise that makes these courses interesting to teach or take."
"Well, he can still do that," she said. "He'd just have to go design his own course."
"But you wouldn't pay him to do that," I said, "so where's the incentive? Where's the incentive to teach any of these courses, aside from being desperate for the money and maybe a line on the c.v.?"
"Well," she said, "he could get around the designed course by e-mailing students directly or using the discussion boards."
"A teacher shouldn't have to 'get around' anything in their own course," I said. "What we are talking about here is academic freedom."
A chemistry professor, who has had to teach in this way, jumped in and slammed the whole program herself. "All I did was grade," she said. "I only had student privileges in the course site. I'm the teacher! I've been a teacher for 25 years!" Then, she went into great detail about how this whole plan deteriorates the quality of teaching.
Other faculty in the meeting proposed the idea of an adaptable template. A template course set up in order to have the flexibility to assign someone an online class at the last minute, without freaking them out with the prospect of designing a whole class from scratch; but allowing that new instructor to change as much, if not all, of the class as she goes along. I'm cool with that. Heck, I have a vested interest in that what with my trouble in being the only person at our campus who can teach online. The faculty council president is in the same position in her own department. We aren't unreasonable, but we also know a stupid idea when we see one.
The biology teacher who proposed this might as well have said, "and then let us pass out joints and cocktails to everyone." The consultant looked horrified. At least she put the ideas in the notes to take back to Big Brother (the flexible template, not the joints and cocktails -- although that would be cool, too).
That, or she wrote, "Trouble makers at the hippie campus. Schedule for extermination."
By the time she left, we had eviscerated this whole plan, and proposed solutions to the gaps left by that evisceration. The consultant was not happy. I supposed I'd be unhappy, too, if I had spent many hours in many committee meetings revising many drafts of this proposal that now lay bleeding on the table.
Of course, in those meetings, I would also want actual educators who had actually taught actual classes online more recently than ten years ago (as opposed to sitting on so many committees and holding so many special assignments and administrative positions that they hadn't seen the inside of any sort of classroom since the 1990s). I would also want to actually ask actual faculty about their actual concerns, rather than anticipate them, and be aware of -- oh, I don't know -- academic freedom and the fact that there is some level of individual intellectual and creative innovation in the job of teaching. We don't all just grade papers, you know. That's like thinking all a librarian does is check books out; or all a tech person does is load software onto computers.
One last thing. One of the driving forces behind this plan has to do with the cost of training and development, as I mention above. Setting aside the fact that the online learning department has exhibited ethics so bad that they border on criminality in regard to paying for this training and development, I wanted to see a cost analysis of this whole scheme. You know, an assessment of their outcomes.
How much did the development of this draft plan cost? How much will implementation cost? How much has the usual course of training and development cost during this same period of time? After all, the online learning department will only pay for the development of a limited number of courses in any one discipline as it is. If the difference between the current practice and the development and implementation of the new plan favors the current practice, how long until the new plan has recovered the difference? In other words, is all of this b.s. going to actually be worth it, or are they just throwing that "cost" explanation out in order to shut us up -- it is the budgetary equivalent of "OMG will no one think of the children!" or "family values!" In other words, it's the sort of thing you really can't argue against, especially in a budgetary crunch.
Much like that Fellowship Coordinator who is slandering me without evidence (because she deleted it herself), there was no evidence available to us on the cost of this thing.
As the Church Lady would say: "isn't that conveeeenient?"