Tag Archives: teaching

MMMOOOOCS!

 

 

Kashkow logo3lgKashkow University announced today the initiation of an innovative new program of online education that it says will create an “unprecedented revenue stream for non-profit institutions of higher learning,” while streamlining the university staff.

The Kashkow scheme is called Massive Money-Making Opportunity: Opting Out Of Courses! (MMMOOOOC!). Under MMMOOOOC! PROGRAM, Kashkow would eliminate all classes. Instead, it would offer college credits and diplomas through a subscription service similar to the online movie and television service Netflix. The caliber of the degree purchased would be tied to the subscription level. For $29.99 per month, for example, one can receive credit for a full load of coursework that is “equivalent to a Duke University or Washington University in St. Louis,” according to the university. Johns Hopkins or Wesleyan-level coursework costs $69.99 per month, while a Premium membership (Harvard, Princeton, or Yale) can be purchased for $99.99 monthly. There is a three-month minimum contract, which enables one to purchase a complete course; an automatic renewal system allows one to “drop out” of taking the spring semester. The university will also offer a “Basic” membership: for $9.99 a month, students can pursue coursework toward the equivalent of a philosophy degree from the Delaware College of Textiles and Mines.

The new MMMOOOOCs! would be packed with information and essentially content-free. Subscribers would receive a full set of lecture notes, digests of reading materials, complete term papers (with bibliographies), and exam keys—everything needed to pass a course with a grade of A+ or higher. All exams and essays will of course be open-book, and students are encouraged to cut and paste from lecture materials in order to save time. This greatly increases the efficiency of the learning process, university spokesmen say.

Think of education like filling a bucket, said the former Kashkow Dean of Students, Prof. Tweed Pantsuit. In conventional teaching, the faucet is an old fashioned pump handle and the bucket is full of holes. The massively online course movement is a firehose that the student can turn on and off at will, while holding the bucket herself. The result is much more water hitting the bucket in less time—and as we learned in quantum mechanics (wasn’t it?) time is money. Prof. Pantsuit said more about the bucket model, but frankly it wasn’t printable.

The streamlining of courses into “courseware” will have a big impact on the university’s bottom line, according to a Kashkow spokeman. It will enable the university to trim the faculty salary and benefits budget from $75 million to $342.50, according to official university documents we obtained. The bold new plan would reduce the current faculty of 225 full-time professors down to two part-time adjuncts: one for “arts” and one for “sciences.” The medical and engineering faculty would be spun off into for-profit companies, “Kashkow Medicine Dot Edu” and “Kashkow Engineering Dot Edu Dot Com,” respectively.

MMMOOOOCs! will “revolutionize higher education,” said to university president Dieter Geld. “By concentrating on what we do best,” said Geld, “We will be able to better serve our stakeholders.” Pressed on what it was that Kashkow did best, Geld said, “Serving our stakeholders!”

Further aiding the bottom line is the fact that Mr. Aristotle Spinoza, MA, the Professor of Arts, will be on leave next year, serving steakholders at a local “Surf-n-Turf” dining establishment. Raising profits while cutting costs is a “win-win” for education, Geld says.

Such a massive transformation of the university structure will not happen overnight, Geld noted; nor will it happen on its own. “To facilitate the reallocation of resources,” he said, “we are pleased to announce the appointment of a crack team of administrators.” Kashkow will be hiring six new deans and associate deans. Horatio S. O. B. Functionary, former Provost of Gouger Administrators’ College in Shillings-upon-Quid, U.K., will be the new Dean of Profiteering and will oversee the university’s money laundering program. Reed M. N. Weap, a freelance card sharp with over 20 years’ experience in money management, will be the new Dean of Accumulation. And John “Bud” Balls, formerly the football coach at Bigten University, will serve as Associate Dean of Associate Deans and will manage the university’s burgeoning roster of high-level administrators. (Balls will also head up the new varsity intramural sexual predator squad, The Fighting Flashers.) The Office of Public Relations will be split into three, each with its own associate dean: the Office of Stakeholder Relations, the Office of Trustee Relations, and the Office of Dean Relations. The new administrators will make an average of $550,000 per year salary, plus an average of nearly $4,000,000 per year in benefits.

When asked about the wisdom of adding high-paid staff as a cost-cutting measure, Geld replied, “It takes a crack team to bring out real educational change. When it comes to sparing expense, we spare no expense!”

 

Strike a blow for (and against) academic freedom

I am in favor of academic freedom. I am opposed to “academic freedom.” 

“America, meet the new creationism-in-sheep’s-clothing: The ‘academic freedom’ bill.” So begins Dana Liebelson on The Week, in an article on the latest version of the anti-science wedge being pushed into our schools. According to the National Center for Science Education, since 2004 more than 50 bills have been proposed that would require biology teachers to present conservative ideologies as science—in particular, the rejection of climate change and Intelligent Design (which I capitalize not to dignify it but to mark it as a dogma, distinct from engineering).

In the introduction to The Panda’s Black Box (Johns Hopkins, 2007), I traced the history of anti-Darwinist efforts and showed that they were getting simultaneously logically weaker and politically more potent. Each iteration, from the Scopes trial on down, has become more science-like and hence more insidious—harder to tell from the real thing. I wrote,

Thus, only vestiges of creationism remain in the public case for anti-Darwinism. On the current trajectory, one can easily imagine an anti-Darwinism so feeble that the Supreme Court cannot ban it. One must not forget that the so-called wedge strategy, the 1998 manifesto produced by the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, is to make anti-Darwinism superficially indistinguishable from science, and thereby to gain access for more strongly theistic doctrines in the public schools. But this fact does not weaken the point: anti-Darwinism today is rhetorically formidable but intellectually anemic.

My point was that anti-science rhetoric has, ironically, become increasingly scientistic—ever more committed to the principle of explaining everything with science—including opposition to particular scientific findings. (Evolution, climate change, and gravity are all both findings and theories—the former in the sense that they are by now incontrovertible; the latter in the sense that they generate predictions and testable hypotheses.) This is their proponents’ strategy for insinuating crackpot ideologies into science classrooms, in order to undermine data they find ideologically inconvenient.

“Academic freedom” is just that kind of feebler anti-Darwinism (and anti-climate change) that I was talking about. Conservatives have appropriated a term that used to be a justification for tenure, mainly bandied around by tweedy academics in their cups at faculty dinner parties, and turned it into a wedge for intelligent design and struthian opposition to the fact that it is getting warmer, perhaps inexorably.

For now, academic freedom bills have not done well in state legislatures. The NCSE lists only two out of the 51 attempts as successful (Tennessee and Louisiana). But six such bills have already been proposed in 2013—more than in all of 2012—which suggests a ramping up of the effort.

I will say that I think that the climate change debate and anti-Darwinism in all its 31 flavors ought to be taught in school—but not in science class. They belong in the humanities curriculum, as part of an effort to teach the social context of science. Teaching this stuff as if it were science hamstrings good teachers by diverting precious class time from the real thing—which harms our students. However, there is no doubt that these are real controversies. They are social and cultural controversies that use science as their weapons. The existence of “academic freedom” bills is a potent argument for teaching our children not just a scientific approach to science but also a humanistic approach to science.

In social studies or a history of science or STS (science and technology studies) class, bring it on: let’s teach the controversy. But leave them out of science class, for chrissakes.