Friday, September 5, 2014

Colleges and bakeries

A college that offers more online classes to remedy its financial woes? That’s like a bakery opting to sell Twinkies and Wonder Bread. Each move gives the public less reason to believe in the value of the real thing. Each move endangers long-term well-being for the sake of short-term gain.

[I tried to get the right comparison: fine luggage and cheap knockoffs? No. Elaine thought of a bakery and Wonder Bread. The Twinkies are on me.]

comments: 11

Anonymous said...

Financial woes? From proven statistical studies showing the rapid yet recent growth in administration costs and bureaucracy to the obvious costs of high-paid presidents, deans and more all taking away salaries in the top ten percent of Americans, the better analogy would be compare a bakery's offering of breads to the baker's demanding a salary of $300K or more to bake $3 loaves of bread.

As to the notion of online courses, this seems more akin to a library in which many books are available to those who wish to read and learn from such reading. The larger question is one of paying for a sheepskin when knowledge is in fact widely available to the motivated.

So the sheepskin mills' leadership is faced with trying to raise funds so that its top dogs can feed that appetite for "more."

Amusingly, as online courses become widely available on YouTube one may study for free, and this may be the future of education. One of my neighbors, a professor in computer architecture, is "studying" from old videos now converted from VHS tapes and loving it.

When one "professes" what many professors seem to profess these days, it seems to reduce down to "pay me." When the administration above them also asks "pay me more," the question becomes less one for the potential student or financial aid entity, than it does the hungry at the top of the academic food chain having multiplied to that number which predicts in Darwinian fashion that they now are too numerous to feed well. I look forward to some bankruptcies in the future in private schools and budget austerity in public institutions as the administrative costs, once hidden, are exposed.

The feathered bed of presidents, provosts, deans and chairmen is becoming more like a Raggedy Ann doll spilling its stuffing and collapsing. So must and so should it be.

Michael Leddy said...

My point in making this analogy is that a residential college undercuts its reason for being when it offers online courses to “draw” students. The analogy doesn’t address why the college or the bakery is in trouble. There can be many reasons, the growth of “administration” among them.

Diane Schirf said...

"Knowledge" (however available) is not the same as the critical thinking required to process it, which is, I suspect, pretty dang hard to learn online.

Michael Leddy said...

Amen. Watching videos ≠ the possibilities of exchange, conversation that go with learning to think critically.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Schirf commented that it is "pretty dang hard to learn online." Interestingly in running a search, one finds her having also written "...thanks to my local public library and my 5-cent manila paper library card, I read works by authors ranging from Agatha Christie and Arthur C. Clarke to Charles Dickens and T. H. White. After studying the Anglo-Saxons, Eastern thought, music appreciation, Chaucer, silent film, and a smattering of English and American history...."

She asserts it is hard to learn online, but for her it was not hard to learn at her local public library. Moreover her stories and poems are online to read and enjoy.

Thinking critically about the two views, she praises learning from paper-printed material while she disparages learning from material presented in other media, such as a video feed of a real-time lecture.

Mr. Leddy comments that "watching videos ≠ the possibilities of exchange." Lectures to larger groups also make unequal and sometimes impossible the "possibilities of exchange." I have heard little exchange during classes of more than a few students, suggesting that the larger classrooms and lecture halls as venues make less and sometimes no possibility of exchange.

As to "knowledge" not being the same as "critical thinking required to process it," artificial intelligence research indicates otherwise, in which knowledge is by definition supportable by such as critical thinking and inquiry, and indeed inseparable. Moreover, definitions of critical thinking by some recent theorists suggest skepticism as among necessary components. Skepticism includes disagreement.

Financial woes of colleges are a reality today, as colleges look to more forms of revenue. I wager that, if a college could replay Professor Leddy's lectures for a tuition fee to students and an agreed-upon royalty to him equal to less than his wage, it would, or perhaps move to another online professor as a business strategy.

Per the analogy, Twinkies or Wonder Bread are not baked in the local bakery, and trademark law suits will see this enforced. When a set of lectures on Shakespeare can replace multiple professors lecturing on the bard, colleges might adopt that route. Why? Because the presidents, deans and administrators will remain more interested in their salaries than a professor's, just as a professor is more interested in his take home than in an adjunct's or hourly lecturer's take home.

Robert Reich wrote in a Salon article: "...a four-year liberal arts degree is hugely expensive. Too many young people graduate laden with debts that take years if not decades to pay off. And too many of them can’t find good jobs when they graduate, in any event. So they have to settle for jobs that don’t require four years of college. They end up overqualified for the work they do, and underwhelmed by it. Others drop out of college because they’re either unprepared or unsuited for a four-year liberal arts curriculum. When they leave, they feel like failures."

He concluded, "Too often in modern America, we equate 'equal opportunity' with an opportunity to get a four-year liberal arts degree. It should mean an opportunity to learn what’s necessary to get a good job."

If online courses contribute to the student's future per the perspective of Reich, why should one care about the impact to college administrators as well as tenured faculty who enjoy income placing them in the top twenty percent of Americans?

It becomes less about students and learning and libraries and lectures via video, and more a question about job security for an upper economic echelon of a citizenry. Those like Ms. Schirf will still find a local library for learning. "Equal opportunity" as cited by Reich likely will likely place full series of lectures in competition with faculty across many different colleges, perhaps even available for free.

Michael Leddy said...

Anon., you attribute to me positions that are nowhere in what I’ve written. What makes you think I endorse large lecture classes? But even with those classes, possibilities for dialogue might be found during office hours or in a discussion section. I take the idea (or ideal) of conversation from Michael Oakeshott, whose writing I’m just beginning to explore.

And you miss the point of the analogy in another way: Wonder Bread and Twinkies are brand names. I’m not imagining a bakery making its own offerings and using those names. I’m imagining a bakery ordering and selling those products. If a bakery faces declining sales, selling store-bought stuff won’t help its long-term prospects. If a residential college faces declining enrollment, putting classes online won’t help its long-term prospects.

Diane Schirf, I’m sure, can take care of herself here.

Diane Schirf said...

Anon., I don't say I learned at my local library. I borrowed books to read. Coming from the background I did, reading was the first step on a broader journey to learning, but it wasn't learning, and it wasn't critical thinking. You must have missed my tribute to Wayne C. Booth and Ned Rosenheim, both passionate professors in the humanities who remembered me years after I had graduated. Both encouraged discussion in their classes, and what I learned in those classes continues to inspire me and inform my thinking. I never got around to writing about Gerald Mast (modern drama, film) after his death, but same thing. I never wrote about William Vedder, who helped us uncover countless layers in British/American gothic — and I was just auditing that class.

As for my poems and stories, there may be enjoyment (depending on your taste and tolerance), but there's no pretense of education/learning. They're just there, like a billion other words online. Whether the random reader of them has a critical filter or not is beyond my ken.

I did try online learning, but it was frustrating and ultimately awful.

I'm sorry you're bitter, but nothing beats having a Wayne C. Booth challenge you face to face and draw out of you wells you never knew were there.

Diane Schirf said...

Finally, I want to mention I met Eudora Welty at a sherry hour during my first year, and we ended up having a substantial conversation. The awful thing was, I didn't quite realize who she was.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, Diane, for your response.

Let’s all have a glass of sherry and turn to other matters.

Fresca said...

I want a Twinkie with my sherry. ;)

Michael Leddy said...

See the baker. :)