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Dear friends and readers,

Another set of emails ultimately from the work of the 1% where I happen to work came into my box: workshops for distance and hybrid (even phonier) courses prompted this diary. I went looking on my timelines in facebook to re-read what a few friends had said. At first I could not find them. Facebook selects what they want to show on my timelines. This topic of distance learning not important?

So I gathered a few of the meaningful comments to respond to here again.  An early May diary:

May 15, around 3 in the afternoon:  :I just submitted all my grades. It's over for another semester. I'm relieved. I regret not teaching summers any more as once upon a time I did enjoy it: it was then I got some more advanced (junior level) general lit courses but no more. The people controlling public universities are determined to destroy the humanities insofar as this is possible. So too libraries, so too accredited teachers. Rien a faire."

A friend, let's call her Alice, responded: I believe that higher education, as we knew it, is going ton be gone within 10 years, replaced by online certification, no liberal education except for the very wealthy.

Me: Well that's an interesting belief in the sense that it follows the direction we are going in. Where I've been teaching now since 1989 I realized (this past term) about 1/2 of the required sections in the English department are these distance arrangements. They are phony in the sense of teaching the students anything. A new development is the hybrid: this is a pretense where half the meetings are still set with supposedly half "online". I know from experience that the super-expensive privately supported small liberal arts school and ivy league type schools (high priced0 are still offering a liberal arts education for a sizable number of students who might want it.


But won't the people running the colleges charge as much? You pay as much for a distance course as a face-to-face one where I teach -- unless you mean (I had not realized this) that colleges will shrink or disappear. However it's very hard to make any set of institutions go away once bunches of people inhabit and are dependent on them for their living.

Alice: This is not a belief but a prediction based on students' inability to sustain these enormous debts & colleges' refusal to give up so many expensive administrators

Elaine: I have been thinking the same as Alice for some years now. Now in fact the humanities faculty at my school is in the process of "shrinking," since budget cuts are met through attrition. The distance ed model is easier to fund because (1) it sells computers, servers, etc. and computer companies want to develop this market; (2) when some of the functions, e.g. quiz grading, are assumed by software, and teacher-student interaction can be time-shifted, one teacher can potentially teach many more students (I know an instructor here who was assigned at one point to teach two distance sections on top of her regular load!). It is also morally appealing to administrators because it reduces professors to standardized "content providers." If your last Shakespeare professor just retired, why not just buy into an online course that will certify students as having studied Shakespeare (even if it never satisfies the need to study Shakespeare that drives them to sign up for a course with a live professor

Me:  So what we -- or you and Alice are saying -- is while the bottle will be left standing, what is poured through will be quite different. I agree. And it's not the first time. But will the bottle be left standing at all? If say you don't need a brick-and-mortar place that's large, why not shrink that? I suppose Alice is saying the bottle itself will go. Then the social experience of college life for most will go away -- and that is so valuable, so important. A student need not live away from home to have it. Again opportunities for leaving your original place in society and finding yourself a more suitable one, another identity which fits you will severely diminish. Do you think the price will necessarily fall? (as people come to their senses and see what they thought they were buying -- upward mobility -- is not the case at all. We are painting a dire kind of scenario. They are making hybrid courses where I'm teaching: the phoniness is to pretend that the "class" on line is somehow happening with an equivalent valence; it's not; it's just teaching one half the time. By the way what I meant is that people running the composition department are attempting to control the content of my courses so as to erase humanities content, the discipline altogether. I'm not going to do it. I know Yvette was made miserable at Buffalo by her many distance courses; she was so isolated. She felt suicidal one term. She learned much much less and she didn't even make any acquaintances.

A propos of Alice's comment: into my box comes a stipend of $200 to learn how to do distance and hybrid sections of English, which will now be expanding just as I'm typing .

Alice again: When online learning was first developed, I had a dean that decided we would do it RIGHT. Classes were kept to 12 students, and we all had to show up in a chat room once a week for three hours. My class was in Poetics, and together with the students, I explored the relationship between the web and poetry: websites, online readings, e-poems. They gave class presentations using Powerpoint, responded with questions. It was unbelievably exciting, and the class grew so close, mostly Haz Mat majors in Ohio, but students also from all over, various time zones. They knew my personal life a bit and we had correspondence and supportive emails all round. That lasted about 3 years till the dean was fired, the classes up to 25-50, no chats, just the asynchronous, and inherent orders (never by memo) to pass everyone. Anything can be taught well or not, but the conditions many of us are put under now are impossible. Sorry to go onl.

Me: The same here. Or the same process. When the general education literature courses (surveys) were abolished and replaced by theme courses supposedly aimed at less prepared students, there were meetings and documents prepared about how careful teachers would be to make these new replacements genuinely relevant. Within 2 years, they were dumbed down or used by faculty to set favorite often inappropriate texts with sophisticated themes.That's why 6 credits of this is no longer required and you can use substitutes from other departments. The hybrid & distance courses are described as tremendously labor-intensive but everyone knows better. Students take them to punch a ticket. I know that face-to-face contact makes students work harder because they have to see you; there's nothing like a sit-down in class exam or presentation in front of a class to concentrate the student's mind. 

Coda, from Anne: .
Yes it's so horrible life online and yet the people in these colleges want to go the distance way. Anne again: it's all so true. Sadly, it drifts down even into "classroom" classes--my son because he has a 3.0, was able, as a high schooler last summer, to take a class for free--he took intro to sociology. It met one day a week instead of the two it was scheduled--for day two the students took a weekly on line test that was auto graded. He got an A with very little effort, no need to develop critical thinking skills  and very little human interaction. It was depressing to me.

Reply: Look at analogy in the destruction of welfare:

What you are saying is what the other two said. What interests me is how many of these things start with false hopes put before us which people seem to believe in.

Today the only the only safety net -- or help -- for the poor is Food Stamps. Aid to Dependent Children destroyed. It was touted as getting women jobs, not being dependent. People seriously said this; Clinton claimed it; fools on line asserted to me this was what was done, yes a little pushing but all to good. A week after Clinton signed the bill, his education secretary resigned in protest. Now he's written a book showing how the actual rules said grants (small) would go to states and states could use the money as they please.  Within a year, no more welfare.

How much do the hypocrites realize while they are hypocrites what they are doing? Some, a lot. The patsies who work for them too.  The world of made up on (as Swift said) knaves and fools and those who are forced to turn away, as a minority.

Sylvia

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