Friday, September 04, 2020

A New Phase


Back in March, the corona virus swept through the world, and his this county particularly hard.  I was in spring break at my university when we were given word that all classes would be conducted online when we returned, and we had 2 days to figure out how and tell them. So I did.  They told us it would just be for two weeks, but they wanted to see 4 weeks of lesson plans anyway.   Didn't like the sound of that, but I was just following my 15 week syllabus anyway, so no problem.  Of course, after a week they told us not to come back this semester. A little more difficult for me, and a lot more for all the students.  I taught through the class blog (which I have had since 2007) and email, and it worked.  Got a lot of positive feedback from the students.

The future remained unknown.  What concerned me was that for years colleges have been pushing to have more online classes, and often adopted learning management systems, where outside corporations are given control of the classes and faculty are just the people on the ground running things.  I was at a community college for 10 years, and in one 8 year period they had 3 such systems. These systems don't work, so failure is inevitable, and they just bring in another one.  Both students and faculty dislike them, but administrators love them, thinking it will make them more money.  They don't, and will cost them students.  At that other school, the president even bragged about how they would be able to hire faculty from other (cheaper) parts of the country, and thanks to the internet, they would never have to set foot in expensive New Jersey.  What occurred to me, was that if they could offshore our jobs to Kansas, they could offshore them to India or China, both known for cheap labor, and places where my schools have set up exchange programs.  As it turns out, art does not adapt well to online teaching.  Art students hate it, and some will travel many miles each week to work in person with a good professor. Yet I feared this health crisis would accelerate plans to do so anyway.

As the spring semester ended, we all got mail thanking us for so quickly adapting our classes to distance learning, and also telling us what we had done could never be done again.  A learning management system had been chosen, and all classes would have to be conducted through it.  With the art class I taught, they would select the art projects, the order we do them in, due dates, materials, a grading system, etc. We could train to use the system, and I tried to.  As part of that training we were instructed to research best practices in online teaching and I read many articles, written by educators experienced in this field. There were many recommendations as to what approaches and assignments work best. Of course in this system, we couldn't do any of the recommended things.  Even before the official trainings, they suggested an online background lesson, where an instructor would show us stuff.  What we got was a tiny window on the monitor, where things were too small to see, a moderator who went through everything without explaining it, and they had activated the cameras of all those in the session, so I could see a lot of faces older than mine and probably more confused than mine. I assume that was the plan all along.  

The system they had chosen was bad even by the standards of the industry.  They had been fired for incompetence and other failures by schools across the country.  A full time faculty committee at my school asked if we could explore other systems before committing to this one.  Then the faculty senate put out a proclamation saying this should not be allowed.  I've been involved in some online chats on other platforms.  Usually just a few keystrokes to get you there, and the video and audio are taken care of.  This one required 22 pages of instructions, and 78 different steps, and that doesn't include the grading. I did the training twice, tripling my score between them.  But a few days ago I was informed that what I had done was not good enough, and I would not be teaching my assigned classes, and my 15 year career at that college was now over.  Not because my teaching of art was a problem, or any personal behavior issues, but because I did not do well on their corrupt and inferior system.  In some ways this could be for the best- the new version of the class goes against much of my art training.  Many colleges in the south and midwest started weeks ago, and most of them have had to cancel classes or send students home because of covid 19 outbreaks, so I wonder if my classes (which start meeting in person in a few weeks) will even happen.  In any case I do need an income, so part of today was spent in the process of seeking a new job. I'll save that story for the next time.


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