Thursday, October 12, 2006

Internet Identities Part I Faculty

According to Inside Higher Ed, Instructor John Hall from the University of Florida was participating in a distance learning course that videotaped lectures and made them available online for students enrolled in the course. Clips from one of the classes were uploaded on websites such as and under the title ‘Stoned Professor,’ shortly after the lecture. Since then Prof. Hall has been put on paid administrative leave and the course has been taken over by someone else. Once voted teacher of the year, Hall now has his future employment with the University of Florida, “Under consideration.”

While I think this is a very important topic, I was disappointed in this article. The author never asked why Hall was put on leave. There is a distinct difference between putting an instructor on leave because they were stoned, because an investigation into their drug habits is underway, because the university doesn’t approve of the current teaching method, and because he was the center of too much negative student attention. What the reader is left with is that he was put on leave because some unknown student said online that he was stoned.

Unlike many videos of professors, this one was being filmed intentionally by the University and the instructor was well aware that he was on camera. I wish that this author would have talked about what criteria or assessment the university uses when they decide which course to video tape. Is someone reviewing these lectures before they are put online? Was Belinda (the woman referenced in the clip as in charge of the zooming) concerned with Hall’s 'performance' on this day? Hall’s CV and his presence on the University of Florida online directory are impressive. Even his ratings on are good (based on the rumor that instructors want an average rating because a good rating is a signal that your classes are too easy).

This all leads to a soapbox that I probably frequent too often about faculty keeping up with the online identity that students are creating for them. Students are posting extensively edited and elaborately planned videos of their professors as a new hobby. When a faculty member's course is being represented online with videos of the students struggling to stay awake during lecture, that fac
ulty member now has a negative online identity. It doesn't matter if it is only two minutes, because it is the only two minutes many people will ever see of that lecture. As Ann Springer said in an article about faculty being filmed with out their knowledge for, “Students will always mock professors and there is nothing you can do about that.” However, with students embracing new technologies and mocking professors for an audience of strangers that will never have the opportunity to interact with the instructor or experience one of her lectures, the mocking has become much more powerful. Student mocking is now being electronically published and the lines separating student banter from slander and libel are getting awfully close together.

If a precedent is started that faculty members can loose their jobs based on this internet mocking, it means there could be a scary power shift that gives advantages to those who know how to Google. Lately faculty and mentors have been eager to point out that our future employers will be looking at our facebook accounts and judging us, but there is the possibility that the university is also looking at our facebook, and they are judging the faculty by what we say. I'm not saying that faculty have to become avid facebookers or should be reading the blogs of every student they encounter, but they need to keep in mind that avoiding the internet does not keep them from developing an online identity. Faculty need to be keeping track of where their names and their classes are popping up online. Not only for the CYOA theory, but there is also the possibility that it is some of the most honest feedback you'll ever get.

Friday, October 06, 2006

My Degree and My Debt

I was reading this article when I noticed the statement that, "the average student now graduates with $17,500 in student loan debt." It doesn't seem that hard to know why that is, but I'm wondering if there is just a whole different approach we should be taking. Students have never been able to afford college. However, one of the major differences is that in the 17, 18 and early 19 hundreds students were just skipping the bill. Now we carry around our debt for years. I'm not suggesting a grassroots movement that inspires students everywhere to dodge thier debt collectors, but if tuition for students doesn't work and has never worked, maybe it needs to be reassessed from top to bottom.

According to this simple College Cost Calculator, a high school freshman right now can expect to pay $90,591.93 for college. If that freshman starts working at 14 (when it becomes legal) for $7 an hour and 20 hours a week over the next 4 years she will earn $26,880. If she continues to work at the same rate through four years of college she will earn a total of $53,760. That student is short $36,831.93. She almost earned 60% of what she needs. Of course this doesn't take into account any living costs that she may have such as the car or the gas to get to this job. I could go on but there is no need to. We are knowingly marketing and selling a service to customers that cannot afford it. That is unethical.

I understand the importance of the commercial approach and that marketing universities supports the quality and diversity that we have in our country. I also understand that the students are people receiving the services rendered, but all of our campus programming on being responsible with a credit cards and staying out of debt seems ironic and perhaps a bit hypocritical given the situation we are putting them in.

During a discussion with one of my instructors she mentioned that tuition made up 15% or less of the University's budget. I don't have documentation for this but if it is true, we are expecting student to take out loans, be awarded scholarships, and work part time to provide us with only 15% of our budget. It doesn't seem like much to ask but it is enough to jeopardize their grades both in high school and college, cause them extra stress and anxiety, and edge them in to counseling (financial and mental). It has the potential to keep them from engaging in their community, visiting with their faculty, or even coming to college in the first place.

I don't know what the solution is. Maybe we should cut 15% of our budget. It's not a task I would want, but it wouldn't be the first or the last time a business has done it. Maybe employers should be recruiting students the same way sport coaches do, and whichever employer is lucky enough to get me is also lucky enough to pay off my debt. Maybe every potential student in the country should be given vouchers that equal the average cost of college. If they want to go somewhere more expensive then they should start worrying about scholarships and loans. It may be crazy talk, but crazy talk may be just what we need. This problem has been around for hundreds of years, we have to completely abandon the box in order to find an answer.