Let’s all give the faculty of the University of Illinois a round of applause for standing up for academic values over commercial values! They shut down their bogus online “global campus” via Inside Higher Ed. (Paging Baa Ram U. “global”: are you listening? Good…)
The initial vision for Global Campus was akin to that of the most successful of private for-profit institutions: The project would appropriate syllabuses and course materials from its professors, reorganize them into its course management system, then hire outside instructors totally off the tenure track to teach. But that plan was rejected by the faculty senate at each of the three campuses. The professors insisted on a not-for-profit model that would not seek independent accreditation and would offer courses through existing programs on the university campuses; they also insisted on supervising their courses.
While it made economic sense to take course content from top-flight professors and hire outsiders to deliver it for less than half the price, it did not make pedagogical sense in the eyes of the faculty, Burbules said. “Teaching is not a delivery system, and I think most faculty were just not interested in giving up their course content to be ‘delivered’ by adjuncts with whom they might have little to no contact,” he said. “…You can’t divorce the syllabus from the delivery.”
Read that second sentence in the first paragraph again: The project would appropriate syllabuses and course materials from its professors, reorganize them into its course management system. . . What the heck does that mean? Oh, I guess it means that the project would appropriate the years of education, training, and expertise of its regular faculty, deny them ownership of their intellectual property, and then sell their syllabi and “course content” to people whose primary contact will be an adjunct hired to answer “student” e-mails. Gee, I wonder why the faculty didn’t just love this “business model,” which is a means by which the university profits from their expertise without paying them, and then exploits the underpaid labor of the adjunct Awesome: it’s a management twofer!
A very smart neighbor and friend of ours recently finished his undergraduate degree through a combination of on-line and traditional courses. He told me that although the on-line courses saved him a lengthy commute to and from campus and long evenings in class after his full-time job, he said that there was no comparison to having a faculty member and other students in the room in real time in a traditional college classroom. What are on-line students getting for their money, anyway? No access to a library, no access to other campus facilities–it seems like a college experience sold by a carnival barker or a snake oil salesman. I think there is value in the way education has traditionally been done in universities, and faculty will follow the on-line frenzy down the rabbit hole at their own peril. I know that many of you have taught on-line classes, mostly for the money–and believe me, I get that, and I’d be interested in hearing from you about your experiences. My instinct is that if we follow the logic of on-line courses as outlined by the University of Illinois experiment, they have the power to further weaken if not destroy the notion of regular faculty and tenure.
Oh, and one more thing: think twice before you post your syllabi and PowerPoint slides on-line, friends, even (or especially?) if it’s just through a software program or server at your own university and/or visible only to your students. Just because they don’t pay us well doesn’t mean our work doesn’t have value. It’s a jungle out there.