WIZ 301: Defense Against the Dark Arts, or, how universal design improves our teaching

defenseagainstdarkarts

Dump the blue books!

The always-thoughtful David Perry of How Did We Get Into This Mess and on Twitter @Lollardfish) has given his last blue-book, in class, timed exam.  Those of you who know his writing will not be surprised that he’s doing this because of the inequities and exposure in-class exams mean for students with disabilities:

I’ve been inching away from the blue book for years, but it’s time to go cold turkey and match my praxis to my principles. Whatever pedagogical gains the in-class test might bring — and I’ll argue they are few and increasingly less relevant — I can no longer justify forcing people with disabilities to disclose their conditions in order to receive basic test-related accommodations.

Although protections for disabled students date back to Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act spurred widespread change throughout academe. Compliance with the ADA and with Section 504 — for any institution receiving federal funds (including financial aid) — requires providing reasonable accommodations to students with diagnosed disabilities. It’s become routine, rather than rare, for students to begin the semester by presenting their professors with documented requests for accommodation.

That it’s become routine is great but far from perfect. Not only do students have to disclose disability to their professors —who are no more immune to ableism than to any other sort of bias — but the most common form of accommodation extends the disclosure to classmates. Many students with invisible disabilities (such as anxiety disorders or ADHD) require quiet rooms and extra time to work on a test. I’m thrilled to provide both. On the other hand, when the whole class gathers to take an exam, with one student conspicuously absent, everyone notices.

Right on, David!  (Be sure to read the whole article.)  He comes to his conclusion about canning the in-class, timed exams based on his understanding of the concept of universal design.  Perry explains, “That term — coined in the 1970s around architecture and public space —advocates that systems be designed to accommodate the widest range of function and ability possible. Universal design asks us to try and build accessibility into the fabric of our institutions and culture, rather than wait until individuals make their needs known.”  I’m sure you’ve seen evidence of it in buildings of recent construction–the extra-wide doorways and hallways, the paddle-handle door pulls that have replaced traditional doorknobs because they don’t require the number of fine motor skills to operate. Continue reading

Who do faculty “work for?”

cantevenUPDATED BELOW, Sunday afternoon.

Who do college and university faculty work for? Do we work for our students? Do we work for the administrators at our institutions? If we work at public universities, do we work for the taxpayers of our states? Do we work for our colleagues? Who has a right to demand work from us?

The reason I’m asking is that last week ended for me in a faculty meeting yesterday afternoon that was billed as “important” by our department chair, because we were going to learn all about some new software that would “make it easy” to generate our CVs and our annual reports.  (I bet some of you know where this is going.) Continue reading

A (Bull$!t) Mountain of Magical Thinking

You know those old stories in which a reporter for the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune drops in on the MLA’s (Modern Language Association) or the AHA’s (American Historical Association) annual meeting, drops in on a few panels with arcane subjects or papers, and then proves his or her thesis that modern academics are completely out-of-touch intellectuals discussing easy-to-caricature topics like queering the Peabody sisters or disability and turn of the 20th century American freak shows?

Well, one of ours has gone to Davos, and comes back with a very dispiriting report on the stupidity and naivety of our supposed betters (or at least richers).  UC Santa Barbara historian of technology Patrick McCray has pubished his report on what he saw at Davos last week, and it wasn’t good.  Over on his blog, The Leaping Robot, he writes about his invitation there to give a talk, and thought he’d give the proceedings there a little more respect than that offered by said Times or Trib reporter at modern literature and history conferences:

In accepting the WEF’s invitation to Davos, I tried to put aside some of my professional skepticism or at least channel it into more productive (i.e. less snarky) channels. In other words, I sought a line between stick-in-the-mud historian barking “It’s more complicated than than!” and being a starry-eyed Kool-Aid imbiber. I wanted to find a way to reach out to Davos Man in language he/she understood. Maybe I could even help pump the stomachs, idea-wise, of those that had consumed too much innovation Kool Aid.

I called my Betazone talk “innovation’s shadow.” In the time I had, I wanted to gently question some of the concepts of a 4th Industrial Revolution. I also hoped, to pour some mild acid on the prevailing innovation-centric view of technology that gives far too much agency to entrepreneurs and other “creative disrupters.”

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Great prediction, Carnac: a brief history of the future of online education

carnacthemagnificentOne of the great things about blogging for the better part of a decade is that you can hold people accountable for the silly things they once said, or wrote, and presumably believed.

Do you remember 2010?  Like yesterday?  Here’s columnist Froma Harrop on September 21, 2010:

Bill Gates recently predicted: “Five years from now on the Web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university.”

It’s the fall semester of 2015:  are we there yet?  What does Professor Pushbutton have to say about all of this?  How ’bout them learning machines, y’all?   Continue reading

Maybe not the “dumbest generation?”

dunceMark Bauerlein, a not-that-old fogy at an elite university, wrote something cranky about the practice of higher education in the New York Times last weekend.  The column has been subjected to a ritual beating by many in the academic blogosphere.  Yesterday, a call went out from David Perry (@Lollardfish on Twitter, and the blog How Did We Get Into This Mess) that he “would like to see R1 profs engage in a loud and public conv[ersation] ab[out] teaching and research.”  Although I teach at an R1, it’s the Aggie school in my state and certainly not “elite.”  I also don’t teach Ph,D. students, as my History department offers just a Master’s Degree.

This year, as regular readers know, I’ve been far away from the grind at Baa Ram U. and on sabbatical at the Huntington Library, a.k.a. “Scholars’ Disneyland.”  I’ve been living much like a Renaissance scholar, dining at the table and enjoying the luxuries of my sponsoring Prince–that is to say, nothing like my real life, but you know what?  The conversations I’ve been having here with the Distinguished Fellows–all of whom teach at elite universities and supervise Ph.D. students as well as undergraduates–frequently revolves around teaching, and yes, teaching undergraduates!  How do we reach them?  How do we get them to become and remain History majors?  What subjects interest them most, and how can we use those interests to develop an aptitude for historical thinking?

We’re like young parents who want nothing more than a night away from the children, and then we end up talking about the children the whole time we’re out to dinner. Continue reading

Thursday round-up: the hang together or hang separately edition

cowgirl3aFriends!  Angelenos!  Countrywomen!  I’ve been in SoCA so long you probably thought I had traded in my cowgirl boots for flip-flops permanently.  No way!  Never fear.  You can take the cowgirl out of Colorado, but you can’t take Colorado out of the cowgirl.

Anyhoo:  I’m too busy to write a real blog post this morning, but a number of items have come to my attention lately that I’d like to share with you. I hope you’re booted and ready to ride, because here goes: Continue reading