Thursday, November 10, 2011

Saying “Something About Our Institutions and Even Our Values…..”

At the Inside Higher Ed site this week, Joshua Kim posted a column entitled “The LMS: 10 Things I Don't Know.” It was an interesting post but, as often is the case with proponents of technology in higher education, it begins with a number of presumptions. Joshua has been pretty good about posting my responses. But I feel this merits a little wider audience (assuming, of course, that people actually read my blog – a shaky assumption to say the least). Here’s the post:

Joshua Kim said: “The learning management system (LMS) has become our academic Rorschach test. We all see different things when looking at the same LMS platforms. We all seem to be convinced that the choice of an LMS "says something" about our institutions, and even our values.”

That’s a pretty broad claim to say the least. I’d say there are a lot of academic “Rorschach test[s]” that we could administer in today’s academy. Given all the woes besetting higher education today, I’m not sure that concerns about LMS are necessarily the primary consideration, perhaps not even a major consideration. At best, LMS are a means to an end, that end being human users, and never an end in themselves, to paraphrase Kant.

However, I do agree that decisions about the LMS do more than just “ say something” about our institutions and our values. I would say they reveal much more than institutions realize. To wit:

• What does it say about the use of LMS to respond to over-enrollment and a resulting shortage of classroom seating at mega-universities? What does it say about the requirement that students take classes online because it is a) the only way they can get such classes since they’re not offered in F2F settings, and b) thus, it’s the only way they can graduate? What does it say about the growing tendency to charge students extra for such classes to cover the “technology fee?” What values are observable here?

• What does it say about an institution which relies heavily on LMS courses in which the problem of cheating on exams is epidemic and taken for granted by both the university and its students? What values does it teach a student when cheating is not only possible but essentially encouraged by this reality?

• What does it say about an institution whose over-enrollment which has made actual classroom teaching impossible carries over in online usage slowing responsiveness of LMS to a near-stop, this for students attempting to take timed examinations? Correspondingly, what does it say about institutions who make it virtually imperative that instructors use LMS systems but who now must spend increasing amounts of their own, non-compensated time to deal with the fragilities of those systems and their slowdowns?

• What does it say about an academy opting for a means of teaching which renders substantive examinations increasingly impossible in deference to multiple choice exams which more often than not hover at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy?

• What are the meta-lessons being taught by such conduct by universities? And what does a society look like 10 to 20 years down the road when the products of such systems are in control?

These are questions about values, Joshua. Such questions do not begin with the presumptions of Technopoly that all technological innovation is by definition progress and that if we can build it we must use it. Nor do they begin with presumptions that technology is by definition essential to the educational process. Moreover, such questions critically assess where technology might actually serve to hinder learning due to distractions with non-pedagogical concerns from the technology itself. And the answers to these questions say tons about our institutions.

It’d be easy to simply stone the prophets who raise such concerns. Those of us who raise them are accustomed to being called “Luddites,” the modern epithet for “heretic” hurled by those who serve at the corporate altars of technology. But is such a response intellectually honest? Is it responsible? Indeed, what might that say about the values such a response evidences?

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Josh Kim said...

A series of excellent questions....a dialogue worth having.

What is the response in your community as you bring up these questions?

frharry said...

I wish our university was having a dialogue on these questions. My observation is that we badly need to talk about these issues. Sadly, it is simply not happening and I am guessing it probably won't anytime soon.

Thanks for your reply, Joshua.