I’m teaching again after 20 years away. The tech is pure absurdity – Inergency

3
I’m teaching again after 20 years away. The tech is pure absurdity – Inergency


AlessandroBiascioli/Alam​y

IT IS never a good feeling to open a new piece of software and realise that something terrible has happened. The kind of terrible that results in dozens of instructional videos, hundreds of entries in the FAQs and multiple, contradictory warnings from people online purporting to give “simple introductions” to the software in question.

All of this and more happened to me when I found myself subjected to a learning management system (known not-so-fondly as an LMS) for teaching university classes in media studies. In a year when the US higher education system is imploding (more on that later), my journey through the wilds of this LMS felt practically allegorical.

Before I became a writer, I was an academic in American studies and I spent several years teaching at a university. I have always wanted to teach again, but I wound up taking almost two decades to get back to it. Hence my sudden LMS shock. I am the Rip Van Winkle of pedagogy, who fell asleep in a pile of smudgy photocopies and woke up in a world ravaged by plague-induced distance-learning platforms.

Back in the mists of time, I might create a syllabus and hand it out on a piece of paper on the first day of class. In a few rare cases, we had class websites and used some janky old chat software for online discussions. Mostly, there were books and photocopied “readers” full of supplementary materials. Exams were handwritten in “bluebooks”, sheafs of lined paper stapled into flimsy blue covers.

I am not trying to evoke halcyon days. Books and readers were far too expensive and there was pretty much no way for students to collaborate, ask questions or turn in their work online. LMSes have gone a long way towards fixing those issues. In the department where I am teaching now, most course texts are cheap to access online. Students can chat with me and each other in the LMS and turn in exams and assignments online.

But now there is a new set of problems. An LMS is a commodity, which means it has to be something managers can buy for corporate instruction and on-the-job training. It has to be everything for everyone, which leads to redundancies and misnomers. “Don’t ever use ‘syllabus’, ” a colleague warned. “Use ‘new syllabus’ instead.” Of course the drop-down menu includes both. Also, don’t use “pages” or “files”, I was told – use “modules”. There are at least 50 videos on YouTube about how everything in this LMS (one of hundreds out there) has to be done with modules because everything else is broken. Which – yes, can confirm.

And then there are all the distance-learning features grafted onto an already bloated system in early 2020. I think this might be the source of a lot of problems in the LMS, which was converted from an already-messy system into a video streaming service that hosted thousands of professors broadcasting from home. That is a lot to ask of any piece of software.

Lurking beneath the tomfoolery is a stark reality: an LMS places educators and students under surveillance in a way that was quite shocking to me in my Rip Van Winkle state. I can see all my students’ names, sure, but also their profiles, some of which include personal information. I can see when they logged in and what they did on the class site. And anyone the student shares their account with can see everything I am assigning in class, comments I have made in chat and more.

I like the idea that an LMS can lead to transparency and accountability. But I worry that isn’t how this kind of detailed classroom information is being used. In the US, there is a backlash against higher education right now. Recently, conservatives proudly proclaimed that their anti-diversity activism led to the resignation of Claudine Gay, the first Black woman to become president of Harvard University. Parent groups are banning books in school libraries and pointing at “woke” syllabi to accuse professors of brainwashing students by teaching the history of slavery, for example. People who hate the idea of liberal education are selectively surveilling classrooms and weaponising what they find. Of course, parents and activists can always find out what was being taught in school, but LMSes make it far easier by collecting it all in one place and putting it online.

Needless to say, the texts that an educator assigns are just a small part of what they teach. I might hate for my classes to be judged purely on what students are assigned; sometimes I teach texts I want to question or eviscerate in order to model critical thinking. That is the problem with peeking at a class in an LMS and assuming you know what is being taught.

This brings me back to the LMS as an allegory for education in the US. It has been commodified, it is messy and it is full of surveillance features. Luckily, it works just well enough for us to teach – and we have to hope that is enough.

Annalee’s week

What I’m reading

The Sentinel State by Minxin Pei, a terrific deep dive into the Chinese surveillance state.

What I’m watching

The Brothers Sun, a hilarious series about a dorky guy who discovers his mother is actually the head of a Taiwanese gang.

What I’m working on

Finishing my “new syllabus” for Intro to Media Studies in the learning management system.

Annalee Newitz is a science journalist and author. Their latest novel is TheTerraformers and they are the co-host of the Hugo-winning podcast Our Opinions Are Correct. You can follow them @annaleen and their website is techsploitation.com

 

Topics:


Disasters Expo USA, is proud to be supported by Inergency for their next upcoming edition on March 6th & 7th 2024!

The leading event mitigating the world’s most costly disasters is returning to the Miami Beach

Convention Center and we want you to join us at the industry’s central platform for emergency management professionals.
Disasters Expo USA is proud to provide a central platform for the industry to connect and
engage with the industry’s leading professionals to better prepare, protect, prevent, respond
and recover from the disasters of today.
Hosting a dedicated platform for the convergence of disaster risk reduction, the keynote line up for Disasters Expo USA 2024 will provide an insight into successful case studies and
programs to accurately prepare for disasters. Featuring sessions from the likes of The Federal Emergency Management Agency,
NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NOAA, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, TSA and several more this event is certainly providing you with the knowledge
required to prepare, respond and recover to disasters.
With over 50 hours worth of unmissable content, exciting new features such as their Disaster
Resilience Roundtable, Emergency Response Live, an Immersive Hurricane Simulation and
much more over just two days, you are guaranteed to gain an all-encompassing insight into
the industry to tackle the challenges of disasters.
By uniting global disaster risk management experts, well experienced emergency
responders and the leading innovators from the world, the event is the hub of the solutions
that provide attendees with tools that they can use to protect the communities and mitigate
the damage from disasters.
Tickets for the event are $119, but we have been given the promo code: HUGI100 that will
enable you to attend the event for FREE!

So don’t miss out and register today: https://shorturl.at/aikrW

And in case you missed it, here is our ultimate road trip playlist is the perfect mix of podcasts, and hidden gems that will keep you energized for the entire journey

-

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More