Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Friday Night Links

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* Thickness of the ice sheets at various locations 21,000 years ago compared with modern skylines.

* Ian Bogost has a great piece on MOOCs in an otherwise totally skippable LARoB feature on the subject.

MOOCs are a financial policy for higher education. They exemplify what Naomi Klein has called “disaster capitalism”: policy guilefully initiated in the wake of upheaval.  The need to teach more students with fewer resources is a complex situation. It’s partly caused by hubris, especially the blind search for higher institutional status through research programs, and it’s exacerbated by the tax base crises of the ongoing and seemingly permanent Great Recession. MOOCs offer the next logical step in this process of “cost containment.” But those who would call current funding models “unviable” and offer MOOCs as a convenient alternative fail to admit that the very need for an alternative presumes that we want to abandon public education in favor of a corporate-owned infrastructure in the first place.

MOOCs are an academic labor policy. As a consequence of the financial policy just described, MOOCs are amplifying the precarity long experienced by adjuncts and graduate student assistants, and helping to extend that precarity to the professoriate. MOOCs encourage an ad-hoc “freelancing” work regime among tenured faculty, many of whom will find the financial incentives for MOOC creation and deployment difficult to resist. This is particularly true of public institution faculty who have gone years without raises. Many institutions offer tens of thousands of dollars of direct compensation for MOOC development and teaching. And, in some cases, MOOCs offer direct access to student tuition and direct competition among faculty for those new resources, extending the “entrepreneurial” institutional politics of professional schools (and corporate life more generally) to all disciplines.

MOOCs are speculative financial instruments. The purpose of an educational institution is to educate, but the purpose of a startup is to convert itself into a financial instrument.The two major MOOC providers, Udacity and Coursera, are venture capital-funded startups, and therefore they are beholden to high leverage, rapid growth with an interest in a fast flip to a larger technology company or the financial market. The concepts of “disruption” and “innovation,” so commonly applied to MOOCs, come from the world of business. As for EdX, the MOOC consortium started by Harvard and MIT, it’s a non-profit operating under the logic of speculation rather than as a public service. If anything, it will help the for-profits succeed even more by evangelizing their vision as compatible with elite non-profit educational ideals.

It is telling that elite professors and universities who design MOOCs aren’t using them for their own students. Those of us who value education and its role in fostering both literacy and democracy should pass on them too.

* Patton Oswalt: A Closed Letter to Myself about Thievery, Heckling, and Rape Jokes.

* Sarah Kendzior vs. the prestige economy. Good interview.

* Obama wants you to believe he’s really truly going to get serious about the climate next month. Really! Meanwhile, they’ve found another methane time bomb in the permafrost.

There are nearly six times as many showings of Man Of Steel alone as there are of all the films about women put together.

The Seinfeld theme slowed down by 1,200 percent is horrifying.

* High-ranking SS commander found living in Minnesota.

* John Oliver really is a much better host of the Daily Show than Stewart’s been since the Bush years.

The investigation was ongoing, but Undersheriff James Szczesniak said there was no evidence yet that Martino “had any ill intent.” There could be a dozen perfectly legitimate reasons why he’d have 30 to 40 pipe bombs in his apartment.

 Transgender People Can Now Change Their Social Security Record’s Gender Identity.

What’s more important: a college degree or being born rich? The answer will totally not surprise you!

* And the time has come at last to raid Detroit’s pensions in the name of bankers’ profits.

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