Adopting or Adapting?

April 5th, 2010

Those who may have missed Anya Kamanetz’s DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education got several chances of late to get at least a sampling e.g., her contribution to the “debate” staged by the NY Times under the title “College Degrees Without Going to Class,” the recent interview of her in the Chronicle, and her “Adapt or Decline” piece in Inside Higher Ed. (Arguably the best introduction to her thinking, short of the book, is an extended video of her holding forth for half an hour.)

Inevitably, what she sees as an opportunity — to cut costs and forge new paths given the availability of open educational resources (OER) — seems a danger to others. David Wiley says in a recent blog post that if you turn students “loose with links to some OER and expect good things to happen for more than 5% of them, you’re just off your rocker.” Similarly, Michael Feldstein, in his blog E-literate, holds that most “students are not autodidacts,” and so it is not clear to him that “the blossoming of open education for their more fortunate peers will do anything for them other than suck the much needed funds out of an already badly underfunded education system.” These takes exasperate Stephen Downes who thinks they confuse the baby with the bathwater: “The reason we have so many students who are utterly unable to learn for themselves is precisely *because* of corporations and institutions.”

To circle back to Anya Kamanetz, her “Adapt of Decline” imperative is a slightly more evolutionary version of “Do or Die.” But it’s addressed to institutions. And the people who, well, people those institutions have their own spaces in which to move and their own decisions to make. That would be a good reason to note that Anya Kamanetz’s imperative is, as the Chronicle article notes, a “moral imperative” — to give the full headline “Anya Kamenetz Invokes ‘a Moral Imperative to Cut Costs’ With Technology.”

This might be a call for some personal if not institutional adaption. ‘Tis the season for textbook adoption. It could be interesting to break the mold, go for something new — digital content, open access publications, e-resources from the library, things you can link to rather than have your students buy. It’s not a giant step. But it’s a step. If your CUNY faculty, your university is already taking steps to save your students money on texts. Why not go the institution one better?

  1. Michael Feldstein Says:

    George, my friend, I’m frankly surprised by how much you have flattened this conversation. I did not say, imply, or think that students are never auto-didacts. I was speaking about very specific students–not the ones in the Macaulay Honors college, but the ones in the Development English classes at BMCC. I am all for OER. I am all for trying new things in the classroom. I am all bringing the focus of education back (yes, back–this is nothing invented by the edupunks) to a focus on student discovery, student initiative, and student-centered conversation and collaboration. I just don’t believe that sprinkling a little magic WordPress dust is going to solve the most difficult educational problems that schools like BMCC face.

  2. George Otte Says:

    You’re right, Michael. I had meant to make a critical point on my way to my much smaller point: what interests me about the disagreement I noted (and limned in the starkest outlines I could with admittedly selective quotation) was that this is a disagreement among people who are all advocates of open ed — SD, DW, and of course you. I do get that. Since I’m doing my mea culpa for that bit of reductionism, let me say that I would also be wary of characterizing students too much by institution. (I think a friend of mine who used to teach at BMCC and is now Director of Technology and Learning at Macaulay Honors College might agree.) That was precisely my point: that some of these decisions might best be made at the point where the rubber hits the road, by instructors rather than institutions.

  3. Michael Feldstein Says:

    We certainly agree there, as would Joe, I suspect. While I fear losing sight entirely of the structural tendency to turn community colleges into intellectual ghettos (a point which Kamenetz makes in her first chapter), you are—of course—right that we should lose sight of the trees through the forest.

  4. Jim Groom Says:

    Yet the assumptions that institutions and instructors are always at the center is what is most problematic for me, even with a little “WordPress dust” or worse, Oracle acid 🙂

    The way you attack the edupunks seems to me that they actually exist, which I would question. It is a nice foil for a seemingly concessionary view of education, something important has to be done, and we are all responsible, but….what? Where’s the other side of the argument? I guess all I see is kind of defense of the existing order, with some ideas of important change alluded to, but I really don’t understand what comes of “the everyone’s guilty” approach you take in your post Michael? I’m actually really interested in what your approach would be, or your idea of a different approach that remains within the institution structure, but sparks real change in pedagogy, learning, mental health, etc.

  5. George Otte Says:

    I gather you are addressing Michael, Jim, but I’m going to rush in here (like a fool) and say that I do think instructors (and, yes, institutions) have a role to play, if not necessarily at the center of things. I think we’re at a point analogous to the mid-fifteenth century, when another technological revolution, the printing press, apparently promised to supersede the need universities and profs (a rather newer imposition then than now). That didn’t happen, of course. Institutions and roles transformed to extend literacy. Arguably, books made instruction more important (and interesting), not less. What’s interesting about the present moment is the way OER, at least potentially, puts profs (and even the places that employ them) in the position of resourcing students. About time, presumably. For this to work, of course, things would have to change pretty radically. But it happened before.

  6. Jim Groom Says:


    I was baiting Michael on two fronts, and he smacked me down accordingly 🙂 I actually do think there will be a palce for instructors and students, but I keep wondering if it isn;t in a new space or even an old space, namel apprenticeship and the idea of more personable, localized spaces of training and sharing within networks. I guess my comment boce, on reread, strikes of a kind of search for some possibilities, and the idea of resourcing students is an excellent one. One you have been doing for years between Matt, Zach and other grad students. Look what that kind of relationship led to? I think I need a sense of possibility within a system that builds more relationships like that, and can at the same time what them flourish as they did there. And that’s the paradox, because that shouldn’t happen at CUNY if I follow the extension of my own logic, but it does.

  7. Michael Feldstein Says:

    Jim, it’s really funny you should mention that, because I have been thinking about writing a post about digital apprenticeship since this whole kerfluffle started. I think it is the right direction. I would add I also think we need to revisit a complementary tradition to apprenticeship: Guilds.

    There is a lot to be explored here.

  8. Joseph Ugoretz Says:

    Guilds! Macaulay ITFs are a guild!

    More later but I am following this with interest.

  9. Karen Greenberg Says:

    I’m not just following this discussion; I’m glued to it. As George knows, I’m not permitted to do *any* online instruction (because of my college Senate’s resolution that every department make its own decision about “the appropriate delivery of content and instruction”). And, as George also knows, this is driving me crazy because I used to teach “hybrid” courses without telling any administrators and that teaching experience made me be believer in–and a vocal proponent of–using technology and the internet to help/enable/facilitate student learning. ( I was–and still try to be–one of Stephen Downes’s “change agents,” who always have to “work around, and often against, their mandate in order to make a difference.)

    George was instrumental in helping me become a change agent for faculty across CUNY who wanted to learn about online instruction; to date, I’ve helped more than 300 instructors create and/or improve their online courses. BUT I’M NOT ALLOWED TO USE ONE with my own students. [Sorry, I had to vent in capitals.] So when I read the first chapter of DIV U (particularly the section on “colleges that trumpet [their] centuries long tradition of academic excellence”), I thought Kamenetz was describing my college. This is my 34th year here and I still don’t see any meaningful efforts to change the ways in content and instruction are “appropriately delivered.” Most of my colleagues smirk when I say something educational innovation.

    But I don’t agree with David Wiley’s analysis of the causes of this depressing situation. It hasn’t been my experience that “the majority of the people actively involved in ‘open education’ are technologists [who] work on the problems they are comfortable solving.” At CUNY, the “majority” of the people who have led (and are continuing to lead) faculty attempts to open (in its “verb” sense) education are English teachers. And we (for I’m one) don’t do what Wiley accuses “open education advocates who aren’t technologists” of doing (i.e., “focus more on the administrative, policy, and business problems of moving open education forward than RSS, Yahoo Pipes, wikis, or collaborative authoring”). Because we are actually *using* the technology and tools that we’re advocating, we have first-hand experience with them, and this experience informs our theories and pedagogies.

    Unfortunately for me, however, the English faculty in my college have little or no interest in listening to anyone but themselves. And, in my view, as long as faculty ignore/resist/condemn their students’ strategies and tools for learning, things won’t change until the administration forces the changes. And forcing faculty to teach online is the best way to destroy the entire endeavor.

  10. DIY U: Digital Apprenticeship and the Modern Guild Says:

    […] recently, Jim Groom suggested that apprenticeship might be a good model for networked learning, particularly for those […]

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