Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Credit for MOOCs? Only for "non-elite institutions"

If this doesn't make you wince, read it again.  Yes, we knew a while back that there'd be no credit for you in a MOOC if you're part of the elite cadre that's producing them.

But let Caroline Hoxby, cited at, spell it out for you. MOOC-consuming institutions are, well, how to put it?  (Here's the working paper.)
  • They are like Mickey D's (I'm paraphrasing) in that they sell "current educational services for current payments,”  unlike the "venture capitalists" of elite institutions that  "invest massively in each student" and reap the benefits of--knowing that they've helped to further human knowledge?  Don't be ridiculous: they'll reap the real benefits in donations from their rich, grateful alumni.
  • And since these non-elites are effectively training academies (paraphrasing again) rather than actual universities like Stanford and Duke, MOOCs can replace them: "they may provide viable substitutes for [non-selective post-secondary education] courses that are already effectively summarized by certificates.”  
Hoxby is right about one thing, the very thing that bloggers have been writing about for the past three years: why would students at high-status institutions pay expensive tuition for credits from their own institution if they can get credit for the course through a MOOC for free?  I won't keep you in suspense: they wouldn't.
If highly selective schools start accepting MOOCs for credit, and students stop paying, the institutions may no longer be able to financially support the effort to create the courses in the first place. This is just one of the reasons Hoxby argues that these institutions should not consider accepting MOOCs for credit, even those MOOCs they develop themselves.
So developing MOOCs is effectively like elite institutions eating their own seed corn, which I think Jonathan Rees pointed out some years back.

One thing the summary of the report, at least, doesn't seem a bit concerned about that humanities faculty at places like Amherst were thoughtful enough to consider: what happens to the non-elites once the elites have had their MOOCs inserted into their curricula?

Actually, I'm being unfair to Hoxby. She's really just laying out the economic reality that we're all going to have to deal with sooner or later.  Once MOOCs get their hands--tentacles?--into non-elites and things get worse, as they will, what she tells us will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Writing in public

I've been intrigued by Claire Potter/Tenured Radical's two posts about writing in public and Historiann's recent roundup mentioning Matthew Pratt Gutterl's new blog.

Like the other posts, TR's "Re-thinking the Place of Writing in our Lives" has a lot good suggestions, several of which made me think about how they could be implemented.
  • Is it possible to write in the office? Yes, and I love the idea that supportive colleagues would establish quiet times (or, better still, set up quiet rooms/cubicles) on campus.  There are two things that make this tricky. First, at any given time, I have about 20 books open, out of maybe 200 that I rotate in and out of my study at home, and I use them when I'm writing. Second, they're at home rather than in my office, and it's not practical to lug them back and forth.  
Although I work from notes and electronic sources, too, the books have become--maybe from habit--a visual stimulus to thought.  They are visual placeholders.  Sometimes I'm looking away from the screen and thinking of something, and the cover of one of the books will remind me, or I 'll read to get the focus back.

There's also the writing habit that goes with certain spaces.  The office seems to trigger the desire to do a lot of necessary teaching and administrative tasks, whereas home is for writing. 

Perhaps this is more habit than necessity, though. Maybe the books and the division of spaces between work and writing are like a turtle shell, in that they make me feel surrounded and protected by the resources I need to work.  Maybe a little more public writing would help to erase the dependence on that shell.
  • Short-form writing? Also a good idea, and I'm doing some of it, although it counts for nothing at P and T time.
  • Have a conversation about why books are the gold standard in the humanities? The MLA has been weighing in on this for at least 20 years, most seriously 12 years ago with Stephen Greenblatt's statement. We can keep having this conversation, and things may be changing, but in talking to academics in the humanities, I don't hear about there being much change in this.
  • Too much service as an escape, in a way, from publishing, since the rewards are immediate? It's true that this can eat up your time.  One of the hardest lessons I've learned is that this kind of work eats up mental space as well as physical time. Read an email on the weekend or over a break, and even if you don't answer it, your brain will be busy trying to think up a solution.  
    • Train yourself not to read email on the weekend or group them all to answer at one time.
    • If the break is longer, don't read the email but send a polite reply saying that you'll respond once you get back from a conference, semester break, or whatever.  A lot of times, people don't expect an immediate reply; they're just lobbing their thoughts onto your desk so that they don't have to look at them any more.  You are not obliged to respond right way.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Random bullets of a new week

  • Today is Martin Luther King Day.  Among other things we need to remember on this day is that the whole controversy over establishing it, more than 30 years ago, is a reminder of just why we need to honor this man's legacy.
  • The beginning (post-MLA or no) of the semester marks the real beginning of 2014 for a lot of us.
  • Historiann's Liturgy of the Book post is worth reading more than once for a lot of reasons, not least what it says about the difficulties of the "bang it out" first draft mode.  I wonder if that works better for fiction than for research-related writing, for, as she says, "Part of the reason for this is that the intricate social history that I must do in this book means that I’m frequently both doing the research and making discoveries and connections while I’m writing."
  • Madwoman with a Laptop's well-argued post On Boycotts is another one worth reading more than once. I am trying to stay resolutely mute on this topic (note the deliberately light post-MLA blog post), but there is a report of the meeting at IHE and at the Chronicle.
  • And now, on a lighter note: I have a countdown of weeks and days until I have to turn in this manuscript.  Let's hope it's not like Gob Bluth's Final Countdown.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Random Bullets of MLA 2014

  • ADM has the best response to the jobs crisis: it's not a discipline issue but a labor issue. 
  • I don't have much to say this year because I had a lot of meetings and so didn't get to as many sessions as I wanted.  I didn't follow them on Twitter, either, because that just leads to Session Envy.
  • Did anybody mention yet that there were a lot of great panels? There were. I checked in on Twitter from time to time, and if you're only reading from there, you're getting a skewed view of the variety. 
  • Lots of great places to eat. It's Chicago!
  • Lots and lots of slush, ice, and people falling when walking from the Marriott to the Sheraton and vice versa. It's Chicago! In winter! I saw a tweet that said "Chicago MLA 2014: Because last year in Boston wasn't cold enough." Really, though, there was no polar vortex by the time of the convention, and except for a day of sleet, the weather was pretty good.  
  • There were Big Contentious Issues discussed. 
  • I didn't hear the "Skype interview" issue emerge in any conversation, but it's early days for that, and maybe by next year in Vancouver someone will raise it as an issue for MLA governance to discuss.
  • Apparently everyone is in a tizzy because the granola bars cost $6.25. It's a hotel. Of course the food is going to be ridiculous in price. They charge that because they can. It's called capitalism. Didn't anyone take my advice about packing granola bars in your luggage?  (I packed 6-7 granola bars and ended up eating every one, though I don't especially care for them and never eat them at home.)

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Abolish the MLA interview? Sure, why not?

Dr. Virago and Miriam Burstein have posts up about Michael Berube's public Facebook post suggesting the end of the MLA conference interview in favor of Skype or phone first-round interviews and his follow-up post discussing the benefits.  Go see their posts and comments for a more comprehensive look at the idea.

Among the potential benefits:
  • The obvious one of eliminating or cutting way down on the costs for job-seekers who go to the conference for the interview.  It's expensive to go to MLA, in terms of time and money both, and no, faculty members don't get their way fully paid.  
    • What I love about this idea is that candidates wouldn't have to stress out about how they're going to pay for everything in addition to worrying about whether they're going to get an interview or not. 
  • The possibility of interviewing more candidates than the 12 or so customary at the MLA.  
  • If the MLA decided to discourage the conference interview, that should have some effect on quashing what Flavia and others suggest is the "prestige factor" for the MLA interview, as in "if we don't take a suite at an MLA hotel, candidates will think we're not serious about hiring." The MLA pronounces judgments and passes resolutions about a lot of things, and this would be one that would have a substantive effect. 
  • The possibility of holding MLA in smaller cities, since the conference would be smaller.  MLA apparently doesn't make money on the conference anyway.
There'd still be campus interviews, but maybe universities could bring more candidates to campus (4 instead of 3, 3 instead of 2, or whatever) if they didn't have to partially fund a search committee's trip to MLA.

Also, if you're hiring in rhet/comp, creative writing, or other fields that have different major conferences (CCCC, AWP), this would bring those hiring processes into alignment with ones in more MLA-centric ones. 

Are there negatives? Maybe, but they're relatively minor ones:
  • You might not get to hear candidates present papers at the conference, because that might confer an unfair advantage (wouldn't it?) if you met or saw in person a candidate outside the Skype or phone interview.  On the other hand, if you're on a search committee, you can barely leave the interview room as it is, and you probably can't attend a candidate's panel in any case.
  • It's nice to meet a candidate in person and shake his or her hand. Well, yes it is, but is that preference worth putting the candidates through the expense of the process?
  • Skype (or Google Hangout, or any of the others) isn't perfect; you get dropped calls sometimes, or Goofy Face Freeze Frame.  But if everyone is using something like this, the playing field will be level. 
I like the positive turn that this whole conversation is taking. On to Chicago!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Writers on Writing: Julian Fellowes

Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Downton Abbey) on Writing

“I think a lot in bed at night. When I wake up, I never try to get back to sleep; I try to work out the stories of Downton. In the morning, I might have maybe half an hour before I get up to sort out stories and plots and things. I do it when I’m driving, too. When I sit down in front of the computer, I know what the stories are. I might write a page of indications of stories: ‘Mrs. Patmore buys a new hat.’ Then I tell the stories, plaiting them. [. . . ] 

“I started my writing career largely when I was working as an actor on a series called Monarch of the Glen. I had to write in a hotel room or in some horrible dressing room. I could take my computer, plug it in, and start working: I couldn’t do all that Oh, so I’ve got to be facing the sun at this angle.

“I work partly in London and in Dorset; I work in the House of Lords— they’ve given me a little office. I am something of a workaholic, which I can only say is just as well. I feel guilty when I’m not working.

“I don’t have time for writer’s block; I just have to get on, because I’ve made so many commitments. Sometimes you write stuff, and it doesn’t seem any good, and you chuck it out; but you have to keep churning it out. If you want to be a writer for your living, and you’re not just working on your book in the attic, you have to be grown up about it and not wait until you’re in the mood. You can’t afford that. Usually, if you go for a walk, you can come back with an idea of where you go next.

“One thing I do— it doesn’t always work, but it’s pretty helpful— is finish work for the day knowing what the next bit is. I don’t usually stand up from my desk until I know what I will write as soon as I sit down the next day. I put in the heading of the scene: ‘Robert is standing in the library with Mary.’ Once you sit down and you can work immediately, to a certain extent you’ve got forward motion.

“I’m not a big fan of going back over what I’ve done. I like to write the episode and put ‘The End.’ In many ways, that’s when the work starts— changing the structure and altering the thing and taking that story out and putting this one in. Somehow modeling an episode that already exists is miles easier than the trudge of making it come into existence.”

Eaton, Rebecca (2013-10-29). Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS (250-251, 254). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

So, to recap:
  1. Use reflection time (before you get out of bed, when you're driving) to work out some of your writing so that you can wake up writing.
  2. Just write. No special surroundings needed.
  3. Guilt can be your friend: "I feel guilty when I'm not working." 
  4. If you want to be a professional, just write: “I don’t have time for writer’s block.”  
  5. Keep moving, part I: “If you go for a walk, you can come back with an idea of where you go next.” Or maybe if you take a shower? Just don’t take a bath and slip on the soap left behind by a treacherous lady’s maid.
  6. Keep moving, part II. Write down the “next bit” before you get up from your desk for the day. This gives you the forward motion you need. 
  7. Don’t work it to death before you’re done. Write “The End” and then go back and change it.  You’ll have to change it anyway, and the rewriting is already “miles easier” than writing it in the first place.