The Future of Higher Education and Community: The Role of Faculty

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The Future of Higher Education and Community: The Role of Faculty*

 

Let’s see if I can combine a few ideas in this blog post as I engage in several ‘c’ and ‘x’ Moocs* during my non-teaching semester. Dave Cormier invites us to consider community as curriculum in the P2PU course “Rhizomatic Learning” and Dr. Cathy Davidson invites participants to think about ‘Neoliberalism and the Defunding of Public Institutions’ in the Duke / Coursera course on “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education”. Both courses are Moocs of sorts and both use social media platforms such as Google+, Facebook and Twitter to enhance accessibility and interaction among participants. The discussion forums in each course are provocative, engaging and offer a wide range of perspectives because of the worldwide representation of participants. Dave Cormier’s weekly prompts are delivered on You Tube in about 4 minute bytes or less and Dr. Davidson’s lecture captures, lasting approximately 20 minutes each, are embedded within the Coursera platform and are downloadable along with a readable transcript or ‘cue cards’.  Coursera’s organization includes a team of Duke University TA’s who monitor and frequently comment on the discussion boards and are available for online office hours to field questions; it is not clear whether Dave Cormier’s course includes additional human resources other than behind the scenes technical support for the various online platforms used for the P2PU course; although, the Google+ Community indicates 2 mentors embedded in the participant list. The Rhizomatic Learning course is an exercise in the community as curriculum, online, because the course content emerges from the blog postings, resource production / sharing and social media discussions ensuing from Dave Cormier’s thematic prompts on education. The Coursera content has been predetermined to a large degree and is delivered through videotaped lecture format, along with quizzes and essay writing / peer review requirements for a certificate-a more traditional approach, albeit in an xMooc format. Certificates are not offered in Dave Cormier’s course; although, there is a badge available- but the course community is very active and the flurry of weekly blog posts attest to the interest level participants attach to engaging  with their established and growing personal learning networks.

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One of the #FutureEd discussion forums I have engaged in this past week has tackled the thorny issue of adjuncts vs. professors in higher education as a subtheme in the thinking about the role of university faculty and labour relations for the future. It is no secret that the percentage of courses taught by adjuncts has increased dramatically in most post secondary institutions in North America. According to a January episode of CBC’s “The Current” entitled “The income gap between tenure faculty and adjunct contract professors in Canadian universities“, 50% of the faculty in all Canadian universities are contract (adjunct) faculty. In contrast, a #FutureEd discussion forum participant from Australia notes that in the system where she works, university degree programs can only be delivered with a 10% ratio of sessionally paid staff. She cites the Enterprise Bargaining Agreements in place for most Australian universities which ensure that there is an upper limit to the amount of replacements of fulltime academic staff with casual labour. Other participants cite experiences of having taught for many years as adjuncts but with continued employment because of the demand of their subject matter and/or experience in the field. Some adjunct faculty members only contract out their teaching services to universities as they continue full-time employment within their fields. My own experience is a combination of the above; I was able to piece together full time employment over a 15 year period as a contract instructor for several institutions until I was finally regularized (rather late in life and as a second career) into a full time position at Kwantlen Polytechnic University where I continue to teach full-time today.

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James L. Turk, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, speaks in 2012 about “Universities in Crisis” and outlines new trends in the corporatization of public universities where every department is under pressure to be a profit center in an environment of decreasing public funding -effectively privatizing public post secondary to the detriment of students and their debt loads. The #FutureEd course re-examines the traditional model of higher education raising questions about the role and value of faculty. James Turk speaks about some of the pernicious language changes within some universities as institutional missions and priorities change from a ‘public good’ to a private one; he cites language shifts such as ‘customer service’ replacing the word ‘education’, or ‘clients’ replacing the word ‘students’ and ‘service providers’ replacing ‘faculty’. In the extreme, he cites Prince George Community College in Virginia, USA where all faculty members have to wear a badge reading “Have we served you well?”  On the surface it may seem that the use of casual labour in higher education helps the balancing of university budgets, but is it a good thing for higher education and how does the use of casual faculty labour affect the students’ education? Here is a 2013 US Congressional Report submitted by a #HigherEd participant offering anecdotal evidence that difficult working conditions of adjuncts are negatively affecting student education. Another #HigherEd discussion forum participant emphasizes that colleges and universities should be clear about what the career opportunities are at their institutions, particularly for those applicants who want to teach full-time. Having served on search committees and having completed many peer reviews of probationary faculty members, I understand that there is very likely an expectation of future regularization when an applicant accepts a sessional position at a post secondary institution; however, the reality may be a lack of future opportunities especially in the shifting sands of current university re-structuring and program defunding within a 21st century internet revolution.

Teaching, service, research. These are the three performance criteria by which post- probationary faculty are evaluated at my polytechnic university. Kwantlen Polytechnic University was historically a community college and is now designated a ‘teaching- intensive university’ -provincially mandated in 2008 through the Amended University Act of BC to ‘serve’ its region. A contract instructor (sessional or adjunct) at my institution generally does not engage extensively either in institutionally supported research or in faculty governance and curriculum development activities (no requirement). As one #FutureEd participant notes, apart from the poor working conditions and the effect on student learning,  adjuncts  generally don’t have long term influence on departmental or institutional curricular choices yet are disproportionately responsible for implementation. Therefore, a disproportionally high percentage of adjunct teachers within an institution can compromise the traditional ‘shared governance’ structure and academic freedom of the university. James Turk has pointed out in his talk that some of the administrative-led restructuring of programs and priorities at Canadian universities have included what he terms ‘administration creep’ (the proliferation of administrative staff and concomitant reduction of faculty members) and the ‘undermining of shared university governance’. A Community TA of the #FutureEd course advises that many adjuncts continue with demeaning working conditions at a university because of their subject area passions and ‘love’ of teaching, This article submitted to the discussion forum entitled “In the Name of Love” by Miya Tokumitsu offers a bold perspective on the issue of being distracted from the working conditions of our colleagues through DWYL* thinking. Tokumitsu writes, about the division of DWYL thinking: “Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.” * Tokumitsu also cautions that adequate pay and job security can become afterthoughts in Academia if contract faculty accept the poor working conditions associated with their pursuit of intellectual fulfillment and if institutions increasingly employ exploitative labor conditions.

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Most of the #FutureEd discussion forum respondents agree that institutions which traditionally have made binding commitments to their faculty, administrative staff and students through fair labour practices have created a sense of community within their regions; this institutional allegiance is often very important to alumni relations and endowments to the university.  Succession planning at an institution also depends on the successful recruitment and retention of new faculty members who can be mentored into the institutional culture and who can assist with progressive changes needed for educating 21st century learners. University administrators who have focused on the ‘community-oriented’ aspects of teaching create institutional loyalty, writes one respondent.  Respondents also question whether the flag of “professor” or “adjunct” is a fair measurement of teaching capability? There is probably no easy answer to the question of whether adjuncts are good for the university. There are a lot of great teachers working as adjuncts and there are probably some less than great. The same is probably true for tenured faculty.

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Ideally, by providing job stability, the university can nurture faculty members who develop a sense of professional accomplishment on top of the increasingly demanding content-knowledge and teaching skill requirements of today. Human resources, connections, stability, decent salary with benefits are all features of a job that traditionally had a lot to do with the successful completion and transfer rates of a school. A #FutureEd participant describes the scenario of a full- time position where having a campus office meant online and seated students could ‘come and visit, talk about content, skills, and often their lives’. A good deal of internal liaising has also occurred in this scenario on behalf of the student’s academic and career goals. In contrast, another respondent offers that the colleges which survive the second half of this century will have to focus on educational counseling and assessment services for life-long learners and disaggregate the services currently offered by tenured professors. Institutions will need a new compass for community or regional stakeholders as MOOCs and other innovations broaden the institutional reach.

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So, where does this leave us? The internet revolution will bring changes to higher ed labour management, new possibilities and unpredictable job opportunities and possibly job losses. Many of the coming changes in higher ed may create more teaching or mentoring opportunities, but it is likely that many of these opportunities may be outside the conventional ‘bricks and mortar’ of the university setting (check out this EdX job website!). The idea of ‘teacher status’ may also become irrelevant in a digital age where de-centralized models of education such as the connectivist Mooc are being experimented with- free, online and at scale. Many tenured professors are experimenting with x and cMooc course delivery outside of their regular teaching duties. As an example of alternative course delivery models, my university recently became a member of the OERu Consortium (UNESCO supported). OERu is devising a corps of worldwide ‘academic volunteers’ for course delivery-essentially, no pay for ‘teachers’. Course services (like open assessments) will be disaggregated and charged out by the university on a ‘fee per service basis’. At scale, this will mean more profit per ‘course’ delivered without faculty salaries / benefits or ’bricks and mortar’ overhead costs while new markets are established. Here is a model of the OERu Consortium; note that students can access support for their course work through “Academic Volunteers International” in a sense very much  like the TA support structure available at #FutureEd . Additionally as an example of the profound institutional changes and very palpable defunding of public post secondary education in British Columbia, my university’s senior management recently made the decision (without Faculty Council approval) to cut 1600 student spaces, or 98 sections, of access education with a loss of 14 regular faculty positions (layoffs) and the loss of many more adjunct positions in the Faculty of Academic and Career Advancement as a result of a federal cancellation of a program which supported university access within the post secondary sector in British Columbia.

Regular, tenured positions are no longer secure in an environment of post secondary funding cutbacks by governments even as institutions shift their priorities, re-write their missions and form new global alliances such as the OERu Consortium, Coursera or EdX platforms. The idea of an institution’s regional community is in transition, and the traditional role of higher ed faculty is in flux; I think it is too late to try and fight for  a status quo which existed even ten years ago. I will end this blog post with a link to a Storify created midway in Dave Cormier’s course entitled “The interpersonal contract in cMoocs”. You will notice that Dr. Cathy Davidson has been included in the story! The interactions and discussions of educators pushing boundaries of ed delivery occur on Twitter, Google+, blog posts, You Tube. Participants are teaching each other, openly; the online community of innovative educators is the curriculum, but possibly this online ‘community’ is also redefining the role of the faculty in higher education.

 

Extra! Here is a video production I made in Week # 1 for #FutureEd on ‘Disruptive Innovation’

*Thank you to the #FutureEd discussion forum participants who prompted my thinking on this topic.

*”In the Name of Love”  by https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/in-the-name-of-love/

*For an explanation of evaluating a cMooc using Downes’ 4 Process Conditions, see Christina Hendricks’ blog post.

Anyone interested in Simon Fraser University’s seminar on a Living Wage University, here are the details.

Starting Date Thursday February 27, 2014 12:30 PM
End Date Friday February 28, 2014 12:00 AM
Contact public_square@sfu.ca
Additional Information http://www.sfu.ca/publicsquare/upcoming-events/living-wage-university.html
Description Thu, 27 Feb 2014 12:30 PM West Mall Centre 3510 SFU’s Burnaby Campus Event is FREE, but registration is required at https://websurvey.sfu.ca/cgi-bin/WebObjects/WebSurvey.woa/wa/survey?158954933. This lunchtime talk, hosted by Professor Marjorie Griffin Cohen of SFU, will give you the opportunity to learn what a Living Wage University is. Many universities around the world have passed a ‘Living Wage Policy’ ensuring that all staff and contracted service staff receive a Living Wage; that is a wage to ensure a family can cover its basic needs. By taking on this leadership role they have demonstrated how universities can lead by example in a very practical and inspiring way in tackling issues of growing inequality and rising levels of child and low wage poverty in our communities. This talk will hopefully stimulate discussion and debate about how universities in Canada can take similar leadership positions on this issue.

 

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One Response to The Future of Higher Education and Community: The Role of Faculty

  1. Pingback: MOOC MOOCHING | janlynn2014 blog

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