Commercial consciousness has permeated every aspect of life so thoroughly that we no longer take note of it, like the background hum of forgotten machinery.
Benicio del Toro as Fenster in The Usual Suspects (d. Singer 1995)
The HR-ification of BLM entails saying the right things while giving very little concrete, material support to the people who need it. Imagine if the focus was less on “Hire more Black admin” and more on “Abolish tuition. In fact pay students to attend school.” How many Black lives would be transformed by this kind of program?
What’s your approach to fostering student-student interaction? How will you invite students to bring themselves into the course and to see each other as real human beings (e.g. portraying yourself as real, enabling risk-free expression, encouraging collaboration)?
Now we’d like to prompt you to take that one step further.
How will you connect that social presence with cognitive presence to create an online community of inquiry and learning (e.g exchanging ideas, sharing personal meaning, focusing discussions, connecting ideas)? In other words, how will you integrate student-student interaction with the core content of your course (for example, a Criminal Justice icebreaker that asks students what movies they watched that got them into that major)?
My basic stance regarding online education owes something to Michel Houellebecq’s dystopian novel The Possibility of an Island, which tells the story of a ruined futureworld sparsely populated by human clones who live barren lives of social isolation.
From this perspective, fostering online community feels like gallows humor. Attempting to humanize the sterile corridors of cyberspace resembles an effort to soften the lighting of a surgical theater with a piece of peach-colored gauze.
Why not then, as famed corporate technocrat Sheryl Sandberg might say, lean in to the fundamentally alienating affect of Youtube State University? Why not tell students to embrace their isolation and turn inward, directing any frustrated sociality or libidinal energy into careful reading and quiet reflection? In an age when higher education has decayed into vocational training, why not encourage students’ solitary engagement with the Humanities? It could be that they will discover that the discipline’s most redeeming characteristic lies precisely with its purported uselessness: its compensatory function.
That said, I intend to have my students mail me postcards stating their current progress at several points during the semester. It’s my hope that requiring they send a tangible object inscribed with their handwritten words through physical space will suggest that beyond the suffocating weightlessness of Online there is world where their thoughts and feelings are real.
PROMPT: Based on what you’ve learned about Resilient Course Design, Low Bandwidth Teaching and Trauma-Informed Teaching & Learning in this section and your own experiences with remote teaching in Spring 2020:
1. What is your Plan A for remote teaching in future semesters?
2. Reflect on your Plan A to form a proactive Plan B:
I plan to teach asynchronously in the Fall. I’ll need to
1. record 2-3 lectures per unit (there will be 4 major readings constituting the core of 4 units)
2. assign a few complementary documentary/ feature films that can be streamed via the library
3. require weekly discussion assignments
4. administer an open book, time sensitive midterm
5. develop a small range of choices for an academic essay
6. host IM sessions or zoom office hours once a week
7. craft (optional) blog posts regarding the readings
Using a labor-based grading system will allow me to focus on students’ online presence. As my plans are asynchronous and relatively low-bandwidth already, I don’t anticipate many problems with access. In the event that a student cannot stream audio/video we’ll arrange for additional readings to fill the gap.
My greatest challenge teaching will likely be getting students to actually do the reading, a modest request that is usually met with a combination of well-intentioned fribbling and passive resistance. More than ever, most of our students’ waking hours will be consumed plying the dazzling, meaningless shallows of the internet. I can suggest habits that improve their chances of learning, but odds are most of my students will reap very few benefits from an online education. In this register I think it makes sense to refuse to humanize my courses and underscore that they will be working largely in isolation, overstimulated monads drifting in an endless void of appearances. This stance is perhaps one of the only valuable lessons I can impart: that the structure we inhabit determines almost everything.
The good news is that because my courses will be based on a labor system of grading students who complete the assignments on time will receive a B. Those who complete all assignments with distinction will receive an A. Those who do not complete all assignments or turn in assignments late will receive a C. It will not be possible to fail my courses.
It looks as though my courses are going online in the Fall, a prospect I contemplate with ambivalence because for the last several years I’ve been trying to emphasize education as an embodied and situated process, one that depends on concrete factors such as hard copies and particular environments.
A physical copy of a book has a different kind of presence in the world than its digital counterpart. You can mark it up, dog ear the pages, write notes on the blanks, reflect on the publisher’s use of cover art, spill coffee on it, or– according to legend– use the paper to roll cigarettes like Mikhail Bakhtin during the Russian Revolution.
One of the seductions of narrative is its immersiveness. I forget almost everything in the near-pure moment of reading in what is ultimately a form of prompted imagining. But that act is a subtly variegated experience weaving ideation with the rhythm of my body inhabiting time and space. We are still creatures when we read– throbbing softly with the motion of our blood, respiring– so the solitude of study never completely separates us from others of our kind (the person in the next room, the bird on the fire escape, even the simulated body of the character in the story).
The virtual world allows this way of being though perhaps it does so with less intensity and more sporadically. The shiny, facile, dopamine-enhancing landscape of the internet plucks at our attention so persistently that we struggle to find a proper depth. It also fails to address our consciousness fully, in every register. The realm of the digital is impervious to the senses of smell and touch. Scentless, lacking texture, it places us at a sensuous distance from contemplation’s intellectual object. I can open a book and press it to my face to inhale its odor and feel the grain of the paper. I can hear my thumb scrape on the page.
Anyway. The pandemic is forcing a transition many of us are reluctant to embrace. Because every disaster is an opportunity– especially for opportunists– education is in for a sea-change.
I hope you’re doing well.
I’ve been thinking a lot about our situation and I’ve decided to give everyone an A for this course.
Starting today, I am no longer requiring you to do any assignments. You do not have to take KW2 or take the final exam or write the essay.
If, however, you would like to complete some or all of the remaining work for this course then please email me. I would be delighted to evaluate anything you submit.
Again: no one has to do any more work and everyone gets an A.
Take care of the people around you.
I hope to see you all again in the Fall.
Omar Aktouf on neoliberalism and education. From Encirclement.
Also, this looks good: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442273719/Trigger-Warnings-History-Theory-Context
Available via SFSU library
So much to talk about.