Category Archives: uncategorized

David Graeber (1961-2020)

David Graeber, anthropologist, anarchist, OWS luminary, has died. I never met him but I liked his books, especially The Democracy Project, which I taught to a largely passive and normie class back around 2012. Since then hopefully they’ve been radicalized by the brutally diminished prospects for young people everywhere as a result of structural violence and elite rapacity. It’s what Graeber would’ve wanted.

Portfolio draft

Learning Outcomes
I came to this teaching lab convinced that online education is an alienating experience, an inadequate substitute for face to face contact in a real classroom. I still hold this opinion, though I am adapting to the notion that there are modest ways to encourage motivated students to learn online.

It’s my sense that the key to successful online learning lies in frequently leaving the internet behind in favor of non-screen oriented activity. For example, requiring students to read actual books enhances their comprehension and memory of course content. Yet this in itself is not enough. There has to be some form of dialog between students and teacher. In an asynchronous course this contact will often take the form of fora. (Unfortunately, there is no chat feature on iLearn which would permit non-Zoom realtime discussion.) Supplementing fora with a postcard assignment not only encourages students to reflect; it pushes them into the offline world and gives their thinking an objective form. The conclusion I’ve arrived at then, is to mingle online resources with meatspace assignments.

Instructor Presence
Attempting to humanize that which de-humanizes seems quixotic at best, at worst a well-intentioned perjury. The end result is likely to be a kind of pedagogical uncanny valley, where the teacher engages in a form of digital puppetry, stuttering remarks as the wifi buffers, face frozen momentarily in a rictus. I am inclined to assert my human presence in written language by adopting a simplified, open sentence and paragraph structure. In addition, I’ll be uploading brief lectures to ilearn. It’s my intent to include reading sessions, when students will be offered the opportunity to follow along as I read aloud passages from the assigned novels. I will also ask them to record their own favored excerpts to share with the class.

Student Presence
I tend to use video as an enticement, particularly with regard to teaching about formal analysis because students always already have a basic grasp of the structure of music videos and film/television. They might not know what peripeteia means, but they understand that stories usually feature a setback or reversal of fortune for the protagonist.

I suppose I tend to rely on my students’ anxieties about “getting it”. I try to pull them in by appealing to their desire to be culturally fluent. The diversification of the larger culture into hyperfragmented niches and my own advancing age have probably weakened my ability to do so, but my basic question for them here is essentially, “Do you get the joke?”– i.e., are you informed enough to understand the multiple registers this thing/symbol/whatever is operating on.

Assessment
I’ll be implementing labor-based assessment criteria for my courses. Put simply, this means my students will no longer be graded on the quality of their work but whether they have completed the assignments. They will still receive feedback, but so long as they meet the prompt they get full credit. Adopting this stance, I hope, will minimize the punitive aspects of my pedagogy and foster genuine intrinsic motivation to learn on their part. Rather than police their behavior, I will approach their work in good faith. If they want to cheat, they can do that.

Here’s a rough example, a time-sensitive prompt that addresses a point of interpretation in one of our readings.

300 words minimum. Explain the differences between the phrases “hart of the wood” and “hart of the wud” in Riddley Walker. Cite textual evidence by page and paragraph in support of your claim. You have 48 hours to respond.

The prompt goes up on Monday and closes on Wednesday. If a student responds in timely way with a minimum of 300 words and that response is not a glaringly obvious case of plagiarism they get full credit and a qualitative assessment.

Deception

In this noir melodrama a brilliant cellist (Paul Henried) scarred by the war, arrives in New York and reunites with his former flame, an aspiring pianist played by Bette Davis, who betrays him with a narcissistic composer then sacrifices everything.

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Prompt

  • 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.