Monday, July 29, 2013

New Topic!

I keep changing topics for the best practices assignment. I have been thinking that I'd like to explore how my two workplaces (a writing center and a community college) could improve their online pedagogy, and going back and forth between the one and the other as a topic.

But you know, it's frustrating enough to have to deal with the problems every day when working. The idea of having to think even more about how they could be improved and finding support and showing how the newer theories could create a better learning experience... well, I get stopped each time realizing, "They don't want to know. They don't care." It's just too frustrating. The entrenchment of the administration in "what we've always done" is so utter that a piledriver and a backhoe wouldn't move them, and when I've proposed even slight changes to the one (the other is too big a bureaucracy to allow any more than sneakily changing my own classroom-- it's not like anyone notices or cares), there has been a swift negative response, usually in public and always with exasperation and annoyance, you know, like thinking about how we can better fulfill our mission to help students is some form of rebellion against the monarchy.

So... I bagged those topics. Bad enough for the blood pressure having to deal with the response that comes even when I feebly suggest that one material we are ordered to use (I don't actually use it-- passive aggressive R us) still bears the old logo with the old program name we're never supposed to use. I mean, really, if switching out an old logo is too much shock and awe for them, I can just imagine the response if I start getting into negative and racially and gender loaded language.

Anyway, decided on a new topic. One of those felicitous things. Serendipity. My husband went to a meeting at a library devoted to the works of the most famous author from our town (Vonnegut) and told the director that I taught online. She called and asked me to lunch because they were thinking of offering courses in Vonnegut (face to face) and suddenly she thought maybe there should be an online class too. So I talked to her about the issues involved (she wanted the course I guess to be hosted also by universities in their network), the whole Tycho/Blackboard/Oncourse/D2L platform problem and how I didn't know much, but maybe do it all in HTML because that works everywhere with minor tweaking. I also talked about something I actually know a bit about thanks to this class-- MOOCs (or "SOOCs" really in this case)-- and the creation of a "static" information-based ("lecture") class with a lot of other media (links to film, photos, etc.), just to get started, and then maybe later (because they don't yet have money for instructors) a few interactive online courses with discussion forums and assignments.

So I think I'll do that-- kind of design a MOOC/SOOC that would be appropriate to this situation. And that way I will feel positive and future-oriented instead of bitter and frustrated. I was reading Keith Devlin's blog about his MOOC, and the commenters were so incisive. I keep coming back to Gagne's suggestion always to establish objectives for a course, and I think above all, the objectives of the course that would become a MOOC would be different. I was talking to a friend who is taking the Sloan certification, and we kept coming back to that, the need to start with objectives-- not the format of the course, but the objectives, and let the objectives determine what format is best.

It has been a really bad week on the work front-- love the work, but the office politics are impossible. Impossible. I don't know that I can work well in a system that doesn't value working well.
But then again, this week I had that lunch, and there's this nice person from the Vonnegut library who doesn't just regard me as "that staffer who makes too much trouble," but someone who knows just a little bit about how to teach online.

Can I stick this job out? I mean, the paying one. I love the work. I love the students and their gritty yet idealistic attitude. I love the professors and their openness. But the program... I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.
When you live in dysfunction, dysfunction becomes the norm, and that's what's happened. If I had any sense, I'd bag it-- don't really need the job, can get something else with someone who thinks I might have something to contribute rather than this crew who seem to resent anyone actually doing a good job. Shows them up, I guess.

So--- Vonnegut is so cool anyway. No one outside the Midwest will understand how INDIANA he is-- that fatalism mixed with kind of a nutty optimism. That love of creating new words. Yes, that's Indiana! And that vista-- the sense of place-- the knowing that capturing a place in words means keeping it forever (and he's writing about Dresden before the bombing, and it lives forever-- "I thought it was the Emerald City of Oz. The only other city I'd seen was Indianapolis." (That's my town, and it's no Emerald City, though it's summer now, and very green. :)

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