the original clicker post, linked badly in the IHE comments, is at "instant anachronism"
Towards the end of the most recent Inside Higher Ed battle over clickers in the classroom a fascinating battle broke out among Southern California academics.
Dr. Frederica Shockley, Professor of Economics at Chico State University, jumped to my baited comment regarding the idea that if clickers increased attendance (through mandatory use), electronic monitoring ankle bracelets might do the same. "I ask multiple-choice questions, but I also ask a lot of numeric questions," she wrote. "If 25% or more do not answer correctly, I go over the material again. I don’t go over as many chapters, but my students seldom ask me to slow down, and students are making more A’s and B’s. The questions and the students’ responses often become the catalyst for interesting class discussions. Clickers are an additional expense for students, but apparently many of my students think that the benefits outweigh the cost. In an end of the semester survey 70% said that they would prefer taking a class using clickers than a class not using clickers. About 30% of my students prefer a class without clickers because they have to attend class in order to get a good grade on their clicker responses. I do believe that
Which brought out "LogicGuru" - who seems to be Dr. H.E. Baber of the Department of Philosophy at the
Dr. Baber acknowledges teaching at "a private college" (though that hardly suggests that it is unsubsidized by the government - private colleges in the US benefit from, among other things, not paying taxes, having their tuition paid through subsidized federal loans, and copious research grants), and then goes on to say, "If they want to come to class and participate to get their money’s worth that’s their business. If they want to waste their money and get lousy grades, that’s their decision. I don’t take the roll, I don’t use clickers and I have no interest in locking on ankle bracelets: I’m a professor not a cop.
"We provide a resource—classroom teaching, individual help, advising, a good academic library, technology and all the facilities they need to learn and do well. If students are motivated, I’ll give them everything they want—I’ll talk to them, work with them as long as they want, see them on weekends, correspond with them by email, and do everything I can do to help them achieve their goals. If they’re not motivated, I will not bully them, impose attendance requirements on them, or make any attempt to motivate them. They’re adults and it’s their decision."Dr. Shockley fires back: "I agree with Professor LogicGuru at
And Dr. Baber answers: "Masochism isn’t the issue, Shockley. At least 70% of my students would prefer not to got to college at all if they could get well-paying middle class jobs without it. That’s not my business. I don’t care what my student’s want or what makes them feel good. They have a requirement to meet which, I believe, is legitimate. If they want their working papers they’ve got to satisfy that requirement. I’ll do everything I can to help them but I will not do anything to motivate them. I do my job and they do theirs. They’re grown-ups and make choices."
Then, Dr. Ellis Godard, a Sociology Professor at CSUN (
Obviously, Dr. Shockley sees herself as an arm of the state. It is her job to build a compliant workforce. That is why the state pays her. That is her job. Thus, when she uses technology she will do so to reinforce the values the state determines are important - attendance, punctuality, responding when asked to respond.
Dr. Baber sees his job differently because he sees a different master. He is there to offer a service to the students. It is a simple service - sort of a fraternity initiation. Do what I ask and you get the credential you need. He suggests, I think accurately, that there is little connection between this initiation process and the jobs his students seek. And thus he makes the decision that he will help if he can, but he will not coerce. When he uses technology it will be as one more way for students to access the things they will choose to access.
Dr. Godard has yet another vision of the faculty's function in the world. He is there to persuade, to convince, to evangelize. His purpose is more deeply 'religious,' he is paid to convert. When he uses technology he will do it to inspire, to entertain, to seize attention - in exactly the same way that medieval Catholics used the technology of the great cathedrals.
So, in the clicker controversy, two of these professors are on one side but for differing reasons. One is on the other. And while, if I peruse the three professors websites, I will likely find that I am more likely to politically agree with Dr. Godard and even Dr. Shockley before I'd fall in line with Dr. Baber, in the end I have to agree with Dr. Baber's thoughts here. Not because I like his attitude toward his job, but because he is the only one not being actively coercive.
There are lots of ways to use contemporary technologies. We can inform, communicate, engage, break though barriers - and we can also do other things. I watched a BBC News story this week which documented how local councils in the United Kingdom seem to be watching almost every bit of human behavior with their CCTV cameras. George W. Bush feels perfectly within his rights to open your mail without a search warrant. Employers spy on employees. Parents spy on kids. Spouses spy on spouses. Companies tempt you to do stupid things with flashing links on their websites. As Michael Bugeja tries to say - every technology has its purposes, good and bad.
So let me throw out two anecdotes:
(1) If you're a long time reader you know I spent a chunk of my life in police work. After I quit and ended up in small Midwestern American town, I noticed something. Each morning I'd drive past the town's school. And at least three mornings a week a cop would be hidden somewhere along this stretch of road - the only route out of the town. He'd be in a driveway behind large shrubs. He'd be in an abandoned gas station hidden by the old pumps. He'd be on the grass of a park between two large trees. In each case his radar would be on.
Eventually I asked the town's police chief (he and I coached sports on adjoining fields), "Wouldn't it be a better school zone speed control if the guy was just parked in front of the school as obviously as possible?" "Well, probably," he admitted, "but I guess he'd rather catch people." I laughed. I think I said something about how most police agencies embraced a slogan something like "to serve and protect," and very few painted "to enforce and imprison" on the sides of their vehicles - though the reality often seemed different.
So there is guidance: "I'm sitting here in my police car to remind you that there are children crossing the street and you should drive slowly and carefully." And there is coercion: "I am going to force you comply be threatening you with randomly applied harm."
We could make classes more engaging and involving. We could make the education either more apparently relevant or more valuable in its own right. Or we can force you into compliance with digital monitoring.
(2) I sat near the departure gate in O'Hare's International Terminal waiting for the 7:00 pm overnight to Dublin and laughing with a friend about security screening. We'd just watched the intense examination of the shoes of a six-month-old child. A TSA worker sat nearby. "You wouldn't believe," she interrupted us to say, "what people hide in their babies' stuff." "Bombs?" I asked. "Weapons?" "No," she said, "but all kinds of things, like bigger bottles of shampoo or sunscreen."
Yes, that is why the US government spends billions on airport security. That is why travellers are routinely inconvenienced and harassed. We must prevent excessive amounts of sunscreen from being carried onto our planes. I could have told the TSA worker that I bet that if we took a vote in this terminal right now, 95% would rather save the airport fees which pay for security, and would rather get through security faster and with less hassle, even if that meant contraband sunscreen on board. Honestly, 95% would probably feel the same way even it that meant contraband cocaine on board. Because the only reason we put up with this nonsense is that we do not want to get killed.
All the rest is "mission creep." We're protecting you, and while we're protecting you we will also pursue a vast assortment of our own agendas. This is the idea that simply because we can do something, we should. We can watch for neighborhood crime, but we'll also check out who might be sunbathing topless. We can look for terrorist chatter, but we'll also see who might be buying things and avoiding sales tax or VAT. We can protect our children on their way to school, but we'll also notice who is bringing their child across school district or LEA boundaries.
We can filter the internet, so we should. We can monitor or teenager's whereabouts, so we should. We can drive attendance with clickers, so we should. We can compel some kind of cursory night-before-class reading with clicker quizzes, so we should.
I think coercive technology design is a problem in a number of ways.
- When we filter the internet we stop teaching responsibility, respect, discretion, and appropriate use.
- When we force students to attend anonymous lectures through clicker-use grading, we eliminate any incentive for the instructor to actually make the course worth attending, and any incentive for the student to do any more than show up.
- When we monitor our adolescents continually we actually prevent their ability to develop judgment.
- When we overstep our security mandates we drive activity deeply underground and push those activities further from social controls (this is true when we stop teens from drinking on a street corner - wouldn't we rather have them there then driving out into the woods where no one can see? and it is true of internet limitations in libraries - in the town I now live dozens of teens are on-line in any coffee shop but almost none in the public library: the library filters access to many innocuous sites and will not let anyone under 18 use the wireless system)
- When we use our technology principally as an entertainment system (even a really bad entertainment system like PowerPoint), we contribute to the notion of learning as a passive activity.
- When we insist on a single technological solution independent of student need and comfort, we are simply substituting one form of tyranny for another. If the printed book caused problems for a 1/3 of the population, requiring that everything always be in digital form will also likely cause problems for 1/3 of the population (a different third, of course).
The comments on the Inside Higher Ed article demonstrate this pattern. One side doubts the value of the lecture course as a pedagogical system, and the other side insists that the clicker makes the lecture course just-enough-better to justify its continued existence. The clicker enforces (a) attendance, (b) reading, (c) response. It makes lectures "measurably" more palatable. Reading these you'd have to wonder exactly how terrible these courses were before being "improved" by the clicker. No, you won't, we've all sat through them. We know.
Back when I first took on this clicker issue, I quoted a friend, "We had a demo of our clicker system at the [institution where he works], and it was magical how people felt empowered by having any input in a classroom at all. It was demoed with a class full of teachers, and they were so energized it was sad to see, because it shows how used they are to being passive vessels in learning. It is clearly a transitional technology, and a more politic guy would have found a way to say that, rather than jumping in their face. But that's why
I'm not sure that America needs me, but I do think that America does need to think about how technology can change education, and not how technology can prevent education from changing.
- Ira Socol
Worth reading: Education in Finland (relating to the link above on internet filtering). Goldfish on Privilege - One and Two. Patricia Donaghy on PDF Xchange.