The question of graduate school isn’t really one question, since grad school is said in many ways: there are worlds of difference between grad school in the humanities, in law, and in business, for instance. In contrast to the infographic, I am going to talk here exclusively about grad school in the humanities.
Young people who go into lucrative professions scorned as bereft of moral scruples rather than choosing a noble profession helping others are often regarded as “selling out.” But Jason Trigg, a recent MIT graduate, “sells in“:
Jason Trigg went into finance because he is after money — as much as he can earn…. he goes to work each morning for a high-frequency trading firm. It’s a hedge fund on steroids. He writes software that turns a lot of money into even more money. For his labors, he reaps an uptown salary…
Why this compulsion? It’s not for fast cars or fancy houses. Trigg makes money just to give it away. His logic is simple: The more he makes, the more good he can do.
He’s figured out just how to take measure of his contribution. His outlet of choice is the Against Malaria Foundation, considered one of the world’s most effective charities. It estimates that a $2,500 donation can save one life. A quantitative analyst at Trigg’s hedge fund can earn well more than $100,000 a year. By giving away half of a high finance salary, Trigg says, he can save many more lives than he could on an academic’s salary.
His inspiration? The moral philosophy of Peter Singer:
While some of his peers have shunned Wall Street as the land of the morally bankrupt, Trigg’s moral code steered him there. And he’s not alone. To an emerging class of young professionals in America and Britain, making gobs of money is the surest way to save the world. When you ask Trigg where he got the idea, his answer is a common refrain among this crowd: “I feel like I’d read stuff by Peter Singer.”
Singer’s influence notwithstanding, we can also see Trigg as trodding the path of the Bodhisattva…
Should philosophers focus less on Value Theory, and more on Value Added?
Over at Salon, a plea for philosophers to swallow their pride and get on with selling themselves and their profession:
if philosophy is so important, then selling itself to the culture at large is important too. So it’s time for philosophers to put their clothespins on their noses, wade into the stench of real-world commerce, and ask some of those tanned and toned marketing majors who skipped out on Philosophy 101 for some help.
Philosophy, in short, needs a Marketing Makeover.
Over at Adjunct Rebellion, a scathing assessment of MOOCs:
While the last 20 years of academia have seen these two destructive practices aimed at the professoriate, it hasn’t been until lately that the threat is driven by the internet — in the case of academia, in the form of MOOCs that are now looming enormous, casting monstrous shadows over the college campus. The MOOC model, from the standpoint of the professoriate, is an entirely exploitative one. The professor designs a class, has lectures and other media support shot and “canned” — and then the university, or the MOOC itself owns that material. It OWNS the intellectual property of a professor who has trained for, on average, a decade for advanced degrees, who has taught for years and developed skills and abilities. And, once that particular area of scholarship is canned — who needs the professor, ANY professor, anymore?
This is an example of the rhetoric of crisis I discussed earlier, and let me be clear that I don’t always think that’s a bad or un-useful thing–it just depends on what your goals are. If your goal is to wallow, then it works great. If your goal is to get tenure, you’re barking up the wrong tree (these two goals, incidentally, are espoused by the folks over at the Philosophy Smoker Blog, a nest of nattering nabobs of negativism, which openly admits that its focus is to “bitch about” trying to make it in academic philosophy). If your goal is to make a living, then just quit and do something else (and you CAN do something else).
Cathy Davidson, a professor at Duke, has a great idea:
In January 2014, I will offer a six-week Coursera class, “The History and Future of Higher Education,” free and open to anyone. I’d like to turn the class’ weekly forums into an opportunity for a massive, global, collaborative, constructive, peer dialogue about how higher education got to its current dilemma. And from there, I hope we can come up with some creative, innovative, and workable ideas to make a better future.
A MOOC about MOOCs seems to make a great deal of sense for a few reasons.
For one, it provides a forum for investigating just what a MOOC is, what it can and cannot be, whether and to what extent it does indeed enhance learning, and whether and to what extent and in what ways this can be measured. If it turns out that such an experiment yields a more nuanced and useful picture of the ontology and application of the MOOC, then this itself would be evidence that the MOOC is a sound design and delivery mechanism.
Second, as Cathy notes,
In the present mood of high polemic, hyperbolic promise, and hysterical panic, it is almost impossible to sort out the questions, let alone the answers to these questions, on either a national or international level: Is now the time to reject or embrace massive online learning? Do MOOCs yield improved learning and free and open access to those who have been excluded from higher education—or are they yet another cynical attempt to defund the public and extract profits from tax payers and diminish the value of what virtually all universally claim to be the public good of higher education?
Crisis rhetoric is seductive but does not have a great signal-to-noise ratio. A MOOC that took a, well, academic approach to MOOCs might help to dispel the fervor over the MOOC-ment and help people think clearly about just what it is and what it means.
Third and related, much of the chatter about MOOCs is so focused on the “disruption” of the status quo, but sometimes the storied history of that status quo is not sufficiently excavated. An inquiry into MOOCs in the context of the history of higher ed might help us see that the notion of Higher Education enshrined in our social imaginary is a historical anomaly made possible by a set of specific events, notably World War II and the G.I. Bill. The Chronicle of Higher Ed just ran a piece along these lines (though it is paywalled).
I have finally decided to take the plunge: I have signed up for Coursera’s “Internet History, Technology, and Security” course. It’s not quite Christopher Hitchens voluntary trying out water boarding in order to do his subject justice, but I figure it only makes sense to walk the walk. Reports forthcoming.
Robert Maguire has profiled a math MOOC funded by the Gates Foundation and launched at the University of Wisconsin LaCrosse that had an unexpected effect: though it was offered worldwide, it was widely embraced around the state by high schools and led to deeper coordination between high school and college students, teachers, and administrators in order to avoid the “redemial math trap and close what we might call the “Preparation Gap.” From McGuire’s interview with two representatives from the college:
The way MOOCs are growing I imagine a lot of graduating high school seniors are thinking about using them this summer, whether they’re being driven to it by the necessity of a placement exam or for enrichment or to stay sharp for college. What would you advise a graduating high school senior who’s thinking about taking a MOOC?
A MOOC can be helpful to show what a college course actually looks like, how it’s done and what to expect in their first year of college.
Over summer, taking a MOOC is going to help them learn how to be an independent learner, how to study, how to find that internal motivation, how to seek out resources, recognizing that they do have multiple ways they learn, and they need to find that strategy within themselves.
Students might look at what’s aligned with their discipline of study. If someone’s looking at going into a history major, then they might look for some different history MOOCs. They can use the MOOC as a way to find out, “Is this something I am really passionate about and want to study for the next several years of my life.”
This is proof positive of an idea Noel B. Jackson floated which I mentioned yesterday: MOOCs not only expand open access to what, for convenience sake, I’ll call the Third World (Globalization), but they can strengthen local and regional communities in the (f/c/s, again) First World. They not only expand the net to wire more nodes, but they deepen the connections around each node. MOOCs can potentially have “glocal” impact. In the case of the MathMOOC at UWL, the connections are spanning vertically across the different levels of the education system. This might take the teeth out of the objections of MOOC skeptics, who dismiss MOOCs as trojan horses for neoliberalism or digital colonialism.
This “localizing” side-effect of MOOCs targets a serious problem that so many college teachers face: beset with near illiteracy and/or innumeracy in their students, they find themselves asking, “How did these kids get into college?” This often happens with writing skills. The college teacher faces a dilemma: should I teach them the content, or teach them how to write? If you just teach the content, then a) they aren’t likely to grasp it as roundly, since you can’t cleanly separate the ability to write clearly and the ability to think clearly, and b) you shirk your responsibility as the “last line of defense” before the students get out into the real world bereft of solid writing skills. If you teach them how to write, you’re not teaching the content. And if you try to split the difference, well, as Lao Tzu says, “if you chase two rabbits, both get away.”
Better coordination between high school and college teachers and administrators could help close the “preparation gap” that frustrates so many teachers and short-changes many students.
By the way, MOOC News and Reviews is a treasure trove of information about the cluster of issues orbiting the MOOC-ment.
(image courtesy of http://www.apartmenttherapy.com)
Noel B. Jackson, a professor of literature at MIT, has a thoughtful and balanced take on MOOCS over at “Sustained Inattentions”–he has the advantage of proximity, since he is essentially at one of the two ground-zero’s of the MOOC movement (Silicon Valley and Cambridge). He testifies that, in his time at MIT, no issue has arrested the attention of folks in higher ed as much as the MOOC. His view on the place of MOOCs in current discourse about higher ed is insightful:
“The MOOC has become a repository for utopian and dystopian narratives about the present and future directions of higher ed.”
The rhetoric of crisis and disruption can inhibit us from thinking clearly and carefully about how best to surf this strange new wave. The utopian and dystopian narratives are, as Noel points out, the views that MOOCs are either democratizing or corporatizing: that they are either making the highest quality education available to the world’s poor, or they are merely the latest step in the corporatization of the university that has been underway for decades.
Confessing his ambivalence about MOOCs, he points to a possible benefit of MOOCs that I hadn’t heard of before:
“My interest in MOOCs extends to how the format can be imagined to provide access to a university curriculum to populations that may not have had this kind of access, as this is the population that stands to gain most from them. But in addition to the flat, global learning community ritually invoked as the audience for MOOCs, we could benefit from thinking locally too. How can the online course format make possible new relationships not only with the most far-flung remote corners of the earth but with the neighborhoods and communities nearest to campus? Can we make MOOCs that foster meaningful links with the community or create learning communities that cut across both the university and the online platform?”
This is certainly a pressing need at the university I teach at. Fordham University’s main campus is an oasic bubble plopped in the middle of one of the poorest counties in the country, and few of the students venture past the perimeter of security-saturated environs. Anything that could facilitate a deeper engagement–heck, any engagement–with the world beyond the walls would be a very good thing; and perhaps MOOCs and other online approaches might facilitate that, though I’m not sure how.
(image courtesy of http://www.apartmenttherapy.com)
In a recent interview over at The Philosopher’s Magazine, Nigel Warburton, co-presenter of Philosophy Bites, the wildly successful philosophy podcast, riffs on his experiments in public philosophy, the problems plaguing philosophical research, and his recent decision to leave academia. The success of his podcast is proof positive that there is a hunger for philosophy in the publicyber space. Excerpts below.
The surprising success of the podcast:
The initial thought was that mainly philosophy students and lecturers might take an interest, but he’s heard from American listeners with time to kill on long drives, people waiting out wildfires in Australia, and soldiers in Afghanistan concerned about ethics. When I ask for details over email, Warburton sends me a list of 40 countries, all with more than 10,000 downloads each, some with vastly many more, millions more in some cases. Just after the usual English-speaking suspects, China checks in at number five. The United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Taiwan, Iran and Indonesia make the list. Several spin off series, two books (and a third in the pipeline), more than 250 interviews and an alarming 16.7 million downloads later, and Philosophy Bites is an international philosophy phenomenon.
Warburton explains that he is leaving his secure position at Open University largely because of the dominance in academia of what he calls “crossword puzzle philosophy” (essentially, what Daniel Dennett has deemed “chmess“):
“Philosophers today have mostly got their heads down. They’re concerned with writing for a journal which will publish work that takes them two or three years, and only five people will read it. These are people who could be contributing to something that’s incredibly important. Gay marriage is just one example of many. I don’t think philosophers responded particularly well to 9/11. Issues about free expression, all over the world, are not just academic. They’re matters of life and death. There are exceptions, but philosophers are by and large more interested in getting a paper in Mind or Analysis than they are in commenting on the major political events of our time.”
On philosophical “research”:
I’m not even sure what research means in philosophy. Philosophers are struggling to find ways of describing what they do as having impact as defined by people who don’t seem to appreciate what sort of things they do. This is absurd. Why are you wasting your time? Why aren’t you standing up and saying philosophy’s not like that?… It’s not the kind of thing that Socrates did or that Hume did or that John Locke did… Why are you doing this? I’m getting out. For those of you left in, how can you call yourselves philosophers? This isn’t what philosophy’s about.”
One is hard-pressed to disagree with a straight face. As someone who has been on the job market for a couple of years, I always inwardly cringe when I am asked to explain my “research” to a search committee or a dean. In a formal sense, research is something that a scientist does in a lab or in the field: designing and conducting experiments, collecting and interpreting data, and the like. In an informal sense, it means doing your homework–gathering relevant information–before a meeting, an interview, etc. Philosophical writing, for the most part, is not research: it is reading articles and books, thinking about them and the subjects concerned, and then writing what one thinks about them. Exceptions could arguably be made for “experimental philosophy” and branches of philosophy in dialogue with the sciences, such as philosophy of mind or biology, but for the most part, I think it’s a category mistake to think of the reading and writing of philosophy as “research.” We might view today’s philosophical “research,” largely a consequence of the rise of analytic philosophy and “science envy,” as a new form of scholasticism, a defensive, conservative crouch destined to be consumed by the coming Avalanche (more on this, Higher Education’s equivalent of the Singularity, later…) (I hasten to add, however, that analytic thought, at its best, provides a needed check against the scholastic excesses, verbosity, and sheer fictioneering of much Continental thought.).
Despite the coming storm, Warburton is ultimately optimistic about the fate of philosophy:
“Because of changes in online teaching, in the next ten years, the university system will be turned on its head. If Philosophy Bites can make such an impact with two guys with a hard disk recorder and a couple of laptops, think what people who fully understand the new technology, who can write code, who can employ the best philosophical communicators around, think what they could produce. It’s only just starting. We’re going to see dramatic changes to how we learn, teach, do research and share ideas. I think philosophy’s future’s very bright.”
I asked two days ago what, in light of Leon Wieseltier’s view that philosophy these days only “tweaks and tinkers,” an alternative might look like. Philosophy Bites seems to be a solid step in the right direction.
(image courtesy of Philosophy Bites)