Blog Post

Future of Higher Ed at Duke, Class #1

Yesterday evening Dr. Cathy Davison’s “History of Future Ed” class met for the first time at Duke University. As members of the class, my classmates and I earned the title of “Community Leaders” for the Coursera MOOC that will run during the first half of the semester. Per the syllabus, as a community leader, I will hold office hours and facilitate some kind of participatory experience associated with the MOOC (Forum, Wiki, Timeline, etc.). The main responsibility besides building upon the collaborative resources available on the wiki, is to develop a communications plan to share the work across multiple platforms (HASTAC, Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

During one part of the discussion, someone commented that being a “Community Leader” was like being an ethnographer of the MOOC. Perhaps this is a weird analogy, but it did get me thinking. What the person meant was that in helping to facilitate the Coursera MOOC we, the Community Leaders, are in a unique position in which we not only learn the course material but also the ways that people discuss the future of higher education online. We are able to see from a meta-level what types of activities get the most buzz and what conversations are relatively dead. We are also able to assess how people react to different suggestions and comments. In essence, we are in the position to aggregate and comment upon the customs, culture, and discourses of the Future of Higher Ed community. If I continue with this analogy, I could say that as members of a course on Higher Ed who are part of the online community that we facilitate, we are in fact insider-outsider ethnographers. But, what does it mean to be an insider?

As a graduate student, future professor, lifelong learner, woman and African American, I have a particular stake in the future of Higher Ed. It is my future. How educational institutions change over the next fifty years will determine my employment prospects, the culture of my workplace, and my long-term earning potential. Changes will also determine the extent to which I will have access to information and the ways in which my own research will be published. It is also my history. Needless to say, women and minorities have historically been discriminated against and for a time were excluded from institutions of higher learning. During the last educational revolution during the height of Taylorism, Jim Crow was becoming the law of the south and only a select few thought seriously about educating women for employment outside of the home. On a global scale, American imperialists responded to Kipling’s call to “take up the White Man’s Burden.” Technical schools for non-whites were established in the U.S. South and places like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Just as universities were built to transform “farmers into factory workers, shopkeepers into corporate managers” (Davidson), they were also built to “civilize” the racialized other.

Today the others group has expanded to include those who, for one reason or another, are currently disempowered under the current educational system and who find that they have little voice within the system that most affects their lives. Undergraduate students, graduate students and adjunct professors of all backgrounds have watched the discussions from the sidelines. But, now it is time for the “insiders” to take a stand. We must not only learn about the discussions that are taking place, but we must make ourselves aware of the culture of such discussions. Who gets to sit at the table? Who has the loudest voice, and which voices are drowned out? Consequently, what possible ideas are we missing from the debate on the Future of Higher Ed because we either are excluded or choose not to participate?

As a Community Leader, it will be my job to make people aware of these discussions. It is my hope that as my classmates and I do so, more and more students will not only ask the hard question of who is directing these conversations, but also will take a stance to change current dynamics by publically stating their opinions and offering possible solutions on HASTAC's # FutureEd portal.

For more information see Dr. Davidson's blog about the Future of Higher Ed Initiative.



Yours is fabulous too.   Between you and Barry, we have two great models for our CHE blog post series.  Thank you!


Great blog, Tina!  Your enthusiasm and insight into this MOOC are thought provoking and inspiring.  I am excited to watch how the conversations around the future of higher education continue to take shape during the course.


I'm looking forward to what's ahead. 


this question you raise is also a core issue for our group at UCSB - "what possible ideas are we missing from the debate on the Future of Higher Ed because we either are excluded or choose not to participate?"  It's nice to see this kind of overlap and we're looking forward to talking with all of you-


I also look forward to talking with your group. We're reading your book this week, and devising questions for the Google Hangout tomorrow. I'm enjoying the process. See you soon.


It's painfully ironic that nobody seems to have mentioned this critical constituency, nor embraced their partnership, in spite of Duke's location and the critical nature of "humanities" that cross the lines of class, race, and language. How - and, perhaps more important, when - can institutional partnerships begin to mirror the humanities in multiple sectors? And is the burden of such partnerships borne more or less by African American or white graduate students, faculty or colleges? And who reaps the rewards? Who are your partners at North Carolina A & T, Florida A & M, and their private college equivalents? How, when, and why were they recruited, by whom? And to what ends - institutional, personal, professional, academic, or social and cultural ....


Hi Joe,

Thank you so much for raising these important questions. I'm also wondering the same on the international scale. So much of the discussions that I've been priveledged to focus on the U.S. (with the noted exclusion of historically black colleges and universities). These conversations are held in English and center on U.S.-based examples. One of the questions I have is whether an online discussion truly democratizes the process of reforming higher education. Not only do we miss voices of students, faculty, and administration at HBCUs, but we also tend to miss the discussions taking place in other nations. My particular interest is in Brazil, a country that has undergone its own struggles with educational reform as well as affirmative action. What can we learn from cross-border conversations? Borders, as your discussion of HBCUs suggests, are not just international, but also have to do with the way that we traditionally think about partnerships.  You mention burdens and rewards, and partnerships are typically termed in this way. I wonder whether our thinking about partnerships has at times not been self-conscious or self-critical enough to motivate engagement with those who are not in our immediate circles. Since these conversations are onging, I believe that it is not too late to make a change.


This afternoon, in a nineteenth century history course I am teaching at Schoolcraft College, we were talking about what we—as historians of the nineteenth century—can contribute to twenty-first century discussions.  In your posting, you mention a number of issues for which an historical perspective is important--Jim Crow, the White Man’s Burden, Taylorism, and so forth—which have roots in the nineteenth century.  I will be sharing your post with my students and see what they have to contribute.

I am also looking forward to discussing #FutureEd issues with you and your colleagues at Duke.


Hi Steven (et al!) 

This is really interesting to hear about, as I am a literary scholar working with this very same question and field of debate. I would be interested to hear more about your methodology in making these connections. I have been focusing on key policies to center my discussions to date. 

My PhD focuses on the links between the late nineteeth century debates in England, and the present day, and its fascinating to study the period as it is so rich with the seeds of ideas and histories that have developed, but also others that have been left to waste. It's great to hear that in the present moment I am not the only scholar to be looking backwards and forwards at the same time!


Looking forward to discussing these issues further, and to the start of the MOOC proper next week!


All the best,




The offer/suggestion I am making to Zoe is one that I would make to others interested in getting students involved in the #FutureEd discussions.  That is why I am writing to her here instead of in a private message.


Inspired by #FutureEd, we have created a series of discussion topics on the Ocelot Scholars website.  The current list is just a starting point and we plan to add additional topics. 

If you could frame a question to spark discussion around the issues that interest you, we could post it as a discussion topic and see what individuals have to say.  Also, you are not limited to just one topic idea.  Your students are also welcome to participate in any of the Ocelot Scholars discussions; not just the one(s) you might propose.

Also, even though the primary focus of Ocelot Scholars is to showcase work of Schoolcraft College students, I would welcome publishing the work of your students as well.  All of the material published on the various sections of Ocelot Scholars will have a place for comments and discussions.

If you (or others), want to discuss this futher, you can comment here, send a message through HASTAC, or e-mail me at




Hi Steve,

I just checkout the Ocelot Scholars website. This is awesome! Thanks you for your comments on my post and for bringing Ocelet Scholars to our attention. I'll let my classmates know that this is another place where we could reach out. Do you guys have a Twitter handle?



Interesting blog entry, thank you for posting. I would agree that the insider perspective is largely lost in the public university and that individuals ought to educate themselves in regards to the ramifications on class and culture that excessive economic mindedness has led to and largely ignored. I also agree that equal opportunity ought to be seen as a crucial pillar of the public university. Yet we must also be wary of damaging biases and self serving tendencies when it comes to enacting reform and shaping discourse that dismisses outsider influence. We have a certain responsibility to act in a way that serves the interests of the collective whilst maintaining the promise of individualism. I look forward to working with you all and hearing more! 


Hi Philip,

Thanks for your comment. I think you're totally right that "we need to be wary of damaging biases and self serving tendencies... [and] dismissing outsider influence." Outsider influence, which I define as policy makers, business leaders, and others who are not students and faculty (and administrators?), is definitely crucial to the process of rethinking higher ed. In general, I think we need to create more noise so that students take a more active role in discussions that these "outsiders" are already leading. I also think that we need to find positive ways to make connections between insiders and outsider in order to leverage the best of both worlds. I think the key here is to focus on constructing together rather than pointing figures. What can we each add to the conversation considering our various resources and experiences? -T



Today I taught your blog posting in my nineteenth century American history class; a class in which I am asking students to consider how we, as historians of the nineteeth century, can contribute to contemporary discussions.  The concept was introduced as we responded to Brother Outsider, a documentary about Bayard Rustin that was screened on our campus last week.

I asked students to read your blog.  Then I pointed out that you were a 21st century graduate student currently taking a class a Duke University in which you are considering the future of higher education.  Yet, you looked back to the nineteenth century.  I was able to point out that as historians we could flesh out and give the historical context to the issues whose legacy you are considering.

We then made a list of points you had made; points we embellished with our nineteenth century background.  For example, Indian Schools and the Morrill Act made our list.  While compiling our class list, students had to do some quick research.  For example, no one in the room but me knew about Taylorism and for pedagogical reasons, I wasn't about to just give them the answer. It was cell phones to the rescue as students found relevant information and shared it with their colleagues.

We already had a list of topics defined by the departmental course description and I asked students if they wanted to proceed with the departmental list or what we were now calling your list.  Because some wanted to work with your topics and others wanted to work on the departmental topics, I suggested we combine the two lists.  Students then picked a topic on which to do preliminary research over the weekend.  I would say that about half the topics came from the departmental list and half came from your list.  Eventually, their research will lead to lightning talks.

Your topics and the departmental topics are interrelated--even if the students don't realize that yet.  But with your topics added to the mix, it will force more interesting discussions than we might have had if we just limited ourselves to the departmental topics because your topics will force everyone to consider issues in a fresh way.  Furthermore, because there are topics from your list in the mix, it supports my contention that we will be doing meaningful research this semester that will have something to offer to a larger audience outside the classroom.

I believe that being able to teach your blog helped students better understand the material I was teaching.  It was no longer a theoretical concept being applied to Brother Outsider.  Instead, they could see how an understanding of nineteenth century issues applied to a real discuss which you started and which will continue as part of #FutureEd.

I will continue to let you know how you and your colleagues at Duke are impacting our work at Schoolcraft.  As students work is published I will let you know.

Steve Berg


Hi Steve,

This is such a compliment, and I am really happy to hear about the work that your students are doing! I'm wondering what the other departmental topics were. Would you be able to share a list with me as your students develop their projects? Also, I'm looking forward to reading their comments on Ocelot Scholars. As always, history can be hard to swallow, but I think it is so important to get students to think historically, espeically about current-day issues. Bravo for all of your efforts! Please let me know if there is any way I can help out.



For those following this thread. Here's a link to a description of Brother Outsider. Bayard Rustin's story is one worth knowing. 



I am enjoying this warm-up to the "Duke MOOC" on the future of higher education.  There may be another outsider perspective to consider:  what can public higher education offer an exceptional student who, in the natural course of things, graduates and seeks his or her happiness outside of the academy? 

In Abelard to Apple, Richard DeMillo argues that higher education has some roots in a system of clerical education designed to perpetuate the clerical caste.  The universities that emerged from that system often end up being run of, by and for the faculty.  The best and the brightest students were/are expected to become faculty.  That system transferred effectively to private elite colleges and universities, designed to perpetuate a social and academic elite. And while mid-range public institutions are often still shaped by this medieval model, the students they are serving are typically not priveleged and when they graduate, are likely to return to a non-elite status.  Like their private forebears, public institutions are very good at turning outstanding students into members of the academy (hence the PhD glut).  But how do they, or can they, equip students to particpate more fully in the human endeavor as those students return to midst of a mass society?

This might be an interesting thread to discuss during the MOOC.  In any case, I'm looking forward to it.