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.