Author Archives: Michelle A. McSweeney (Johnson)

Linguistics Journals

Progressive as Linguistics sometimes thinks it is – it’s still rather formal.  All of the major journals are online, but none are open-access, and all are double-blind peer reviewed, and EXTREMELY expensive (which is funny since linguists are supposed to study language – a freely available object of study).  Note: I’ve only looked at American Journals – there are lots of European journals, a couple Canadian, but they follow a different kind of linguistics (Chomskian vs. non-Chomskian) , and the African journals are split between open databases and closed publications – somehow following the American model.

Anyhow, there is one open access American (Chomskian) journal, Snippets.

Snippets is an open-access, online journal with a 3-6 month turn around for publication.  Snippets isn’t exactly for full length articles – it’s for what linguists call a SQUIB.  SQUIBs are very elaborate footnotes, thoughts, interesting points that contradict the theory or should be investigated with respect to the theory as “the theory” is being developed today.  It’s interesting if only because the biggest collection of open-access material in Linguistics is actually the questions – not the solutions.

The best, most fun linguistics resource, though, is Language Log.  This is where many Lingusitics teachers take examples from because it’s not exactly formal and too often turns towards grammar (which is NOT language as defined by linguistics – grammar and punctuation are a social construction quite separate from human language), but is fun and interesting observations about language.


Michelle’s Digital Elevator Pitch

The Haiku Deck for my elevator pitch. 

I first was going to try to make a map, since the project is a map (using Zeemaps, Statsilk, Googlemaps mashup, for which there’s a nice tutorial here).  Then it seemed like I was trying to make my project to explain it, not explain what I want to do and why, so it turned into a giant Project Fail. Then, I thought I should tell the story of the story that I’m trying to tell in a public and quantified way… So I tried a picture book with Zooburst.  While fun, suddenly I had Zebras in a classroom and it didn’t make sense or seem appropriate for anyone above age 7.

Finally, I went back to my tried and true favorite presentation software, Haiku Deck.  I make Haiku Decks for everything that needs explaining. It’s a slide show of pictures with limited text, so this presentation won’t make much sense without explanation, but since this isn’t a MOOC pitch, that should be fine.

The process of building this got me acquainted with what APIs are, mashups, and what software is available for this project and more of the scope of this project generally. And I discovered that the CUNY Digital Mapping Service has made public their methodology; I’m now seriously considering this as a template!

More than a MOOC (and probably longer)

The discussion about MOOCs brings in a lot more than just Massively Open Online Courses.  Actually, I would venture to say that MOOCs are NOT the issue.  A MOOC is just a platform, as Caufield so clearly articulated (here) “…the best way to think of a MOOC isn’t really as a class brought to your doorstep — it’s more a textbook with ambitions…”  To think that they are more than that misses what I think is a huge part of education (communication & relationships – more on that below), but MOOCs do force discussion of the problems in higher (and K-12) education today (i.e., cost, access, standardization, and what a college degree “is”) – and offer another option.

First, what would a MOOC decree be worth? – does a degree from Udacity hold the same marketplace value as one from a standard public university?  I doubt it –  a degree from Phoenix does not have the same weight as one from any state school. It isn’t cheaper for students if they have to go back to school to get another degree (or take more courses to get the accredited credit).

On the surface, MOOCs seem like a solution to the financial problems facing higher education.  Show thousands of students a series of recorded lectures, keep the documentation (tests, discussion boards), and that’s a wrap!  Oh, I mean, class!  Cheap will attract some, but only if that degree can get the job.  Otherwise, it will continue to attract people who are “just interested” – and that’s fine!

Secondly, Thomas notes that MOOCs could push the non-elite colleges into precarious positions, but only if a MOOC degree is valued as a public college. Higher education is a “hostage situation” for most people (Shirky’s term); it’s the stamp needed to get the job interview.  I am not arguing for or against this system, but until MOOC degrees are accredited and respected as standard ones, I don’t see the threat.

Colleges realize this and have responded with online courses.  The CUNY Online Bachelor’s is one of many examples of fully online programs – with the flexibility of MOOCs, but with full accreditation, but they are considerably more expensive (per class, Udacity = $150, CUNY = $920, Lansing Community College= $324.  So a bachelors is $6,000 at Udacity, $27,600 at CUNY, and $9,720 at LCC).  It’s not a solution – $27,600 is a lot of money for a student, and CUNY is under emormous financial pressure, but CUNY is a recognized and respected institution.  Which means I’ve said families should have to pay (per adult) for access in to job interviews (until government funding increases, Bustillos puts it perfectly, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to just fund education to the levels we had back when it was working?”).  That’s not something that I want to say, but find myself trapped into it.

There are many ways institutions can cut costs without operating without instructors, but the first step has to be reconciling admin and faculty goals (though this isn’t a post about that), and justifying why we exist at all.  It’s no surprise that high-stakes testing and MOOCs are appearing at the same time – a time when education is being distilled into a final exam…  This is a time when we must start articulating why education is valuable beyond memorizing facts and visiting chat rooms.

Education depends on communication and relationships.  Online courses allow both of these to be present and built – mediated by technology; instructors provide the scaffolding and framework (and redirection) that students need to navigate seemingly endless information. I would guess that the ratio of good teachers to mediocre (or bad) is about the same from face to face vs. online.  But, since student-centered teaching (which I correlate with “good” teaching) requires student-student, student-faculty AND faculty-student interactions, I’m not convinced MOOCs have the capacity to be student-centered.

Likewise, online programs (as opposed to MOOCs) have admissions requirements. Students have to justify why online is a good fit and why they want a degree.   They have to gain membership into a community and have their prior education validated, and show that they the skills necessary to keep up with course work.  Admissions also allows the institution to keep track of its students and validate all of the coursework for the degree.  The no-admissions policies can’t create the same community.  (This is not an endorsement for huge administrative staffs.)

I don’t have any funding solutions for higher education, but I know we can validate our existence by showing that the relationships, direction, and personalized communication make a difference in education, and link this to accreditation, MOOCs will have no more power than a good documentary.

(here are my thoughts on why MOOCs will not bring better education to Africa).