Note to: BSU Future Academic Programs Workgroup
Re: Reframing the brief
Think of the charge of coming up with ideas for future programs as a design problem. It’s not a matter of refining already established traditions and practices, but of inventing new conventions. We are being asked to invent new conventions.
We can think of new approaches to academic programs by reframing familiar learning and teaching activities, such as rethinking the context in which they can be performed – Eg: Not in a classroom. Not in a 2 or 3 day a week set of meetings. Not even necessarily replacing face to face interaction with a video link or Skype.
Reframing practices teaching means rethinking assessment. This means setting aside current best practices which are based on traditional conventions that need reframing. This means not assessing course design and course practices using criteria tailored for traditional courses – Eg: quality management; the quality management rubric presumes that e-course proceed by digital analogues of traditional f2f course practices.
Our response to Pres Hanson’s brief to think about where we are going oughtn’t be a response to customer demand. Consider the apocryphal story of Henry Ford inventing the automobile. If he had asked customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse. According to MnSCU and the dominant local ideology, our customers want cheaper and more convenient access to what already exists: faster horses, rather than re-conceptualizimg what we’re doing. MnSCU isn’t focused on what else might be possible. Cheaper access is not a matter of closing off buildings but a matter of getting the state to fund education properly. Our role as a workgroup is to develop a response grounded in pedagogy and new ways and means of learning, not just addressing new situations but creating new situations for learning.
By reframing and inventing new conventions, we set the stage for a new market.
A few examples, with a focus on what it can mean for students and faculty and support.
Reframing at a technical level
For example, open source.
Open source reframes the LMS to something like Moodle, wikis, weblogs, developing personal learning environments. Open sources not a matter of being less expensive but a matter of reframing and redefining the student-teacher-knowledge relationships.
Open source reframes the role of tech support – but that creates opportunities for internships working along side an expanded IT-faculty-design group. Current tech support is modeled on Appliance Repair silos rather than a model of collaborative or collective work.
Open source enacts a fundamental design principle: keep designs platform-agnostic to keep delivery flexible. That flexibility can be used in teaching.
Open source reframes the role of the teacher towards the curator. It reframes the role of the teaching intern and student TA. We will have to and can set up a new support system for those TAs: They have to be more savvy to support teaching in this framework.
Open source changes the context (social, rhetorical, pedagogical) in which students learn, and the practices they take on in that context. The space learning becomes more public if not completely open. That’s going to require some changes in FERPA or permissions from students.
Open source can change what BSU will be valued for.
Reframe at a social level
For example, English Dept curriculum.
MnSCU et al are asking us to connect curriculum with work and employment – a social connection.
To reframe the social level means, for instance, re-creating curriculum not strictly along lines of disciplines but other lines. Creative and Professional Writing can be reframed as Creativity running across contexts and disciplines. Creativity in lit crit, teaching, poetry, tech writing all together. Couple this with Lib Ed courses (Lib Ed as a grounding) from psychology, philosophy, and others focused on creativity.
Reframing on the social level changes how we position the vocational-technical. We can reframe a study of creative arts (writing, professional writing, lit crit, teaching) as a social vocation rather than a personal mission.
The BA and MA in English can be reframed as vocational scholarship (BA) and professional scholarship (MA). Courses would connect theory with extra-scholarly practices: vocational practices based on scholarly principles. One model is Weblogs and Wikis. But others are massive open online courses, personal learning environments.
This is to bracket the desire of students for a bigger, faster horse of their own. To address that, reframe marketing.
Reframing at social level can drive how BSU and the curriculum are marketed. The marketing tail is wagging the curricular dog, and marketing has been taking its signal from focus groups: customers who want a faster horse in new packaging.
Reframing on the social level means marketing BSU not as The Lake but designing a physical campus infused with sites to study, read, talk, work. Coffee shops, street cafes. This requires actually creating these spaces. BSU and Bemidji doesn’t have them yet.
Reframing at a social level means getting off campus to public spaces, creating a distributed campus (town and gown): Cantabria study space, Lake side visual art space, Pine Ridge welding space, Harmony Co-Op digital hub and editing space, BCAC Skype space. These spaces would not be refinements of existing spaces but re-framed spaces, unlike those we’re familiar with. They wouldn’t be teaching spaces but spaces where students meet and work – with occasional guidance of faculty-tutor. MnSCU is not thinking this way when they talk about moving the classroom to the mall. They are still thinking about a cheaper horse.
Reframing learning recasts the role of the teacher and student, the practices of learning, student success and support, teaching assistantships and student internships.
Reframed learning practices draw on both scholarly and vocational practices that can be connected tightly to curriculum. For both, the reframe heuristic can be aggregate, annotate, remix, repurpose. The practices of Picasso and Henry Ford, Agassize and Plato fit this frame. It’s what the scholar does. It’s what the artist does. It’s what the technical specialist does.
Reframing learning means that students will need a new kind of support for a new set of skills and competencies in the university classroom, and before they get to the university classroom. We would need to define what’s expected of them, and they would need to be aware of what’s demanded of them and willing to prepare for it. Advising and support services would need reframing that places them less as a customer service agency and more of an innovator-in-waiting.
Reframing learning means faculty take on a role as curators. They guide consumption and practices: “This content can be read in short bursts, but this other project is going to require a three hour uninterrupted session.” “This project means you’ll need to live in your studio for the next two weeks…” Access to texts, videos, scholarly vocational tools (the OED, lathes, 3D printers, Google Scholar) and spaces (studios, theater spaces, gallery spaces, libraries, labs) is partly there but mostly not. Some of curatorial practices are already in the curriculum and practiced on campus: labs, shops, student studios, student offices. But many reframed practices are yet to be realized in tight connection with curriculum.
Changing the academic ground is going to demand as much or more of students than it does of faculty. Again, this is where reframing departs from MnSCU’s notion of education. Reform doesn’t mean more convenient access to the same but a change in what’s being accessed.