Braverman - Degradation of WorkOne of the surprises in reading the first chapters of Tim Ingold’s Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description is how much Karl Marx appears. Marx and Engels are partly foils, part of an argument against the traditional separation of mental from material, as later elaborated by Maurice Godelier (see previous Materials Against Materiality). But Marx also provides lucid ways to think anew about the process of production and human skills.

In the section on “Clearing the Ground” Ingold works toward a chapter titled “Walking the plank: Meditations on a process of skill.” The purpose of the chapter is to talk about how sawing a plank can illustrate three often overlooked aspects of technical skill: “(i) the processional quality of tool use, (ii) the synergy of practitioner, tool and material; and (iii) the coupling of perception and action” (2011:53). Marx returns at the end of the chapter:
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Materials Against MaterialityThis semester teaching Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. Tim Ingold as a First Year Seminar. Ingold’s ideas about the strengths of local knowledge and engagement have been an inspirational back-text for this blog. Now hoping to make those ideas much more explicit. Also hoping the blog and course becomes a way to extend into the Hartwick Campus–pursuing the idea of a Grounded Campus–as well as into Oneonta and the region.

The first section of Being Alive is appropriately titled “Clearing the Ground.” Ingold begins with a general introduction emphasizing the involved experimentation inherent (though often hidden and denied) in anthropology:

Anthropological experiments . . . place the investigator, in person, right in the midst of things. In terms of scientific protocols, these experiments break all the rules. That, perhaps, is why anthropologists are so shy about owning up to the experimentality of their discipline, and why they shelter behind the pretence that far from joining with the people among whom they work in a search for answers to the fundamental questions of life, all they are doing in the field is collecting ethnographic data–on what these people say and do–for subsequent analysis.
I believe that the experimental nature of anthropology is something to be celebrated rather than covered up. (2011:15-16)

The first chapter in this section is “Materials against materiality.” Ingold begins with the wonderful idea, which I hope my students do, of reading with rocks:

Before you begin to read this chapter, please go outside and find a largish stone, though not so big that it cannot be easily lifted and carried indoors. Bring it in, and immerse it in a pail of water or under a running tap. Then place it before you on your desk–perhaps on a tray or plate so as not to spoil your desktop. Take a good look at it. If you like, you can look at it again from time to time as you read the chapter. (2011:19)

Ingold is trying to get us to reconsider materials. Following an ongoing theme, he disputes the separations that have been made between mind and matter, and the idea that what distinguishes human activity in the world is the imposition of a mental image onto a material reality:

Thus the artefact is characteristically defined–as it is by Godelier–as an object formed through the imposition of mental realities upon material ones (1986:4). The artisan, it is argued, begins work with an image or design already in mind of the object he plans to make, and ends when the image is realised in the material. (2011:22)

In contrast, Ingold is arguing that artefacts are always in process, and that it is in fact impossible to neatly distinguish the natural from the artefact:

In an experiment, I asked a group of undergraduate students to sort a motley collection of objects that they had found lying around outside into two piles, one of natural objects, the other of artefacts. It turned out that not a single thing could be unequivocally attributed to one pile or the other. If they seemed to vary on a scale of artificiality, it was only because for some more than others, and at different times in their histories, human beings had played a part in the processes that led to their being where they were, and taking the forms they did, at the moment when they were picked up. (21-22)

Against Materiality

In many ways, the chapter is an extended argument against certain academic approaches to materiality, especially as promoted by Daniel Miller, among others. “What academic perversion leads us to speak not of materials and their properties but of the materiality of objects?” (2011:20). Ingold would rather return us to studies like Henry Hodges Artifacts.

This return to the materials and accounting of how things are made reminds me very much of the anthropology of Sidney W. Mintz. Mintz always begged us to examine materials carefully, to talk to people about how they made things, to work with people and participate in what they were doing. After I returned from fieldwork in Colombia, Mintz asked me to write something up that would critique Daniel Miller’s Material Culture and Mass Consumption (1987). How could anyone write a whole book about material culture, Mintz mused, without ever once mentioning domesticated animals?

My critique of Miller wasn’t very good. Years later, Ingold’s section on “the stuff of animals and plants” is what I wished I would have written:

As they swim in this ocean of materials, human beings do of course play a part in their transformations. So, too, do creatures of every other kind. Very often, humans take over from where non-humans have left off, as when they extract the wax secreted by bees to make the cell walls of the honey-comb for further use in the manufacture of candles, as an ingredient of paint (alongside linseed oil, egg-yolk and a host of other concoctions), as a means of waterproofing and as a hardener in leatherwork. (2011:24)

A Journey to Table Rock – Hartwick College

In class, we could do the wet stone thing, or the artefact sorting thing, but my idea is to take a hike up to Hartwick’s Table Rock. Here we have an example of the earth itself, stones with histories, incorporated into human projects and imbued with meaning, but also forming a context for those human projects–and the activities of plants and non-human animals besides. This place, this hill, this Rock becomes part of a college, the name for the college cafe.

A couple online searches–after scrolling through the cafe results–lead me to Walk Score, an online place about walking in neighborhoods and gathering “local insight.” And to some Youtube video of Table Rock mountain biking on a frosty morning in March.

Our walk, in contrast, will probably be on the very hottest day in September. And it may start thunderstorming, which will give a whole new insight into the wet stone thing:

What we can conclude, however, is that since the substance of the stone must be bathed in a medium of some kind, there is no way in which its stoniness can be understood apart from the ways it is caught up in the interchanges across its surface, between medium and substance. (Ingold 2011:32)

Just-in-Time Teaching & Course BloggingMy college is in transition from Blackboard, the giant of all course management systems, to Desire2Learn, which I can only refer to as D2L. During our opening faculty workshop I’ve volunteered for a breakout session on course blogging and social media. I’ve been making use of course blogging mostly as a way to stimulate discussion and identify where students are in the readings, and I’ve just begun using some social media tools to connect to discussions beyond the classroom. My approach is rudimentary, not anywhere near the true course blogging and social media expertise some professors bring to the classroom. I hope to offer a quick start for those who want to try out some of these techniques. Also, the last time I ran a workshop on academic blogging, my sample blog-post on Gender is a Social Construction inadvertently became one of my most popular posts.

In many ways, my course blogging and social media stem from the same reasons I began an academic anthropology blog, Living Anthropologically and then editing Anthropology Report–the feeling that there needed to be a better discussion of anthropology in public. Likewise, my college is famous for hosting informative internal discussions on listservs and over e-mail, but these are rarely or only tangentially connected to outside debates. Just last week the listserv basically re-played many of the positions and responses to Steven Pinker’s Science Is Not Your Enemy (see Science & Humanities Together for an overview and the previous post on the humanities numbers) but without apparently realizing the congruent discussion or the immediate relevance to our own humanities-science enrollment balance. Meanwhile the Pine Lake Archaeological Field School is a perfect example of inter-institutional collaboration, experiential learning, practical skills, and a grounded-campus experience which can’t be MOOCed–but hardly anyone, even on campus, discusses it in these terms or uses it as a model for other endeavors.

First some reading resources, in an attempt to make this a “flipped” breakout group:

  • What’s different about the inverted classroom? Robert Talbert reflects on the ways that indeed a flipped classroom approach may not seem all that new, especially in the humanities, but argues that done well it does structure the out-of-class experience in ways that may not have been true previously. I’m not entirely convinced that the vaunted flipped classroom is all that different from a reading assignment with questions to think and write about, but Talbert makes a valuable contribution.
  • A Tech-Happy Professor Reboots After Hearing His Teaching Advice Isn’t Working. An article about anthropologist Michael Wesch, who really pushed the boundaries of digital media use in the classroom. A reminder that there is not a magic formula here, and seeking the professor-student connection can potentially take many forms.
  • Best practices and tips for Twitter in the higher-ed classroom. Still one of the best Twitter resources from anthropologist, Twitter-and-MOOC enthusiast John Hawks.
  • Go Where the Students Are: Facebook. David M. Perry suggests that if you want to meet students where they are, it’s still Facebook.
  • The First Day. John Kaag offers some interesting advice which I’ve now at least partially adopted. I like to go technology-less in the first class, and coming in with a blank piece of paper–no roster!–has been particularly liberating. Kaag’s suggestions probably work best in classrooms of 10-40 students, as is true of my suggestions here.

Using Course Blogging in Course Management Systems

Although I do a lot of academic blogging, I do not have the energy to help every student set up a WordPress blog. I also am wary of making things too open to public comment. Instead, I’ve used the course blog function of Blackboard. It’s very basic, to the point of ugly, but it’s simple to set-up and easy to use (for those looking to go into more full-on course blogging, see Develop and Implement a Course Blog). Basically before each class I set up a new blog and send students an announcement link. By a certain time before class, students should write something–something they found in the reading that is of interest, that connects to another part of class, or a question about the reading. I require that each entry includes a page-number reference to the reading, and it should be a new contribution, not something that has been written before, although that can be difficult to monitor.

What this seems to most correspond to in D2L is what they call the Discussions section rather than their blog. I am hoping it is a bit prettier than Blackboard, and I’m also intrigued by Must-Post-First: “Encourage original thought with the ‘Must Post First’ option, in which learners are required to create a post before being able to view their peers’ content.” This could certainly help with the problem that students simply peruse other posts before composing their own. The downside would be that it limits comments on other posts, but I’ve found that such comments are usually limited, and in Blackboard the comments are hidden-until-click, which pretty much defeats the purpose.

I read over student contributions and use them for lectures and discussion. I’ll call on students to ask them about what they wrote, and I usually put names directly into the notes section of my PowerPoint. All of this is actually like what people were doing in the late 1990s when electronic discussion boards were first introduced, and the Just in Time Teaching styles that arose around the same time. In fact, reading through the Wikipedia entry and the book descriptions for Just in Time Teaching makes it apparent that this is very similar to what I’ve been doing all these years!

Indeed, one point I would emphasize is that a lot of these teaching techniques that are seen now as a magical formula have been around for a long time. Blogs are rather like the old discussion boards, and the new collaborative learning is rather like what people were doing with small-group discussion over thirty years ago. I used some of these techniques around 2000-2002, drifted away into more lecture and PowerPoint, and am now going back to groups and discussion boards. Some of these techniques seem to be working better now, but they may again lose appeal (see the Wesch article above).

That said, lessons learned:

  • Keep the prompts short. I’ve found minimal specification works best, and for some reason the seminar discussion-posts have generally been longer and more in-depth, the introductory posts appropriately shorter. If a student is not writing enough, or too much, or not using a page-number reference, I send an individual reminder.
  • Keep the discussion board student-centered. One of the reasons I gave up on electronic discussion boards is how much time I would spend commenting and offering summaries, which I am now sure went unread (like most paper comments). I rarely intervene now, although since I talk about their posts in class and call on them, they know that I’ve read them. However, I would resist the impulse to track things like grammar, punctuation, or comment too heavily (or at all!).
  • I haven’t figured out the grading yet. I’ve definitely resisted giving a full and formal grade for each blog-post and evidence suggests it is wise to refrain. When I first started the course blogs, I gave points simply for posting and participating, with points off for repeated infractions like not including a page-number. At the time, grades seemed to balance out just with that measure, but in recent courses participation increased and made it feel too much like dreaded grade inflation. Last semester I tried a full-letter A-B-C system, with the thought that on most comments people would get a “B” but over time it would again even out. That too seemed to lead to slightly-higher grade distributions than normal. I did like the flexibility of being able to give more points for commenting on the more difficult readings. This semester I’m pondering an overall mid-semester and end-semester blog-participation grade, or potentially incorporating the D2L feature of giving posts ratings.

Social Media for Coursework: Twitter, Facebook, Blog Comments

Last semester I tentatively tried using Twitter as a part of the course. However, I used it more as a participation option and was not a consistent Twitter-pusher. There were some fun moments, especially when I first introduced the idea, and I especially enjoy projecting what people are tweeting about the Nacirema at any given moment. But in general it was a flop.

This semester I am planning to use social media more consistently as a three-pronged option. I will post or point them to a blog-post, and they can either post a blog comment there, put a comment on Facebook, or compose a Tweet with a link.

I am doing this partly because as from the David Perry article, students are on Facebook, not Twitter. Twitter is mostly for middle-aged, professional types–see Twitter Academia. The few students who are on Twitter don’t use it the way most people I follow do–to share a link or engage with colleagues. I also don’t like pushing a particular service–Twitter does serve up its strange form of spam, and I don’t think mandating commercial Twitter use is a good idea. At the same time, I want to encourage professionalizing whatever social media platform students happen to be on, whether that be Facebook, Twitter, or as a blog commenter.

The fact that students really are not on Twitter and don’t usually use it well leads me to one point I want to emphasize: Today’s students are not generally more technologically advanced, digitally native, or even more social-media proficient than the typical professor. So get over the myths–there may have been some point in the 1980s when the youngsters really were technological tinkerers, but for the most part the students are not now any more technologically adept–and in some cases much less digitally-savvy–than the typical aging professoriate.

Comments welcome for a just-in-time faculty workshop. Now I must write a just-in-time syllabus. Yikes!

Update: This statement about students being on Facebook caused a mini-debate on Twitter. My evidence for that statement was from my own students but also this 2012 article, Social Networks and College Choices: “Of the more than 7,000 students surveyed, nearly three-quarters said they check Facebook at least once per day, while more than half never use Twitter, the next-most-visited network. Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram were even less popular.” That said, I’m inspired to survey my students and will report back!

Classical Tradition - HumanitiesI had been collecting links related to humanities enrollments. Just when I was about to discard them, along comes Steven Pinker with Science Is Not Your Enemy. Much has been written about that essay–for a sampling, and my own commentary, see Anthropology Is Your Ally – Science & Humanities Together. However, I have not yet seen anyone challenge Pinker’s notion that “students are staying away in droves.”

Pinker should read his own institution’s report, The Teaching of the Arts and Humanities at Harvard College: Mapping the Future discussed in Twitter Academia. Certainly there is cause for worry and there have been declining enrollments–although see below for some links that challenge these numbers. However, Harvard gets plenty of initial interest in the humanities. What they have most suffered is the pull of other disciplines. According to figure 11, about 45% have stayed in the humanities. About 50% have gone into what are quite closely-allied social sciences, and only 5% have gone on to major in the natural sciences. That’s hardly a strong natural science magnet, especially when many social science disciplines are also involved in humanities-related endeavors.

More humanities-related links.

  1. The Humanities: What Went Right? by Alexander Beecroft:

    If we ask “What went right?” then new perspectives on the situation of the humanities open up, revealing different paths to the future. The search for what went right might begin at the height of the culture wars. Is it a coincidence that over the past 30 years, the period with the largest percentage of humanities majors was in the early 1990s? Divisive though those debates were, they gave a real urgency to the question of what constitutes the proper field of study for humanists. Perhaps we’ve lost something (including some enrollments) during this past decade or so of informal truce in those wars. Perhaps, instead of trying to return to the golden age of 1967, we should be aiming for 1992, and should bring more, not less, public attention to our internal debates–conducted, one hopes, with civility and from a shared conviction that humanistic inquiry, in all its forms, is a worthwhile activity.

  2. The Humanities in Dubious Battle Anthony T. Grafton and James Grossman take on that Harvard Humanities report:

    If you set the baseline farther back, drawing on records that can’t be directly consulted online . . . it turns out that humanities enrollments shot upward and peaked in the 1960s. In the 1940s and 1950s, they were at much lower levels–close to the levels that they returned to around 1990 and have remained at ever since. What we have, then, is not a story of decline, in the humanities as a whole and at Harvard, but one of large-scale fluctuation with a bubble in the middle.

  3. The Real Business of Higher Education by Paul Stoller:

    Although public officials decry the wasteful ivory tower luxury of humanities and social science scholarship and business magazines like Forbes and Kiplinger suggest that majors like anthropology, history, philosophy and art history cannot prepare you for a job, it appears that the “thinking” and “writing skills’ that we teach in our “humanistic” classrooms, are just what our job-seeking students need.

  4. As More Attend College, Majors Become More Career-Focused by Nate Silver:

    I hesitate to generalize too much from my own college experience, at the University of Chicago, but it is a school that emphasizes a broad and general course of study among all its undergraduates. My strategy was to choose a major–economics–that I expected to offer strong career prospects, but then to take as few courses in that field as required, diversifying my curriculum instead.

  5. The Humanities, Declining? Not According to the Numbers by Michael Bérubé:

    There’s only one problem with those insistent accounts of the decline of the humanities in undergraduate education: They are wrong. Factually, stubbornly, determinedly wrong. I have been trying to point this out for years, using “numbers” and “arithmetic,” but it appears that the decline in humanities enrollments is universally acknowledged. Everyone simply knows that it has happened, just as everyone knows about that feminist who burned her bra while spitting on the soldier returning from Vietnam. Now, as it happens, there was a decline in bachelor’s degrees in English, just as there was a drop-off in humanities enrollments more generally. But it happened almost entirely between 1970 and 1980. It is old news. Students are not “now making the jump” to other fields, and it is not “getting worse.” It is not a “recent shift.” There is no “steady downward spiral.” It is more like the sales of Beatles records–huge in the 60s, then dropping off sharply in the 70s. (h/t Daniel Lende)

  6. The Gates Effect. A special report from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

    Gates also comes under attack for what critics describe as an overly prescriptive agenda. “They start with the assumption that something is broken,” says Patricia A. McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, which serves low-income women in the District of Columbia. “Then they take the next step of deciding what the fix is before they really understand the problem.” Skeptics say such confidence is dangerous when dealing with complex social phenomena like education.

    I’ve noticed Bill Gates has a peculiar take on his Harvard years and is a fanboy for Jared Diamond and Steven Pinker. I’m not surprised at how Gates is approaching education.

  7. Lesson 2: Embrace the Physical. One of three Barnes & Noble Nook lessons from Joshua Kim:

    I’ve always thought that claims that the days of the residential campus experience are numbered are about as ridiculous as claims that physical bookstores will cease to exist. People like learning and living on a campus, and we like browsing and hanging out at a bookstore.

    And this line is also nice: “In higher ed we should be doubling down on our faculty. We should be investing as much resources as possible in recruiting and supporting our scholar educators.”

  8. Scaling Up Efforts to Reach High-Achieving, Low-Income Students:

    One key takeaway from that work is that “low-income students do aspire to go to the best college that will admit them and that they’re able to afford,” Ms. Hoxby said at an event here on Wednesday put on by the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project. Such students’ enrollment choices, in other words, are the result not of their preferences but of an information gap.

CollegeSelection of recent links on the value of college. Lots of possible cross-pollination with Anthropology Matters, PR, Value.

  1. Illiberal Arts. Andrew Delbanco, author of College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be reviews Is College Worth It? and College (Un)bound. Delbanco concludes:

    In striving to “prove their worth,” America’s colleges risk losing their value as places young ­people enter as adventurous adolescents and from which they emerge as intellectually curious adults. Such a loss could never be compensated by any gain.

  2. 4 Questions for John Tamny. This rather strangely-titled post by Joshua Kim at Inside Higher-Ed could in many ways fit in with reflections on an Antifragile College Manifesto or Grounded Campus. From the Tamny interview:

    Put plainly, I think college education is overrated, but think college itself one of the greatest things a teen can do. A truly great experience. There’s an amazing, albeit intangible feel that comes with walking onto campus, and this is something that online quite simply cannot offer. Higher ed’s not in trouble because you can’t replace the wonders of walking through a university’s gates. Higher ed’s not in trouble mainly because it’s offering something much greater than education.

  3. The original John Tamny is Online Education Will Be the Next ‘Bubble’ To Pop, Not Traditional University Learning:

    When parents spend a fortune on their children’s schooling they’re not buying education; rather they’re buying the ‘right’ friends for them, the right contacts for the future, access to the right husbands and wives, not to mention buying their own (“Our son goes to Williams College”) status. The same is true for students taking out loans. With university education jaw-droppingly expensive, it’s often asked what in terms of instruction kids are getting in return for the huge cost. Of course that’s a false question. Parents and kids once again aren’t buying education despite their protests to the contrary. Going to college is a status thing, not a learning thing. Kids go to college for the experience, not for what’s taught.

  4. Although there’s a sense in which Tamny is correct–it’s all about the cultural capital–he overlooks some issues. First, there are the Financial Aid Programs. People are not just comparing sticker price to sticker price. Second, you can’t just buy into Williams College, you have to exhibit some academic strength. And this is related to a third issue: In part, the reason Williams has the cultural capital of the experience and status is because they decided to pursue a path emphasizing academics, abolishing fraternities in the early 1970s, and continuously emphasizing the teaching-learning experience. They were then able to mesh the look of the college with an emphasis on learning. So it can be more complicated than Tamny seems to suggest.
  5. In reference to the above, I’ve always had mixed feelings about three-year college programs, like the one Hartwick College offers. If college is about the experience–and that’s what people pay for–than why try to cram things into three years? However, it strikes me that this is itself a brand opportunity in the marketplace: although the Hartwick College name may not be as prominent as others, the badge of “I completed a Hartwick College liberal arts education in three years” may be a sell-point for positioning.
  6. 10 Dubious Claims About Higher Ed Decline by Arthur M. Hauptman:

    American higher education, to be sure, faces a number of serious challenges if it is to produce a work force for the future that is globally competitive. But the debate about what those challenges are should be based on an accurate recounting of the facts and not on the recitation of a persistent set of myths and mischaracterizations that bear little relation to reality and only serve to muddy the waters.

  7. Forget MOOCS–Let’s Use MOOA. I’ve been involved at the edges of various strategic planning exercises and this piece by Benjamin Ginsberg does ring true:

    Ginsberg pointed to the realm of strategic planning. He said that thanks to the best practices concept, hundreds of schools currently use virtually identical strategic plans. Despite the similarities, however, these plans cost each school hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to develop. The MOOA would formalize the already extant cooperation by developing one plan that could be used by all colleges. Ginsberg estimates that had the MOOA planning concept been in use over the past ten years, schools would have saved more than a half billion dollars. “One way to look at it,” he said, “Is that through their tuitions students paid about $500 million for strategic planning that might have been used for curricular development or other educational purposes.” The MOOA plan, he declared, would end such wasteful duplication.

  8. Is Summer Selling? The idea of a summer program as a money-maker is often tossed around, but this article suggests the need for research before jumping in.