Category Archives: Technology


Students Are Welcome to Shop Online During My Lectures

I have a confession: I am writing this essay while attending a presentation. Normally, I give a speaker my full attention, but there are many people here, so it is easy to miss that I am doing something other than listening. Besides, I am still paying attention (for the most part). The speaker is giving us an update on our university’s shuttle schedule.

As I write this, I think of students in my classes who are obviously on their computers doing something other than, or in addition to, listening…


Silicon Valley’s Empathy Problem

Facebook is no stranger to controversy, but last month the company found itself in a public scrap with its fiercest opponents yet. The cause? Facebook’s decision to delete the accounts of several San Francisco drag queens, enforcing a longstanding policy that users go by their real names on the site.

Here in San Francisco, the activist queens known as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence reacted with anger and disbelief. As queens like Sister Roma rightly pointed out, alternative names are a mean…


A Good, Dumb Way to Learn From Libraries

Too bad we can’t put to work the delicious usage data gathered by libraries.

Research libraries may not know as much as click-obsessed Amazon does about how people interact with their books. What they do know, however, reflects the behavior of a community of scholars, and it’s unpolluted by commercial imperatives.

But privacy concerns have forestalled making library usage data available to application developers outside the library staff, and often even within. And the data are the definition of…


Eroding Colleges’ Reputation? There’s an App for That

In a month when news from academia includes the story of an Idaho State professor literally shooting himself in the foot with a concealed handgun, it takes a lot to win the prize for dumbest move. But, to give credit where credit is due, Goucher College managed to pull it off.

One of the unwritten rules among college administrators is, Don’t publicly criticize the bad decisions of other colleges. Partly that results from allegiance to an increasingly embattled profession, and partly, no doubt,…


Betray Our Students for Publisher’s Profit?

I recently received an email from a “consultant” inviting me to help a publisher create an automatic essay-grading technology product for humanities professors to use in introductory-level courses. The consultant claimed that once completed, the program would “accurately auto-grade brief writing assignments – 500 to 900 words.” The program, the email said, “uses specific writing prompts and rubrics to achieve computer grading accuracy.”

And how will these impressive results be achieved, you ask?…


Public Intellectuals? LOL.

It’s not every day that you are carded and then tagged with a neon green bracelet so that you can listen to an eminent scientist explain evolutionary genetics. I took advantage of the fact that Oberon Theater (the second stage of Harvard’s American Repertory Theater) has a bar and ordered myself an Oberon (gin, St. Germain, cranberry juice, grapefruit juice) before taking my seat to watch “You’re the Expert,” a podcast and WBUR radio show recorded in front of a live audience.

When I first heard …


Milton, Locke, and Net Neutrality

To gain some perspective on the debate about Internet neutrality, we would do well to consult John Milton and John Locke. The Federal Communications Commission is considering the creation of a fast broadband lane that would permit companies like Netflix to purchase more-rapid delivery from Internet-service providers like Verizon. The defenders of net neutrality oppose that proposal and invoke ideals expressed in manifestoes such as the “Digital Declaration of Independence”: “We hold this t…

The Erosion of Faculty Rights

In the rush to online education, faculty members have been signing contracts that abrogate the ownership of their classes, erode their collective interests, and threaten the quality of higher education. No standard (let alone best) practice has yet emerged, and faculty members are largely in the dark about what is at stake.

Put simply, the stakes are huge. Online education is the new frontier where the traditional rights of faculty members and the quality of instruction are up for grabs. It is a…


Getting Creative About Creativity Studies

The latest fad in American higher education is the teaching of creativity. Recent articles applauding the study of creativity have appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, and many other news sources. Buffalo State College and Eastern Kentucky University have made names for themselves with courses like “Introduction to Creative Studies” and “Creativity, Innovation, and Change.”

The popularity of creativity studies stems in large part from anxieties about the long-term health of America’s…


Don’t Call Us Rock Stars

Ah, the life of a superprofessor. Since I started teaching a massive open online course, I’ve been called “Internet royalty” by the Financial Times and been told I had great skin on the public-radio show Marketplace. This must be what the edX president Anant Agarwal meant when, responding to concerns that MOOCs were overhyped, he asked, “What better to hype than education? For the first time, you’re going to make the teacher a rock star” (Information Week).

And you know what? I hate it.

It’s n…