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All the lonely MOOCers. Where do they all come from?

So about that math MOOC I took earlier this year. It can be easy to focus on the technology aspects of online instruction, since so much  hinges on adequate access to and support for hardware, Internet connections, software, operating systems, and even peripherals, q.v. the widespread chuckling last year over the meltdown of the Coursera class on online learning. Despite careful piloting and design,  the MOOC I was enrolled in had a tough first week, caused by four days of service interruptions for their learning management system, on top of problems related to the course webinar product they were using, which relies on Java. Due to upcropping security issues, Apple blocked Java, later providing an update to the iOS operating system… it was a hot mess.

I largely missed this episode because I was at a conference for most of this ordeal. I don’t know whether this techno-crisis had any impact on student retention, because for the most part, as was true throughout the class, student engagement was almost nonexistent.

Though I sense that enrollment was in the hundreds (based on a math problem posed in an early video), there were fewer than 20 students in the one synchronous online session I attended. Most of the posts to the discussion board were from the initial “introduce yourself” phase. The “Math Assistance” section of the discussion board had 13 posts, the last one, from mid-March, asking, “Any body around?” (There was no response.) Questions from students went unanswered. For most of the class, I was as solitary as when I crammed for the GRE last fall — 7 weeks of manic cramming for the GRE, a period filled with flash cards and study guides and endless exercises. In other words, it was self-study, with videos.

Course Design

The math MOOC I was in offered weekly synchronous sessions through Collaborate and open drop-in hours. The weekly sessions, which were recorded, repeated the concepts offered through a series of smaller videos, homework, and quizzes.

The short videos were competent walk-throughs in which questions were posed and answered. A typical session included a problem, a “Chalk Talk” video where an instructor walks students through the solution, a brief “more info” slide, and a slide with two or three  additional practice equations (though the answers were presented right on the same screen, forcing me to put a hand up while I scribbled the problems on a piece of paper).

Often the Khan Academy video on the topic was included on a separate tab, I assume as a form of alternate reinforcement, although I find that Khan often talks too fast and scribbles too much; I preferred the slower pace of the MOOC instructors and I also found it easier to follow their handwriting.

The homework was similar to the material I used for GRE self-study — stolid, reasonable math problems.However, the 10-question quizzes used to determine eligibility to move to the next math section were sheer frustration. We were given scores, but not results. To quote another student, “It is immensely frustrating and annoying that we are not told which questions we got wrong at the end of each quiz.”

I know this issue has had some press, and in response some have bandied about the idea of peer review or that students don’t need grading or whatnot. Certainly that may work in some settings.  But in a math class, students need clear answers, preferably with some underpinning of what went wrong. One plus one is never going to be “you decide.”

When I wrote the program to express my concern, I was told, “we want you to continue working on the material until you feel you have mastered it.  If we provided that feedback, participants could just guess their way through a quiz.”So in other words, rather than develop a testing structure that enabled students to get real feedback, use the limitations of the system to excuse poor pedagogy.  If I don’t know where I am having problems, how can I work on those areas?

In contrast, the excellent quality of the one real-time online class I intended was instructive. The instructor knew her stuff, both the subject and how to teach it, and when the class ended and I was staring at a problem, pondering its ineffable algebraic logic, the instructor intuited I was not done and asked if I had questions, then spent another 10 minutes clarifying a concept I had struggled with not only in class but in my self-study last year.

But those online classes weren’t built for success. As I found out after I had enrolled, the classes were mostly offered during the day, staggered around the week, and with meetings and such, I was not able to attend another session. I tried watching a session I hadn’t attended, but it was hard to stay tuned to an hour-long recording of a class I hadn’t participated in.

The MOOC offered generous drop-in hours for online tutoring, but no similar drop-in technical assistance. The one time I dropped in, I had a question about submitting the homework, but the tutor knew math, not the MOOC environment, and wasn’t familiar with the course I was in per se, so no luck there.

So after investing dozens of weekend hours to complete 5 modules, what do I think?

First, if we’re going to offer (let alone require) online classes to college students, their technical preparedness needs to be a priority so every student begins the class on an even playing field. Despite all the blather about “digital natives,” what I see every day where I work are students with a wide range of technical abilities and network operating environments. The for-profit MOOCs are looking at higher education and licking their chops. These students should not be at their sacrificial alter.

If you look at successful online programs such as SJSU SLIS or UIUC LEEP, they make no assumptions about the skill levels or equipment capacity of the typical graduate student–well, actually there is an assumption: as a LEEP  page says, “The Instructional Technology and Design Office (ITD) is here to help bridge the gap between the learner and technology in the classroom setting.”

As that sentence explicitly acknowledges,  this gap is real, not theoretical. This gap can be an issue for even reasonably competent students, as I learned from an online LIS graduate (not LEEP) who told me he didn’t participate in class discussions for his last year in school because the audio on his laptop had become misconfigured and he didn’t know how to fix it.

The tech gap was real for everyone my first week of class, and persisted for a while for those of us on Apple platforms, and persisted for me when I had a technical issue that couldn’t be answered when I sought help, and cropped up repeatedly whenever I had technical issues at home or when I traveled. I spent a few hours configuring my mother’s guest wifi network, including time on the phone with her Internet provider, just so I would not miss my homework that weekend–and that presumed a level of expertise and equipment not everyone has. (My mother wasn’t aware she HAD wifi.)

Online engagement takes effort, especially among strangers who have nothing in common other than they are taking a free online math class. Yes, I had a reasonable reasons to drop out of my math MOOC; I had learned pretty much what I needed to know, and I needed to divert time to getting other tasks out of the way before I started school. But beyond sending one email when I took more than a week to return to my studies, there wasn’t a strong effort to keep students going. Sure, it’s self-study, and it’s a massive class, etc… and yet. If this is the future of education, then education has effectively ended.

The instructors at one point commented on the discussion board, in response to student complaints about course design, that this MOOC was designed largely for research purposes, a strange thing to tell students who are supposedly there to learn math, but revealing all the same. When these educators produce their research, as they inevitably will, I hope they conclude that, for example, simply providing a discussion board does not actually create discussion.

It’s not the online-ness of MOOCs that concerns me. I took three online writing courses several years ago through Stanford Continuing Education, and in these small, discussion-focused classes, participation and retention were quite strong. But these were courses led by instructors who understood that there was more to instruction than providing a discussion board and leading a weekly class session, and that they–or their delegates–needed to be an active presence for the duration of these classes. It helped that the subject, writing, is a low bar, technically, and that writers tend to be good at communicating.

It’s not even the “massive” part. I co-managed a very large discussion list for close to two decades, and it’s actually possible to have substantive conversations among 10,000 people, given the right people and effort. It’s also possible to have bad instruction in a much smaller class.

My concerns are that as the MOOC bandwagon has rolled into town, its wheels have kicked up huge clouds of dust that obscure reasonable questions about what constitutes good course design, with an emphasis on student performance and success. It is one thing for a well-educated librarian to sample parts of a math class and conclude she is ready to move on. It is quite another to assume the same environment will work for at-risk and/or digitally tenuous students.

I have struggled for months to pinpoint the crux of the problem, and as is usually the case, I have concluded it has little or nothing to do with technology. Bad online instruction  has the same problem as bad traditional instruction: a serious lack of attention to molecular engagement with the student learner.

In the MOOC I took, had I been a student struggling with technology, I would have been gone the first week. Had I been an at-risk student for other reasons, I would have been easily spun off the course by the combined centrifugal force of the Potemkin village that was the “discussion board,” with its unanswered pleas for assistance; the classes held during daytime hours, when presumably I would be working or, if unemployed, pursuing work; the “tutors” who could not offer technical assistance and were only marginally familiar with the course itself; and the assessment design, which gave me no serious feedback about progress or the lack of it. And of course, no advisers, peer mentors, or other champions for my success. In the end, I was not a student with real needs, struggling to learn; I was somebody’s “research.”

And I am deeply bothered that these students will become even more invisible and even more underserved in the online environment, and that as their faces disappear behind the digital curtain, their needs will take a back seat to everything else — greed, political expediency, the privileging of “research” over education — even as their advocates are pooh-poohed as old-fart Luddites for expressing even the tiniest soupcon of concern on their behalf.

I have tried to wrap up this post for over two months now, but have been in the undertow of my first semester “back to school.” (I have to thank Andy Woodworth for goosing me into wrapping this up.) One of the comparison points I can now offer is that in a five-person cohort, I have been kept busy, engaged, and on track for nearly two months — exactly the experience I didn’t have in my MOOC. Students deserve a real education. Education matters. If it’s not happening, no bells or whistles can make up for its absence.

ALA Annual 2013: My Schedule Can Beat Up Your Schedule

Bolded items are given. The italicized items are maybes. Whew! Hard to refocus on conference administrivia on such a momentous day in history.

Print Archive Network (PAN)
Friday, 06/28/2013 – 09:00am – 12:00pm
Newberry Library
60 W Walton St  Chicago, IL 60610

OCLC Americas Regional Council Member Meeting and Symposium
Friday, 06/28/2013 – 11:00am – 04:00pm
Hyatt Regency McCormick Place – Prairie Room
Exhibitor session

Budget Analysis & Review Committee Meeting
Friday, 06/28/2013 – 12:00pm – 03:00pm
McCormick Place Convention Center – N426c
Committee meeting
FY 2014 budget reviews; review Council referrals.

Opening General Session featuring Steven D. Levitt
Friday, 06/28/2013 – 04:00pm – 05:15pm
McCormick Place Convention Center – Behind Registration, Hall B1

S – Meetup
Friday, 06/28/2013 – 06:30pm – 07:30pm

B – Meetup
Friday, 06/28/2013 – 07:30pm – 08:30pm

ALA Council Orientation Session for New and Reelected Councilors
Saturday, 06/29/2013 – 08:00am – 10:30am
McCormick Place Convention Center – S100c

Nominating Committee for the 2014 ALA Elections Meeting
Saturday, 06/29/2013 – 10:30am – 11:30am
Hyatt Regency McCormick Place – Boardroom 3
Committee meeting

Finance & Audit Committee of the ALA Executive Board Meeting
Saturday, 06/29/2013 – 11:00am – 01:30pm
McCormick Place Convention Center – N426c
Committee meeting
Review and recommend financial items.

Meet with Peter
Saturday, 06/29/2013 – 01:30pm – 02:30pm
Palmer House Hotel Lobby

ALA Council/Executive Board/Membership Information Session
Saturday, 06/29/2013 – 03:00pm – 04:30pm
McCormick Place Convention Center – S100c
Governance/Membership Meeting

MLIP Reception
Saturday, 06/29/2013 – 09:30pm – 11:00pm
Hilton, Conrad Suite, T-4, 29th Floor

ALA Council I
Sunday, 06/30/2013 – 08:30am – 11:00am
McCormick Place Convention Center – S100c
Governance/Membership Meeting
Tis is a meeting of the governing and policy body of the Association.

ALA Planning & Budget Assembly Meeting
Sunday, 06/30/2013 – 01:00pm – 02:30pm
Hyatt Regency McCormick Place – Hyde Park 11AB
Committee meeting
Review financial updates

Top Technology Trends & LITA Awards Presentation
Sunday, 06/30/2013 – 01:00pm – 02:30pm
McCormick Place Convention Center – S105a-c
Program

Cory Doctorow: More than a Book-lined Internet Cafe
Sunday, 06/30/2013 – 03:00pm – 04:00pm
McCormick Place Convention Center – S105a-c
Presidents program, Speaker series

Social (GLBTRT)
Sunday, 06/30/2013 – 06:00pm – 08:00pm
Offsite Location – Off Site
Social event
Come mix with the membership of the GLBT Round Table. $5.00 recommended donation accepted at the door.

Ann Sather 909 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (773)348-2378

Dinner
Sunday, 06/30/2013 – 07:30pm – 09:30pm
Quartino (http://www.quartinochicago.com/)

ALA Council Forum I
Sunday, 06/30/2013 – 08:30pm – 10:00pm
Hilton Chicago – Astoria Room

Breakfast – LIAL 11 

Hyatt, McCormick Place, Shor

ALA Council II
Monday, 07/01/2013 – 08:30am – 11:30am
McCormick Place Convention Center – S100c
Governance/Membership Meeting

Stonewall Book Awards Brunch (GLBT RT)
Monday, 07/01/2013 – 10:30am – 02:00pm
Hyatt Regency McCormick Place – Hyde Park 11AB
Award Presentation, Ticketed event

Dinner with Z
Monday, 07/01/2013 – 07:00pm – 09:00pm

ALA Council Forum II
Monday, 07/01/2013 – 08:30pm – 10:00pm
Hilton Chicago – Astoria Room
Other

ALA Council III
Tuesday, 07/02/2013 – 07:45am – 09:15am
McCormick Place Convention Center – S100c
Governance/Membership Meeting

Shared print initiatives: Skating to where the puck is going to be

Let's go to the library!

Let’s go to the library!

In 2012, our library completed a major, thorough facility inspection and a consultant-led space planning program (yes, with all kinds of buy-in and focus groups and active sessions… by the end, I was thoroughly tired of being perky). Our next step is to tie this work into an architectural vision of what our library, post-renovation, will be.

In commissioning the building program, I specified to the consultant that I wanted two scenarios: one based on retaining most of the print in the library (excepting those materials that we are culling due to being duplicates, outdated materials, or irrelevant to our mission), and another in which 80% of the materials — those that are very low use — are off-site in shared storage, where they can be retrieved within one or two days.

The latter scenario accomplishes several key objectives.

Points one and two: it’s all about me (and us)

First, in our compact but lovely building, we get much more space for student learning: classrooms, carrels, study rooms, computer stations, ultra-quiet area, etc.  In the end, shared regional storage will be much more reasonable per square foot than new construction (if new construction were even a possibility on our campus). Reusing existing space is the green approach.

And for anyone who has seen our library, if you can look past the ancient furniture and ghastly 1950s linoleum (hey ma, I learned a new phrase! “9 hot, 12 not”), the building itself has a striking Midcentury design that’s worth preserving for at least one more generation if not longer. Milton Pfleuger may have been 50 years ahead of himself in extravagantly daylighting the main level of a campus library, but we’ve caught up to him today. (Unfortunately, so has global warming — with all-time-high usage and no a/c, on warm days it’s a wee fragrant.)

Second, relocating the low-use materials makes our higher-use items far more visible. Every librarian understands that when you weed a collection, circulation goes up. And in case you think that 80% is too sharp, well over 90% of our print collection has not circulated in the last ten years if not longer–a very typical statistic.

In which I digress about the power of a good (e)book

(I have a sidebar regarding circulation that I absolutely must include because it’s so fascinating. We have a small popular-reading ebook collection — the kinds of ebooks you can check out on tablets and phones. Not too many titles, around 500; circ activity looks modest at first glance. I was actually thinking, in the manner of someone who manages the budget and the work effort, should I keep or kill this service? So I looked at our two-year circ behavior yesterday: 60% of that collection has circulated. I can tell you that with every effort to promote materials, less than 5 percent of our standard print collection circulated in the last academic year. I still need to break out our new-book and popular-reading circ, which will be better, but especially with exhausting our book budget by January, which meant no more new books, period, paper or electronic, until, well, next week, that’s pretty interesting. I am sure faculty and staff are driving the ebook circ because our students don’t have tablets, for the most part, reflecting Pew’s recent findings.)

Write this down: shared print is good stewardship

Uh, where was I? Anyhoo: third, for those who understand that not only is not everything “online,” but not everything is ever going to be online, shared regional storage is crucial stewardship for print books. Let me repeat: shared print is good stewardship. Stored print is just a way to house books today, not that I wouldn’t give my eyeteeth for an easy solution to all that “stuff.” Shared print is long-term curation–the stuff of leadership.

Shared print forces us into intentional curation agreements where we understand how many copies of a book are retained, who is retaining them, and under what conditions any one item can be deaccessioned.

Fourth, shared print provides a sharing alternative for scholarly resources. Ebooks are convenient, until they aren’t, and a key reality is they can’t be shared.

Every time I bring up our two-scenario building program with an architect-type, the first thing they ask me is if this shared storage exists. My answer is “Not yet.” This is usually followed by a moment of silence, as if I had specified a library parking pad for flying cars.

Here’s that puck deal, and I don’t really understand sports, let alone ice hockey

But here’s the deal. When I arrived in late 2009, I immediately agreed for us to join a new resource-sharing network, so new it had no members and no name. (A facetious early name was “The Dude,” as in “get it from the Dude”; its final name, an homage to a historic road, is Camino, which has a shared catalog you can actually visit but in our own library is part of the secret sauce of our library discovery.)  That was pretty daring because our library had been circulating online for less than six months, most of its collection had not migrated online, and we essentially had no interlibrary loan service (if by “essentially” you mean anything other than paper forms).

Camino is still, but it’s growing, and it works. Camino provides a significant alternative to the many academic libraries in California that for one reason or another do not have access to Link+. And Camino gave us a premium resource-sharing service to offer our users–the ability to request books from libraries worldwide with a simple click on a button labeled “request.” (Simple to you, dear readers; there are many moving parts that make that happen.)

Plus, providing the logistical framework for making shared print happen is a major reason why, when Rick Burke approached me about Camino, I enthusiastically embraced this idea (and I kind of miss that Karen, the one who was so precipitous, though the new version of me is a much better manager).

Now I am one of many librarians saying shared print initiatives can, should, and will happen.  The main reason I specified an alternative building program, based on the lack of such an initiative, is to make it clear why and when this should happen.  As in, stewardship, and yesterday.

Let’s talk this to death for another twenty years, no please don’t

It doesn’t need to happen in one monolithic manner. There are shared initiatives everywhere. None of the answers we come up with today need to be the answers we use tomorrow. I keep saying that about Camino; the technology isn’t important, what’s essential is the commitment to resource sharing and the muscle-memory we’re gaining about how to cooperate and move materials among libraries that’s super-critical. I could make a cheap joke about the technology, Navigator, not being important to OCLC, either, based on the lugubrious pace of critical updates, but I’d have to exclude our ever-patient and wonderful implementation manager, who is all kinds of awesome.

The one thing I’d really like to avoid is having us hem and haw for twenty years and go around and around and around with the same conversations. Working with some amazing colleagues here in the Golden State, I’m doing everything I can to move us past the “kawfee tawk” phase and into some serious activity. I’m not the only one and I’m not even a major brain behind it all (though our library will be housing a major conversation later this month, so I am at least the food-hotel-and-conference-room brain). My cranium is mostly taken up with the first semester of my doctoral program, and yes thank you, there is some irony in the study of leadership eating up brainpower that could otherwise be deployed in the practice of leadership.  But it’s a worthy investment (yes, all is well, too busy writing to write, etc.), and all of it will happen, more slowly than I wish, but still it will get there — the doctorate, shared print, and our collective future.

 

Life sans banana slicer

Dear somewhat-still-new librarian who did not receive a banana slicer (per a recent realia-based meme in which Some People were anonymously mailed banana slicers), was not anointed as a Mover & Shaker, has not been tapped for Emerging Leader, ran and lost for an association office or didn’t even get nominated in the first place, has been too busy raising a baby/goat/library/career/yurt to blog, tweet, post on Facebook, and publish all over the place, and at times feels a wee bit Uncool:

Banana slicers are hard to clean.

Many, many, many of those chosen over time to be Movers & Shakers are wonderful librarians. But statistically, not all.  (Please, M&Ts, do not read this as Free Range Librarian Is Trashing Movers and Shakers. It’s just a natural law of population density that if you gather enough people in one room, at least one will be a doofus.)

Emerging Leaders: see above, Movers & Shakers. Yes, it’s a wonderful wonderful initiative! Yes, it helps the young’uns grow strong librarian bones twelve ways! But the law of population density is immutable.

Lost an election? Didn’t even get nominated? Dodged that bullet!  (I grin over the fact that I serve on the ALA Nominating Committee… have been elected to ALA Council three times… and yet have never been nominated to run for Councilor at Large.) A colleague told me that Norman Horrocks,  one of the most significant, larger-than-life librarians to have roamed our world, ran and lost for ALA President more than once.

A lot of published library literature is simply terrible, and far too many bloggers are unacquainted with Mr. Apostrophe and Ms. Comma.  When the time comes to publish, you’ll have years of wisdom under your belt and far more patience with fiddly citation rules.

The odds are you’re amazing anyway.

Dropped my MOOC. Picked up a doctoral program.

I’m one of the vast majority of MOOC drop-outs, but in my case my course abandonment had two causes:

1. By the end of the 5th section, I had learned as much math as I need to know for the moment. What I wish for (and it probably exists) is an  app or website that would give me one or two problems per week to solve, so the stuff in my brain doesn’t slide out on the floor. My (mixed) review of life as a MOOC student will appear in a week or two.

2. I’m starting a PhD program in less than two weeks, and it’s already keeping me busy–my brow is still furrowed, just not over math. I feel anxiety going so public with this knowledge (the PhD, not the extent to which book-larnin’ furrows my brow), but eventually people are going to find out anyway.

To combat anxiety, I have been reflecting on some of the more improbable successes of my life. The day in 1985 I was commissioned in the Air Force, one of our leaders remarked that early on she had expected me to wash out. That possibility was on my mind for the entire twelve weeks, but somehow I survived a process in which candidates stronger, better-coordinated, and smarter than I had failed.

I am glad that leader didn’t share her thoughts in the beginning. I do remember the smile on her face the day I finally passed the long jump, my last obstacle to becoming an officer.  Wanting something doesn’t automatically make it happen, but in the words of grandmothers everywhere, “Can’t never could.”  (The story of that long jump is the opening to my food essay “Chow,” published in Gastronomica in 2007.)

So let me repeat: HOORAY! I’m starting a PhD program in two weeks! No, I’m not leaving my job! No, I’m not moving! Yes, I’m doing a PhD while running a small university library! The program has a very very long name! It’s at Simmons! That’s in Boston! That’s a long way from California! I will fly there twice a year and study under erudite scholars and professors of practice while averting my eyes from whatever fires get ignited back at the ranch! My cohort has 5 people, including me!  They’re nice, too! Yes, I won’t have time for literary writing! No, I haven’t mastered APA citation! Yes, I’ll complete the PhD in SIX WEEKS! All right, let’s say hopefully  four to five years, barring Life introducing other obstacles!

I’m surrounded by support — from my institution, from my library team, from Sandy, from my colleagues, even from the cats, who in the last six months became very accustomed to lolling in the sun, snoring gently, while I crammed for the GRE, worked on the application process, and post-GRE, studied math (not required for the PhD, and in fact part of my fallback plan in which I would support my own solo research by learning statistics).

I am also impressed by the extravagant welcome extended by the other cohorts–so much like the “radical hospitality” we strive for where I work. We may all toil in solitude, but we are not alone.

I also know why I am doing this. Of course, in any endeavor, reasons change along the way. But I’m in library leadership in higher education, or things related to it (or similar to it), for the remainder of my career, which will not conclude for a very, very long time. It only took me twenty years to learn the color of my parachute–talk about precocious!  Is a PhD necessary? Of course not. Will I learn from it, grow, and become better at what I do? Absolutely.  When it comes to education, it’s all good.

So, onward. As orientation approaches, I am nervously smoothing my starched pinafore, twiddling with my hair bow, rubbing the toes of my patent-leather shoes on my ankle socks, making sure I have a ruler and compass tucked in my Peechee — and very much looking forward to this next stage in my life. Viva learning!

Marriage Equality, Open Access, and Jury Duty

Equality Sign, by Emily Lloyd

Equality Sign, by Emily Lloyd

I’m sitting in the jury assembly room in San Francisco thinking about two historical moments: today’s DOMA case at the Supreme Court, and the singularly principled action of the editorial board of the Journal of Library Administration, which resigned en masse after concluding that “it is not possible to produce a quality journal under the current licensing terms offered by Taylor & Francis.”

You probably understand the former issue as well or better than I do. You may need more context to understand JLAGate:

  • Scholarly publishing is crucial for rank and tenure in many institutes of higher education.
  • Authors and editors generally produce and peer-review their content for sweat equity–they do the work, their output is published, they get rank and tenure.
  • Publishers charge libraries subscription fees ranging from modest to astronomical, with STEM journals the most breathtaking.
  • Academic libraries, particularly research libraries, acquire some of their prestige from the size and quality of their journal collections — which makes Jenica’s carefully-planned decision to drop ACS all the more courageous.

At least within the last 100 years, the system worked, in an awkward manner. But in the last couple of decades, absurdly spiraling subscription fees have pushed the scholarly communications pyramid scheme into imbalance, forcing libraries to drop other purchases and services in order to maintain their collections.

Within this context, a new model for scholarly publishing, the Open Access movement, has grown from a tiny acorn to — if not a mighty oak — at least a sapling with clear promise. (A quick crash course: Wikipedia’s definition of Open Access; website of a key OA voice, Peter Suber; and Slate article on the potential impact of Aaron Swartz’ death on the OA movement.)

I think there are parallels between today’s history-making SCOTUS case (whatever happens, history has already been made, really) and this particular “crisis moment” in so-called traditional publishing.

Among other issues, those who are arguing on behalf of tradition don’t have as much history behind them as they claim. Until very recently, marriage was not a union of two equals; in the same vein, scholarly publishing as we know it today is a couple-three centuries old at best.

Another parallel is the rapid change in attitude. A decade ago, OA could be safely ignored. But in a very short span of time, attitudes have changed, and every historical moment, such as the death of Aaron Swartz, seems to grow the OA movement, not arithmetically, but geometrically, with key voices lining up behind OA.

That said, the journey to OA is neither linear nor bumpless for many people in higher education, especially those for whom traditional publishing is necessary or at least highly valued (with the caveat that the current model hasn’t been around all that much longer than same-sex marriage, given the longer arc of history). It is not the quality of OA publishing that is at question, it is the perception of its quality in the higher education community, where perception plays a huge role.

Things are changing, and in this blog post for the Chronicle of Higher Education,  Brian Mathews, the would-be editor of the journal issue that atomized the JLA board, struggles out loud with his thoughts.  I give Brian credit for his frankness as he (like Justice Kennedy) struggles openly with a new concept that he clearly is open to (no pun intended) but is still wrapping his head around.

None of us have all the answers in the shift to open access, and for those of us who have published a lot in the traditional model, please excuse our caution. As an essayist who has published a number of essays in well-respected non-OA literary venues, I don’t feel comfortable telling anyone what rights their works should have. (Which is congruent with my views on same-sex marriage, where I champion the right to choose who we marry.) But I do see OA as a tremendously beneficial development that — like gay marriage — has both a rightness and a certain inevitability to it.

ALA Councilor At-Large Recommendations, and some Council Tidbits

If you’re planning to cast your American Library Association ballot this weekend, I offer the following recommendations for Councilor at Large.

The ballot has many people I’d be delighted to serve with. But I am shortlisting the their following candidates for a variety of reasons: I’ve worked with them on Council or other ALA activities,  they have strong, clear positions on ebooks, they contribute to a diverse ALA, and what I can only term “fit.”

Karen Johnson DowningMartin GarnarPatricia M. HoganMaria Taesil Hudson CarpenterRichard HuffineAlys JordanCharles Kratz, Dennis LeLoup, Bernard Margolis, Min Chou, Stephen L Matthews, John PecoraroLauren Pressley, and Larry Romans.

Also, I am emphatically for the five-year dues increase schedule (LJ has a good summary), which gives ALA a modest additional revenue stream they can plan on, gives ALA its first dues increase since 2006, and ensures that ALA doesn’t have to cut farther in the bone than it has in the last seven years. (The previous dues increase happened in 1995.) It amounts to $1 – $4 per year per member, which at the highest level, $130, would mean a total possible rise to $150 by 2017.

But back to Council… 

One Councilor has been raising an issue that can be summarized this way: Council is not effective; Council is ineffective because it is too large; Council is too large because it has too many at-large Councilors.

Having served on Council off and on for nearly 20 years, I would first note that Council has vastly improved since the mid-1990s, when the discussion list was chaotic and it felt like most of Council’s time was spent listening to reports being read out loud in between real-time, agonizing revision of endless GODORT resolutions. Council feels mannerly and focused. It is indeed a big body, and as part of a larger process of discernment, it’s worth asking if Council is too big (however much that evokes the scene from Amadeus where the emperor says, “Too many notes!”).

But if we’re going to look at Council, then let’s look at Council. Here are some facts you might not be aware of.

Council composition: every division and roundtable has Council representation; so ACRL, PLA, GLBRT, etc each have a Councilor. So does every state “chapter.” The very smallest roundtables are represented as a group by one Councilor. There are 100 Councilors at Large, 50 chapter councilors, and approximately 20 councilors representing divisions and roundtables.

State chapters have historically been represented by state library associations. Each state association pays dues, though I was unable to find the dues schedule on the ALA website.

State chapters are independent nonprofit organizations and set their own rules–see ALA Bylaws for more about their relationship with ALA.  As a bit of ALA history that illustrates this independence, the state chapters in the South were only integrated in 1964 when an ALA member, E.J. Josey, authored a resolution that  forbade “Association officers and staff from participating in state associations that deny membership to black librarians.” ALA couldn’t tell the state chapters what to do, but it could tell its own people what it couldn’t do–an adroit use of governance in support of civil rights activism.

State chapter councilors are elected by state chapter members, who are not necessarily ALA members. The state chapter Councilor must of course be an ALA member, but that’s not true of the Councilor’s electorate. I knew this before I began studying Council, as I’ve voted in numerous state chapter elections and have participated in chapter activities off and on between 1992 and 2009, but it didn’t hit home until I began studying Council composition.

Based on its 2012 report to ALA, total membership in the California chapter is under 2,000, placing it barely above the median of chapters that reported membership, even though California is the most populous state by a significant margin. I’ve heard the actual membership is around 3,000, so I’m not sure what to believe. But I’ve been advised that turnout for CLA elections is currently in the 10-20% range, which would be roughly 200 to 600 ballots, depending on the actual membership. Based on known voter behavior, it’s possible even fewer vote for chapter Councilor.

By comparison, the lowest qualifying Councilor at Large in the 2012 ALA election received 1,925 votes, and the highest received over 3,000.

(Sidebar: another thing I never thought about is whether chapters reported to ALA… I just assumed they did. I’m still surprised to see 2012 is the first year of such a report and that little over half the chapters participating in the survey reported their total membership, with close to ten saying they didn’t know how many members they had and a dozen or so more leaving that field blank. Really?)

Though in theory state associations “provide geographic representation” for all librarians, and some state chapters also represent regional ACRL members, many state associations, including CLA, are largely comprised of public librarians and generally focus on issues significant to public libraries.

Locally, this public library focus is evident through CLA’s Board composition, which is largely but not exclusively public librarians, and also through its activities and even its press releases. An announcement on the CLA website that library funding is preserved means really that public library funding has been preserved.

A review of CLA press releases from 2011 underscores this focus. It’s possible that the fate of public university funding has come up for discussion or even vote in CLA, but it would be hard to prove by what’s on the website.

Is it a bad thing that CLA could pretty much be called CPLA?  Like the size of Council, not necessarily. In California, there are separate associations and endeavors, such as CSLA, CARL, and BayNet, that provide regional and statewide services and programs for other types of librarians. CARL has a relationship with ACRL that ensures it has some voice through the ALA ACRL Councilor.

Also, having worked in nearly every type library, I’m aware that public libraries have particular advocacy needs, such as state funding, that fit well within the state association model. So I think of the state library associations I’ve been involved in not so much as a source of regional representation for all types of libraries but as an important structural component for library services and funding largely specific to public libraries.

Right now, the issue of who elects chapter councilors, and the companion issue of regional representation,  is something easy to gloss over. It’s an antiquated model (I wager the state chapter model had a lot to do with the complexity of travel and communication in the early 20th century), but the size of Council, and the many types of Councilors, ensures a diversity of participation.

But if the “solution” to Council were to shrink its at-large Councilor demographic without any other changes, there would be two results that are not healthy for ALA.

First, public librarians would have a disproportionately larger voice in ALA decision-making, assuming at-large Councilors continue to represent a mix of library types while state chapter councilors would continue to generally be public librarians elected by public librarians.

Second, the strength of the ALA voting electorate would be further diluted by the election of councilors by non-ALA members.  One way to reverse that would be if ALA members paid dues to their state associations in order to be eligible to vote for ALA chapter Councilor candidates in state association elections–or for that matter run for the position. Frankly, spending up to $165 for regional representation feels like a poll tax (and a reminder: the highest rate for ALA dues is $130). It is a poll tax I’m willing to overlook in the current structure, given the historical relationship of chapters to the national association, but again — if we’re going to look at Council composition, then this question needs to be addressed as well.

An alternative, found in some associations, would be for state chapters to organize council representation through super-regions and elect fewer Councilors to ALA. If fewer at-large councilors would improve ALA, the same should hold for chapter councilors.  This model is found in a number of professional associations.  I’m unclear this is a good fit for ALA, but it should certainly be on the table.

There are other paths to be considered, such as doing away entirely with chapter councilors and electing regional representatives who are basically at-large candidates running from their home states or regions. I don’t think any of us want that, because we value the historical chapter-ALA relationship. But if we’re opening the door to considering Council composition, then everything needs to be on the table.

But I’d like to move past the issue of Council’s size and at-large representation, and share the  following two recommendations for improving Council.

First, Council should meet four times per year. Right now we are reactive to whatever is “hot” right before the summer and winter solstice. Let’s become an equinox-and-solstice Council.  (Note: if I’m reading the bylaws correctly, this doesn’t require any “legislative” action other than the ALA president calling a meeting.)

The solstice meetings would be the important face-to-face engagement that establishes community among Council itself. The equinox meetings, which could be easily held through technology such as Gotowebinar and balloting products such as BallotBoxOnline, would enable Council to take action quarterly, and would also allow Council actions to be observed by ALA members, whether or not they attend ALA conferences.   (And ALA members who do attend conference often have busy schedules that preclude sitting in on Council proceedings.)

This would also allow items to be referred to other units for additional input without essentially tabling the items for half a year.

I firmly believe if more ALA members saw Council in action, more members would appreciate our work. Watching democracy in action is like watching paint dry, but I can affirm that Council proceedings are well-run, thoughtful, and deliberative.

I also believe that online meetings would enhance the democratic nature of Council by enabling members, regardless of their ability to attend conference, to observe Council proceedings twice a year.  I would even hazard that more members would attend conferences if they had a chance to see ALA governance in action other times of the year.

I furthermore believe that the ability to communicate with Councilors in real-time while issues are being deliberated would strengthen the democratic nature of Council.  I have found that Twitter conversations during Council have helped me reason through issues and ask questions of the “Tweetlectorate.”  Chatting, emailing, tweeting, or otherwise engaging with Councilors during procedures is a good thing.

I know that there are complexities to ALA governance to consider, particularly given the fall/spring meetings of ALA units. But I don’t believe these complexities are insurmountable.

Second, and I have been saying this in one form or another for nearly 20 years, Council’s text transcriptions should be streamed in real time to ALA Connect during Council sessions.

ALA already pays to have proceedings transcribed in real time, so that the text of the discussion is broadcast on two huge screens in Council’s meeting room. That’s the expensive part of this activity–the human transcription. I once called the company that provides this to ask what it would cost to stream the text, and I don’t recall the answer, but it was reasonable.

Why not add text streaming so that even at “solstice Council,” busy members can snack on Council proceedings while they do other things, and members who are not at ALA can observe Council? And of course, the text streaming during Equinox Council would be equally available to the busy multi-tasking body politic.

(Note: for the record, I am not at all concerned that ALA members would decide to forgo ALA conferences because they could watch Council at home. Council is important, but we’re just not that exciting.)

Again, as shared in my last post, Bobbi Newman has done a great job discussing the at-largeness issue. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

 

 

The Cassoulet Saved Their Marriage… The Melting Pot Helped Ours

Today is the publication day for The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage, an anthology of essays about marriage and family edited by Caroline Grant (of Literary Mama fame) and Lisa Catherine Harper (writer and writing teacher extraordinaire, author of A Double Life). This anthology includes a shorter version of my essay, “Still Life on the Half-Shell,” published in Gastronomica several years ago. Whilst cavorting on Facebook and Twitter with the editors and other writers, I suddenly remembered the symbol of my enduring love for Sandy: bad fondue.

Part of the fun of being anthologized is reading the takes on a topic by other writers, and social media amplifies that by creating a loose “anthology tribe” where contributors become, if not life-long bosom buddies, at least riders on the same train. Deborah Copakah Kogan, co-author of the title essay, posted on Facebook today, “My husband, Paul Kogan and I wrote the title essay, about both our annual cassoulet fete and about having been asked to write an essay extolling our allegedly saved marriage while we were busy battling it out in couples therapy.”

I was touched by her transparency, but what Deborah surfaced in me was not the occasional relationship strife (which happens whenever Sandy does not recognize that I am right; I don’t know why she’s so stubborn that way), but the long slow twisted complication that was our life in Florida. We have now been back longer than we were there, and I look forward to the day in 2014 when we will have been in California this time around for longer than I have lived anywhere else in my adult life.

At home, in the kitchen, among our ceremonial glassware (which includes a small shot glass I once stole from my father ‘s glassware because I loved its design so much, and we now call it the Michael Schneider Glass), are two cheap champagne glasses, emblazoned with the logo of the fondue chain The Melting Pot, that represent how much we were in the struggle together. These two glasses are souvenirs for meals that I won’t recap, except to say that we girded our loins in tandem, then afterwards put on torn sweatclothes and stared at each other and laughed.

[INFOMERCIAL ALERT] I haven’t written about The Melting Pot, and may never, but several similarly resonant experiences are included in”Still Life on the Half Shell,” and you would get to experience these moments if you would a) buy the book for yourself, b) buy the book for your library, or c) recommend your library buy the book. (Or read the extended-play version in that issue of Gastronomica.)

That doesn’t mean I have fully evolved to the point where I have resolved my issues with The Melting Pot. Christine Lind Hage, a friend and someone I dearly look up to and love to spend time with, made the mistake of asking if I could meet her at The Melting Pot several ALA conferences ago. “NO!” I shouted. “NO! I DO NOT WANT TO GO TO THE MELTING POT!”  Christine replied very carefully, “Um… ok… no Melting Pot…”

And of course it had nothing to do with overpriced mediocre fondue (a dish I can usually do without in most circumstances), or even with the Melting Pot serving as a  metonym for the sorry state of restaurant dining in the South, but with a ton of stuff that was what we carried on our backs during that era, and I don’t mean just the experience of being somewhere that isn’t a great fit, but all the baggage and stress and sturm und drang, that huge bloated sack of regret, self-examination, 50-50 hind-sight, financial anxiety, forward-facing confusion, and at times real fear. It’s easy to look back and say everything worked out for the best–but when you’re in the situation, you don’t have that forward vista.

(And yet I met some of my all-time very favorite people in Tallahassee, people who were kind and good and supportive and full of hope and acceptance and fun and wisdom.)

The day we started on our journey back to California — largely symbolic for Sandy, who would return to pack the house and meet me several months later, but what’s wrong with symbolism? — it took us close to an hour to get past the city borders. We kept checking the contents of the car trunk, our purses, the glove box, the back seat… did we have this, and did we have that? I would drive perhaps a mile, and then one of us would ask to pull over and we would begin rummaging again. There we were, that huge soggy sack of experience entwined around our wheels.

Then I started the car and we found ourselves rolling past The Melting Pot. We exchanged glances. We kept going. We were quiet. The next time we stopped we were in another state.

 

 

Mellen, Sky River: what a mighty big waste…

I’m up, up, up in the air, flying over the Southwest as I head to Albuquerque and then Santa Fe for a quick visit with my mother. Sandy was able to visit her in January during a business trip, and now I’m the one with the precious combination of time and opportunity.

I would be using this in-flight time for my math homework, but this flight doesn’t have wifi. One of the limitations of anything with the word “online” in it is that for the most part, you need to be online. I suppose I could have downloaded the YouTube versions of the course lectures before I left the house or printed off the homework assignment, but I was having an attack of FirstWorldiness and envisioned myself surrounded by bandwidth from our home to the house at the end of the Turquoise Trail. At SFO, the wifi was too slow for almost everything except Twitter, which serves as a reminder that sheer connectivity isn’t enough; it needs to be a “good-enough” connection for whatever you’re trying to do.

In any event, this gives me a precious window of time to read, write, and stare at my row-mate’s peanuts, this being a flight that is half-full, which I personally ensured by paying extra for Earlybird Check-in. Give me those peanuts, I am thinking. Givvvve me those peanuts.

In between coveting my neighbor’s legumes, I’ve been mulling over matters that fall into my “what a waste” category (if you’re feeling spry, you can dance this to Salt-n-Pepa’s “Whatta Man”). What a waste, what a waste, what a waste, what a mighty big waste…

Edwin Mellen sued a librarian for doing his job. This sketchy publisher saw the potential to exploit Canada’s weaker copyright framework to cast a chilling effect by threatening Dale Askey for simply doing what librarians are supposed to do, which among other things is to call out sketchy publishers on their sketchiness. There wouldn’t be any point to “reader’s advisory” if we could only say positive things (isn’t there  a science fiction short story on that topic..? Something about a town where a young monster had to be praised lest he wreak havoc?).

After a tremendous amount of public pressure (including from ALA and ACRL), Mellen has dropped one of its lawsuits, but the other lawsuit needs to go away, now, and we need to keep this topic on our front burner.

Innovative Interfaces dropped its lawsuit against OCLC. Oh, pardon me: “Sky River” dropped its lawsuit against OCLC. You may think OCLC is a big galumphing behemoth, which was what ran through my mind after they spurned the candidate I nominated for Member Council and then turned around and whined that they needed to extend the election due to low participation. But OCLC is also a member cooperative with an honorable history and some very interesting products and research.

It’s not news to FRL readers that I personally feel about Sky River the way I do about buying CAFO chicken thighs, which is that I could save some money but in the end it’s not worth it. (I in fact talked myself into buying non-righteous chicken thighs last week at CostCo, and now I feel so bad about my momentary lapse I’m going to donate a little extra to the Humane Society, which has done a lot of good work educating people on the issue of humane treatment of the food we eat.) But regardless, that whole business was tacky, and it’s good for III to get beyond that era.

[Note: I didn’t have wifi access for another day, until after I set up my mother’s wireless network, among other daughterly chores. I left this post in the first-person because it felt right. There’s one more issue I have written about in draft, but a part of me almost wants to leave it be.]

MOOC Nation, Part 1: My So-Called Online Teaching Life

I’m enrolled in a MOOC to prepare me for college math. Go ahead and laugh — then tell me the last time YOU solved a compound inequality problem.  Of course, the other reason I’m in a MOOC is to explore the current state of online learning.

I have copious notes about my experience, in which, I am proud to say, I have advanced to graphing linear equations, and I had originally planned to begin this series with my observations on the class I’m attending. But once I began writing I realized I wanted to provide context for my foray into this wild.

I am not an e-learning newbie. I taught online library science classes a decade back, and even mentored other instructors in the art of managing classroom chat discussions. I’ve taught online workshops as well. I have taken writing classes online, including several from Stanford Continuing Education, and got a lot out of them. In 2011-2012 I also led a campus-wide pilot of Collaborate, Blackboard’s live elearning product, and Team Library recently authored a grant related to lecture capture (actually, I’ve been working on this development project for 18 months, in one version or another). On our library team, three out of five of us graduated within the last decade from a library school now fully online. This is not foreign terrain.

When I stopped teaching online, it was intentional. The most notable reason was that I was planning to go back to graduate school, and teaching full-semester courses on top of being a student as well as working full-time was far more than I could handle.

Still, it was easy to stop teaching. My satisfaction level as an instructor had been declining oh so gradually, but then went into sharp free-fall. Before I proceed, please heed me when I say the program in question changed a lot in the last decade, undergoing two major movements forward in leadership and concomitant transformations, and e-learning technology has improved as well (though not as much as it could).

Like many adjunct instructors, in both programs, I found the parent institution opaque; it was the source of my paychecks, the provider of my students, and the agency that housed my “classroom,” which at first was a small  room with grubby walls so distinct in shape and size I can still see the unimproved windows in the back of the room. In the second program, my classroom became Blackboard. It was easy to teach myself how to twirl the knobs and dials in Blackboard — so easy that I did not ask myself if I fully understood online teaching or how to do it well.

In the new program, I soon learned that at least with the tools available at the time and my inexperience with e-learning, I wasn’t crazy about “asynchronous” instruction, that is, a teaching model without real-time lecture or discussion. I’ve had instructors insist that they are happy teaching this way, and mazel tov to you, but I missed that immediate real-time engagement.

I offered optional lecture sessions through chat and a number of students took me up on it, but overall the class felt too much like a correspondence course poured laboriously (my labor, mind you)  word by word into a learning management system. Human speech, like handwriting, is an amazing efficiency, as you realize if you’ve ever written documentation for anything. Taking all my pedagogy and spelling it out letter by letter consumed a huge amount of time.

In the last class I taught, the class size had doubled from my previous course, and I also had to deal with plagiarism and a no-show. It’s amazing I taught for so long without dealing with any one of those three problems, but when they surfaced in concert, it was a lot to deal with, particularly in the isolated world of the online adjunct instructor.

I did my best with the no-show, but despite concerted efforts on my part, this student, who had shown up briefly at the beginning, only surfaced at the end of the class, wheedling to be given dispensation. According to the school, this was her modus operandi–something I wish I had known at the beginning of the class. I doubt this student understood how much money she was spending (or more likely, debt she was accruing) on not getting an education–a syndrome writ large across our country. E-learning didn’t turn this student into a no-show, but I am convinced it was an enabler.

Even with the challenges, I thrummed with a connection to many of the students. I loved how willingly they embraced my favorite Q&A: What’s the most important library database? The one between your ears. I reveled in how many of them took up the work of the class joyously, and I was rejuvenated by their newbie-librarian zeal. And of course, teaching is learning, and that was very satisfying too. I hear occasionally from my students, and what a rush of warmth to my soul when they reappear to tell me of their lives.

Again, the school has changed quite a bit since then, and tools for early intervention in online education have also improved; I’ll assume that attrition and student learning outcomes are now monitored assiduously. This is certainly not a technology issue as much as it is a program management issue, and online performance can in many ways be easier to monitor. As for the plagiarism — I believe it would have been dealt with much differently today. But all said and done, it was easy to stop teaching.

I tried graduate-level teaching once more. When I was between jobs in early 2007, I responded to a job ad for online adjunct instructors for a library school I had no prior experience with, fully certain they would at least explore the possibility that I would teach for them. Less than 24 hours later I received an email of rejection. I  have to thank them for not leaving me in suspense. I will remain ever-curious why I was so swiftly eliminated from consideration, but I’d like to think part of the reason was that I didn’t have the level of online learning training and experience they were seeking.

A decade later, when online learning is criticized, its docket of concerns includes much of what I encountered the last time I taught:

  • The idea that because a class isn’t limited by physical seats, it can scale without impact on the quality of instruction.
    Students left academically adrift.
  • The human overhead of creating and maintaining online courses.
  • The question of fit: whether the material, the student, or the instructor are “right” for online learning.
  • Teacher — and student — preparation. (On this last point, I know quite well that the school I taught in now has a highly intentional and excellent onboarding program for students — one I would emulate to a tee if I were to establish and lead an online learning program at my institution.)

My colleague Marcus Banks had responded to an earlier post of mine about online learning by stating,

Skepticism is always necessary in the face of the flavor of the month (or year, in the case of 2012 and MOOCs). That said, it’s always easier to defend what’s known than to embrace what’s new. Seems to me that MOOCs can be a democratizing force that reaches those struggling students who may not be able to afford or have any inclination to sit in the traditional lecture hall. Surely we can figure out how to build engaging, responsive and effective learning opportunities that are online only. We may have to regardless, depending on how student preferences evolve.

Marcus and I are actually synoptic in our understanding of major trends and only moderately less than congruent in our assessment of the state of e-learning today or the potential that MOOCs have to offer.  Yes, the sunny side is that online learning can open doors for students. Look at me: as a child I was identified as a student who struggled with math, I’ve largely avoided math my entire life, beyond simple arithmetic and basic spreadsheet formulas, and in my current job I am in no position to seat myself in a traditional classroom for months at a time. Yet I plod along, week at a time, with my slow but steady success, much of it due to the benefits of a well-designed online class.

It’s also too easy to point to spectacular and highly-visible failures, such as the course on the instructional design of online learning so poorly designed it imploded in less than two weeks, or the frustrated professor who stopped teaching a course midstream, as condemnation of online learning or “proof” that we’re in a craze that will soon abate–an argument that reminds me of the librarian who told me in the mid-1990s he was “waiting for this Internet thing to blow over.”  I’m sure many a course going forward will have absorbed the lessons-learned in those debacles.

Where Marcus and I part is in his assumption that my concerns about e-learning represent “defend[ing] what’s known” at the expense of “what’s new.” Based on my personal experience as an instructor, I’d prefer to observe that the path to innovation is paved with instructive lessons, and that the more experienced you are, the more likely you are to fold the Book of Fail into the iterative design process.

I know how much intervention goes into ensuring at-risk students succeed, and I also know that we, as a nation, are failing too many of these students. Online learning could be part of the solution, but not without full acceptance of the problems we need to solve and the effort it will take to solve them. And as an advocate for those who have the least and need the most, I’m going to cast a very critical eye any time techno-educrats propose tiered systems, including the model where at-risk students are poured into massive online courses. Without very careful and caring design, without sufficient resources, these run the risk of becoming the higher-ed equivalent of public housing projects.

Absolutely, let’s look for success.  But there are patterns worth observing in e-learning, just as there are in higher education, and we owe it to students to temper our enthusiasm (or our sense of inevitability) with an intentional focus on the design — and significance — of failure.