Flipping (off) the Classroom

There's a lot of excitement and interest in flipping the classroom - the idea that the class time should be used for practice in groups and homework should be where the lecture lives, on digital video - but what does flipping the classroom do for students and teachers?

The biggest barrier to education in any model that includes a classroom as a "classroom" (not a reappropriated space that was designed to be a classroom) is the association with singular sources of power and authoritarianism that come with that place. 

The teacher who flips the classroom can do so and still remain in power, and even consolidate that power through surveillance. The flipped classroom a lot of times is defended by surveillance rhetoric: I can't trust you to do this work on your own, so I will supervise you doing it at no extra cost to me. 

Doing the work under supervision might make everyone feel that it's being done better, but I think there are powerful and important ways that students can do the practice on their own or at home that are more educational than doing it under the teacher's observation. Speaking to others who are outside the teaching industry can provide insights of tone and style, judgements on power ("this is how they want you to do it, but you could do it like this"), and also necessary context for the utility of the work - you'll use this here and this in this other thing that you might have to do, etc. 

The video lecture at home is a very static and very closed model of instruction, where the teacher's power and authority are used to create a rigid document (the video) in which the truth of what the teacher knows is laid out to the viewer. I wonder about the interaction during class with the teacher and the confused student and the value of that for others in the class. Or the teacher recognizing the low or high energy of a group of students and using that as an advantage in teaching. 

Most importantly the classroom stays far away from being democratized under a flipped model. The only thing that changes is where and under what conditions do students do work assigned by a powerful figure, a master of knowledge, who cannot be swayed that there are other points of view or perspectives. They have already considered what's best for you (the student) and have flipped the classroom; look at how benevolent they are! No boring instruction! We work together in a community spirit, mandated by the teacher. 

Alternatively, I suggest flipping off the classroom and using the demands of the institution to perform in a certain way as material for critique and for the course itself. The power-over-others benefit teachers get is in exchange for shortening and altering the curriculum and the presence and expression of ideas in the course a certain way that might or might not be ethical. Bringing that to bear in front of the course doesn't exchange independent practice for lecture, but democratizes the class and allows the generation of new terms for the term, new meanings to come out of the exposure of the superstructure to the course material. The teacher, the one who is supposed to know what's going on, exposes herself as also a subject in this institutional power structure, unable to provide (or unwilling) the answers the students seek. They must practice something new in order to get the class going, and that new thing they practice is democracy. 

The institution has created itself to be powerful and to avoid critique that is threatening to it - all systems are this way. But the education system must depend on the articulation of ideas in order to function and have legitimacy. This opening is an opportunity to use the structure that makes it easy to certify and license students as material to question where and why that certification matters. And this is the development of education. 


Repair, Repatriate, Realign the University

Thinking about the university and how silly it is that we maintain the arrangement of course to professor to knowledge centered around terms and ideas that are generated independently from anyone involved in the course.

Sometimes a professor says to herself, "It would be really great if we offered a course on X." And she develops and offers the course. But where did that idea come from? What is the genesis of that course and the need and the desire to design it and teach it? 

It's a lot more complex than a simple need-satisfaction lever or a binary of let's have this important thing we don't have. In a perfect situation I like to imagine faculty using a version of Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrects-Tyteca's Universal Audience in order to check back pandering or the use of power to generate and create student decisions on things like this. I do think faculty are trying to offer something of value when they do this.

But more often than not, courses are offered and taught because they are required or it's time to offer them, but who has initiated this demand? The students register, show up, the professor too, everyone teaches/is taught, but who feels the satisfaction of this interaction? What makes you feel that it was a good class; who are you pleasing when you think to yourself, "This was a good class, I did a good job teaching it," or "I got a lot out of that class?"

I feel like the desire to have classes of a particular kind or a particular nature comes from the desire to offer and take college classes. That might be it. There is a need or a desire to please a model of the university that is out there, like a demand that comes from no one but everyone feels like they need to address. 

This week there were large student protests at my university about two or maybe three students who were targeted with racist, threatening messages on social media by a group of other students, some of which came from other universities. The protest spontaneously formed and then moved to the President's office. Since the President was not in, other University officials decided to move the protesters into a theater space to have a discussion. During the course of this conversation it was suggested that the women who were threatened should receive some compensation or refund on tuition. This idea quickly became amplified to the idea of reparations for the negative treatment that minority students believe they have endured.

I wasn't there; I'm representing what I heard so it might be wrong. But I really do like the idea of reparations as a frame for changing the traditional model. The idea of courses, required and selected, as meeting the needs of students throughout their collegiate experience is certainly weird. 

Students are going to change based on experience, what they are exposed to, and what happens. The model of university education should incorporate this. I don't think it's much of a stretch. But strangely (maybe not so strangely) the demand to have classes in a particular order that are meant to teach particular skills at a fixed time and point to a body of students that is dynamic even within itself, person by person. 

Instead, let's have the university provide reparations for a state system, or state/institutional model of education that assumes a particular subject's existence that must be fractured and then mended. The whole philosophy of institutional education is like breaking bones and setting them to make the organism "normal." Why not go the other way? Break and set the courses to fit the altering body of the students. 

This could have many forms. What I am playing with in my mind is one where tuition provides a set of resources to the student who can use them how they will. If they would like to meet with a professor and read a book that's a certain cost (not real dollars obviously). They can also join in with others who have made agreements to meet with professors and do some reading and talking. Professors can also offer "courses" per se based not on a curriculum that meets the abstract, unpresent demand of a "field" and conforms more to what is happening around them and around the students - nationally, locally, what have you. This also eliminates the problem of the "yellow paged" professor who teaches out of the same notes and books for 20 years. They have to keep current in order to make connections to principles they feel are timeless, something that has to defend itself under the reparation system rather than be in the position of presumption. 

Students and faculty would no longer deal in grades, but in production of texts that communicate to broader audiences what it is they now are. They can convey an ability, a thought, or a process of thinking and crafting to those who have a look at the projects. This is student-driven and professor guided. More than the mark of completion of the course, this would be something that is a marker of the changing mind and thought and abilities of the student; a demonstration of trajectory into something to come. 

I wonder how much longer the traditional university system will hold up. As satisfying it is to the faceless demander of the form, and as good as we give the narrative of what we are doing and accomplishing, the tensions and gaps do mount up. And eventually it won't be enough that we have followed what we are supposed to do. We'll want an answer: Who says this is learning? The learners should interrogate the offerings, and the faculty should consider what they offer in the terms of the students and the context they find themselves in. There is no neutral or proper place for curriculum outside of this. 

About that Posting Everyday Gimmick

As a side note, and on the side here, I really like how I've figured out how to embed what I'm currently listening to into the blogposts. It is sort of a throwback to my LiveJournal days of 2001, 2002, where I used to post koans and various poems and commentary to it and treated it almost like how I treated facebook for the first few years of its existence in my life. 

I sort of miss the old days of near universal blogging among my friends, but it could be just nostalgia. Either way, I still keep in touch with a ton of people that would be hard to keep in contact with in the absence of social media. I think it's pretty good.

Also pretty good: The new Above and Beyond Album, which I have been listening to quite a bit since it came out last Friday. Really great stuff, but I expected it to be a pretty amazing album.

Also Monster Hunter World turned out to be one of the most amazing video games I have ever played, so that was also a relief. I am so happy that two things I have been looking forward to turned out to be exactly at the high level of quality I hoped. 

But what hasn't been of good quality is everything else. It's pretty obvious I'm not going to meet my daily blogging quota, although I'm really going to try. I just really don't find the time for it, versus the excuse I give myself which is that I don't have the time for it. That's pretty untrue. I spend a lot of time on stuff that really doesn't matter as much as doing some writing does. It helps a lot with my frustration and anxiety and concerns about everything that I let stew about in my head. 

Classes are going ok. I'm just really sort of concerned/frustrated about my more advanced class, which isn't going very well at all in my view as it seems I just talk about some ideas in the text and everyone sort of stares at me. There's a bit of conversation, but it's not quite where I'd like it to be just yet so it's going to take a bit of adjustment. I think I might have assigned the readings in the wrong order which is not something you want to realize when you are a couple of weeks in. I just feel like the ease of which teaching used to come has left for whatever reason, and I need to figure out some exercises to recover it or to reestablish it. Maybe not the ease, but the perceived quality (maybe it was never there?) needs to happen. It might be a necessary part of the whole machine of teaching, making the dynamic happen so that people can engage ideas and make them their own. 

Related to the daily post goal, and teaching is the idea of the gimmick. I'm trying to teach and produce gimmick-free stuff. Gimmick free pedagogy is pretty hard. I didn't realize how much we rely on tiny points here and there, little blog posts, discussion board entries, and things like that to create the perception that we are teaching and that learning is happening. As I listen to undergraduates talk I am collecting my university-gimmick assortment and hoping to design the anti to it which may or may not include a dote. It might just be oppositional. But what better thing to offer at the university but a space where the oppositional can be cultivated and practiced? I want to recover (?) a classroom space where there is generation and sharing of thinking, not production of material that meets an expectation of what should be there. But this is really hard, as I didn't realize how dependent on these tropes I am. 

We will see how it turns out. As for this space, I hope to write here more for you, whoever you are (right now you are me, reading this as it appears on the screen, but later you will most likely be someone else). But I only want to do it when it really feels like it matters, whether it actually matters or not is irrelevant.                                                                                                                                           


All Illegal Drugs Should be Legal: The Motion Debate Review for January

The last Motion Debate in New York city was the first to include an expert on the topic as a speaker. This was really wonderful in terms of giving the audience a great perspective from a professional researcher and advocate on the topic. But it throws into question the idea of the role of debate in society - one that has been wrestled with many times over the history of debate pedagogy. Should public debate include experts in the field of debate and should they be treated in the same way we would non-expert debaters: Given the same time constraints, side constraints and the like.

When I think about this I think about many examples of experts taking part in debates and refusing to follow the constraints or limitations of debate based on their expert status. This didn't happen at The Motion, primarily because the speaker was not a professor. I find university professors to be the people who are most incapable of following the rules of debate, probably because in their classes or in their daily life they are used to being the ones who set those boundaries and limits, and they determine who gets to speak and who doesn't. University professors are also a particular kind of expert that might not be suited for debates. The reason why is that their expertise is captured within a fidelity to field and mostly to other experts and to a perfection of a scholarly form or scholarly endpoint. Very rarely do professors act on the feeling to engage publics, and when they do they might consider it a one-way interaction. At least this is what scholarly training for academia leans toward.

An expert, even a Ph.D. who is not and does not go that route is most likely to be familiar with general audiences and be more comfortable meeting the constraints of the everyday world. Publication for them is a difficult and limited process involving many barriers, as opposed to scholarly publication which is fidelity to form. In debates such experts are much more comfortable speaking in such restrictions because the world is "such restrictions."

I think in this debate the expert put on a clinic in how to engage publics with complicated research in order to show how to draw a conclusion in terms of policy. He also put on a clinic in debate as well, showing very clearly how debate is about selection and audience, not getting it right, establishing definitions, or connecting ideas to grandiose truths about government or economics. It was great to hear him patch the information into clear policy recommendations for the audience.

That being said, I am not a fan and probably won't be of having experts debate. This to me seems to diminish or destroy debate as a source of knowledge in itself. For example, Intelligence Squared, the highly popular expert-based debate podcast, features experts debating where debate simply becomes the dressing to expert discourse. Most expert discourse within the debates has no distinction from expert discourse in other forms such as long form journalism, interview on TV, or the like.

Debate is like an envelope or a box for intelligence squared to re-present expert discourse in a novel way. Nothing unexpected or new arrives, we get just what we expect from these performances. The experts sound and act like experts and speak on the motion on the side that their expertise pushes them toward. The audience is simply asked to consume this discourse in a novel form but there's no demand on the status or structure of knowledge, no real engagement in what constitutes the terms of the motion. One finds what one wants to and expects to find.

What about a modification to the Intelligence Squared formula where we pair an expert with an amateur, someone who is self-directed or taught in that field. Andy Merrifield's book The Amateur, argues very persuasively that the amateur is not in opposition to the expert, but a necessarily compliment to the expert. The amateur's knowledge is not inferior to the expert, but different. Each person on her own would be hard-pressed to find the whole picture, but persuaded on their own that they know more than their compliment: The expert is certain that the amateur does not know enough, or the right way; the amateur is convinced the expert is blinded by the rules, regulations, and isolation of the university.

Pedagogically this is a slam dunk to pair experts with student debaters as everyone benefits in some way, except perhaps audiences who will tend to bend toward the voice of the expert as a default. This is why I would rather have experts comment on debates that are conducted by regular folks who care about the topic and are interested in it. The question of debate knowledge comes to the front. Without the typical props of expertise or statistics or monologues, but just logos, just words. The expert can then express surprise that the discourse fell into the norms of expert conversation or that it touched on elements of the "professional" conversation without having that background. The power of this comes from demonstrating how conversation in a reason-giving format of discourse can produce an equivalent, if more open or more pluralistic, discourse as the experts can when talking. The locus of authority in what to believe comes from the people, or the audience, instead of the expert, which might worry people. But what should worry people is how expertise, as a discourse, is designed to eliminate alternatives to its own official articulation under the guise of progress. Thomas Kuhn has detailed this in science, but it follows that most fields would be the dual adoption of a method of research and knowledge generation, and a method of knowledge policing and defense.

So debate with laypeople for assembled audiences, however they manifest, will be constituted as subjects and with their corresponding agency by the rhetoric of the speakers. That rhetoric should be unpropped by expert convention in order to reveal the constructed nature of knowledge. Then we have another set of tools, another approach to evaluating knowledge when usually we are not asked to evaluate knowledge at all, but claims, and usually just asked to learn how to accept expert discourse while merely entertaining other discourses out there.

So with that, what did I think of this debate?

No term describes intercollegiate debaters better than "trained incapacity," that wonderful ideas from Thorsten Veblen fleshed out by Kenneth Burke. A trained incapacity is when one's training to do something well eliminates the appropriate or effective interpretation of a situation or phenomena. The over-determination of good training leads us sometimes to make the wrong decision, which reveals our fidelity not to getting the read of the situation right, but getting our loyalty and piety toward our orientation or perspective right.

The training of debate which is the curriculum of the tournament, the contest alone, is responsible for all the strange asides and front-loading of the intercollegiate debater speech. The first speaker on the affirmative spends about 3 minutes telling us what the debate is about and isn't about - as if the audience wasn't there to make those determinations based on the arguments they hear! The debaters in this debate are speaking the holy language of the debate tournament. They see the word "debate" and believe that there is but one operation available. They believe that they are there to win the debate by conducting an appropriate debate, by definition. This is opposed to the perspective that one is not there to win or lose the debate but to provide reasons and persuade. Intercollegiate debaters are persuading, but they are persuading themselves that they are "doing it right," that they are doing debate correctly, meeting the needs of debate, not the audience, and conforming to the requirements of the contest alone.

One of the strangest things about intercollegiate, or tournament debaters is their reliance on the vernacular of the tournament as an inventional resource. That is, they use particular phrases as pauses in the speech so they can come up with the next argument. Examples would be "What we tell you on our side of the house," "The other side of the house wants you to believe," "What we bring you today," etc. Many times you can hear them refer to one another by the names imposed by the tournament, "government" and "opposition" which made for some pretty funny sentences. My favorite is near the end of the debate, where the speaker on Opposition says: "Government wants you to believe that government can't provide solvency." Another great one is, "Thanks to our opposition the government." Maybe these things don't mean that much, but I believe them to be clear evidence of where the speaker's attention lies - it's with the abstract ideal of a tournament speech, that debate is something to aspire to, to reach for as an ideal, instead of the view of debate put forward by the rhetorical tradition: Adapting and presenting one's reasons for the audience to help aid them in understanding.

"we on the government side," is something that no public speaker should ever say. But the problem is that the curriculum of tournament debating puts perfection of its arbitrary methods as perfection in argumentation. The things that are supposedly required at a tournament to be a good speech are only a good speech in that venue. One of the other odd things that they did was seem unable to talk about the issue without talking about problem-solving, or the opposing team's arguments as unable to fix the problem. For example, one speaker on opposition mentioned decriminalization in a point of description to help orient the audience to his point of view. The next speaker in favor of the motion spent a ton of time talking about how decriminalization doesn't work, missing the point entirely. The opposition speaker was pointing out how one doesn't need to criminalize people in order to deal with the issues of drugs. Affirmative/pro side heard "decriminalization" and launched into arguments against it, as they have been taught to do by the tournament. There are no statements in tournament debating that are not identities that must be attacked.

Again the discourse of the expert had the best nuance and best articulation of what persuasion looks like. Take a complicated set of data and put it into (and onto)the terms the audience understands. Instead of being there to instruct the audience what to think about drug policy, he was there to offer interpretations of research for them and explain how he drew his conclusions. Contrast that to the collegiate debate approach, which is often an instructional capacity. Intercollegiate debaters often will speak to audiences as if they don't know what the valuable arguments and topoi are, they often will speak at length about the value of rights, or the role of the government. This instructional mode might come from the requirements of winning debate tournament rounds, but it could also come from the idea that debaters have special access to what debate "ought to" look like, that the form of debate in the everyday is not "true" or "real" debate and they have to do extra instruction to make sure the audience understands how to evaluate the debate.

Experts should be debate commentators on issues they know something about, and I also think this probably extends to so-called debate experts, those whose experience with debating comes primarily from the limited world of debating contests. The curriculum there is not one aimed at public audiences. The curriculum is aimed at winning tournament debates. The technical mastery here might have some value, as well as the time competitive debaters should spend reading about issues comes in handy, but I think it's better as commentary for the audience and the debaters rather than the material of the debate. Of course you have to agree with me that the function of debate goes beyond eristics or making a decision, but lies more in the realm of questoning whether the capacity to make a decision has been met. 



Spring 2018 Semester Starts Today

It's really snowing out there. Good way to start the term as I have been feeling unrested and unready for another semester. Thinking that I'll try to do the daily post again just to kick start what I'm thinking, feeling, and how I'm approaching things. Thought this soundtrack would be a good way to start this quiet, eerie day but I'm just sort of using it as background as I surf through some semi-interesting Lit Hub and Chronicle of Higher Ed essays. Not the most productive first day.

I would kind of like a year of quiet reading I think sometimes but then i know that would quickly convert into a year of halfheartedly playing video games and not showering until 4PM. The situation is not the root of my lack of motivation. But what is?

Pretty into a few writing projects but not really into writing right now. Not really finding interest in securing the time for it. I guess I'm wondering about audience a bit too much. If I write an academic-style article that seems pretty automatic but who would read it? And would I want them to read it?

If I just publish here who would read it? Is this really what publishing looks like?

I like Medium, that seems like a good site, but then who's reading that? Is that who I want reading stuff?

I think I'm going to go for a double approach, maybe triple: Publish here, on Medium, and also on Academia. I think some of my writing isn't really academic enough to be on Academia, but it might get some attention.

I spent a lot of time over the holiday break with my old book idea. I think now's probably the best time to be writing about collegiate debate programs since there's more choice than ever about what you (you as a college) can do with it. It's a good time to shop new theories of it. Practicing the difficult art of speech before audiences without compromising what you want to say and without pandering to the audience seems like the theme of most of my writing. It's really about teaching.

I think right now is the lowest point of confidence and highest point of discouragement I've had with the way debating is done by institutions at all levels. I think that this is good news, as there's no lower point to hit. Now the only way is up. And perhaps articulation, re-articulation of my concerns to myself (and anyone who wants to read them) could lead to iteration and reiteration of what debate should look like. And from that comes the monograph I think.

There are two projects here - one a more academic oriented book that will come first then secondarily one that I think might be a good popular press book about debating in the everyday. The difficulty in doing two projects speaks to how frustratingly distant scholarly publishing is from every other kind of publishing - which would be publishing the majority of people actually want to read. More on this in later posts; thinking about how to marshall a good defense and good practice that tenured faculty could use to support digital depositories and open peer review, which are essential (in my mind) parts to any long term survival strategy of the modern university.

So this is really just an "outline the projects" post which I think is ok for now, the snow is stopping and I probably should get out and get some things accomplished. Here's to a post every day!



Happy Birthday Snap Specs

If you don't follow me on Snapchat you are missing out. Today is a very important anniversary!

Snapspecs Vending Machines in the pop-up shop on 5th avenue in Manhattan, 2017.

Snapspecs Vending Machines in the pop-up shop on 5th avenue in Manhattan, 2017.

Here we have the birthplace of my much loved Snap spectacles which I use pretty much every day to record the various places that I walk to, the campus, and my thoughts about everything. And don't forget - most of the things I eat are recorded there too. 

Just another day using specs

There are many more videos like this to come in the future. This is just a sample of what my snap specs have allowed me to accomplish in life. 

They really have worked out great. It was freezing this time last year (17 degrees F) and it was icy and snowy, but I think it was worth it. it's one of the few gimmicky tech things that I still can say I use every day (or almost every day) since I bought it. 


If you don't follow, consider this your open invitation. I am pretty good about updating although my recent interest in Pokemon Go has be using them a bit less than normal, I'm sure I'll be back up to normal posting volume in a couple of days. There's also just not a lot of reasons to leave the house right now. AGDQ is on, and I have a lot to read and write about. Plus there's a semester coming right around the corner to get ready for. More on that in another post. 

for now, happy first birthday, Specs! I sure hope your battery keeps its charge and I don't break you by casually shoving you in my backpack. if you want to see more snap specs action in its natural environment, just follow me on Snapchat. 

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If not, don't worry I will most likely post the videos here too if they are relevant.