Recently we’ve been exploring the place of ‘non-traditional’ materials in the curriculum: newspaper and magazine articles, TV and radio episodes, podcasts, blogs, and so on. Such materials are, of course, both very common on syllabi and largely invisible to traditional approaches to curricular design. They have been invisible in Open Syllabus, too, which relies on library catalogs to describe the range of titles that we can search for in the syllabus collection. Over the summer we decided to address this by extracting URLs in the collection, walking them back to their sources, and filtering for work used in instructional contexts. We now have a very interesting catalog of non-traditional classroom materials.
This is a big topic that will probably be the subject of several posts, but let’s look at some fun stuff first: TV/radio shows and podcasts that do serious long-form exploration of topics. Many of these are assigned with some frequency on syllabi — though we suspect more often as supplements to conventional assignments than as primary materials. It would be interesting to test this via a deeper dive into the documents. In any case, there is some standout programming that has a strong presence in the classroom. For example, Frontline:
Open Access (OA) monographs and Open Educational Resource (OER) textbooks are works that are ‘openly licensed’ — that is, they can be used and distributed for free. In a world of $200 textbooks, OA/OER plays a fairly high-profile role in efforts to reduce the cost of education.
But free circulation makes it difficult to track classroom adoption, which in turn makes it difficulty to understand the shape of demand for OA/OER work–either overall or with respect to particular subjects. The link between supply and demand established in the commercial book market by a sale doesn’t exist in the OA/OER world. Our thought is that this delinking is one reason–and maybe a significant reason–for the relatively low rate of adoption of OA/OER in teaching, despite over a decade of efforts. It’s still too hard to characterize demand for these titles to faculty, curricular designers, publishers, and investors. It’s hard to tell what’s popular and what’s been effectively adopted in peer institutions.
So we’re eager to see what happens when we partially close this information loop by measuring demand via syllabi. Here’s a normalized US trendline for OA/OER adoption based on the OS collection (drawing on catalog information from the Open Textbook Library and the Directory of Open Access Books). It shows rapid OER textbook growth in recent years–but from a very low baseline. In 2017, roughly 1 in 300 classes used OER textbooks and around 1 in 400 assigned an OA monograph (the lighter blue is for textbooks; darker for
We received this 1996 Wesleyan University syllabus as a remembrance of the instructor by a former student. It’s January’s syllabus of the month.
Fall 1996 Col/Hum 104
Teachers and Their Teachings: From Socrates to Foucault
Howard Bernstein X 2323 Butterfield C313, Office hours, T, Th 4-5 and by Appt
General description: This course is about teachers and students, their relationships, and some powerful pedagogical ideas; it is also about maturation and longing, power and subordination, deception and self-deception, transference and counter-transference. We will be asking questions about what it means to “educate,” to take responsibility for the shaping of another soul, to transmit culture, to confront and to provoke, and perhaps, also, to insinuate, manipulate, and judge. What is it that students alternatively crave and fear in the educative process? Why do teachers presume to teach when the opportunities to do otherwise are often more glitteringly attractive? Our task is to examine different, and sometimes discordant, models of teaching and learning from classical antiquity virtually to the present. As little as possible will be presupposed or assumed to be self-evident, including the almost sacrosanct notion that “education” (liberal or illiberal) is a good thing for which there is some sort of intrinsic “need.”
Major readings in order of appearance (mostly):
David Mamet, Oleanna
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind
Plato, the Republic, Apology
Selections from the Synoptic Gospels, and the Pauline Epistles.
We always like to learn more about how the OSP is being used, and sometimes this yields an unexpected treat. Here’s a short segment from a Japanese quiz show called ‘Wow! Surprising Japan,’ in which foreigners are quizzed about their knowledge of Japan. The segment discusses novelist Souseki Natsume, who comes in 11th in some sort of power ranking of famous Japanese people. Here, the OSP is used as an authority for what foreigners might know about Japan. According to our data, Natsume’s Kokoro is assigned with some frequency. Thanks, Daisuke!
The next version of the OSP dataset is beginning to take shape. It will have roughly 6 million syllabi, covering around 6000 institutions around the world. All the stats and breakdowns will bounce around as we refine the classifiers, decide which fields to consolidate, and so on, but here are a couple interesting initial views:
Dr. Jill Talbot Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org | 426-7060 Office: LA 102 C (a room I share with a broken shelf and three people I never see) Office Hours: Before and After Class and once in a booth in the Hyde Park Bar & Grill
Course Description: This course is about failed attempts. It’s about me standing in an office two states and two months ago handing over a letter declaring that I was leaving academia indefinitely. It’s about being on the road—Utah, Idaho, Montana—climbing north before having to turn around, scramble south. It’s about the trying months of summer and ending up in a circumstance not on any map. It’s about Boise instead of Missoula, about adjustments instead of adventure, about impediments edging out impulse, bi-monthly paychecks that can’t cover rent and daycare, my last cigarette. It will be writing in a cramped corner on a plastic tv tray in a foldout chair bought at a thrift store. By the end of the semester, the focus will be two am phone calls and bad checks. For the final, look for a bookcase and a loveseat in a living room with the front door left wide open, my four-year-old daughter’s favorite polka-dotted vest forgotten on the kitchen counter.
Texts: We’re not going to read anything beyond my own proclivities. We’ll discuss stories, essays, and poems that remind
Instructor: Kevin Temple
Office hours: By text message
There is no such thing as the Philosophy of Adjuncting; but rest assured, this course is authentic, for I am being deliriously underpaid to teach it. As the “instructor of record,” I have made the syllabus distinctly my own because that tiny gasp of freedom is to tenure what adjunct pay is to an actual salary. What have I put on it? Nothing of use. It is self-defeating, for that is what a philosophy of adjuncting must be.
THE STRUCTURAL PROBLEM
Week 1: Marx on alienation
My adjunct friend says, “The irony of adjuncting is being alienated labor while teaching future alienated laborers about Alienated Labor.” Read the Alienated Labor section of Marx’s “Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts.” Alienation happens in a bunch of ways; for example, when instead of doing something great on your own terms, an arbitrarily powerful person forces you to do it his way. He ruins what you do by breaking it down into a series of distinct tasks, automating whatever can be automated, measuring how long each remaining task takes, and then paying you as little as possible per task. That’s how administrators created adjuncting. It’s almost like they’ve read Marx.
Week 2: Adorno saw it coming
We discuss the “culture industry.” Universities as a whole have what Adorno called a “culture monopoly.” As such, he says, “They cannot afford to neglect their appeasement of the real holders of