MMDU: Left Behind

MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly (MMDU) is a rambunctious series of discussions about the past, present, and future of higher education, focusing on topics rising directly from Cathy N. Davidson’s distributed #futureEd experiment and its various offspring.

When we call out, we must listen for an answer. Cathy N. Davidson’s (and all our) “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education” pivots on the idea of a call. A call to action. A call to pay attention. A voice in the desert calling for change. We have, in the last six weeks, all become activists and advocates, each venturing out of our own comfort, each looking critically at our assumptions. A community has formed, a hashtag has flourished, and all that is under way has promise for a new “education from scratch”.

Now that we’ve rallied, we need to talk about who we’ve left behind: lurkers, introverts, the marginalized and contingent among us.

In our last #moocmooc chat, we worked together to build a document meant to offer a shape for the future of higher education. Not exactly a manifesto, and more like a set of guidelines for continued conversation, one of our our first collective realizations within that document was that no one group can necessarily “speak universally about idiosyncratic experience.” In most cases, the future of higher education is being written by those who can participate in the dialogue; and as generous as that dialogue might be, there are always conspicuous omissions.

Communities of change can never be insular. Inclusivity is the primary ingredient for any kind of meaningful revolution. Despite our best efforts to bring others into the conversation, higher education is notorious for keeping its gates closed, and for building labyrinths within its walls — mazes so unnavigable that many cannot thrive in their complexity, and seek open spaces for their ideas.

In “Collaborative Peer Review: Gathering the Academy’s Orphans”, I wrote

In many ways, I am an orphan of the academy. Beached on the sand at the M.A., employed only ever as an adjunct instructor at two-year colleges, generally looked at askance in the heady company of academics, I am the horse that didn’t make the derby. Five years ago, I stepped away, my head sore from the brick walls of credentialing, publishing, and otherwise proving that my little engine, indeed, could.

For me, any discussion of changing higher education does not touch my life directly — instead, I have to reach out to mingle with that discussion. It is a discussion that might have involved me ten years ago, but the attempt to raise it then met with reverberating silence. I am not academic, I am not alt-ac, I am not truly post-academic. I am the accidental pedagogue working as an editor for a quasi-academic journal.

I am not alone. There are accidental pedagogues everywhere, teachers without classrooms who left the academy but kept their ears and eyes open for when a discussion of a new future for higher education might take place. These are the optimists and introverts, the radicals, the truly deeply irrevocably fringe. And they are most often lurkers in our MOOCs, precarious voices in our Twitter chats, lingerers in rooms at conferences. And their minds are full of ideas.

All of us at Hybrid Pedagogy gleefully talk about revolutions, we issue tongue-in-cheek manifestos, we proclaim broadly about what needs to be done, what hasn’t worked, and new approaches that need consideration. But revolution is hard, and if revolution comes to higher education, it will involve the loss of jobs, credentials, titles, privileges. Many will sacrifice much. An academic revolution will result in an unprecedented number of alt-ac and post-ac educators, changes to the tenure system, pedagogies of scale that will awe and confound. We call for change like wildfire because that’s the only good way to call for it. But the truth is, any revolt here will start very, very quietly.

In spaces like this one.


And this one.


We’ll have to listen for it. We cannot know from whence it will come. But it will most likely not rise up out of a MOOC. It will most likely not grow from boisterous conversation at an academic conference. It will absolutely not result from shouting into a din, resentment-mongering, or feudal backchannel chatter.

There are people we have not heard from. Ideas we haven’t dared entertain that, at one time or another, drove brilliant educators into silence. And so, in this last week of MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly, we want to hear your bravest thoughts, your most radical, your most inclusive… the ideas you silence because you’re afraid to speak. And we want to create space for those of us that haven’t yet spoken.

Some questions to think about in preparation for our #moocmooc chat on Wednesday, Mar. 5 at 7PM Eastern:

  1. How do we listen on Twitter? How do we listen for lurkers, for colleagues who can’t attend conferences, for post and alt-academics? And how do we listen for our students?

  2. What holds you back from speaking? What holds you back from taking risks? What assumptions or presumptions can you lay aside so that you can express yourself or take a chance?

  3. How do we engage with non-academics when talking about the future of higher education? What stakeholders do we need to engage outside academia?

Enter the #moocmooc fray on Twitter this Wednesday at 7:00PM Eastern to discuss these and more questions. Check to see when to join us in your time zone. See our original announcement for info. about the 6-week discussion series, and don’t fret if this is the first chat you’re joining — here’s a recap. And feel free to get the discussion rolling in the comments below.

 [Photo by camerakarrie]

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