Skip to content


Presentation @ Saint Mary’s College

Saint Mary’s College Conference
Teachers, Teaching and the Media Conference
October 16th to 18th

Panel: Alternative Communities, Alternative Stories: Experimenting with Moocs, Community Television, and Cinema
Friday, October 17th / with By: Tomás Crowder-Taraborrelli and Kristi Wilson

MOOCs and Social Media (pdf file)
A discussion about MOOCs, courses and the idea of “open”
By Fabian Banga

Online education has experienced tremendous growth over the last decade, spurred by a combination of technological innovations, economic drivers, and changing demographics. Today, more than one third of the nation’s college students take courses online. According to the latest survey by the College Board and Babson Survey Research Group, Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States (2013), over 6.7 million students at four-year institutions in the United States were taking at least one online course during the fall of 2011, an increase of more than half a million, or 9.3 percent, over 2010 (Babson, 2013).

In this context we have experienced the rise of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). But what are MOOCs? Can we consider MOOCs a phenomenon associated with online education or just a continuation of the space associated with social media? Are they products of our neoliberal society? We will have a discussion about MOOCs and question of what the “C” means. Are MOOCs courses or online events? We will discuss how to teach in the open internet without learning outcomes. Finally, we will question the word “course” or at least demand a clarification of what constitutes a course. We will discuss an example of a MOOC I offered in spring 2013 at Berkeley City College.


A conversation about outsourcing education, higher education culture and adjunctivism.

more info:

Saturday, May 10th from 9:00 am to noon –
Berkeley City College, room 431 / 2050 Center Street, Berkeley, CA 94704

There have been numerous conversations in the last few decades about the neoliberalization of higher education and how colleges and university are increasingly being conceived as needing to adhere to the parameters of private sector business and market values. Even if the actions, paradigms and goals of educational leaders and institutions are not directed specifically towards the privatization of this area of public services; nevertheless, they manage educational institutions as if they were, or should be, run according to the models of private businesses. An example of this is the ever-increasing emphasis on productivity, budget constraints and the massification of education. In the case of this last development, illustrated by last year’s obsession with MOOCs, it is interesting to note that most of the conversations about MOOCs did not focus on the idea of open education but rather on using them in ways that could serve the greatest amount of students with the fewest resources. Furthermore, more and more corporations are directly or indirectly influencing curriculum, for example, through research and materials produced by textbook giants. Another example of this corporate influence can be found in the use of consultants to outsource critical operations of the educational institutions such as technology and assessment. At the same time, perhaps because of the focus on economic productivity, another phenomenon that has become predominant in the last two decades is the precarization of instruction in the form of adjunctivism. In this short conference/conversation we will discuss these issues and debate the possibilities and consequences of conceiving higher educational institutions that conform to the parameters of the private business model.

What Adjuncts Do

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress”
Frederick Douglass

Thomas A. Foster is right in his article “What faculty do” when he describes the innumerable tasks that professors do during their tenure in universities. The idea that labor compensation in higher education is associated only with teaching is a sign that the person who is proposing this notion is not familiar with the reality of the university professorship. Furthermore, most of the tenured faculty contracts take into consideration extracurricular tasks as part of the instructor’s load. The fact is that this reality is not exclusive to tenured professors in higher education or even to higher education in general. The participation and collaboration of adjunct, classify employees and students in university life and shared governance is enormous; but especially adjuncts. Unfortunately, in some cases their participation and dedication is not properly recognized.

Perhaps I should clarify first that I am not an adjunct professor. I am not only tenured but also Chair of my department. I get respect, relatively decent compensation, security of employment and the possibility to participate in decision making in my college. But I know that the reality of most adjuncts in the United States is nothing like mine. Furthermore, their reality is so harsh that if you are not a college professor, you might think that we come from different economic and professional areas. I personally believe that this type of division is unacceptable. Let me explain why.

I am a member of several major committees. I am co-chair of the technology committee at my campus and in the same position at the district. In all the committees of which I am a member, the participation of adjunct faculty is vital to its sustainability. Furthermore, since I have been Chair of more than one department for more than 10 years, I have been able to see the rich and vital collaboration of adjunct faculty in all of these departments. Their contribution is enormous. Many times they are the sole experts in the specific subjects they teach; to the point that I have seen many adjuncts acting as Chairs of divisions in different areas at my college. Just to exemplify this statement, my dear co-chair and friend in the Modern Language Department at my college is a non-tenured faculty member. This situation is very common in small colleges. When you have a subject that does not have a full-time instructor, the adjunct instructor is the only expert on campus that can update a subject’s official outlines and curriculum.

Additionally, in the area of languages, practically all the language coordinators I know (a type of sub-chair of the language departments) are always lecturers (non-tenured faculty). In the area of curriculum development and assessment, it is easy to argue that adjuncts are as active, and in many cases, more active, than full-time tenured professors. They collaborate with the rest of the department in the creation of courses, assessment of other instructors, and even participate in hiring committees. They are also active in other curriculum development areas involving the adoption and assessment of materials and classes, the creation of OERs and the support and counselling of students. In a very cruel irony, many of them are very supportive of the department and do many extracurricular activities to gain the appreciation of students, of tenured professors and deans, with the hope of a security of employment that, in many cases, never materializes.

The majority of adjuncts teach impacted introductory classes. They represent approximately 50% of the faculty population[i] but, for example in my campus they comprise 63% of the faculty. In my department they are close to 80% of our full-time equivalent faculty (FTEF). In some disciplines, as I already mentioned, adjunct instructors are 100% of the faculty population.

In many cases adjunct schedules change constantly, in direct opposition to the monotonous topics of the classes they have to teach. They have little or no security of employment. Budget cuts affect the whole campus population but especially adjunct instructors. They are always the first to be cut when there is a reduction in the number of classes. They do not have the benefit of the academic freedom associated with tenure. Adjuncts have no compensated time for sabbaticals, research, attending conferences or, in many cases, for personal emergencies or sick leave to care for a family member or themselves. Their area of research, in many cases, is so specific that they do not have many options in the job market. So the statement you sometimes hear that they should find other positions is painful and disrespectful because graduate schools in the US have the tendency to promote particularly focused research. It is a tremendously difficult task to find a job if, for example in my case, one’s dissertation deals with the representation of esoteric traditions and technology in Latin-American vanguard. Most of us rarely teach anything remotely connected with our dissertation topics and in most cases we try to create parallel careers; in my case in the area of instructional technology. But not everyone can be so lucky.

Adjuncts contribute so much to their colleges that the status differentiation between adjunct and professor is a distinction I find uncomfortable at best. This is why I disagree when people try to make distinctions between the work conditions or realities affecting tenured and non-tenured faculty. If any of our instructors in my department is in an adverse situation related to her/his work conditions, this affects the whole department. A good Chair and college administration would not want to lose such valuable colleagues. The unequal work conditions in colleges are inefficient and cruel. They promote class warfare and fragment departments. The issue of constant administration upheavals and the damage that these constant promotions cause on campuses has been clearly raised in the past. We must now definitely raise the same concerns about the issue of faculty appointment instability.

The collaboration among all faculty members and solidarity in this struggle that affects us all (the universalization of the struggle), regardless of academic rank, does not constitute “a backdoor attack on the tenure system itself”. I suggest that all these problems are part of a much larger issue in higher education associated with the neoliberal concept that education should be run like the private sector; which dictates that, even in the educational realm, the market must rule. As Frederick Douglass once said: “We are one, our cause is one, and we must help each other; if we are to succeed.”

[i] Caruth, Gail, AND Caruth, Donald. “Adjunct Faculty: Who are these Unsung Heroes of Academe?” Current Issues in Education [Online], Volume 16 Number 3 (15 November 2013)


@rjhogue writes in her blog “I did not leave the conference feeling that I was part of the community”

When Rebecca Hogue @rjhogue writes in her blog “I did not leave the conference feeling that I was part of the community” (referring to the MOOC Research Initiative conference in Arlington Texas #mri13) she is not alone. And perhaps this feeling of isolation is not because of her position, experience, connections or degree; I think it is because the MOOC movement, especially the one circulating around the Twitter tribe, indirectly promotes isolation and disconnection. It takes a lot of time and patience to generate connections in Twitter. This platform is ruled by a dynamic of neoliberal and postmodern characteristics in which the vision of success is attached to the number of followers and not to the number of people the user follows. (I was thinking about this part in her post: “I wonder, did I miss that session, or was that session part of the private party that happened before the formal MOOC conference?”) This routine, in which performance and unidirectional communication are a predominant factor, cannot be a platform for academic discussion or even pedagogical production, especially for outsiders or people not familiar with these dynamics. Many of these superstars in Twitter virtually exist under these implied premises with cases in which the user has thousands of followers and at the same time the user is following no one. I do not blame them at all, since the format in Twitter aims towards self-glorification and superfluous communication. Twitter is the quintessential platform of this era of performance, lack of content and pseudo-inversion of power. MOOCs (and the MOOC movement) sometimes follow this dynamic, proving the idea that massive communication is not communication at all.

This type of interaction here took me to a further and perhaps radical position of, not only, not applying to the initiative, but also, not going to the conference. Who would want to go to a conference in which the idea of openness has a registration price of $500 (the $495 was a great touch) and was founded by the Gates Foundation (le coup de grace). I assume this price was prohibitive for many people around the globe. Openness for me is something else, completely outside of these dynamics and performances. Openness is active inclusion, lack of hierarchies, distrust of preconceptions (including colonial ideas like the euro-centralist model of academia), and, of course, multi-directional and horizontal communication. Who wants to go to a conference to hear keynote speakers?

Academia and #MOOCs

Le_Voyage_dans_la_luneMOOCs may be great as OER artifacts but from a practical pedagogical perspective, they are definitely not courses/classes. Classes are not (or should not be) simply unidirectional lectures or broadcastings. Classes require interaction and the development of ideas. Students construct the class; the teacher is just the guide and helper. The job of the teacher is to implement techniques that motivate the students and help these students attain a specific learning outcome. This is why the teacher-student ratio is very important. We know that the imparting of information does not imply learning. Consequently, libraries are not a replacement for classrooms; we know this because we have had libraries for thousands of years and they complement (but do not replace) classrooms extremely well. The idea that information provided on the internet would be somehow different, was, from its inception, flawed. I am arguing from this perspective, focusing on the availability of information on the net as one of the pillars of MOOCs. There are additional problems due to the lack of retention or even interaction among students enrolled in MOOCs: (p.11)

This is not an economic issue, or an argument designed to support teachers’ unions. This has to do with the quality of education. And when we talk about the quality of our resources when we speak of something we supposedly value as much as we do education and the educational system, the economic aspect should be irrelevant, or, at the very least, not the essential motivator.

Anyone who is a teacher (we need to recuperate the original value and meaning of this word because not all professors are teachers) would know that MOOCs are closer to social media than to a classroom. The problem is that many of the famous professors who are “teaching” the MOOCs, or even those who are designing these MOOCs, are not teachers. We all know that many professors in very prestigious universities are not teachers. Many are, but they are not the majority. Let us be honest here, academia discriminates against true teachers as second class citizens. Lecturers teach the classes, professors do research and make 4 or 5 times the salary of part-time faculty. Academia instills this idea in its graduate students from day one. Classes in pedagogy are, in general, presented as completely irrelevant. They are often taught by lecturers that many graduate students do not respect because these lecturers, although they may be experts in their field, do not have the power to impose an appropriate curriculum. No one wants to talk about this, but it is a reality. When those graduate students become professors, they spend their entire career doing research, and are often disconnected from the reality of the classroom. This leads them to design theories that do not work in practice. When these theories are combined with the powerful incentives of the economic marketplace and the promise of great financial gain, there is no turning back.  Academia, if it remains disconnected from the practical reality of the classroom, will perpetually shoot itself in the foot.

MOOCs and etc.

I am definitely not against MOOCs. I think everyone should open their courses, share materials, teach in the wild and understand the OER paradigm. I just disagree with the opinion that MOOCs are or can replace courses. At least not the MOOCs I have seen and I have seen many. I think the problem is with the excessive polarity of this debate and the insistence (because of a clear financial agenda, in so many ways and players) that MOOCs are courses. Furthermore, we have here a typical academic agenda: “I want to be famous; I have this hypothesis that I will defend at any cost because my reputation is on the line”.

Many people are claiming that the institution of higher education is trembling. Really? I have heard this before from the people who wanted to make money in HE. I have been focusing on OERs since 2001, and I see MOOCs as a satellite of OERs rather than a substitute for any one thing.

The tip of the iceberg in the area of instructional technology

In response to: @suifaijohnmak:  Tell me more about this beginning of the instructional technology universe. Do you mean MOOCs or something more?

I definitely think that we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg in the area of instructional technology. MOOCs are solid and dynamic new paradigms; but in the near future, the possibilities in this area are so enormous that we cannot predict what this ocean of possibilities will be able to offer us. This area will become more accessible, and even more massive and affordable. This technology will not replace teachers but will enhance their performance. We will need more in depth theorization and research not only in the tools but specifically in the domain of instructional technology virtualization.

In the future, we will have platforms that are/have:

  • faster
  • capable of hosting an enormous amount of data and interaction
  • improved SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
  • more mobile-friendly
  • equipped with powerful syndication technologies
  • massive meta-courses that will replace the concept of MOOCs
  • user centered platforms instead of teacher centered
  • better accessibility: (including support for monolingual people – accurate and dynamic translation)
  • more SOE (Standard Operating Environment)
  • more relaxed audio-visual integration
  • equipped with better authentication tools to offer personalized support and clear interaction

and then…

  • intelligent software: like automated agents you can interrelate with using NLP and AI

Furthermore, the improvements will come from the physical classroom technologies projecting the physical classroom into virtual space.  Many of our classrooms are already equipped with HD cameras connected to the network and have friendly Wi-Fi interaction with multiple devices. All this technologies will become better and cheaper at an exponential rate.

Moreover, the real revolutionary explosion of new possibilities will arise when the instructors, not the theorists or developers, have the possibility of manipulating  these technologies. We are getting there.

Posted in response to a conversation about “changes in academia” with a friend of mine

It is not that simple here in the US my dear friend John. Perhaps things are different in Australia or Europe, I do not know; but here in the US in academia, if you are tenure track or looking for a job, you do not have the power to question the status quo. Graduate schools can be very tyrannical places; graduate students are controlled by very powerful ideologies. And if you resist these ideologies you end up isolated without mentors. Imagine if you are looking for a job and apply to a department that is getting resources from a specific organization or group that ideologically differs from your perspective. Then when you are hired in a department and you eventually become tenured, you have to think twice about what you propose when you are asking for resources. Many full professors, chairs, deans do not want to change and these are the same people that per review your work and control the resources. (When we talk about these issues in academia I think about people like Cantor or Boltzmann, they have paid for their honest and justified transgressions) And then, even if you acquire a lot of power, and you have the administration and the faculty on your side and the resources, you have the accreditation commotions…

Read More →

The day the MOOC invented Social Media (a very short perspective about MOOCs)

by Fabian Banga

After exploring this idea of the MOOC for several months, participating in several of them and reading everything I could find about this topic, I honestly think that the last C in MOOC should be seriously reconsidered or substituted for something more appropriate. Perhaps MOOE (for Event) would be more meaningful. Furthermore, we should also reconsider the M too, for reasons I will discuss later.

Read More →