Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I have a new dissertation

I know it sounds crazy (or maybe it doesn't; it does sound crazy to me -- even though I'm the one doing it). I met with my committee (well the two local members) on Friday and proposed my new plan to study proprietary software programs -- those utilized as writing "tools" -- as emblematic of the corporate University. Right now it's all just starting to come together. I'm focusing on three schools:

  • a community college
  • a small, private four-year liberal arts college
  • a state research university.

I'm focusing on the following products:

  • Blackboard/WebCT = CMS
  • Angel ePortfolio2 = ePortfolio
  • ETS customizable essay scoring services – turnkey and Engine only = assessment tool for writing
  • ETS Criterion = assessment tool for writing

I will possibly look to add more ePortfolio programs to my list. I'm open to suggestions.

I will essentially be doing a reading of these products (and in doing so a reading of education as commodity) utilizing the "circuit of culture" presented by Stuart Hall (et al). Because the circuit focuses on different moments or processes and the interaction between them, the project will not only include a rhetorical analysis of the marketing of these products but will also look at the people involved in deciding on the purchase of these programs as well as those who end up utilizing or consuming these products. I'm interested in what specifically is involved in the decision-making processes that go on when institutions are debating over or deciding on these programs. And more specifically I want to know the extent of awareness that exists around these decisions as choices that are feeding the problematic relationship between higher education and corporations. I want to know how much awareness admin and faculty have of freeware and/or open source models that do the same thing that these programs do. This information will be attained primarily through interview and survey. I will also look at usage -- how the consumers (primarily teachers and students, but also administration) use these "tools" -- differently than or similar to their intended usage.

That's my "new" project in a nutshell. It's not as drastically different from the original as I'm making it seem here, but it does present a whole lot of new research and reading that I did not do for my exams.


Dave said...

Sounds excellent, maybe we can talk in first life about it sometime soon. What about Turnitin? or that type of corporate software?

kmiddleton said...

This is going to be a really important study! In my (very limited) experience, there is little to no discussion among various educational groups--faculty, admin, students--about the ethics and politics of these programs. I'm coming off of a workshop in composition, as well, and there was very little discussion of the possible consequences of using CMS systems. Essentially, the dominant view seems to be "technology as means to an end." Your focus here is fabulous! Would love to hear more!!!

Anonymous said...

You might consider looking at the MY Access! writing program from Vantage Learning. Their IntelliMetric engine is considered the gold standard in the industry and most accurate. They also are the company that provides the scoring for the GMAT and MCAT tests for aspiring business leaders and doctors. Their program is substantially richer in feature/function.

bowerr said...

You know you're onto something when you get promotional pitches in the form of anonymous comments. But it’s not that “a gold standard” like My Access is worthwhile because it’s “richer” (In fact, richer requires a comparison), but it’s a point of interest because it’s exactly like the other promises of teaching writing without investing in the resources required to teach. When current-traditionalist pedagogy went especially bad, it was because it looked to teach writing without having students write because the pedagogy was considered too costly. When expressivist assignments of memorable childhood events are recorded by “computer readers” for the purpose of reporting corrective progress and not how such events matter to writers, when peer review is managed by remote without creating a writerly understanding of audience, poorly tested technology takes control of the curriculum because it’ll supposedly free teachers to concentrate on more “important” material. The questions I have on this are if it’s not important enough for investment by schools and community or of interest to expert teachers, how can we expect students to want or think they might need to learn the material? If the subject at hand is not worth including in a classroom, why should it be in the curriculum at all?

Let me know where/if I can help on this project

VTmtngrrl said...

Thanks to everyone for the words of support, enthusiasm and encouragement for this project.

Dave, I considered doing Turnitin and might return to that. I am trying to choose a somewhat narrow scope of programs, and in doing so focused on some of the programs that the schools I am looking at actually use (or are in the process of purchasing).

K, yes seen as "means to an end" and also the monolithic BB/WebCT (as you know) is just so naturalized; too few people think about and/or seem to be aware of (or want to take the time to understand and work with -- I don't know all the reasons, and that is what I want to explore with this project) alternatives.

R, exactly. What is the more "important" material? Interestingly (maybe the wrong word choice) schools ARE willing to "invest" in feedback and corrective measures in the form of approximately $4.00/essay submission (in the case of Criterion). Thanks for the willingness to help!

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