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Friday, August 29, 2014


It seems that I must consult the Office of University Counsel before recording my Marx course next Spring for podcasting.  As a guest of the Department, I feel an obligation to behave in a way that does not embarrass them, so I shall of course comply.  I will let you know whether the course will be available to the world for listening.


Tony Couture said...

What are they worried about, their share of the royalties from your massive audience? It is an advertisement for the great kind of philosophy that gets done at their university, not a liability. Unless they think radical philosophers curse and swear at the status quo and this will cost them donations from the rich, who don't like such strong f-ing criticism of their inequalities. It is corporate sophistry to stifle public exposure to free philosophy, and I hope it is a formality to get approval. A recording is also for the sake of your students who are trying to learn as much as they can, and it helps to take full notes if there is a good recording. There is no genuine contradiction between offering this course for money to enrolled students and then the recording is free to all, as the real world (where students pay tuition) is only extended and enriched philosophically by the virtual world where you the prof present your course to the public at large, who may or may not then interact with you and your students to improve the course content. You are after all teaching a course critical of capitalism and it could very well be argued that the course's open structure is essential to your critique of capitalism's exclusivity and attempted ownership of ideas to the detriment of others. The free podcast itself makes this course less enthralled to the social imaginary of capitalist property.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I will know better what worries them after I actually get to talk to someone in their office. I suspect a large part of their concern is recording the voices of students who have not given permission to be recorded. I agree with that, actually. On the other hand, universities these days are big businesses very wrapped up in questions of patents and proprietary research and the Humanities may just get caught in the bureaucracy.

Let's think positively. maybe they just won't care since I am not in Engineering or Life Sciences.

But isn't the flier cool?

Tony Couture said...

Yes flier is cool. What textbook(s) are you going to be using? Your audience is usually only asking questions, and you usually use first names only, so they are not identifiable or capable of being permanently embarrassed by your teaching probes--whadda ya mean you didn't read this Marx text???--I have come to think philosophy is very theatrical. A podcast is only an audio representation, not the same value as being there, being able to submit work and get marked, or see you in person. It has value in generating an affective or supportive community around your course and not engaging the general public is the great poverty of liberalism. For free philosophy, the benchmark for competition is Michael Sandel, see the website for what you are up against, not sure about the production dollars that went into this "show" and how much his suits cost, but it is extravagant. You need the podcast, so that Sandel has a chance to listen in! Plus philosophy requires radical rumination, and students may have to listen to the podcasts many times in order to truly get it. Understanding a philosophy sometimes means sharing it as widely as you can to get all opposition and agreement with it into the open. Philosophy should freely spoken, recorded and played back everywhere we can find listeners--argument is a public contact sport.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Tony [if I may], I have a feeling the University Counsel's Office will not have the slightest interest in the pedagogical value of the podcast, only in the possibility that the university might get sued! Everything interesting in life always happens just as one is going into a three day weekend [Labor Day], so it will be a few days before I can talk to someone. Besides, football season is starting. We have to get our priorities straight!

I have heard about the Sandel course. I will take a look at the link and see how the one percent are living.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

All right, I made it through the first two minutes and forty seconds of the lecture on Kant's moral theory, and then I felt an almost uncontrollable urge to throw up, so I stopped. Mind you, Sandel did not say anything wrong [well, actually that is not true, but never mind.] It is just the rich, smug, self-satisfied, entertainment-value quality of it all, there in Sanders Theater [where I have listened to many lectures, including one by Bertrand Russell] and many concerts [including one by Russell Oberlin.] It would take me longer than I have to unpack everything that is deeply objectionable about that scene.

And yet, I would be willing to bet that as an introductory lecture on Kant's ethical theory, it is just fine.

Chris said...

There's an underlying insidiousness to Sandel’s popularity, in that he's now world famous for basically asking the same question: but should the market infringe upon X? X being peoples’ votes, healthcare, scientific analysis, pregnancy, etc. Point being he's very concerned when the market takes on a role in certain aspects of our lives that were previously considered too sacrosanct for market transactions. Who isn't? But he never asks the far more important - and Marxian - question: WHY does the market keep spilling over into these previously secluded aspects of our lives? If he’d make his way around to Vol I, he might get some answers to the more important question.

Tony's question has really intrigued me. Will you be using all primary sources or secondary as well?

Unknown said...

I have been following the debate here about your proposed podcasts with interest. I, for one, hope they do come to fruition because I would certainly be amongst the first to enrol…

On the subject of MOOC’s, however, they may have more significance than you perhaps realise. I started my career as a teacher and have been a trainer for most of my working life. I am also a self-confessed technophile. A few years ago I ‘googled’ the terms ‘disruptive technology’ and ‘training’ and was surprised that ‘free training’ came high on the list of results.

Why I should be surprised, I don’t know. After all, free on-line training has all the characteristics of a ‘disruptive’ technology as defined by Professor Christenson in his original seminal paper on the subject. Wikipedia defines the term ‘disruptive innovation’ (the modified term Christensen later introduced) as:
“An innovation that creates a new market by applying a different set of values, which ultimately (and unexpectedly) overtakes an existing market.”

Christensen also pointed out that leaders in the existing market often dismiss the innovative challenger as inferior technology, believing that their superior (but higher cost) solution will endure. Although MOOC’s have been embraced by leading universities (like Harvard) these institutions have been somewhat selective in their interpretation of the concept. ‘Massive’ and ‘open’ implies an element of sharing i.e. many institutions (rather than a select few) contribute to a growing library of knowledge and education. It is no coincidence that some universities are now referring to their initiatives as OOC’s rather than MOOC’s

I realise that ‘open’ doesn’t mean ‘free’. But many of the on-line courses offered by Harvard and others are free – but they are primarily motivated by a desire to publicise and promote the institution that posted them. A sort of ‘free sample’ before you buy (a concept used extensively by marketers when promoting soap powder some years ago).

A colleague asked me yesterday “Why would anyone offer training for free – what’s the catch?” I manfully refrained from referring him to your blog on Tuesday where you mention O'Connor’s “Fiscal Crisis of the State” and, instead, offered a simpler set of reasons (a) promotion of the institution (b) promotion of the individual (c) revenues from advertising (which means your training will be interrupted by messages from the sponsor) and (d) government intervention.

The first three reasons were fine – my colleague understood. But (d) got me into a lot of trouble and I wished I had simply referred him to your blog!
The point is, if you are an emerging economy with a massive unskilled, poorly educated but aspirational workforce, then MOOCS make enormous sense. With very little expenditure, governments can provide large scale up-skilling opportunities. You only need to glance at what universities and colleges are doing in the Far East to realise the difference in approach.

Surely, this is good and laudable… Yes, but there’s a darker side. MOOCs can also be used to deliver different forms of ‘social’ or 'cultural’ education and training and this is fraught with danger. Maybe, some of our leading educational institutions in the West need to think a little more about the socio-economic implications of on-line digital education and a little less about what it looks like on the screen or the quality of the sound?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

John [if I may], this is really interesting, and a subject about which I know virtually nothing. Would you want to do a guest essay about it for this blog? I would love to have some statistics on how big a phenomenon this is, how many people watch, and all that, as well as your thoughts about its significance.

Unknown said...

Professor Wolff - I would be honoured to offer an essay for this blog on the wider implications of digital, on-line education (of which MOOC's are only one part). I only hope I can offer some insights.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

By all means. Send it to me as an email attachment [better as a WORD file than as a .pdf file].