After reading a chapter of Marc Bosquet’s How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation entitled The Informal Economy of the “Information University”, I began to ponder a claim made by Bosquet in which he states, “This substitution [of education for information delivery] has been accomplished by transformation of the academic workplace, not stringing optic cable.” And, I tend to agree with him.
I can’t claim to know what it’s like to be employed as an instructor at a university, or what workplace factors influence the quality of their work. However, as a current student of a large public university, and a graduate of a smaller technical college, I can say that the substitution of education for information delivery is not entirely the fault of information technology. My reason for saying that is that I don’t believe information technology has involuntarily replaced or disenfranchised the college instructor. If anything, it’s provided a way for instructors to more easily perform their work and has given students a powerful tool to assist them in nearly every aspect of their academic lives. Instead, I believe this substitution has actually taken place voluntarily.
Many instructors view information technology as a “disruptive technology” that threatens their profession, however, I believe their blame is misplaced. Nearly all of my instructors at Clemson, with a few exceptions, have deliberately replaced their insight and expertise with PowerPoint presentations and PDFs that are not their own. And what’s worse, most of their lectures consist of them simply reading these downloaded documents word for word and nothing else. Homework and test questions have suffered a similar fate. Instead of creating tailor-made homework and test questions, pre-made questions are simply copied, pasted, printed, and dispersed. Instructors refuse to even grade assignments anymore. Short answer and essay questions have been replaced by true or false and multiple choice questions so a program can perform the task of grading. No one is making these instructors do this, but its now become a regular occurrence. Why is this? Do instructors feel that they’re underpaid and that this minimum job performance is all that their wage or salary is worth? Is there an absence of accountability and instructors are just taking advantage of the situation? Or, is there something else to blame. If information technology really was disruptive to the teaching profession, shouldn’t instructors feel the need to prove their worth by offering a better education than what an Internet search browser can provide? Taking into account the amount it costs for a student to attend their lectures, coupled with the university’s claim that education is their top priority, you’d think they’d feel more obligated to give students their money’s worth and at least make some effort towards confirming the university’s claim.
If instructors rely solely on the Internet for their course content, then there isn’t a reason that they couldn’t easily be replaced by a computer. But, if they offer a quality education to their students, one that focuses on engaging students in a way that no computer could outright replace, there would be no need for them to fear for their jobs. Instructors need to view information technology as a streamlined vessel for the knowledge they have to offer, not a cheap and easy replacement that offers a way to receive a paycheck with minimum effort.