I thought I’d introduce myself for anyone reading this blog. For thirty years I worked as a professor at a small liberal arts college before retiring and stepping away to look at where the profession was going. The press of everyday battle, the pull of responsibilities and the inside perspective limit if not condition one’s view of the whole enterprise.  Occasionally one needs to step out of the river in order to see it. I was particularly concerned with two things: the educational “crisis” and digital tools for education.  The crisis in public education is leaving some (usually the poor) with a limited education and view of the world, while offering critical thinking, skills, and training to the wealthy and the poor who have managed to succeed in the crappy educational system . Of course not all those eligible take advantage of the opportunities offered to them and the presentation of those opportunities is not always as well done as it should be. Nevertheless I was coming to see that we were offering a “tracked” educational system of which I was seeing only those tracked for the management or skilled class. My college was well endowed and highly selective. Most of the students were in fact very good and colleagues from other institutions remarked about how much better these students were in effort, skills, interest and seriousness. The school was both rich enough and socially conscious enough to try through financial aid to recruit students from working class families who would be the first in their family to go to college.  It went out of its way to recruit a multicultural student body.  Faculty watched closely to make sure that there were a mixture of students, rich and poor, white and non-white, straight and gay, domestic and foreign in the student body so that there would be diversity in their classes. Many colleagues envied my chance to teach such students and still cannot understand why I took early retirement  from what they saw as “an educational Eden.”

The second thing that interested me was the availability of new digital tools to use in education. Could these tools help with the “crisis” in education? How should these new tools change the way we teach or our pedagogical goals and methods? My school was wealthy enough to afford pretty serious information technology even if it is too small to be on the cutting edge.  It is also very, very “traditional” so that it was using these new tools in ways that only tangentially assisted their old pedagogical ways. The faculty at my school (with a few notable exceptions) were not interested in rethinking their ways of teaching nor in acknowledging the changes in thinking brought about the “digital natives” who now populated their classrooms. A radical rethinking of what they were doing threatened to upset “Eden” and to render obsolete the skills they had so carefully honed. To put it bluntly there was no incentive to change things because they were well satisfied in how things were going. If I was to learn new ways to use these tools I had to look elsewhere.

Over the years I have been on admissions committees, search committees, tenure committees, department committees, program committees, financial committees (in good times and bad), strategic planning committees, oversight committees,  curriculum and educational policy committees, diversity committees,  job classification committees, and senior management committees. I even invented committees to be on. Not only have I been a scholar and a teacher, untenured and tenured; I have also been a dean in student affairs, a dean in academic/faculty affairs, a department chair, director of an interdisciplinary program, director of a study abroad program, and director of two grant programs. I have taught large lecture courses, small seminars, discussion sections, and team taught in 2, 4 and even 8 faculty arrangements. True this has been in only one type of college, the small liberal arts college rather than the large research university, but within that college I have had a wide range of experiences.

This blog will be an opportunity to muse and think out loud about the potential and actual use of digital education as seen from the perspective of one who has looked at the college educational enterprise over time and from many perspectives. One of those perspectives is that of minority scholar and teacher. I have found that too often in academia that perspective is missing particularly in situations that are not judged as minority concerns. When it is taken into consideration it is assumed that there is only one minority perspective rather than that myriad actually found among different minority individuals and ethnic groups. Nevertheless the effect of some mainstream policy or in this case digital tools on minority student populations is not taken into account when decisions are made. Some may consider it “racist” to do so, but this is of course nonsense. The recognition of racial differences when they actually occur needs to be taken into account whether they are physical or social.  For example doctors now acknowledge that drugs may affect people of different racial types differently.  Imputing racial differences when there are none may indeed be racist and does not take into account the wide diversity within racial groups.  Indeed many of the so-called racial differences are class differences based on the relationships between race and class in our society. Asking whether there will be differential effects of a policy along race, class or even gender lines is not racism but careful planning. In this blog I will include topics that interest me as an African American and questions that should be asked by policy planners even though race is the “third rail” of our society.

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