Last week we heard that Harvard University is recruiting alumni of a popular humanities course (The Ancient Greek Hero) to serve as volunteer mentors and discussion leaders for the MOOC-scale, online version of the class. No sooner had the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on this than a disillusioned reader commented,
Sure, we won't actually compensate you helping supervise this BS "class", but think of it as "service" to your alma mater.
Good grief... this is truly scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Another sarcastic and bitter soul opined,
Good news for adjuncts who thought they were at the bottom of the academic barrel! Harvard has come up with an even lower category.
I'll assume for the moment that Harvard isn't proposing the alumni component as a way to further demean adjuncts, nor to trick alumni into doing something they ought not to. So then a question worth asking is why would Harvard ask alumni to serve in this capacity? Who benefits, and how?
[Why ask alumni to serve in this capacity? Who benefits, and how?]
A few reasons come to mind...
It makes the online course more functional
Content facilitators can make any course more functional, especially a humanities course where the educational currency is discussion. And it's even more true in a course with 27,000 enrolled students (as reported by the New York Times).
It connects alumni to students and to each other through volunteerism
This is volunteerism on mutual terms. Instead of just saying "you need to help us because we don't have enough staff," they're saying, "you can put your education to work in a new way."
It may attract alumni who wouldn't volunteer in other ways
Many alumni are uninterested in socializing at mixers, or attending weeknight talks about the capital campaign. Many alumni are interested in the classics, in literature, and in the humanities. For them, this is a unique way to exercise that interest.
It adds to degree equity indirectly
If my alma mater runs open courses and those courses have high quality instruction, the quality of my own degree is maintained or even slightly increased as a result.
[Compared with handing out name tags...
this is directly connected to the graduate's educational experience]
It can connect volunteers more deeply than a generic activity can
This is a role that not just any graduate can fulfill effectively. Compared with handing out name tags, staffing the registration table, or setting up chairs and tables, this is directly connected to the graduate's educational experience.
It incorporates the academic and teaching mission of the institution
It goes beyond professional needs of alumni, and beyond the fundraising needs of the institution.
It reflects something unique to the institution
You can't take this particular class just anywhere, and you can't take it online from anyplace else. At least, not yet.
Agree or disagree? Did I leave something out? Is there a downside to this effort? Would it work in face to face classrooms, as well as online?
Leave a comment...