A Woman, Thinking

I'm a commodity, are you?

Words on WordsPoppy LochridgeComment

This week’s question didn’t lend itself to a full essay very well - it was all subjective experience, and I don’t think I’ll share it with the fictional people that I imagine will stumble across my blog any day and start reading what I have to say (in this regard, wordpress blog stats are horribly depressing.) Instead, I’ve been reading the class discussion forums, specifically, some of the complaints that people have about the class. One common complaint is that many people misunderstood the nature and purpose of the class. It’s called “Listening to World Music”, and the misunderstanding has prompted comments like these.

“This is a very boring format and a very boring class. There is no music and the lecture is dominated by a power point. There is a lot of intellectualism and no heart or feeling.”

“I think the course is going "off-topic".. I really enjoy to listen to completely new kind of music/sound but I'm finding difficulties with the assignments. I'd like to write about music not about profits, royalties, zoos, unesco, freeculturemovement.”

I’m finding this entitlement hard to fathom, honestly. I can understand not understanding the intention of a class when you sign up for it - I once took, on a friend’s recommendation, the lowest level Computer Science class I could find, which turned out to be “Introduction to Programming” when I had intended to take “Introduction to plugging in a keyboard and playing solitaire.” With this class, too, I was surprised when I got into the questions for the weekly written assignment and found that it was more academically rigorous than I had anticipated. However, my reaction and the reaction of several of my classmates differed, and that’s what strikes me as interesting. Where I shrugged, said, “Oh, ok”, and changed my understanding of what the class was about to something a little more accurately reflective of the actual class, several of the comments in the forums have been targeted at the professor and teaching assistants for the course, informing (!) them that they are teaching the class incorrectly, and kindly offering some helpful “fixes”.

Oddly enough, it’s making me think back over You are not a Gadget, by Jaron Lanier, which I’ve read recently. Lanier says

The combination of hive mind and advertising has resulted in a new kind of social contract. The basic idea of this contract is that authors, journalists, musicians, and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.

By offering the course for free, Coursera and the University of Pennsylvania have enabled many people like me to rehearse rusty critical thinking skills and to learn something new - but they’ve also fed into the “cybernetic totalist” idea that all content online must be free, and that draws out people who believe that because the content is free, each person involved as a consumer has as much to say over what the content should be as the creators of that content. In a very Marxist sort of “we the masses demand” way.

And of course, this ties into the commoditization of education, an area which was well addressed in The Hedgehog Review’s Spring 2012 edition, and which does not need to be repeated at length here.

The students measure what they are getting for the dollars they expend on tuition, fees, and room and board, wondering whether their degree will enable them to get a job.