“I always feel like somebody’s watching me.”

My old friend Historiann has a post up today that really deserves every professor’s attention. The subject is a new-fangled productivity measuring tool now being implemented at Baa Ram U.:

This fabulous new system is called Digital Measures, and as it’s being implemented at Baa Ram U., it relies on faculty to dis-aggregate the information we have on our CVs and in our annual evaluations and enter it into 300 or more little boxes organized into 15 or 20 different categories. (And believe me, the web page looks just as inviting as that chore sounds.) Each little box must be clicked on separately and have information typed or cut-and-pasted into it. Seriously!

Historiann covers all the obvious problems with this for us historians: the fact that books take MUCH longer than articles to write but count the same, that when we do write articles we generally write our articles alone and that we often have to travel long distances to accumulate the information we need to write anything at all. I might have also have thrown in the Schuman-esque, impossible-to-forget-once-you-read-it information that as many as 50% of academic articles only have three readers: You, your editor and the outside reviewer.

But I don’t want to go there, and that’s not really the main point of Historiann’s post either. The title of her post is, “Who do faculty work for?,” so I think the point of her post is here:

I’m sure like me you can see the advantage of this system for administrators. “Let’s see which colleges and departments are publishing more articles? I’ll just push this button and generate this cross-tab, and voilá!” (In fact, we were told by a colleague in the know that the reason Baa Ram U. bought this garbageware is because the president of our institution didn’t know how many articles each department had published in a given year.)

The garbageware’s web site says it “transforms the way you leverage your faculty’s activities and accomplishments,” but of course it can also do the exact opposite – reveal the identities of faculty members who aren’t performing up to quota. “I’m sorry, Bob. You haven’t produced enough articles this week so we’re going to have to let you go.”

To put it another way, yearly productivity reports aren’t good enough for Baa Ram U. anymore. They want their productivity reports in real time. The machinists at the Watertown Arsenal rebelled for precisely this reason. Will faculty put up with this same kind of surveillance?

Unfortunately, another post I first saw today – this one from my friends at e-Literate – suggests that they probably will. This is Michael Feldstein:

Most faculty that we speak to these days take the LMS for granted and, while they will often grumble about some aspect that they are unhappy with, more and more of them are making significant use of the platform—more than just posting a syllabus and some announcements. More of them will use adjectives like “useful,” unprompted, when talking about their particular LMS. I even heard one faculty member describe his school’s particular LMS as “humane” recently.

As a recent convert to Indie Edtech, I can’t tell you how sad this makes me. For the sake of convenience, faculty interested in using online tools for whatever kinds of classes they happen to teach have accepted a system created by private corporations, promoted by administrations eager to measure the productivity of individual professors even though there is an open, largely free Internet out there that anyone can adapt to their own needs just as easily as they can learn the ins and outs of any particular learning management system. And best of all, you can do it away from the prying eyes of your employer.

No this is not a license for anarchy. As Historiann, puts it:

I have a rule when it comes to any technology or software: it works for me, I don’t work for it. End of story.

And if it works well for you, then you’ll be doing your job just fine – whether or not you have the article citations to prove it. That’s all the watching that the vast majority of faculty require. Turning our classrooms and offices into electronic sweatshops won’t change that fact one bit.

Jonathan Rees

Professor of History, Colorado State University - Pueblo.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Historiann

    Hey, thanks for the links and the signal boost!

    I should write a post about how I and my students in two classes have agreed to go entirely “off the grid.” I’m sick of them giving away their intellectual capital for free to (pretty crummy) anti-plagiarism software, and email and e-reserves on the library website seem to work just fine in terms of communicating with them & sharing articles & book chapters with them.

    Some of the students were a little nervous about not having real-time information about their current grades, but I never put grades on Canvas or RamCT anyway. I wonder what they’ll say at the end of the term? I think they’ve kind of enjoyed having a proffie who’s taking them seriously as writers & not just policing their writing for plagiarism. (And I’m teaching 2 upper-div courses, in which I have always done all my own grading and in which I’ve only once caught a plagiarist, and that was before I had even heard of LMS.)

    1. Jonathan Rees


      The problem with going entirely “off the grid” is that you miss some really cool stuff. Remember when some of us were desperately trying to get you onto this new-fangled social network called Twitter? How did that turn out?

      That’s why I like your rule about new software so much. It’s a good rule of thumb for dividing the good from the evil.

  2. Historiann

    p.s. I was tempted to use this video clip in the post and in the headline, but I thought it might be too vulgar:

  3. midprof

    “…yearly productivity reports aren’t good enough for Baa Ram U. anymore. They want their productivity reports in real time.” they don’t want your report on your productivity, they want *their* report on your productivity; there is a big difference. In the new scenario, they design a box for things that count, and they measure the boxes they please. A cv is a narrative, but there’s no interest in narratives: no more admini-hours wasted wading through your lengthy cv full of service to your field, etc. Historiann asked how the tool helps faculty and, of course, it’s not meant to. We aren’t to be helped, anymore, not by secretaries or administrative staff or appropriate IT staff or anyone else: rather we are to be tested, measured, controlled.
    re the lms gradebook: interesting piece in the Atlantic about how awful gradebooks are, certainly rings true in my family http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/03/how-online-gradebooks-are-changing-education/473175/

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