Miss (Lazy) Piggy

The fifth chapter reading from my Blendkit2014 class discusses “hallmarks of quality” in online and blended courses.

Basically, there’s no One Size Fits Most quality control model for blended classes because standards vary from course to course, semester to semester, student to student. Essentially, if some grand set of standards were created, by the following semester they would be obsolete for various reasons, among them the evolution of the technology used to facilitate learning.

What the chapter argues most strongly for is communication between faculty members about best practices.  The chapter notes course instructors should “solicit peer review of specific resources, activities, or assessment strategies” in order to improve. Communicating with my colleagues about what works and what falls short is something I started doing when I began to teach over a decade ago. I did it because I felt inferior. Because I hadn't spent nearly a decade student teaching before I got my first tenure-track position. Because I didn't spend nine years on a PhD. I student taught for one year. And I didn't have to take the ubiquitous "This is How You Need to Teach" graduate course in order to teach. How I got so lucky, I have no idea. But this bit of luck left me feeling like I was swinging for the fences without knowing exactly where The Green Monster was located.

So I’m all for sharing. What I hate is when we share, and I change, but everyone else goes right on doing the same ole thing.

Case in point: Miss Piggy—a former colleague who, though she was thin as a rail, looked so much like the Muppet that I couldn’t stand to make eye contact with her, lest I inquire about her lopsided relationship with Kermit.

Miss Piggy’s favorite pastime was to complain about an ethnography project she assigned to her freshmen writing students. She made the information about the assignment—lecture, PowerPoints, examples, links—available for students through the online platform used by the College. Yet every semester she would give that high-pitched "hurm" and complain her students “just didn’t get it.”

After three years of her bitching and moaning—which inevitably found me cornered in a stairwell while she gesticulated and huffed—I  finally asked if she wanted me to review the directions for the assignment and help her identify any shortcomings.
She gave me that famous Miss Piggy scowl. And said, “Why do students need directions?”

No joke.

I modified my question and framed it ineloquently while using the phrase “guidelines by which to complete the research and writing.”

The scowl remained, this time coupled with the downward nose-bend. “If I tell them what to do, I’ll be doing the work for them,” she finally said.

It was hard to take Miss Piggy seriously.

Especially when she was out of touch with quality control in her pedagogy.  She deemed even the mention of explaining an outcome, goal, or expectation beneath her.

Miss Piggy is not alone. There are hundreds of instructors on University, College, and CC campuses that feel like students should “just know.” They should “just know” how to navigate an online platform. They should “just know” good writing from bad. They should “just know” that the liver is not an organ in the neck.

I wonder where all of this “just knowing” should come from.

Chapter Five asserts “it is the lived experiences of the students and teachers, their actual interactions, in which teaching and learning are made manifest.” If this is the case—and I believe it is—Miss Piggy and her fellow players need to, as Grandma would say, “Git down offa their high horses.” The students, though they may be incapable of whipping up an ethnography of their own extended family, are sometimes the best teachers a professional educator can have (and so says the chapter). They adapt to technology more quickly than those of us who remember our first typewriters with near-sexual fondness. They were born into a world of .com, and are capable of using tools older instructors find frustrating. Instead of seeing them as peons who benefit only from expostulations from the mouth of a Muppet pig, perhaps they should be seen as potential equals who need a little guidance. Otherwise, when we forget to open a drop box or close a unit prematurely, we might find them looking at us and saying, “You’re the one implementing the technology, so shouldn’t you know how to do this?”

People—professionals and novices—learn through experience. We internalize what we’ve learned and we change things (hopefully for the better). If those things fail, we try something else. We don’t continue to use a failed model and expect a different result each time. That’s insanity.

But to admit that what we’re doing is failing, or falling short of “good” teaching, is perhaps difficult for Miss Piggy and the other Muppets, perhaps because they’ve reached a point in their teaching careers that to admit failure is to admit they really hate what they do. And that admission is scary because then the students may not be—gasp!—as stupid as Miss Piggy wants us to believe.

Miss Piggy's ethnography assignment made me panic over ponder the quality of education her freshmen were getting in comparison to my own students. She had spent years on her dissertation, had been a student teacher for longer than I was in graduate school, and used the word "pedagogy" before I even knew I had one. Clearly, she was better/smarter than I was when it came to handling students. Chapter Five says comparison is a natural instinct, that “there is likely always to be some degree of comparison since it seems that there is always someone concerned with whether this course is ‘good enough’.” Though this phrase seems to imply there is little validity in panic comparing and making judgments of quality, I know bullshit when I see it.

And what I saw was one lazy Miss Piggy.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, one of Clayton's favorite ideas: "We don’t continue to use a failed model and expect a different result each time. That’s insanity."
    I suspect you approach things with a more open mind than Ms. Piggy! :-)