Join 3,439 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Great idea for a course--horribly misdirected.
September 23, 2009 10:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm taking an innovative course on using technology for humanitarian causes, taught by a professor I really like. But it's awful! How can I tell him what I think, and/or turn this disaster of a course into something worthwhile?

My hopes were high at first, because I was really excited about the topic: I wanted to learn how to use my technical skills to do something good for people, instead of just to make money. I'm hoping to find a job in my field that does some kind of good, since I'm not sure I could stand it otherwise.

But the course turned out to be very different: it seems to be entirely about giving people computers. Dumping gadgets on people is of questionable long-term value, and, most importantly, it doesn't teach us students anything about how to use our skills--which are not about donating technology but about making it--to make the world better place. We read case studies of projects that gave people technology, and we're installing a computer lab made from donated computers in a local public housing project. While this kind of community-service might help some people in the short term, it sure isn't teaching us any new technical skills or any ways to use our existing skills to help people in the future.

I don't think using technical knowledge for the common good is an unreasonable idea. Engineers Without Borders does it all the time; so does the Humanitarian FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software) Project. And, given that we're adept at crunching numbers and have a GIS expert on hand, I'm sure there's a lot of climate- and environment-related stuff we could work on as well. All great things, but not what we're doing in this class.

The course is small and somewhat student-directed, so I may be able to push the class (or my own work in it) more toward something I could actually learn from. But I have to do this very carefully, for two reasons. First, our class is effectively committed to the housing project's computer lab, so any additional projects or "field work" we take on has to be in addition to our work on that (in other words, at least some of us have to continue the work on that and probably most will). Second, I don't want to seem oppositional or offensive, because I really like the professor--he's a fascinating person and one of the best teachers I've had--and I want him to like me too.

How should I express my doubts about the course, and how might I try to shift the focus more toward material from which I might actually learn something?
posted by anonymous to Education (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
If he's as good a teacher as you seem to think he is, I imagine he'd be open to your ideas. Perhaps he'd be less likely to take it confrontationally if you discussed in private during office hours.
posted by GPF at 10:28 PM on September 23, 2009


How should I express my doubts about the course, and how might I try to shift the focus more toward material from which I might actually learn something?

Maybe approach the issue as if you are the student and he is the teacher and ask him to help you to understand a) why this is what he is teaching you, and b) the basis for it in light of what you currently think is more accurate than what he is teaching. It's not that I don't think you're absolutely right about the actual issue. But the best way to make sure course goes horribly is to approach it believing (even correctly) that you know better than the professor does.
posted by The World Famous at 10:33 PM on September 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Good advice, The World Famous. I do have a little bit of that attitude (and I want to avoid showing it). However, my main problem is not that I think he's wrong about any particular issue, but that I wish we were focusing on a different topic.

I should add: part of the problem is that the other students don't seem to mind this nearly as much as I do. If all of us agreed, it would not be such a problem to complain, but I seem to be in the minority. (Obviously I would talk to the professor during office hours.) But I have not surveyed the other students extensively.

The other problem is that, while I know what I don't like, I'm not sure what I want to do instead. If I complain, I'll probably be asked that, but I don't have enough background knowledge to specify the particular topics I would prefer.
posted by k. at 10:43 PM on September 23, 2009


I think you basically know what it is you need to talk to the professor about, but you just need to force yourself to change your mindset from "complaining" to discussing the course's direction with the professor, expressing your interest in what you are interested in, and asking whether the course will cover that.
posted by The World Famous at 10:45 PM on September 23, 2009


If he's as good a teacher as you seem to think he is, I imagine he'd be open to your ideas.

This.

Your professor has probably spent a lot of time thinking through logistical and philosophical issues surrounding the project. Academics are paid to think through all the consequences of something and what can look like lassitude or lack of creativity to the outsider is often the result of a long-term, incremental approach to problem solving and the accumulated wisdom of an intensive training and apprenticeship.

You have a good idea and if he's a good teacher, he'll want to help you develop that good idea into something useful and interesting. The way to make this happen is to temper your enthusiasm with respect for his experience. Ask the hardest questions you can about why he's doing things the way he is, and if you can build up a good rapport, you'll get equally hard questions fired back at you to temper your own idea.

This is the best outcome you could hope for. The world is full of dull folk who will fall all over themselves to tell you how smart you are. But finding people who can pierce through your veil of bullshit and actually make you smarter is a rarer thing. If you have the beginnings of such a relationship in front of you, then I counsel you to look beyond this one good idea in order to let him teach you how to develop a lifetime's worth of better ideas.
posted by felix betachat at 10:55 PM on September 23, 2009


What if you don't complain, but you do ask your instructor how the class will be addressing critiques of and alternatives to the current approach (or how you can address them in your own work)? A good class should enable students to cover as many angles on the subject as possible, so your professor hopefully would encourage your interest in different but related areas. The trade-off may be that you have to maintain a certain grounding in the class material that you're less interested in, but there should be routes into work that's more interesting to you.
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:00 PM on September 23, 2009


I suppose the main problem is I can't propose a change of focus to specific topics, since I don't know what those are yet. Looking solely for an opportunity to apply technical skills, rather than starting with a real-world problem in mind, is rightly regarded as the wrong approach to humanitarian technology (for example, consider One Laptop Per Child), but that's exactly what I'm doing. So it seems that I need to come with ideas already in mind--it would be great if I already had one! Should I try some last-minute haphazard research to generate ideas? Or find a better-sounding way to say that I really do want an excuse to apply technical knowledge?

felix betachat, people like that are extremely rare. I have met maybe one of them in my life.

EvaDestruction, yes, I suppose that diverging from the main focus of the class is an option, but (In the extreme case) that means I could end up doing two classes' worth of work and still not learning much from half of it. Plus I would like to drag other students along with me.
posted by k. at 11:08 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


More information would be useful:

- How far along in the term are you?
- Is this a new class for the professor, or one he has taught many times?
- Do your classmates share any of your frustrations?

Based on what you've said, I don't think you should express your doubts. I'd keep my head down and get through it. I suspect there is more to lose than to gain by meeting with your professor about changing the overall direction of the course.

If you are interested in more technical stuff, meet with him in his office hours to talk about some specific questions or thoughts you've got. Ask if he could address some things of particular interest to you in class.

Just my advice. I sat through many courses I disliked as an undergrad and never made any noise about it, maybe making noise would have improved things...
posted by pseudonick at 11:22 PM on September 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


You have research interests. Go talk to your prof in scheduled office hours, or make an appointment. (Do not be intimidated by this. Profs enjoy talking to interested students. This is a routine thing for him, not a weird thing.)

Tell him you're excited about topics x, y, z (which the course doesn't cover, but which you think are relevant). Talk about how you're interested in doing research on those topics. Do you have a research paper or presentation you need to do for the course? Tell him you want to do your paper on one of the topics you mention.

Do a little reading up ahead of time, just so that you have your details straight, and have some sense of what you could write on. Ask what he thinks of your topic, what resources he knows of about this topic, etc. Who knows, this could grow into a longer-term research project you do on the side with him.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:29 PM on September 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


To clarify: the best approach is not "I don't like the way you're teaching the course". Instead it's "I have these interests, is there a way we can come to an agreement where I get to pursue these interests during the course?" This can be you doing your own paper/presentation on your interests, or it can be him saying "oh, sounds cool, we can shift the last few weeks of the syllabus around to include those". Changing the syllabus at the last minute is easy for some profs/courses, hard or impossible for others, so don't expect that's something he will definitely be able to do. But letting you work on a topic you're interested in, that's something he should be able to do (or give you reasons why it won't work etc).
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:34 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


pseudonick:
It started at the beginning of this month, and ends in December (but the ongoing community-service-project aspect might continue for longer).
Definitely a new class, and so kind of experimental. That's why I didn't know what it would be about when I started.
It seems like they don't, or at least not very much. I will have to ask some more.
posted by k. at 11:34 PM on September 23, 2009


(Depending on what he says, you could also possibly write on the debate over what's the right way to approach humanitarian technology, citing the downsides that people on either side point to, working through some case studies of success and failure, and making your case that your way is a good worthwhile way.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:36 PM on September 23, 2009


LobsterMitten, are you saying I must somehow really have research interests, or that I need to find some? I don't think I know enough to determine what would be reasonable ones.
posted by k. at 11:39 PM on September 23, 2009


I was saying, the way to approach this conversation with him is "I have an interest in researching topics x, y, z" rather than "I don't like topics a, b, c".

You're starting to lay out, in this thread, some of what you are interested in. Good. Think more about it, what are the kinds of things you want a course like this to do? What are the things you want to learn about? Those are, for now, your research interests. You're looking to do some research on them.

It sounds like you're interested in issues about designing or engineering for humanitarian projects. So do you want the course to discuss:
-how to get funding for such a project?
-how to work with a nonprofit?
-how to work in a third world or war-torn country without standard equipment?
-what kinds of needs exist?
-what are some standard solutions to those needs that are currently in use?
-how to assess the needs of a given group?
-how to work over time with a group of people who aren't like you, developing specs for a project that will help them solve a problem, making it technology that they can realistically use and repair without outside support?
-common pitfalls when designing for humanitarian projects?

Which area of technology are you interested in...
-communications, radio, phone?
-internet and computers?
-water purification?
-sewage treatment?
-basic medical?
-post-disaster shelters?

etc... I'm just spitballing here, but you want to think about what questions like this you are interested in. Go to him with some more concrete thoughts about what your research interests are, and you'll have a good discussion and probably come away with some more satisfying result than you have now.

(I wonder if the "install computers for the housing project" is a way of learning how to work with your clients, given cultural divides, lack of supplies, the constraints of needing it to be low-maintenance, etc.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:52 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would be interested if you went beyond the class and put your ideas about what you want to learn somewhere (here, even?) I do some work in this area as well, and yes the prevailing mindset is hardware donation in a lot of places. Are you learning about telecentres? They are a major part of this. But sometimes hardware can be done right - and this is where a lot of the funding is so it is important to cover this topic.

But I sympathise with your interest in learning more than this. If you want to do some research on your own to bring to your professor, look into groups like MobileActive.

LobsterMitten: I think if the OP wrote that they'd be in for a thesis. It's a massive topic.

I think the approaches suggested by most above to inquire about what you'll be covering for the rest of the course are good, if there is something you are passionate about maybe gently suggest it.
posted by wingless_angel at 11:54 PM on September 23, 2009


LobsterMitten: I think if the OP wrote that they'd be in for a thesis. It's a massive topic.

Absolutely a massive topic. But it's possible to write interesting papers at the undergrad level about massive topics, they're just not as complete as they would be if they were upper-level papers. I have students write on questions like "is there free will?" and "what are conscious experiences?", for pete's sake. It's a matter of setting the parameters up in a manageable way, which the prof can presumably help with.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:00 AM on September 24, 2009


Dumping gadgets on people is of questionable long-term value, and, most importantly, it doesn't teach us students anything about how to use our skills--which are not about donating technology but about making it--to make the world better place.

Offer to be a sort of free teaching assistant for this course, but try to arrange so that you'll add to (not derail) what he does. What are some real-world activities you could coordinate that would build on what he teaches and make use of and expand your technical skills?

Could you come up with ways to use your hardware or software skills in that public lab? Will the stuff be battered and stolen as a part of normal use? Then figure out how to harden workstations and track stolen stuff. Do you know what average users want to do in the lab? Can you figure out low-cost ways to provide that stuff (certain software or hardware?) and show them how to use it? How do you make a workstation useful to a grandmother who has never touched a PC? Can you run field trials with real grandmothers?

Or, for "an innovative course on using technology for humanitarian causes," can you go into an abandoned building with a truckload of stuff and set up a working computer lab straight out of the box for use in disaster recovery coordination? Can you get it all up and running and connected to the outside world without restoring public electricity or telephone or water supplies to the building? Is all of the software (what software? why? who needs what?) installed and ready to go? Do people know how to use it? What happens if things get a little wet or dirty? Can you have a field exercise to test your plans? Can non-experts take your network-in-a-box out of the box, read the two pages of instructions, and make it work?
posted by pracowity at 12:47 AM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


It sounds like it's not the topic for this course (which is about using technology in the physical sense, not about applying technological skills - although I imagine you could easily use the same course title for either, unfortunately). But that is in no way an obstacle to your approaching him during office hours and asking for ideas about the thing you're curious about. You can also challenge his ideas, although again it's better to start this outside of class than in it - you have some good kernels of thought in your post above. For example, you talk about the problems with just dropping stuff on people - you could easily bring this up with him outside of class and either talk about how to address it in class, find out if he has plans to address it, work with him to find other useful resources to talk about it, etc.
posted by Lady Li at 12:58 AM on September 24, 2009


I think the conversation you have with your professor is going to be a milestone in your academic career.

You will realize that you are just a student, and they in a space beyond you.

If I'm wrong...please tell me the institution you are at, as I will we enrolling immediately.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:01 AM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


See the thing is, I can imagine scenarios in which the course is reasonable and not horribly misdirected. Computer distribution = bridging the digital divide = using technology for humanitarian causes. I happen to know that EWB does at times undertake precisely this type of project. Transferring goods to developing countries (or locally, I suppose) is a surprisingly nuanced problem -- for example, what do you do with the goods once they eventually break and there is no local recycling infrastructure; are there unexpected social or cultural barriers that might sink the project; how do you maximize the chance that the recipients will take over administration once the project is over; etc etc.

Perhaps the source of your irritation is that (as I understand it) this is a course about the digital divide, which involves technology as the content of the problem but not the methods for solving it. A parallel course on distributing clean stoves and fuels to developing countries might by analogy be called "using stoves for humanitarian causes". If it was offered in stove-making school to a bunch of stove designers they might be a little befuddled to find themselves handing out stoves.

But where to go from here? I have a really hard time imagining a course that deals with technology and humanitarian causes in a general way. In order to impart useful content it has to be anchored within the context of a specific humanitarian problem; otherwise the sheer breadth of material necessitates a very wide and very shallow survey course. Every humanitarian cause could benefit from technology; water infrastructure needs better pumps and monitoring; power grids need to be more robust and allow for small-scale generation; disaster relief needs better logistical co-ordination; the poor who cook with biomass need better stoves and access to better fuels; let's not even get into the heavy models and GIS work that goes into climate science, or energy forecasting, or epidemiology, and so on.

Nevertheless, there are some commonalities to all these problems, and that is generally that they involve the intersection of technology with what you might call "the real world", where people's values and behaviors matter and you cannot reduce everything to data and graphs. This is where the real fertile ground is and if you want to find yourself "doing good", this is where you will be working. My advice is to try to see the positives in the practical work you will be doing. Try to think critically about the project -- why is it being undertaken, what is the root problem it is attempting to solve, what alternatives could the class have done instead to solve the same problem, how will you know it has been successful -- and try to encourage similar thinking among your classmates.

Let me mention one more thing.
Dumping gadgets on people is of questionable long-term value
This sounds like a fantastic topic to be explored as a term paper, or even a master's thesis, or hell even a doctorate depending on how far you want to take it. If you want to have an interesting conversation with your professor, go digging through Google Scholar and see if you can figure out where the academics stand on this issue.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:07 AM on September 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


we're installing a computer lab made from donated computers in a local public housing project

What does this project involve? Who's overseeing the lab once it's set up and what will happen to it once the class is over? Are the users taught to handle repairs so that the lab can be self-sustaining? What software is installed? Does the class have expectations for how the lab will be used, and are there plans to examine the actual usage in some way? Are any classes going to be offered, whether on basic computer use or on what lab users can do with the machines to help themselves, their society, or their environment? Are there plans to train users as teachers? Has there been much dialogue with the people who will be using the lab, and does the design of the lab and of any services dovetail with what they need and want?

I ask because it seems like this sort of lab could be a starting point for a good deal of interesting work; if you can think of an interest that could include the lab in some way, that might be a good angle to approach discussion with your professor. I think the basic problem is that you're looking at this primarily as a technology/learning class while the professor looks at it as an experience class revolving primarily around social issues and local community service. That's not to say that the ideas you have in mind wouldn't make for a great class - it's just that the things you're supposed to be learning here have to do less with developing technology than with applying it. If I'm right and that's what your professor explains, then there might still be a lot of interesting (and educational) angles for you to explore within that approach.
posted by egg drop at 1:31 AM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I suppose that diverging from the main focus of the class is an option, but (In the extreme case) that means I could end up doing two classes' worth of work and still not learning much from half of it. Plus I would like to drag other students along with me.

It's not unreasonable to expect that critiques and alternatives should be addressed in the class itself (meaning no additional work for you and involving the rest of the class), and voicing your interest in them, even in the most general terms, is not complaining. Personally, I love egg drop's suggestion (LobsterMitten, pracowity, and PercussivePaul also raised some important issues) and that could be a great springboard for a discussion with your professor. If we're all missing the mark on your interests, though, I think it's fine to have a general conversation sounding out your professor's approach soon, so that you can determine whether there's a chance to get at least some of what you want out of the class. If he's as good as you say he is, he'll be thrilled someone's interested enough to be asking challenging questions. Just try to make sure you're going in to the conversation in an inquiring, rather than complaining, frame of mind, as making him feel like he needs to apologize for or defend his decisions right off the bat is not likely to be helpful in achieving your goals.
posted by EvaDestruction at 4:58 AM on September 24, 2009


I suppose the main problem is I can't propose a change of focus to specific topics, since I don't know what those are yet.

Well, here are some ideas based on work that has been done in the past (Full disclosure: I actually worked on some of these):

1) Simple web-based interfaces to address a specific problem: An example is a website that tells you what to do if your landlord gives you a dispossess or eviction notice, not with long paragraphs of explanation but a series of menus refining the problem by asking easy to answer questions. The one I worked on, which got bogged down in some political problem, would actually give the user a printed argument they could give in housing court.

2) Giving technical help to the helpers like this.

3) Combinations of 1) & 2): Example: A government agency has a program, but applying for it is difficult due to confusion and red tape. So, create a technology-based streamlined way in which one could apply for the program. (I worked on one of these for VESID)
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:36 AM on September 24, 2009


You might also look at what is out there for other courses in similar fields, so you can back up your complaints with not just other development philosophies but other technologies that can be more appropriate or challenging. You are right that the charity model and computers are really just the most basic, even primitive, ideas in how ICT can fit in to community and international development projects.

There are a lot out there, and the MIT family of ID courses recently formalized an ICT in ID course. I guarantee you that the fundamental theories in their courses are NOT about charity models, and NOT limited to PCs. You might look for this course syllabus, or get in touch with the instructor, for some thoughts. Here is a blurb on their class blog, I will let you dig for further info.

(I am not involved in this course, but I have been a student, TA, and co-instructor in other courses. There are others out there besides MIT, but this is the one I know personally and can speak for the philosophy of. Feel free to email or memail with questions.)
posted by whatzit at 5:53 AM on September 24, 2009


IAAP.

You thought the course would be about developing specific technical skills that are of use in assisting the poor. It turns out that the course is not about that.

Anytime you're upset because you thought the course would be about X but it turns out it isn't, what you should do is simple:

Drop the course.

If you're out of the drop period, withdraw or seek the professor's permission for a late drop or however that works at your university.

I have to tell you that honestly the concerns of a single student don't weigh very heavily at all on me. I've yet to have a semester with undergraduates where at least one didn't think it was the Worst. Course. Ever. at the same time that at least one thought it was the best course they'd had. Every time I teach undergraduates, there's at least one student who excoriates me for doing X and at least one other who thinks that was the best part of the course.

Unless the different things you wanted to do yourself fit within the framework of the course as it exists, I'd especially not be very receptive to the idea of running the course differently for you, which amounts to running the normal course and an invisible independent study for you for which I receive absolutely no credit whatsoever.

I have to tell you as well that unless it represented an unknown and unknowable departure from the plan of the course, I wouldn't have much sympathy for a single student who didn't like the focus of the course. I told you what the focus of the course was on the first day, and I gave you a syllabus detailing what we would be doing. The thing to do if you don't like what I'm telling you is the plan for the course is not stick with the course and hope that I was lying to you about what we were going to be doing, the thing to do then is drop immediately. Again, obviously this doesn't apply if the syllabus had a bunch of sections on building specific technical skills that got summarily dropped to install this lab and so on.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:49 AM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, if I'm understanding this correctly: The class isn't what you wanted, and you want to talk to the prof about it, but you don't know exactly what direction to suggest because you don't know enough about the subject because you're the student?

If that's what the issue is, maybe you could ask to learn more about some of the following:

- ways social networking is used to further causes

- electronic grassroots campaigns

- specific technology/applications/software that allow workers in the field to better perform their tasks (something like, how does/could Doctors Without Borders use computers to share info amongst workers?)

I think that a professor will let you shape your own path of study and let you write a research paper on whatever you want, even if it doesn't change the course for the rest of the class. I'd check, though, to find out if anyone else wants to do this too, and when you speak to the prof, y'all should work together to clearly hammer out guidelines and maybe even put them in writing. FWIW, I know that my professors in college would have been thrilled if a student had taken the initiative in this way.
posted by runningwithscissors at 7:52 AM on September 24, 2009


IAAP too and I agree with ROU_Xenophobe and pseudonick. LobsterMitten gave you great advice as usual, but it would work only if your prof is as receptive and nurturing as I imagine LobsterMitten is.

I read your question and I didn't understand the specifics of your concerns or what your professor is doing wrong. Did he give you a syllabus? What does he state is the goal of the course on the syllabus? What is the big picture he gave you? If the course is new and somewhat experimental you might be right, it is still in a developmental phase. Even so, you should not approach him with the idea that you can help him shape the course to better suit your needs.

Basically like students since the beginning of time, you have two options:
1) Drop the course now, before you incur penalties, fees for dropping.

2) Stick with the course and drop the attitude that you have nothing to learn. Trust me, he's put more time into that syllabus and thinking how it fits the goals of the experimental program than you have put into thinking what is wrong with it.

Of course the class may suck, but a professor isn't going to appreciate the kind of constructive criticism you're proposing. As of now, you can't quite articulate what you want to do instead of what he's teaching or what you want to get out of the course. How can you offer useful critique from that standpoint.

If I were you I'd drop the course ASAP. But if you stick with it, do what the course requires. You will learn something.

By all means, approach your professor during office hours if you wish. Use this time to bounce your own ideas off of him and for titles of books you should read, and for area programs you might volunteer for. Ask for the names of scholars and actual fields closest to your interest.

Do not point out what is wrong with his approach to the subject matter, the way they do it at MIT or other universities. There's a time and place for those kind of exchanges; you're not there yet. You can't even articulate what exactly bothers you about the course. Do not ask if you can do independent study with him during office hours or at another time, or ask if you can do a project that deviates from the syllabus. In other words, do not make more work for him. Like ROU_Xenophobe says, independent study and the like means extra work for the instructor without extra pay. Whatever you ask of him should be restricted to how you can learn more about the topic at hand.

I see questions like this one a lot, and I apologize if I sound harsh. It is not necessarily the students' fault; students are led to believe that the professor-student relationship is one of mutual exploration and learning. There's a growing trend in higher education for students to see the classroom as a space for collaboration with, rather than learning from professors. University administration pushes the idea to attract tuition-paying students, high schools conspire to keep grades inflated, students often have self-identify as advanced or honors students to inflate their resumes despite in no way being exceptional. So in both obvious and subtle ways college-goers are more than ever told that they are the peers of their professors rather than students who have substantive learning to do. This is a general problem I see as a professor, because even the brightest of my bright students still have a long way to go before they acquire the intellectual tools they think they already have.

Some professors may agree with the student-as-peer trend. I don't, and I don't know of many, actually any, who do. As I said, you should drop this course and find one better suited to your interests. That's what generations of students have done before you. Nothing good will come of the kind of conversation you're proposing.
posted by vincele at 8:59 AM on September 24, 2009


students often have self-identify as advanced or honors students to inflate their resumes despite in no way being exceptional.

oops--> proofread version:

students apparently have multiple opportunities along the way to self-identify as advanced or honors students. Many do to inflate their resumes, I presume, because the aptitude of many in this self-selected category is in no way exceptional.
posted by vincele at 9:04 AM on September 24, 2009


I'm a college teacher and here's my $.02

1. I think you're framing the issue incorrectly. It isn't that the course is awful, it's that it's not what you expected. These are two different things.

2. You can't go to a teacher and say, "Hey, your class sucks, let me tell you how to make it better!" without ending up on this site.

2. Your idea that dumping electronics on people isn't useful comes, to me, from a place of privilege. I find it off-putting, for example, that you think "just" giving people access to technology is not meaningful enough for you. I'm sure it's meaningful to them.

I am a foster parent and I can't tell you how many times a lack of access to technology blocks the path of people in poverty. For example, I'm trying to help a very poor mother get access to birth control. I went to the Planned Parenthood site and the first thing they want you to do in order to make an appointment is "create an account."

3. I'm always happy when students come to me and say "I want to learn more about X." And if you don't know what X is, you can say that as well. I think you could tell your professor that you really want to explore other avenues of helping and could he help point you in the right direction. Then, you could read about some of those things and if one catches your interest you could then talk with him about having independent research meet some of the criteria of the class. His call, of course, but I'd be willing to do it.

4. Wanting to do work that's meaningful is great, but I believe that those who are in need should be the ones to decide what they need. Part of privilege is thinking that we know what's better for others, especially those who are poor. Just sayin'.

Sorry for all my privilege skeeviness - I just lectured on it last night and it's on my mind.
posted by orsonet at 9:09 AM on September 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


« Older Keeping photos of your ex: how...   |  How do you easily remove old a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.