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When this semester started, I was annoyed by the number of webpages I needed to check, just to access my homework assignments. This semester, CU Boulder introduced Canvas, a new interface for students to access content. Canvas will be used in addition to the existing interface, Desire2Learn (D2L), during the spring semester. Moodle is a third option commonly used in the Computer Science department.
As a dual masters student in the Engineering Management Program (EMP), one concept hammered into me is the need for a cohesive communication plan among all stakeholders — in this case, students and faculty. Without this, students have a high risk of missing important information.
What started off as a tongue-in-cheek play on Edsger Dijkstra’s seminal essay “Go To Statement Considered Harmful” turned into a rabbit-hole journey into CU Boulder’s anti-student and anti-collaboration culture.
Edsger Dijkstra’s work as an early pioneer in computer science shaped the field as we know it today. To borrow from Isaac Newton, our technologically advanced society sees farther because we stand on the shoulders of Dijkstra. Not only did he consider the theoretical and engineering perspectives inherent in the field, but he also considered the human element.
Setting aside the technical arguments, the essence of “Considered Harmful” considers cognitive load. The end goal is to “shorten the conceptual gap” because we humans are inherently bad at visualizing processes as they change over time.
In this respect, Canvas may be considered harmful because it adds another communication channel as requirements unfold over the course of the semester. I need to check Canvas, Moodle, Piazza, GitHub, and sundry cs.colorado.edu webpages to keep up with a single course. I have had deadline near-misses in the past because I forgot to check a single webpage out of the multitude. Some students may have even more webpages to check.
The hardest part of an assignment shouldn’t be finding where it is.
Historically, lecture content has been delivered to Be Boulder Anywhere students automatically through D2L. Rolling out new software is never without bugs or human fallibility. One difference between Canvas and D2L is that on Canvas, professors must click “publish” on a course to release content to students. Since lectures are automatically distributed to distance learners through Canvas, this step is required, even if the professor uses Moodle. Although perfectly understandable, delaying content delivery puts distance learners at a distinct disadvantage. Many of us work full time in industry so getting behind on content necessarily kills our family time, sleep time, work performance and academic excellence.
Miscommunication is simply a failure to see eye-to-eye. Unfortunately, I experienced the willful refusal of a professor to release content, stating that he would not release it unless compelled by some requirement. When I tried to recruit help from other departments, I got the impression that people genuinely wanted to help but were unable to.
This experience has revealed that CU Boulder has no cohesive vision for the student experience and demonstrated that nobody “owns” responsibility. My interaction with the Registrar’s Office was the most disheartening of all. After speaking with staff and a manager, I was told in voices dripping with exasperation that I was wasting their time and to get off the phone.
The entire point of attending CU Boulder as a distance learner is that it allows me to work full time while earning an advanced degree. Students like me are either not in a socioeconomic position to “only” be students or do not want to take on a crushing debt burden. CU Boulder deserves praise for offering degrees to distance learners because this opens the door to opportunities otherwise inaccessible to my demographic.
IT Help and the Computer Science department worked quickly and urgently to resolve the lecture access problem. The resolution was courteous and professional. Despite the positive outcome, I remain unsatisfied. I sank six hours into communicating my problem to a bureaucratic monstrosity uninterested in “setting new standards in education, research, scholarship, and creative work.”
At a renowned university like CU Boulder, there’s no reason we can’t win together. Researchers do not innovate by working in silos. In the EMP, students are typically classified as on campus live, remote live, or remote asynchronous and logically have different participation requirements. As an EMP student, I feel engaged and included. The EMP would be a terrific resource to collaborate with to develop “best practices” for distance learners.
There are also opportunities for reverse mentoring, or asking students how to best support them. Making decisions behind closed doors creates missed opportunities. While I was interacting with my challenging professor, he suggested I use Zoom, a live participation tool, rather than watching lectures asynchronously. According to IT Help, using Zoom asynchronously was possible in the past, but content delivery methods have since changed. That’s the “Considered Harmful” trouble we started with — humans are bad at visualizing changes over time.
Contact CU Independent Guest Writer Eirian Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.