Retrenchment, Day 17

It's Saturday before the first week of classes. It's going to be sunny and hot, so the family is going to float down the Mississippi this afternoon. I'm going to stay home and get my courses buttoned up for next week. That includes populating the learning management system (LMS) and updating the syllabi. I have taught all these courses before, and although I am making some adjustments to content and assessment (the things I'm grading students on), I don't need to write completely new syllabi or "course shells" this semester.

One thing I won't miss, once my time at BSU ends, is the way syllabi have become bloated over the years. They used to be descriptions of the courses and schedules of what we were covering and when. When the exams were. Due dates for papers. That sort of thing. Now they've become little booklets of legal boilerplate and disclaimers. A few years ago I ran into an idea promoted by the social annotation app,
Hypothesis, that made marking up the syllabus the first shared annotation assignment of the semester. I thought it was interesting, but I'd be embarrassed to force my students to annotate the documents I'm required to call syllabi.

Another thing I'm looking forward to abandoning is the antiquated learning management software we use. Also a few years ago, I met the Moodler at OE Global in Milan. Martin Dougiamas, the leather-jacketed Australian who founded and who runs Moodle, was already adding really cool collaborative and Open Education-related features in 2019. As we transition to a 21st-century education ecosystem, I think a learning platform could enable and support learning and collaboration, both between students in a class and educators globally. The LMS we use at BSU is a dinosaur, but the "sunk costs" are a deterrent to change. And the time and effort people have devoted to making it minimally useable.

But I wonder, at what point does it make sense to say "
sunk costs are no costs"? This was a famous dictum of my Agricultural Economics professor at UMass back in the 1980s. He was an old farmer, so some students scoffed at the counterintuitive advice. He had hard experience as well as theory to back up his claim, though. So I often hear his voice in my head when I see people hanging on too tenaciously to things we've invested in or to the way we used to do things. It's going to be even harder for my university to avoid that tendency, when BSU is eliminating so many of the faculty in the early stages of their careers in favor of folks many of whom have been there for two, three, or four decades. I'm not saying you can't teach an old dog -- I'm living proof you can. But it's hard work, and the sunk costs are much greater.

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