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2016 May 16 - 02:13 pm

Of Time and Timeliness

Like many part-timers, I work in more than one place simultaneously. This week, I have classes to teach in six different spots, a slight respite from last week, when I had seven. And so, some of the administrators seem to think, that “extra,” “free” time should allow me to spend minutes — no, 120 hours, I have been advised — training myself in a new Learning Management System (LMS) before this May month ends. 

“Hurry up, please; it's time.” I recall this incantation from T.S. Eliot's “The Waste Land,” as I wonder about waste and time and land and the sands of it all.

American poet Ann Sexton recalled Eliot's words some decades after he had written them, asking, “What is death, I ask, what is life, you ask,” and I wonder that, too, in what feels like a wasted land, where I run a timeless treadmill to a seeming nowhere, where the words that I write in my “new course shell” for this new Learning Management System are rejected because they do not “fit” the required length or superficiality, the correct ambiguity or the expected language. 

I teach French, mostly, although I have taught anthropology, English, ESL, linguistics, and zoosemiotics. The LMS that I am now trying to learn is a conundrum to me, although I have been using online resources and designing courses online for some 30 years. 

It is the Digital Age, I say to myself, and so why should each of us who will be teaching part-time or full-time at this institution during the coming fall be required to pass 120 hours in and out of a “training regime” that asks us such things as “why courses should be made accessible” and “why learning outcomes must be expressed.”  I wonder why each image that I select from a bank of photos or digital art must be sub-titled in English, why videos must be captioned in (often bad) English, for a course in which French is the lingua franca?

And while I wonder about these things, and while I try to incorporate at least a bit of the “bilingual” in the Anglo-centric LMS that “must look the same for all courses,” and while I strain to do this against The Clock, forcing my questions back down into my gullet as I type in English as fast as I can — ”Hurry up, please; it's time,” I continue to wonder

Is this not the Age of Innovation, of creativity, as well as the age of the digital? Is this not the era when the individual, if not the individualized, has become prime? If that is the case, then why so much Templaticity, as I shall call it? Why so much regularity? I look at French-produced lessons and videos, multimedia-enhanced presentations, even clips from Cannes film festival presentations, and I realize: 

Ah, yes, I teach a language famous for its leader’s disquiet that governing is nearly impossible when there are more than 300 varieties of cheese. 

And when, and when, as T. S. Eliot alluded to it, the last call comes from the barman to “Hurry up, please,” I recall what my father joked: “It's a rat race out there,” he said. “And the rats are winning.”

“Hurry up, please; it's time.” And, as Eliot wrote on, “I think we are in rats’ alley, where the dead men lost their bones.”  

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