Massively Open Online Embarassment

Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may be the way of the future, but they show every sign of disrupting my intricate bargain with humiliation. For ten years, I’ve managed to contain evidence of my incompetence to the small number of students who had the misfortune of wandering into my lecture hall. But online lectures on YouTube? Virtual office hours through FaceTime? Interactive tutorials through video conference? These can hardly be good news.

Case in point: my recent attempt to teach


“Hello, Professor Penfold? It’s the fiscal crisis calling.”

By the time this column is published, I will have no telephone in my office. It turns out that phones are really expensive, and with so many alternatives—from iPads to Blackberries and email to social media —there was no sense holding on to anachronistic nineteenth century technologies.

So don’t expect any heroic resistance from me. I’m not about to chain myself to my telephone, singing Woody Guthrie songs and quoting Martin Luther King while campus police try to talk me


My Professorial ‘Eureka’ Moment

I remember the exact moment when I realized that I really am a professor. It wasn’t when I got hired, that’s for sure. I assumed that was a clerical error, so I spent six months waiting for an “Oops, we’re sorry” email (“We meant to hire that smart guy named Fenhold”). It wasn’t when I showed up to start the job either. It took me at least a year to stop glancing around before I entered my office, figuring that