May 272015
 

Although I am sure there *are* professors who have estimated how long it will take their students to complete their assigned tasks – written assignments, presentations, homework activities, project research, and textbook reading – I doubt I know any who have done so. (My brilliant sister could be the exception that proves the rule; I am afraid to ask.)

I have written and/or revised literally dozens of course outlines and syllabi, and I have served on curriculum committees. Task completion time has never come up as a topic. The closest we have ever been to such a discussion has been when a faculty member has suggested that there seems to be a little much required of students in a particular class: “You want them to learn business reasoning, case study construction, advanced marketing techniques, and research strategy … in 14 weeks? How could a student be able to learn all that? Not only that, but how could a professor *teach* all of that?”

A colleague of mine asked her third-year communications students: How many of you have done the textbook readings so far this semester? Out of 35 students, no one raised their hand. No one had done more than crack open a textbook – a good one, too – that costs upwards of $150. After I heard about this, this Spring I asked my students a few questions:

  1. How many of you believe that your professors know how much you work? The answer: No student believes professors know how much they work, on particular assignments, or on school in general, or in life in general. (Almost all of my students have one or more jobs in addition to their school activities.)
  2. How many of you have done school-work *at your workplace*? Everybody who had a job raised their hand. Some raised *both* hands. Servers are writing reports in the kitchen; customer service reps are drafting spreadsheets in the stockroom.
  3. How many of you have been able to complete all of your assignments in one of your classes this year (including homework and reading)? No one raised their hand.
  4. What is the first thing you cut from your to-do lists in order to make it through your classes in one piece? “The readings.” This was unanimous.
  5. How do you expect to get by if you don’t read the textbook? Students hope that the lectures and the PowerPoint slides that accompany them will hit all the important points. (Note to world: They don’t, and can’t.)

students

I had been aware for a long time that students aren’t often keen to read their textbooks. That’s why my midterms and final exam are usually based completely on their textbooks, in an effort to force them to read. Some do, quickly. These tests are virtually always, though, their lowest grade of the semester, not just as an average but for almost every single student.

On my to-do list: Fix this.

Reposted from basil.CA

Photo by Bob Basil

Apr 302015
 

My province’s teachers have lost a big battle. From the Vancouver Sun just now:

VANCOUVER – The provincial government has scored a major victory in court, with the appeal court Thursday overturning a judgment that would have restored class size and composition rules to the teachers’ contract.

However, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation has 60 days to try to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, a move they are likely to make.

The BC Liberals listed the case as a “main risk” to their budget when it was presented in February.

A panel of five judges ruled to hold the government appeal of Justice Susan Griffin’s decision earlier this year to restore 2002 classroom composition rules, class size rules and specialist teacher ratios to the teachers’ contract.

The judges ruled that “the legislation was constitutional. Between the consultations and the collective bargaining leading up to the legislation, teachers were afforded a meaningful process in which to advance their collective aspirations. Their freedom of association was respected.”

Oct 302014
 

I like Virginia Postrel‘s take on the recent controversy over at Forbes.com. A popular author, Bill Frezza, published a controversial column on that website – advising university fraternities to beware of female students who show up at their parties drunk – and was fired. Comments Postrel:

What has drawn little comment is the business model that produced a journalistic fiasco. Forbes.com (not to be confused with the print magazine) is a publication that acts like a platform. It hires columnists, gives them a general turf, tells them to write and post pieces, and pays them by how much traffic they attract. Unlike a traditional publication, it doesn’t spend money on having editors review the topics or articles beforehand.

In the traditional model, Frezza’s article either would have had the backing of the publication–which would have stood up for it–or it would have never seen the light of day. If the argument seemed beyond the pale, an editor would have said, “No thanks. What else do you have?” There would have been no public blowup and no firing. One way or another Forbes.com would have taken responsibility. (As anyone who reads Forbes.com knows, its lack of editorial oversight extends to basics of proofreading.) Forbes.com’s business model has been successful in a tough environment, but it presents editorial perils.

Under the new model, columnists have to guess what readers will find interesting and they also have to guess what editors will find a firing offense. They are expected to internalize vaguely defined standards and self-censor accordingly.

Other, very bad problems with this model: (1) Authors are financially punished for writing stories that take a long time to report or that are important-but-boring; (2) livid, invidious opinion is likely to generate more “clicks” than researched journalism; (3) writers must now aim to please rather than to inform their readers.

Back in the day, Sports sections, for example, subsidized important-but-boring stories about school-board meetings and treaty negotiations among Asian nations. No more, alas.

Reposted from basil.CA

Feb 042014
 

This figure is staggering: Adjunct professors and other “contingent employees” make up 70% of the faculty in American universities. These people have no hope for tenure at their schools.

Writes James Hoff in The Guardian, “All but the most elite college students are being taught by overworked and underpaid adjunct lecturers. These faculty are essentially paid contractors, who come in, do a quick job, and then head out. Maintaining high standards and expectations, performing research, and providing honest and accurate assessment under such conditions is incredibly difficult, and the continued use of adjuncts is destroying the integrity and value of higher education.”

These faculty typically have no benefits and no job security. They need to form unions – for their sake, and for the sake of the students they teach.

I fear that university teaching will become a profession so unappealing that truly talented people will flee from it. We are on the verge of losing a generation of scholars to fields that reward initiative with collegial recognition and an appropriate amount of cash. It will take a long time to recover from that calamity.

Clarissa’s blog offers a number of dyspeptic, righteous takes on the topic.

Jun 262013
 

Erin Dick gave a superb talk, and then led an illuminating discussion, on the topic of “mentorship” today, the last day of the IABC’s world conference. Inspired by the speaker and my discussion attendees, I will be posting on this topic – an emotional one for me – over the course of the next few days. This quote from Erin Dick really resonated with all of us:

Be the master of the job before you, a student of the job above you, and a teacher of the job below you.

 

Jun 082013
 

“We have somehow not successfully received your professional-development documentation,” a Dean’s Office colleague wrote me in an email early in my career at Kwantlen.

The sentence both charmed and alarmed me, especially the phrase somehow not successfully received, which seemed so artfully composed. Why had such care been taken in writing this simple request?

Because I had been habitually late and/or sloppy with my paperwork. Because I always needed guidance and reminding. And because now my colleague was *mad*.

I had to remember where I was: British Columbia, Canada. People here really are polite, just like the Americans say. My colleagues back in New York might have made such a request with explicit impatience, or even invective, to make sure I understood what they needed and what I had been doing wrong.

The language used for disapproval where I now worked was identical, it seemed, to the language of approval, in terms of vocabulary and tone. What gave the game away was the inordinate amount of care given to a simple writing task.

One could infer that this care came from irritation rather than pleasure.

Thereafter I have always wondered whether I am able – whether I am Canadian enough – to hearken to the subtle ways my colleagues and neighbors can scold.

Apr 282013
 

“Of the three goals to which all aspire – success in love, in society, and in profession – only two are plausible simultaneously: you can’t have a smooth love life, a rich social life, and still get your work done. …

hydrant

“Among the rare positive attributes of aging is the involuntary urge to find patterns: if I had not exactly forgotten that I too was reared a Quaker, I had suppressed it; suddenly this Quaker island [Nantucket] spoke – as we Quakers say – to my condition, and this condition was not godly but juvenile, free of lust and longing, like a child alone in the giant potential of his nursery. Anyone can waste himself but only I can pen my tunes, and the time had come.” – Ned Rorem, from “Out of Nantucket,” in Other Entertainment (1984)