Thursday, March 14, 2013

What are edu-critters on ... ?

... and can I have some?

I've just spent the past couple of months trying to recapture the enthusiasm I had in the youth of my teaching career. I signed up for as many webinars as feasible, hoping to come away with some inspirational nugget or new approach to the process so my inclination to reach for adult beverage would stop trying to merge with my morning coffee.

Of course, most of these "professional development" workshops were designed and presented by edu-critters. But for the love of Dog, I had forgotten how totally full of themselves they are.

Did you know that if you just employ rubrics, all your students will start writing at grade level? Apparently, all the darlings needed was a reminder that exemplary work follows the instructions and has a minimum of grammatical errors.But of course you should also take class time to introduce rubrics to your students and help them become proficient in their use.

Or if you add a wiki to your course, like magic, students will become engaged and energized. Suddenly they will yearn to learn (yep, the presenter said that ... repeatedly). Oh, but don't forget, you'll need to set aside a couple of classes to properly indoctrinate, er, educate students on their use.

Better yet, everyone sign on to peer assessment -- what most of us used to call group work. Except now, the darling flakes get to decide the quality of each other's work. From the generation of "great post," there's no way this could go wrong, right? Big hook! This will reduce the amount of grading the instructor will need to do but, of course, you'll need a couple of class sessions to get everyone up to speed!

The pervasive theme to all of these presentations was the unflappable assurance that, done properly, every one of these techniques will universally revolutionize the success of your students.

From where does such unabashed hubris rise?

Until I figure that out, pass my Irish coffee!


  1. Just as a guess, I'd say they're high on lack of rigor and disciplinary faddism. I've known some really smart edu-critters, but they are definitely rare gems.

  2. The really scary thing is that at least two of these combined -- rubrics and peer assessment -- are believed, at least in some circles, to be the key to making MOOCs credit-worthy.

    After several decades in the business, I'd say that the only thing harder than teaching students to write (well) is teaching them to assess each others' writing (well). Mind you, it's a worthwhile endeavor, and can yield some real benefits (including allowing students to see their own work from a new/more detached perspective), but it's not labor-saving. It's also not revolutionary (unless you count something I learned to do in a not particularly cutting-edge writing program almost 25 years ago as "revolutionary." Maybe some of the edu-critters think it's revolutionary because they weren't out of diapers then, although I don't think I've seen it missing from any writing class/program I've heard of in the 25 years that followed..)

    1. CC, I had an adminflake who was so excited by the "new" technique of scaffolding.

      Was totally unwilling to believe it was a concept pioneered by a Russian psychologist who had died over 50 years before.

      Some time it hurts to know more than they do.

    2. Amen. I fear that this is one of the results of the rise of the Ed.D. Never mind if you have a Ph.D. and decades of experience in the classroom (neither of which, mind you, will definitely make you a good teacher, but they do offer certain opportunities), you're not qualified to opine on pedagogy unless you've studied it (preferably divorced from any actual content). My state, like many others, no longer allows this approach in K-12 teaching, but the graduate programs in higher ed are growing apace.

  3. Oh lord. We had an ongoing campus "conversation" about "student success."

    Did you know that students perform better when we encourage them instead of berating them? Apparently berating is believed to be the preferred instructional delivery method on our campus.

    1. Geez Annie, you mean it's not a good idea to ask a particularly flaky flake if s/he was dropped on their head as a child?

      Damn ... now 50% of my feedback is gone!

    2. And I've apparently been lecturing to my students (in 20-30 person comp and occasionally lit sections) for the past 2.5 decades. Admittedly, the registration software does label my sections "lecture," but I think that's as opposed to lab, or. . . .well, I don't know what else (are there seminars? If so, why aren't my classes labeled as such? Maybe because they're lower-to-mid-level?)

      I really think there should be a minimum of 10 years in the classroom (primarily the undergraduate classroom) required before one can become an edu/adminicritter (at least one who is allowed to offer advice/express an opinion on what goes on in the classroom). It wouldn't be a panacea, but it would cut down on a great deal of the nonsense. Veterans preference for those who have worked simultaneously as adjuncts at at least 2 different schools (preferably of different kinds).

  4. As much as I would like to, I don't have control over a group project that's taught across all sections of the course.

    When asked to rate the quality of their contributions and those of their group members, the C and D students consistently give themselves and each other 9s and 10s out of 10. Of course, the actual A and A+ students are highly self-critical and rate themselves and each other with 7s and 8s.

    That's a technique that revolutionizes the success of some students, alright.


    1. Ugh. It sounds like you may not have even this much control, but I make my students rate themselves and each other using a fixed number of points (n x 100, where n=number of people in group). They can assign each group member between 90 and 110 points, but the total has to add up to n x 100. I use the results as a multiplier for the group project grade (so an individual student can get between 90% and 110% of that grade). In most cases, there are only minor adjustments to individual grades; occasionally, a group agrees that one or two members contributed much more or much less (and often the slacker agrees with this estimate, too; the especially strong contributors are, indeed, less likely to toot their own horns, but their group members often toot them for them).

      Of course some of them fail to follow directions, and try to give themselves, and sometimes others, 110% without penalizing anyone to balance out the total. In that case, I just count that ballot as having entered 100% for everyone.

      I'm not generally a believer in zero-sum games, but in this case, I think the approach works (and I'm always delighted when every member of a group agrees that they each should get 100% of the grade. Sometimes there's one sneaky person who gives each of hir group members 99% so (s)he can give hirself 100+, but that tends to have no actual effect on the grades. If they're all sneaky, they just cancel each other out.)

    2. "From where does such unabashed hubris rise?"

      I'll take a guess. From the fact they only teach future K-12 teachers, and absorbing/appreciating/imitating the kind of feel-good platitudes that make up their discourse is part of the requirement for that job. If they're really successful they don't teach at all, and instead staff a "Center for Snowflake Appreciation" where mean, insensitive proffies are sent for reeducation.

      I speak from personal experience. First, I've been sent for a tour of reeducation already, and more sessions are sure to follow, with higher voltages. Also, my ex (after majoring in bio with high honors) decided to get a teaching MS (the jobs thing, nontraditional student). While we were still talking, the stuff she had to read for her ed classes gave us good laughs at the dinner table.

      They all seem to think "student engagement" is purely a matter of classroom procedures, and would gladly turn each of us into some sort of talk-show host.

  5. I am clearly very slow at mastering the tea-partying indentations in the comments. My comment was in reply to the OP, not to @drunk's comment.

  6. I guess what has really been smacking my gob -- I mean, I knew edu-critters generally have particularly passionate personas -- has been the utter certitude that their particular fad is universally and unequivocally successful.

    Several times during these webminars, I've tried to raise questions along the lines of "I have been using [insert fad] but have been experiencing [insert totally predictable problem], do you have any suggestions?"

    Almost to a person, the response -- if the my questions wasn't ignored outright -- has been some variant of "Well, you obviously aren't doing it right."

    Really? Just how how complicated is a rubric ... ?

  7. We just haven't seen Real Communism...I mean, real Wikis, or real rubrics, or real whatever it is.

  8. @drunk - the phenomenon which you see in the grading is called the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    For my own story, I was told by a Professor of Education a couple of years ago that "the most important thing for a successful class is a good syllabus".

  9. "...but, of course, you'll need a couple of class sessions to get everyone up to speed!"

    Right. And that will be after I offer up a class session to the library, and one to health services, and one to the transfer program (this is a CC).

  10. There is also a disturbing movement afoot at my university to have the librarians (1) teach instructional design to faculty and (2) school them in pedagogy that incorporates technology. This, on top of the instructional designers that already exist and seem to think that telling me "more cool stuff" Blackboard can do counts as deep thinking on pedagogy in my discipline and guaranteed methods to improve student success in my courses. Right. Adding a wiki is going to make it allllllll better.

  11. Where does it come from? From idiot administrators who pay them to say it?