Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Summer Misery

Thanks for your assistance!
In the summer times, I do a lot of odd things.

I have a podcast with a group of scholars. I run a website for my teaching that needs to be updated. My research needs writing, polishing, and interpreting. Fall jobs are going and I seek candidates for those jobs. Finally, I teach online so the money keeps coming in while I do these other side projects.

One of my online institutions has just begun a program that gives us a "teaching assistant" that does no teaching and no assisting. It's such a beautiful euphemism for "spy."

This TA watches me interact with my students. She reviews my gradebook and analyzes my feedback. She sends me emails about whether I'm including enough constructive compliments or chasing my students down in a timely manner to remind them that they are not submitting work. She wants all my students to get a perfect score regardless of how hard they work. She suggests to me how I ought to talk to my students, using sentences like "I want you to know that I am committed to your dream of earning a college degree, Susie Student!"

I am sorry, Spy-turned-TA. I am not going to say that.

Every time she emails me, I find that I have to step away from the computer, because all of my interactions -- with students, administrators, blogs, forums, or facebook -- are tinged with sarcasm and snark. She is actively destroying my will to be a good human being. I kind of want to send a virus into the school's system just to get back at the institution for instituting this bull shit system.

But instead, I shut my computer and go do something else until the feeling subsides. Or I come here.

21 comments:

  1. Will you have to apply for asylum in Russia now that this has been revealed? After all, you might be a terrorist.

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  2. That is the nuttiest tactic I have ever heard of to ensure whatever it is the admin is trying to ensure.

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  3. Sorry to hear that your admin is throwing such bullshit at you.

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  4. It sounds like an administrator is trying to build a case against you in order to have you fired.

    Been there, suffered for it.

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    1. Actually, she has sent me a few emails about nominating me for a teaching award. She monitors 20 instructors at once and believes me to be the best in the group. She still seems skeezy, though, so while I'm flattered I'm also pissed.

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    2. What are the chances she's sent similar "praise" to the 19 others of her flock? If she has a template for Susie Student, dollars to donuts she has one for you.

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    3. Yes, quite quite possible. I just got an email from her today saying that she has created an online forum for us to share experiences and she thanked another instructor, "one of our excellent instructors" for getting us started by posting in said forum.

      I viewed the post. The instructor looks like a complete idiot. Her posted problem involves using IE for online teaching. WHO USES IE AND CONSIDERS THEMSELVES TECH SAVVY????

      I am amidst complete morons.

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    4. Re: "I am amidst complete morons."

      I know how you feel.

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    5. Goddamn fucking shit, do I know how you feel.

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  5. @AM: I thought you had found nirvana/utopia/glory/bliss with the new job and had given up the old shit. Or was that one of my distorted acid flashbacks? I get so confused, especially on the days when I consume only bourbon and yellow food--and most especially at the end of the day when I'm sometimes left with only mustard, Twinkies, and bourbon.

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    1. It's true! But I don't get the new fancy paycheck until Sept 1, so I have to struggle through the online BS for another 2 months.

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    2. I was wondering that, too, and my diet/chemical consumption is marginally more sensible than Bubba's (but getting less and less so as my 5-week summer online class wears on; hey, I'm just about halfway through today! I'm not sure whether to celebrate or groan).

      Isn't it about time you started saving documents, or at least taking detailed notes, for your expose, or roman a clef, or whatever? Given the growing climate of doubt surrounding MOOCs in particular and online learning in general, I'd think some such document might be quite salable (and I'd love to read it). I hope they didn't make you sign some sort of confidentiality agreement.

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    3. Wow. This is a beautiful idea. Something that hadn't occurred to me, either, because so far I've been grateful to have the income for the past 4 years. Because of the online stuff, I've been able to publish two books while finishing my dissertation. But on the flip side, yes, it has been exhausting and I feel really guilty for how much we are cheating our students. Some of it has pros, sure, but the overwhelming bit is cons...

      This is something to consider in my down time!

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    4. Please do. If the "shadow scholar" can get an article *and* a book deal out of his skullduggery, certainly you can get some sort of publication out of your honest attempt to make the best of online ed for yourself and your students.

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  6. The "TA" technique is offensive BS right out of a Dilbert cartoon. Course monitors, though, seem to be fairly common in the online world. "Course review specialists" popped up like weeds in the admin building of my online institution several years ago. I always assume that my classes are being directly monitored, and I have occasionally received "feedback" out of the blue from someone at HQ. Nothing as bad as what AM is dealing with, thank goodness. But I imagine it's only a matter of time before these "specialists" start to lean on us more heavily to provide better "customer service".

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  7. Maybe just for a second put yourselves in her shoes. She is put in a really awkward situation. From your side she is seen as an evil spy. From the administrator side she is forced to review your interaction with other students - whatever the hell that means.

    I understand your frustration with the administration. You are being reviewed by someone you don't find qualified to review you. I'm sure though all professors in higher education are open to comments and suggestion from qualified course monitors.

    I mean "committed to the dream of earning a college degree" is really cheesy. I'm fairly certain she is told to make suggestions like that.

    When I used to be a TA though, an actual TA with teaching and grading responsibilities, I found professors very defensive towards any kind of suggestions. For example, I was a TA for a professor who used to ask me to print the exams and staple the four corners of them so that the students can't peak in and then leave them in the box for students to pick up and take it at home. I told him I don't mind the stapling but maybe the stapling is unnecessary as he is already trusting the students not to cheat on a take home exam. He was definitely offended and asked me to do the stapling anyway and I did it. But I still think it was a waste of time.

    Another time I was grading a homework set and I realized that most students are having problems and are getting very low grades so I sent an email to the professor and told him maybe he wants to review the material from that homework set. He was offended too and told me the student have to suffer through the material until they understand. (I don't really understand what he means by suffering.) I thought if the majority of the class is having problems maybe it means they need more time or explanation on the subject.

    Anyway I don't really know how a TA is supposed to make a suggestions without getting an offensive reaction. I always used a polite language and tried to make them feel respected but I always got a very harsh reaction. Please let me know how you would like to receive a suggestion or a criticism from your TAs.

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    1. MSA--It sounds like the proffie you were working for wasn't a very good proffie. Among other things, he owed you an answer to your questions and suggestions, because one of the purposes of being a TA is to learn from the professor for whom you're TAing. That is, of course, harder if the professor isn't a very good professor, although I have some sympathy for the "suffer through the material" line, assuming it meant something along the lines of "they need to learn how to work their way through hard material on their own, and to learn to deal with the frustration that can be part of that process." But even that process can be supported by being addressed in class, so I'd agree that you were right to point out the pattern you observed.

      The problem with the situation Monkey describes, of course, is that this isn't an actual TA. Actual TAs do what you did: grade first and make suggestions later if at all.

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    2. This is a kind of venn diagram problem, not limited to online courses. From my end, I cannot imagine any university forcing professors to be observed for every lecture, every interaction with students, every discussion or review session. Hell, I'm supposed to be CCing my "TA" on all my student emails (I tend to "forget" to do so). This is strictly an online problem.

      But what you are talking about is a larger problem in academia of people who aren't very good professors, or who are brilliant scholars but terrible communicators, or who are socially awkward, defensive, and sensitive to change.

      I see some colleagues at this online school who totally phone it in. They don't read submissions, give 100 for every single assignment, only check in once or twice a week. I can be sympathetic to administration doing random checks to review what kind of interaction their employees are having with students. I get that, totally. I even appreciate tips that actually make me a better teacher. But to watch our every move, spy on us every day, and send constant emails about specific interactions? Give it a break, Administrative TA! Just calm down, back away from my classroom, and go have a drink.

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