Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Weekend Thirsty on College Metaphor From Chloe Comm Prof.

I volunteered to participate in some welcome activities for the new little freshmen the week before classes start. I wouldn't typically volunteer to go to campus on a Saturday, but I've been newly hired as a full - timer (I've been an adjunct at this school for several years and was finally converted to a Instructor/Lecturer! Yay no more teaching a million classes to make ends meet!) and I want to show my Department that I'm game to help however I can. I've been assigned to give a presentation on owning the college experience. The presentation is pre-made by a committee of other profs (I assume) but with the note that I can personalize it and incorporate my personality, own anecdotes, etc. to fit my speaking style).

One of the prompts is to clarify for the students that a college education is not a product they buy. Color me excited that the Uni wants me to tell the students that they aren't the customer!! The metaphor the presentation includes, however, is not the clearest possible. I'm trying to figure out the best way to explain to the students that while yes, they are paying tuition, they are not paying for an A

So the question is:

Q: What metaphor do you think best describes the college experience? What can I use that the students can relate to in order to make clear their responsibility as a new college student?


  1. The best metaphor I ever heard for college/university is that it is like a gym. Just paying the membership fee is not enough--if you want to get fit you have to actually show up to the gym and do the work. A personal trainer can help you and encourage you, but they can't make you fit by exercising for you.

    So, in case it isn't completely obvious for them: in addition to paying tuition, you actually have to go to class and do the work. Your prof can help you learn but s/he can't actually do the work YOU need to do to pass.

  2. Yup, the gym metaphor is the one I use - you can't expect to join a gym and be able to run a marathon at the end of the year if you spent the year in the coffee bar or the sauna, not working out.

    It also nicely emphasises that both parties have responsibilities: the gym is responsible for providing safe equipment, the instructor of the fitness class is responsible for turning up on time and having a plan to help the people in the class learn new moves and get fitter, the attendee is responsible for turning up, taking part and trying their best. Going to a zumba class and sitting at the back with your phone won't get you fit! Somehow that really gets across to students why I ask them to turn their phones off and join in with class activities.

    And of course your trainer designs you a routine, but it's your job to turn up and do it regularly, or you won't progress (i.e. do your reading before class etc.).

  3. Congrats on the full-time job! (Don't , however, take a look at the TT faculty salaries, if publicly available. You'll get depressed all over again. Or, once settled, do, get mad, and start agitating. As contingent faculty -- full-time as well as part-time -- become the majority, we need to work to improve our conditions. Not to put a discouraging spin on what I'm sure is well-deserved good fortune, but, while people both inside and outside the academy are becoming increasingly aware of the problems with having so many part-time contingents, they're still tending to see full-time contingent jobs as the preferable alternative. However, such jobs also have their disadvantages for the students/long-term good of the institution -- most notably, unreasonable teaching loads and lack of full integration into the faculty -- and definitely have their disadvantages for the faculty members who hold them -- they pay just enough to live on, but often not enough to save for retirement, or, more important, for the day when the job is restructured out of existence and one realizes just how institution-specific the activities in which one has been engaging for the last however many years are. So, congratulations, do catch your breath/use the opportunity to get on your feet financially, but don't get too comfortable.)

    Much as I wish athletic metaphors weren't the answer, realistically, I agree with others: they are. So yes, the gym one works quite well (and, later on, the athletic-practice metaphor is useful for explaining why handing in the same paper more than once is a bad idea, as well as being against the rules). If you want to at least bow to the artsy/nerdy crowd, you can add "or music/dance lessons" to the gym analogy.

    Sort of related (and possibly also already in the presentation): I find it's a good idea to point out the ratio of in-class to out-of-class work (usually cited at 1:2 or 1:3, or 2-3 hours of prep/homework for each hour of class time). That's another way to stress that college is set up to expect mostly independent learning, with professors providing materials, guidance for engaging with them, clarification, , feedback, etc. as needed/appropriate, but students doing the actual work of learning.

  4. College is like bourbon. For some people, it's hard to swallow. And it's expensive. And many people regret having laid a finger on it. But you'll never know unless you give it a try.

  5. If you paid for a pizza, you'd bother eating it.

  6. I've also likened college to a buffet. It's there for your consumption. If you go in, go through the line, fill your plate, but sit there looking at Facebook and not eating you won't get any nutrition from the food.

    I used to use the gym metaphor, but to the snowflakes that means they have to exert themselves. Putting forth effort is anathema to many of them.

    You might also remind them that they are in college now, not the 13th grade.

  7. You could use something halfway between the gym and dance lessons: the martial arts studio.

    Say, if the student signs up for jiujitsu lessons, there are a number of things that could happen: it could turn out he/she has no talent for it, and would have to practice three times as long as another student just to attain passable proficiency. Very few beginners turn out to be "naturals", and get everything right the first time. In any case, the student is paying for the privilege of being taught by jiujitsu expert, who will spend the amount of time given by the average student to "get it", but is likely to be more interested in the "naturals" who can compete for the studio anyway. The most the student can do is work as hard as needed just to get moderately competent at it. The student is paying, but it's not the master's role to baby-sit him/her until the goal is attained (and the master won't).

    And so it is with math (or anything else that's hard, and has value): it's just like jiujitsu.

    1. Physics is even more so, since we can break boards by smashing them over people's heads, LIKE THIS... ;-)

      By the way: demonstrating that impulse equals momentum by smashing a board in class works a whole lot better if you score the board with a saw, the night before the demo. But then, you might have guessed that careful preparation for classroom demos is essential!

  8. I once heard students descibed as raw materials developed into a product that the market (employers) buys. It's a simile that can be expanded upon.

  9. I love the task and your prompts.

    Related to Peter K's jiujitsu metaphor, be sure to let them know that doing the work lets them achieve a C, and that working hard may earn them a B.

    Here's something I tell my students: 'In college, a grade is not for effort; it is for the results of a student's effort. Think of it as a performance or athletic event.

    'When you go to a concert, if the musicians keep missing notes or forgetting lyrics, does it matter to you if they worked really hard to put on the show? When you're at a sports event, if the athletes keep missing the ball, do you cheer just because they're trying? Well, maybe you do if the performers or athletes are little kids, playing as amateurs. Once someone turns pro, our expectations are higher.

    'College classes are the "pro" leagues of education. Make it your responsibility to bring your best game.'

  10. I was trying to think of new examples this weekend. My old stand by was ordering a steak...if it's cooked wrong they send it back, but if it's cooked correctly, they have an obligation to eat it. I also use coach: if coach says run wind sprints, they do it even though it sucks because they know it makes them better. My new one is golf lessons: getting lessons does not guarantee I will be a better golfer; buying a lottery ticket does not mean I will win the lottery. I win/pay for the opportunity to win/become a better golfer. Thus, the college student is a consumer, but they are only paying for the opportunity to learn.


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