Thursday, October 17, 2013

This Week's Completely Freeform (Some Will Say Nonsensical - And Well, They'd Be Right, But Bananas To Them Anyway) Big Thirsty. What's Out This Year? What's In.

Q: What's out this academic season? What's in?
Out: Plagiarizing from Wikipedia.
In: Plagiarizing from Twitter.


  1. It may be just my imagination, but I think perhaps that self-esteem is not considered as important as it was 5-10 years ago. Perhaps the message that it doesn't contribute to academic success or correlate with any other outcome aside from criminality is sinking in? One might only hope.

    But then, other bad ideas from the past have faded away. New Math bit the well-deserved dust by 1975, and you hardly ever hear anyone talk about Whole-Language instruction, not that I've seen anyone encourage a child to sound out a word phonetically recently.

    The current buzzphrases I'm being assaulted with are "student success," "student learning," and "outcomes assessment." As far as I can tell, "student success" means watering down standards, or else. "Student learning" means what we used to call learning. Outcomes assessment means compiling statistics that no one apparently understands, and spending large amounts of time writing long documents that no one apparently reads.

  2. Out: Joking that this job wears me out so much that I don't give a shit.

    In: Seriously, this job wears me out so much that I do't give a shit.

    1. BB is King Kong.

      The burnout in this profession is brutal. How many of us know proffies who have thrown in the towel, going through the motions? I'm surrounded by them. And I swore I'd never give in. But how can I not? Have you seen my freshmen?

      Out: Trying to wear a nice jacket at work.
      In: Just re-wearing the same black cardigan that hangs on the back of my office door.

  3. Engaged learning is definitely in this season. No idea wha it means.

  4. Out: academic standards

    In: student satisfaction

    Out: "academics are professionals who can be trusted to carry out their duties"

    In: treating academics like naughty children

    Out(side): sunshine and fall leaves

    In(side): extensive gloom as I cruelly force a whole class to carry out some calculations

  5. Out: We're all adults.
    In: We're all children.

    1. If that were an answer on Jeopardy, I would buzz in and say, "Alex, what is the problem with academia summed up in eight words?"

  6. I teach a big introductory class along with another academic staff, and we have almost identical ideas about how it should be taught and what ought to be covered.

    This week he told me that his students are now complaining to the Dean. Mine started a week ago. In a month we should be hearing from the Governor. My goal is to have a UN Security Council resolution and a trial at The Hague by the end of the semester.

    I checked my student's time on their online homework and fit it to a binomial probability distribution. Excluding time spent on sleep and in class, I find that the probability that one of my students will do one hour of homework in one week to be 2%. That's 0.02.

    50% of my students put in less than 1.2 hours last week into my calculus-based physics class. And they are complaining to the Dean about how unfair it all is.

    85% are putting in less than 6 hours per week, which to me indicates a level of effort fundamentally not serious. All of my exam questions come from the homework--they know this, I remind them of it weekly.

    I put the question to this august body--am I obligated to make the mean a C, when 85% of the class does nothing and I can prove it, and if so why? I do not care about keeping my job, so that's not a reason.

    1. All of my exam questions come from the homework--they know this, I remind them of it weekly.

      Same here. And I still get in reviews "exams are nothing like the homework". They know it doesn't have to be true, they just have to claim it. Dept chairs and deans automatically side with the flakes.

      I put the question to this august body--am I obligated to make the mean a C, when 85% of the class does nothing and I can prove it, and if so why?

      It doesn't seem to matter how much one can prove, I keep a lot of documentation myself and it never carries the day. U administrators have long abandoned the pretense of running an honest system. In my case (tenured, land-grant "R1") if I don't keep more or less a C ave in (math) intro classes, I have to spend half my time writing "rebuttals" to this and that. Even with that, my job is currently at risk based on student evals only. But if that's not a problem for you (are you sure? Tenure by itself doesn't do it) then by all means do what you feel is right.

    2. What is right is more important to me than this position. My example is inspiring others, but tenure-track faculty are very timid, they have to be or they don't stay.

      Ours is a weak service department in a time of severe budget crunch, no one can be sure their job will be here next year anyway.

      Makes it easier to do what is right. I could weasel. It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world--but for a nine-month contract in a department that may not exist in a few years? I'll keep my soul, thanks. I can whore it out to the private sector for a hell of a lot more, and no students to boot. Or go work on a crab boat. Or dig ditches. Hourly rate's about the same.

      It's never been easier for me to do what I think is right.

    3. Are you tenured, o Flamen? That makes the decision easier.
      I'm seeing much the same level of commitment in the practice-intensive courses I teach.

    4. No, I'm academic staff. I'm overworked and underpaid but I am absolutely free to say what I think and do what I think right, because I have nothing at risk. The tenure-track faculty do have something at risk.

    5. @Flamen: you are not obligated to make the mean grade a C, particularly not when you can prove that most of the class is doing nothing. Stick to your guns and fire away. Remember that many people in intro physics are aspiring to become engineers and physicians. Can you imagine what will happen if some of them make it? Our idiot provost doesn't like how many students we flunk, but as I've explained to him repeatedly, there's an objective standard here, unless he's happy to be operated on by one of our former D students. Remember also Price's Law, that 25% of scientific authors are responsible for 75% of published papers. The good students will still learn, no matter what we do. I sure wish there were more of them, though.

  7. For our less math-minded correspondents let me add that an 2% chance of doing an hour of homework is not as outrageously low as it sounds--it doesn't mean 98% do nothing. It is probably the same thing you are seeing in your own courses. It means that approximately 15% of your class does no work, 30% is doing less than one hour, and so you've almost got up to 50% right there. You will have a few, a very few, doing a lot of homework.

  8. In: colleagues in other departments finding alternate sources of income (maybe this is just on our campus).

    Out: keeping office hours. I've noticed more and more signs on doors saying to contact people via email.

  9. My U changed their drop policy last year.

    Out: dropping a course at the first sign some work will be required to pass it.

    In: sticking it out to the end, in the hope that some unwritten principle like "if the prof fails more than half the class, his job will be at risk" will force him to bump a few well-earned Fs into Ds.

  10. Out: financial rewards for teaching, publishing, department-level service.

    In: financial rewards for joining the administration (and/or becoming a consultant)

    Mind you, I'm happy to see faculty I respect joining the administration; that's where I think administrators ought to come from (and I also think they should probably be term-limited, so they expect to come back to work under the conditions they create). But the financial incentives are getting badly out of whack.

  11. Out: focus on student success
    In: focus on enrollment via use of technology (not that this has been defined yet)


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