Monday, December 23, 2013

An Early Thirsty From the Wombat: Lecture Vs. Lab.

During my first semester of teaching, I taught lecture only. It went well. My second, I taught lab. It was Kindergarten Cop meets Lord of the Flies. In my first summer session I taught at a different school, with a different lab book. It was a roaring success. My second fall I was back at the CC and it was a zoo all over again. By mid semester I resolved to figure out why I could handle students in lecture, but not lab, except that one session when I COULD function and teach in the lab. I finally figured out that it was the difference of student preparation. The State College required "prelab" exercises. I wrote some of my own to use at the CC and wallah [sic] I gained control of that class.

By the end of my second year I had written a bunch of pre-lab supplements to go with the CC lab book. I used them in my class and offered them to other professors. Some of them were printed up in custom versions of the lab manual we use, but I had never been asked and I never got any credit. Not in the money sense - I don't give a shit and I don't know what dollar amount you could put on it, but it would be trivial, and I'm pretty sure no one makes money FROM the publisher on those custom deals. I never got any credit as in the original author is listed and our department head is listed as the "editor of custom version" or some crap like that, a few adjuncts are thanked for their "suggestions", and my name... nowhere.

Since then, five or six other people have leap-frogged over me (primarily because they have PhDs and I have an MS, which for the most part, is fair) to permanent instructor jobs and no one acknowledges what I do there.

I've been told not to give up on a permanent instructor position because PhDs aren't required and I'm such a good teacher and all they really care about is the teaching blah blah blah yet they hire people who 1) know chemistry less well than I (Ben, back me up, no one who says "Why do we have Ammonium Hydroxide instead of Aqueous Ammonia, did we run out?" should get tenure.) 2) can't teach for shit. They can't. The chair is always asking me to share old tests and rubrics with new TT faculty because the hot shots can't teach.

I'm spending the break writing a writing guide to go with the department chosen lab manual. It's not going to be anything particularly great or novel. I'm not a great writer in the first place, but many of my students are incapable of writing an actual sentence and they can't even see the difference. It will be distinctly un-publishable. It will be a glorified lesson plan, not a textbook on technical writing. It’s for my own use with my own section. But after I do it once, it will be something my chair expects me to share and then everyone will use it and they will "forget" who wrote it, and some other Doctor Fancy Pants will get the next TT position. So I want to put my rancid wolverine piss all over this.

Q: How do you do that? How do you make a record of your work so your department can give it out without acknowledging you?


  1. I've also found that the only way to keep the CC lab courses on track is to require pre-lab exercises.

    A tip I picked up from a wise mentor - add a footer to the bottom of every lab page to the effect, "Wombat, University of Hamster Fur, Ham101 Fall 2013". I'm fairly certain that the wise mentor in question also adds the word, "copyright".

    The footers generally stay intact unless someone feels the need to make major revision.

  2. NH4OH vs. NH3? I've had to explain that to a bunch of people. There are all sophomore research students.

    I've helped to hire instructors who are really good teachers and I've helped to hire research faculty who nonetheless teach a bunch of classes. There can be (not always) a huge difference in teaching ability between the two groups. No argument from me about that.

    Here's my advice for marking your territory. Type it up and get it printed so that it looks really slick. Include your name on the title page and footer. The idea is to make it look so good that everybody will want to use it as is, rather than cut an paste the stuff into their own handouts.

    Once it looks good, you won't mind including it on your CV. When you are interviewing, bring it to show people. If an instructor did that, it would show me that the potential instructor takes the job seriously. Don't let your previous work continue to go unnoticed. Figure out how much of your work is in the lab manual. Tell your chair, "I've written 11 of the 120 pages in this manual. I deserve to be a coauthor." Nobody should argue with you.

  3. That's a tricky situation, Wombat. When a department or program specifically benefits in OTHER classes, OTHER years from the work and planning I do. And always no credit. I don't mind mentoring SINGLE junior faculty, sharing material, but when I'm asked to turn over a bunch of stuff to the department, I know they're going to use it and dis-remember who did the work. There's never any credit.

  4. Pdf with obnoxious watermark that will print, loud footer with credit info, password protection, locked-non-editable. Will slow down the less techy. Just don't give them a .doc. Make them have to retype the whole thing if they're bent on not giving credit.

    1. Lemur for the win!!! (And if it's possible, spill coffee on the documents before you digitize the copy...)

    2. Actually, there is a cool, subtle way. You mark your materials by including errors on purpose, especially if there is math in there. You, of course, know the problem, so you tell your students in class to correct this and that bit. The students who just collect the papers and aren't in class will miss this, of course; and colleagues who steal will steal the bad math or typos, too. They you can smile sweetly: isn't that a coincidence, you made the exact same errors as I did on your sheets....

  5. No one is going to toot your horn for you, you have to have your own band. Lemurpants has it absolutely right. And no one will appreciate your hard work if you give it away anonymously.

  6. My answer. Don't do it. They want to rip you off. Don't be a sucker for them.

  7. I'm very glad you're determined to get credit, and like others' suggestions. Given the circumstances, it seems that taking a bit more time to produce something that really looks/acts like a freestanding "guide to"/handbook/mini-textbook, with production values that reduce incentive to simply cut and paste, might be worth the effort.

    Another suggestion that might work in parallel (but might also involve more work on your part, unless you can parlay it into some sort of course reduction or service credit, or whatever): my department maintains syllabus/assignment banks for several large courses (currently posted on the department web page, and/or on a pbworks wiki). Someone (usually the coordinator of the course, or, in the case of comp, the associate director of the writing program) is responsible for soliciting syllabi and assignments, and posting them in an order/arrangement that is helpful to new and returning instructors alike. While it's not meant to be a system of giving credit for assignment/lesson ideas which often then circulate widely, with modifications, through the teaching corps for that class, it does create something of a paper trail, and a culture in which people are aware of borrowing from each other (people do sometimes say in conversation/meetings, "I borrowed this from x, and did a bit of what y did, too, with my own modifications," or "well, if you like this assignment, you really should talk to q about it, since I originally stole the idea from her"). You'd have to think about the likely balance between getting credit and taking on more work with little reward, but one approach might be to volunteer to build/maintain something similar, thus setting yourself up more visibly as what you already are: the go-to person for sample pedagogical materials. If you're uncertain of getting credit even for this, you might choose to do it on a non-institutional site (but password-protected/invitation-only, which I believe is possible with both pbworks and wordpress, and presumably with some other platforms as well), so you have a bit more control, and the ability to point other potential employers, should that need arise, to it.

    Also, do you have some sort of non-departmental teaching-development office/program on campus, and, if so, are they any good? If so, you might be able to find a way to partner with/present for them, and so make your position as pedagogical adviser to other faculty more official. The ability to teach a STEM subject well -- and to train clueless research-oriented Ph.D.s how to be at least a little better in the classroom -- is a valuable one, and you ought to get credit for it somehow (or go somewhere where you will).

  8. So, I used a manual written by a grad student of mine for a pedagogy course I taught, which he wrote after he himself took the course. I had his permission, of course, and left his name on it, adding "modified [date] by [my name]" to account for the minor changes I made. That seemed like basic decency to me. When he offered to share a software program that inserted grammar lessons into comments on electronically-submitted papers, I said, "Dude, MONETIZE THIS" (I don't do well with electronic submissions, so I didn't take him up on his offer). I don't know if he did, but I tried to impress upon him that his labor was valuable, should be credited by name, and should be compensated.

  9. @Wombat: Get a copy of Copyright Law in a Nutshell. Own your work. Or, as F&T says, "Dude, MONETIZE THIS."