Thursday, August 13, 2015

Rosemary of Raleigh With a Big Thirsty.

One doesn't want to feel like the only one rowing the boat, but a few hours of orientation with one's new colleagues has made it easy to take to bed with the fevers.

"On the first day I like to tell them to get their smartphones out and make little movies. They love making little movies."

"What about?" one cautiously queries.

"Oh, whatever, what kind of town they came from, what they want to do. Did they go some place nice in the summer."

One presentation was about keeping the students energized. "I make them get up and clap their hands when I ring a bell," someone presented - on a PowerPoint slide. "They think it's fun and it really keeps us all going."

"I know I'm not supposed to, but I just mother them. I scold them when they do wrong and give them lots of praise so they'll know I want them to do well."

One wondered, but did not say, "They have mothers. Do you want their mothers to grade their work as well?"

I left the orientation and felt blue. A dynamite school, the pick of great students, and all of the training was about pleasing the students, making them welcome, making them feel at ease, AVOIDING TOPICS THAT MIGHT ACT AS A TRIGGER TO A NEGATIVE THOUGHT OR IDEA.

Q: Are we doing it all wrong?


41 comments:

  1. Our "Faculty Professional Development Day" keynote speaker used the Panopticon as a classical model of a highly functional and motivated online course community, and said that we should personalize ourselves to students with charming anecdotes about ourselves and revealed quirks, plus showing signs of caring by reaching out (by mass bcc'd email), the net effect of which would be to "hug them with your words."

    I actually briefly considered dropping techniques I currently use, because they mentioned them.

    Someone's doing it wrong, that's for sure.

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    1. "Hug them with your words?" No. Not even once.

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    2. I had to read this reply to the spousal unit. He's not even in academia and he was perturbed. ("But...wasn't the Panopticon a *dystopian* idea?")

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    4. In my experience, creating a sense of operating in a panopticon via mass bcc'd email (and other, similar tactics, like making sure to leave at least a comment or two in each group's discussion forum, just to show you were there) pretty well describes what works in an online (or partly-online) class. But I'm not about to embrace it as good teaching. Instead, I think of these techniques (which I prefer to analogize to playing the role of the great and powerful Oz behind the curtain, which at least recognizes some of the ridiculousness of the situation, and the questionable nature of my apparent power) as a coping mechanism for a professor who has too many students to teach, and has to maintain an illusion of knowing what is going on, when I can't really entirely keep up.

      I don't really like the fact that it works by creating anxiety in students, but it does work, to some extent. It also tends to heighten anxiety in already over-anxious students (and there are a lot of those these days), and does very little to increase the attention of those who are checked out anyway, and/or who respond to heightened anxiety/feelings of overwhelmedness by checking even further out. In short, there's a real possibility, as with advertising, that we're in a constantly-escalating battle for attention that is ultimately counterproductive. One can only shout so loud.

      I'd really like to try posting a course calendar with all the tasks students ned to complete, and expecting students to follow it, period -- the equivalent of whispering as a way to get attention when everyone else is shouting. That doesn't always work, however, And I'm pretty sure I can't get away with it, however, on multiple levels.

      In the meantime, I refuse to pretend that the panopticon/Oz, and the tactics native thereto, are warm and fuzzy. I'm pretty sure there are no hugs, virtual or physical, in the panopticon (which, yes, is a dystopia -- or at least a utopian idea gone bad, which may be even worse/scarier).

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    5. Historically, the panopticon was an attempt to create a modern, humane, and cheap prison system, so it was sort of utopian... Michel Foucault used it as a synecdoche for the modern state in "Discipline and Punish" which is where it acquired the dystopic tone we associate with it now: the all-aware state as prison system. The speaker seemed unaware of the dystopic overtones, as well as unaware that a panopticon prison was never actually built so the "benefits" were theoretical, at best.

      The speaker also spoke with pride of arranging a course with these bcc's mass emails and intro videos with cats such that they got fewer emails from their 450-student class than from an earlier iteration with 60, so Contingent Cassandra has, as usual, nailed it.

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  2. Yes, they are doing it all wrong. The real shame is that it has is becoming increasingly nominal throughout academia in the U. S.

    "Nominal" is different from "normal." "Nominal" is used, for example, by NASA, to mean "it's expected to do do that," even if it's totally screwed up. Hence, a NASA maven might say, "Never mind that it explodes in a shower of sparks, that's nominal for these parameters."

    I was the only one of the five astronomy majors in my undergraduate class who so far has gotten a tenure-track job, 20 years after the Ph.D.. That's about average. The job market in astronomy has been so bad for so long, I got a twinge of survivor's guilt. It passed before I even finished orientation: being dipped in addle-brained, edu-speak nonsense ensured that. Hang in there!

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    1. "The real shame is that it has is becoming increasingly nominal..."

      What I specifically mean by "it" is the infantilizing of the modern student, both undergraduate and, most shamefully, graduate. There is a good article about it in The Atlantic, "The Coddling of the American Mind," here:

      http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/

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    2. Hey, Frod, how about you tell us again about how fast those Perseid meteors are actually flying across the sky? Because right now, from my backyard, I'd figure about a thousand miles an hour if they were a mile away. But since they're much farther away than that, then holy cow. . . . I'm going to do this again tomorrow.

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    3. Bubba: Most of them are about 50 miles up, so 50,000 mph, which sounds about right.

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    4. "...it has is becoming..."

      Yes, those meteors last night were great. I'll post some pictures of them: I know I got at least one good one.

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    5. At least you're able to see them. It's been hazy where I live due to smoke from forest fires. That, together with living not far from one of a neon palace shopping centre, have reduced visibility for me.

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    6. Looking forward to it, Frod. Thanks.

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    1. Indeed. Did I say welcome, Rosemary? Well, in case not -- welcome! I'm very much enjoying your contributions.

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  4. Every couple of years I get asked about doing a presentation at our new faculty orientation, but then the ideas I have are rejected as being too negative.

    One year I suggested we teach the new folks how to ignore weekend email and how to walk from the classroom back to the office without being spotted and stopped by an inane student question even once.

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    1. I certainly couldn't do one. "As you may know, here at Fresno State, we're known primarily for sports and questionable things our students do with sheep..."

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    2. Hiram, if you ever feel like writing up that advice, I'd love to read it!

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    3. Me five? Hurry Hiram, school year's about to start!

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  5. I no longer understand my profession. I am a couple of decades from retirement but I just don't understand what the heck people think teaching is. The human brain hasn't altered. There is just one way to learn anything. Sweat. And practice. I can't learn for another person. No magic app for learning.

    I recently went to a 'meeting' where a computer salesman was trying to sell the idea that if we only write our lectures notes, complete with annotation, and save them, and send them to our students, then they will all succeed. Meanwhile, he spent at least 15 minutes trying to make the technology work. His sole reference was his own child in middle school.

    I bite my tongue so hard that I couldn't eat lunch.

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    1. About 10 years ago, I was interviewed for a university transfer position. I was asked why I didn't do the same sort of thing or use PowerPoint. When I said I didn't like doing things that way, particularly since doing that wasn't particularly suitable for the material I was supposed to teach, the interview committed looked at me with absolute horror.

      They must have thought I was either a luddite or someone who hated students and wanted them to fail.

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  6. Amen, amen, amen. I write today as a professor and not as the single most important RGM in the history of this page - that's a joke.

    My own career has spanned decades, and I'm stupefied at how poorly we are told to do it now.

    In my own career I've been encouraged to live in fear of students, of their possible discomfort, of their grade appeals, of their sensitivity. I'm told to engage them individually. (I have 200 students this term.)

    I'm told their learning styles are all different and to be sensitive to that.

    I think about my own undergrad profs and am thankful they didn't stoop to the needs and discomfort and entitlement of a bunch of fucking 18 year olds.

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    1. Argh, the "learning styles" nonsense has been debunked hard and often, but you just can't get people to stop believing in it. I sent to my administration and our learning specialist a collection of studies proving empirically that the theory has no merit and is harmful to students. I begged them to stop using the language of learning styles with students and stop having them do a "learning styles inventory" when they come in as freshmen. All it does is make students think that they are "naturally" weak or strong in certain subjects. You're a weak writer? No need to work to improve, just accept that you're a "kinesthetic" learner, whatever that means. Use that word with your teachers and parents, and they'll all back off and stop trying to make you learn to write. I hate the my profession, especially at the k-12 level, is so spectacularly uncritical, and so willing to demonize teachers who *are* critical of thought and skeptical of nature.

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    2. ST:

      The learning styles nonsense became the basis for my former employer deciding to completely overhaul the way in which course outlines were prepared.

      One of the result was that we had to describe how we were going to teach a particular subject which included presentations and activities to accommodate each of those styles. So, what had formerly been covered in a single page in the old system, ended up requiring, say, a dozen in order to comply.

      One of the co-ordinators of that overhaul was a staff member who was working on her doctorate in education. There was a persistent rumour that the whole project was actually her thesis topic and we, of course, were the proverbial guinea pigs.

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    3. Surly, would you mind sharing a few citations?

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    4. Hi Kate,
      Below are links to the four main articles I consulted. I apologize for just pasting the links, but I'm on vacay and am devoted this week to being spectacularly lazy.

      The learning-styles advocates have pushed back against critiques, and I haven't delved into the whole discourse very deeply. Obviously a good teacher finds ways to make material engaging for everyone, and I am absolutely supportive of students with documented issues that require accommodation. In my field, that almost always means extended time on writing assignments and hell, I don't give a fig about that. Making students write under tight time constraints is utterly meaningless as an assessment. Are you a better historian because you can compose and express your thoughts in sixty rather than ninety minutes? It's bullshit, and an exercise in pointless stress. Whoops, went on a bit of a rant there; sorry. I just meant to say that rejecting learning styles theory does not mean that a teacher thinks all students are the same and will respond to and learn the material in a uniform manner. Just that framing it in terms of the kinesthetic, auditory, visual, and verbal quartet is not helpful.

      http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/learning-styles-debunked-there-is-no-evidence-supporting-auditory-and-visual-learning-psychologists-say.html

      http://mlq.sagepub.com/content/28/2/115.short
      http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ416434
      http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ598437

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    5. A side effect of the learning styles craze is that "kinesthetic learner" has become the de facto euphemism for "slow."Kid can't understand written or spoken information? Boom, kinesthetic learner.

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    6. Frankie:

      My department administrators fobbed off anybody who couldn't think logically or navigate their way through a problem as being "hands-on learners". They stopped sort of suggesting I hand out Tinkertoys or Meccano sets, but I'm sure they wouldn't have objected if I did.

      How "hands-on" were they? In one course I taught, students met in one of our shops every other week and I told them to take some of the hardware that we kept on a shelf, grab some tools from the cabinet, and take the items apart.

      Few of them were reluctant because it meant getting themselves dirty. Others had no idea how to use even the simplest tools and I had to show them how to do that. (By comparison, when I was a schoolboy, I took all sorts of things apart just to see what was inside or figured out what made them tick. Sometimes I put them back together again and there was the odd time when they even worked.)

      Naturally, it was all my fault for not "engaging" them. So much for hands-on learning.

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    7. Wow QWV, that's frustrating. One of the smartest youngsters I know is also great at taking things apart and reassembling them (or not). Bad at other stuff <> great at hands-on stuff. Geez.

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    8. QWV, you sound a lot like me. I wonder if you experienced the horror, like I did, of senior project proposal day during which my classmates proposed to do things that could never (and indeed, did never) work, revealing that they had never touched a tool in their lives, much less used one to do anything more useful than open a beer bottle. I asked them why they had chosen a field that they didn't seem to care enough about to have actually played around with on their own. Their responses were that they didn't intend to actually DO the stuff; they were going to be managers.

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    9. OGH:

      Yup, that sounds familiar, though it's hardly anything new to me. Many of my undergrad engineering classmates were like that as well. Sure enough, when I started working in industry, one of my earliest managers sounded like they did--lots of bizbabble, but little practical sense.

      Maybe I'm biased because both of my parents were journeymen in their respective trades and I grew up knowing how to use basic tools and techniques.

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  7. About 30 years ago, I courted a kindergarten teacher. I remember how she described how her young pupils behaved, such as how they needed their nap times, and so on.

    A few years later, I had become an instructor at a technical college and, strangely enough, I noticed that many of my students tended to behave like the children that teacher described. It was as if they were among those she taught and that those children grew into young adults but their behaviour didn't change.

    Due to that, I became convinced that the term "adult education" is a contradiction.

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  8. Rosemary writes:

    I'm so glad to read these comments. One of the things one found so exciting about this website is the sense of community, of real straight thinking individuals who know the system is flawed. I don't find many people like this in the profession, but there appears to be many of you here!

    One appreciates such affirmation. Now, one must finish the deathly syllabi.

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  9. Oh, Rosemary, I suspect we should be making videos OF the people and administrators asking us to coddle the wee widdle babes in our classes simply to keep up enrollment.

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    1. I have given this a lot of thought. There are two driving forces. One is that too many professional administrators are becoming administrators. It used to be faculty were promoted up the ranks. Being faculty, they understood teaching, and what it means, and what it takes. Now, so many top administrators either come from business, come straight from EDD programs, or worse, have bought into the business model without having any business experience.

      The second problem is the Lake Wobegan effect. Somehow it has become commonplace for us to say all people can and should have a college degree. The reality is that a college degree takes a significant amount of self-discipline, and intelligence. So, we are already screwed there.

      When the professional administrators look at the landscape, then they see 'customers' and push faculty to find ways to make it easier for students to pass classes. I hear all the time about how students can take a short term course so they can collect credits. Education is not collecting credits. Gate keeper courses are there for a reason. Do you want a nurse who can't read and interpret instructions? I don't.

      Oh,a third. lawnmower parents. When I was student and failed, then, you know, I knew I had to work harder next time. My parents had no problem telling me I was dumb as bricks if I failed.Now, when they fail, mother or father calls to ask that their child be spared from failing. So,the students have no concept of the process of learning.

      And please, if I hear one more time about flipping the class, I will....scream.... I explained that concept to my students, who scoffed. They said that is absurd idea.
      The human brain has not changed. It takes the same time and strategy to learn hoe to speak French now as it did 20 years ago.

      The problem is so complicated and hopeless that I no longer want to teach. Yet, I want to save education from itself.

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    2. LOL, Trish, I always wondered wtf "flipping" a humanities class would look like. Have the kids sit and read for an hour?

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    3. Yes. In the flipped classroom model, the students spend class time doing something that they would not do outside of class, e.g. reading for an hour.

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