Thursday, November 17, 2011

Curious Caitlin With a Big Thirsty About How Much We Should Care About Our Colleagues' Classes.

Recently an otherwise innocuous post about snacks in class went wild in the comments.

That thread stayed pretty focused on snacks, but it got me thinking about what I do know and what I want to know about my colleagues and their classes. And I fear that I want to know a lot. I want to know that they're using best practices, and that they're teaching precisely what we all agreed to at that last faculty meeting.

I wouldn't mind seeing their syllabi, although I'm conflicted about being responsible for telling them when they go astray.

When I wonder if I'd "like" my colleagues looking at my material in the same say, though, I bristle.

Q: How much should we care what our departmental colleagues are doing in their classrooms? Is it enough that we have a general sense what courses cover, or should we be able to review syllabi, assignments, and assessments? If we did this, would it be us making sure students are getting a good education, or would it be us just being nosy, trying to direct the department in our own way?


  1. As Dave Rabbit would say "AjunctSlave, where the hits just keep on coming, coming, coming, coming..."

    WTF is the deal with the header? Why the use of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk? What "truth" does CeHeNNeM want revealed? Why the four spots on Ataturk's cheek?

  2. @strel:

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    7 units attack team (guard who understands the attack and over)

    5-ip-address capture (be patient, attack, guard, and that set the IP address that later)

    5-moderator (in the team to order, confusion to eliminate the mode.)

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    >> Mohicans <<

  4. Should you care? Should you find out what goes on in other people's classes?

    It depends on how much you enjoy being unhappy.

    This is your boss's job, not yours. If your curriculum is way out of whack but your department head chooses to do nothing about it, then there is nothing you can do.

  5. The more comments I read, the funnier this gets. What the hell have you done? And how deeply does this (thoroughly elaborate) prank go?

  6. Speaking for myself only, I did not enjoy being in lockstep with the department's requirements when I taught composition at Large Prestigious Catholic U many years ago.

    We all taught the same class--same book, same assignments. It was effing awful. I understood the impulse (quality control), but as an academic with good ideas that didn't fit the proscribed curriculum, I found it genuinely stifling. I was not sorry to switch out of the first-year writing program.

    Now I'm at a place where I have learning outcomes to address, but I can do it the way I want. You might think that this would lead to anarchy and uneven quality, but it hasn't. My current department makes syllabi available to all through our website, and this transparency goes a long way toward alleviating any worries about whether or not everyone's up to snuff.

    So I guess I'd just agree with Beaker Ben: Don't worry [about others] and be happy [in your own work]. Otherwise, you'll go nuts.

  7. This query raises deep conflict for me.

    Do I care about the minutiae, e.g. seating arrangements, assignment details, etc. employed by my colleagues?
    Nope, not even a little.

    But, constantly hearing "You're the only professor to [insert any whiny complaint]" does raise concern.

    Of course, I know YTOPT_ is one of the oldest, lamest retorts to anything unpleasant, a minor adjustment to standard response to parental limit-setting.

    But unlike the parental version, I have less of a stake in my students' success but more in lessening my own workload and/or performance standards.

    Case in point -- I teach for a program which, a year ago, instituted a university wide policy to use an anti-plagiarism service. I recently contacted a student about several high (but not blazingly high) scores on unoriginal content. She replied, convincingly, that I was the only professor she'd had who had adhered to the policy and used the service for all assignments. She claimed to be unaware that she could review her own report and revise work to the deadline.

    I don't care if you allow students to bring full meals into your class. But it gets tiring to hear you are accepting work which does not distinguish between there, their, and they're.

  8. Well, all the syllabi for every semester should be on file somewhere in the department--accreditation agencies tend to require that shit. So if you really wanted to see, you could.

    However, more importantly, are you the DUGS or the Chair? If not, then this is not your concern. You are indeed being nosy and wanting to run the department your way.

    So my unsolicited advice is that if you really care about this, then raise your hand and volunteer to be the department's next DUGS. Otherwise, mind your own business.

    Now back to the issue of snacks...

  9. I'm in a program that works the same way that BurntChrome's does, and think that's a good approach (especially at a time when the freedom to experiment is one of the few acknowledgments of our intellectual ability left). I know that some of my colleagues aren't really teaching the course in the way that it's meant to be taught (some of them turn a writing-in-the-disciplines course into a seminar on their favorite subject), but that's not really my business, or my problem. The administrator of our program reviews syllabi, and is gently nudging everyone toward greater consistency (but not necessarily conformity). I'm glad it's happening. I'm also glad it's not my job.

  10. Do to the completely atomized and isolated nature of the situations I teach in, I have gotten curious. I knew almost nothing about my colleagues and nothing about what they did in the classroom. A few years ago, I got a glimpse and I was shocked to see what one of the long-time-full-timers was doing. His students were doing a fraction of the work required for my class, and busy, dumb work at that, and my class was already a dumbed down version of what I thought a college class should be. So when kids moved from senior-colleague's Hamster Stuff 101 to my Hamster Stuff 102 or in the other direction, my 101 to his 102, they noticed and I found out. I was shocked. I hate the standardization. It keeps people from teaching what they're best at. But some coordination of the basic level - number of which types of assignments - is certainly in order. Not knowing what any colleagues are doing can lead to other problems as well, I suppose, depending on the field. But in my case it was simply a massive disparity in rigor and less an issue of content covered.

  11. Yes, you would be making sure students get a good education, but this would also mean substantially more work for you. Maybe just focus making your class the best it can be, and know that the students who really care about their education will take the good classes with the good professors (not the easy-A classes). I'm now a grad student, but my biggest qualm as an undergrad was when I received essays back with check marks and a 100% grade. I had some lazy teachers who minimized their grading, some who only talked about the news (seriously!), and some who really couldn't teach. It didn't matter that they had great syllabi or assignments because some couldn't teach, some didn't care about grading, and some never followed the syllabi. So, I agree with Ben, dive into this inasmuch as you want to be depressed. While I found many great, over-worked professors, I also found professors who completely minimized their teaching and research duties (many of these folks are tenured, though not all of them).

  12. You know, last week I submitted a pretty harsh book review about teaching.

    This week, I have had to sit in on two of our new hires, one of which is a very experienced silverback style dude poached from an Ivy.

    They were both terrible, terrible teachers. Their classes should be renamed "Shit I've published about and will talk about for ages without giving students any reason to care or any framework for future application."

    And now I'm scared to find out what is going on in my other colleague's classes.

    Maybe the overwhelming majority of college profs are really bad teachers??

  13. I have this problem with this where I guess I've somehow become the "cool" professor (possibly because I'm young, I wear geeky t-shirts with blazers, and I prefer interactive learning styles) and so my students will talk about their "bad" professors around me. The thing is, we are all teaching the "same" course, because the lecture and lab are unlinked, so I have students in my lecture and a another professors lab and vice versa in my lab, so I'm hearing from my lab students about how they hate the way their lecture professor doesn't relate material to the book and how their lab professor didn't explain how to do a lab report. Of course, I'm the newbie in the dept, so I say nothing, but, man, do I wish I could give more tips to some of these people. Am I one of very few in my dept who really cares about how they teach or are my students drastically over-exaggerating? I don't know.

    One neat thing about my school: we have a system where people share teaching ideas by allowing others to sit in on their classes (this is actually required for new faculty). However, the rule is that if I sit in on another's class, I'm not supposed to actually critique them unless they specifically ask me to, so I'm the only one learning, and I'm already pretty nuts about teaching pedagogy, style, and active learning.

  14. I care about it to the extent that I want my course to fit in with other courses they may have taken/be taking/will take. What have they already learned? Am I repeating stuff their other profs covered? Will what I'm covering prepare them for their next courses?

    (I should note that Tuk U could barely organize a bender in a brew-pub, so curriculum planning tends to be a tough sell)

    Sometimes when I do find out what other profs are doing though, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

  15. I want to know that "my" students (i.e., any student at "my" college) are not being sexually harassed, exploited as labor, or pressured to spend their meager money in my colleagues' classes (which is what I object to when they're required to bring snacks to class).

    Beyond that, I like to know how my colleagues handle X, Y, and Z topics and issues, and I and often steal ideas and handouts from them (and they from me).


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