Sunday, July 31, 2016

On commiserating versus punching down

So our blog has been accused, not for the first time, of "punching down."

Are we guilty? 

I'm going to say no, we're not. And here's why. 

Looking through our history,  I can't find a single example of anyone here "giggling at the fat girl during recess." We don't poke fun at students' physical appearance, disability, financial situation, or even plain ignorance.

Fancy ignorance, now that's another story. 

Stubborn, unrepentant, self-absorbed, evidence-resistant, snowflakey ignorance is what we deplore. Especially when it's enabled by knavish administrators, hamfisted trustees, cool-prof colleagues, ed-tech hucksters, and pushy parents. 

Rampant snowflakery erodes trust, squashes morale, and forces us to construct syllabi the size of mortgage applications. We may not be able to fix it straightaway, but at least we can call it out. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Plagiarism - it's an international thing

Presented for your consideration: A thriving black market for dissertations in Russia. This makes me wonder so many things...
  • I wonder how many American dissertations include plagiarized material? This article thinks the Russian rate of 4 percent is worth a mention, but I suspect you could find that rate here as well, even if not quite so egregious. (If you don't care to follow the link, it talks about a medicine dissertation that plagiarizes another work that plagiarizes another work that was actually about animals, not people. Remind me to not get sick in Russia.). 
  • I wonder if the people on the dissertation committees have legit degrees. Are they even capable of assessing the work of others? 
  • The article says that in Russia, a doctorate is one pathway to tangible financial rewards. I think we are seeing the opposite here. 
  This little gem of a quotation:
Not only do Ph.D.s allow officials who have lost their hold on power to get highly paid jobs as the heads of universities (“where the unlucky or the failed or the stupid can land,” said Zayakin)*
Apparently, being outed as a plagiarist has little effect on one's career. I wonder if we are trending that way here as well.

Anyway, have a great weekend, Miserians!

Dr. Amelia

*According to the article, Andrei Zayakin is a co-founder of the group that is outing all the plagiarized papers.

RYS Flashback. 10 Years Ago Today.

Sunday, July 30, 2006
We Help a Charging New Member of the Family To Get Some Perspective on Student Evaluations - Don't Let Them Interrupt Your Life

I am a graduate student who is just about finished my ph.d program and trying desperately to justify to myself that academia is a worthwhile endeavor. Along with all the stress and pain of comps, languages, and writing my dissertation I am also teaching undergraduate courses and attempting to develop a pedagogy that aligns with my intellectual work.

The work I do as a graduate student is hard and difficult and challenges me on a daily basis to make living my chosen life feel worthwhile - but it is teaching that really challenges me to evaluate my chosen life-path. I get good student evaluations - no, forget the false modesty here, I get great evaluations - but all it took was one to crush me. One student who didn't "get me" and my teaching style and I find myself becoming bitter and angry towards all of them. One embittered and disgruntled student evaluation and I find myself leaning towards a of life of uncaring and unengaged pedagogy.

My intellectual work and my "socio-political" beliefs led me to pursure a pedagogy that attempts to break down the barriers between student and teacher, that acknowledges the 'cut and paste' generations attitude toward education as edu-tainment, and to create a classroom where university students no longer felt like merely a number or a dollar sign in the eyes of administration.

And, for 98% of my student it works and it made me feel like I was doing something that actually mattered (unlike writing my dissertation - which feels like an excercise in futility and technicity). But, all it took, was one student to write into with a snarky comment about me to make me question my choice to be a university prof. It's not even that I disagreed with his/her evaluation (I am always open to critique) but that they did it in such an underhanded and oblique manner.

I understand that in a system that makes them merely a 'cog in the machine' their only option is to 'attack' the system through an anonymous system of evaluation. I know that this is there attempt to empower themselves and to fight back against the inhumanizing matrix of the postmodern university which ignores their real concerns and issues. I know this. But, it still hurt (yes, profs are human and have feelings too) and made me question my choice to continue in this life-world.

When I found this site, and read the comments posted there by students and teachers, it made me realize that a) I am not alone and b) it is not the end-all-and-be-all to receive a bad internet evaluation. So, I just wanted to say "thank you" - while many people may see your website as merely a 'revenge' site (getting back at those students who bash us online) I found a site where I could read comments and reactions by people in the same life-world as I am and get some well-needed perspective about the nature of student evaluations.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Return of Stat Porn. For Every Community Member Bored By It, There's At Least One Who is All Wonky About It.

Email Cleanup Day

I have been having a hoot and a holler looking at emails stretching back to 2010. Found this one written by me to someone who's no longer on the page. I have zero memory of it:

Hi. I deleted a comment of yours because in the earlier posting you had more or less intimated that a longtime community member's wife was a whore, and then you seemed to be keeping your line of thought active in the revised post.

How Do I Not Know About This? Eating Low Salt Suddenly Is Jonesing.

Wait. My modafinil
hasn't kicked in yet!

The hand of modafinil, the drug designed to treat narcolepsy and used by fighter pilots to stay sharp, is all over university coursework these days. But it's not just the students taking the "king of smart drugs" to get verbose essays and dissertations done. Now lecturers are using it to grade the never-ending things, too.
VICE spoke to a number of university lecturers burdened with mounting workloads due to rising student numbers and extra bureaucracy who are breaking the law to import modafinil over the internet in order to plow through the paperwork.

Rachel, a lecturer in her 30s who teaches social sciences at a university in southeast England, loves modafinil. She first started using it a year ago to grade a mountain of 3,000-word undergraduate essays in three weeks—triple the amount of grading compared to a decade ago.

"The use of modafinil by students is just the tip of the iceberg," says Rachel, who buys her pills at 70p [$0.91] a pop from a Chinese website. "It seems bad to say, but grading essays is quite dull work. It's hard to keep focused and motivated when you've got to your fifty-ninth essay answering the same question.

The rest.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

From Nick: "Should you buy your college student a house? Yes, and you should let six adjuncts live there, too." From US Snooze. (That's not Nick's awful joke; it's mine.)

Rent's due, dude, and my
Jefferson essay is going to be late.


Semi-Annual Check-in from honest_prof
Thought I'd check in on the clubhouse. I see I missed several moderator changes (the
clubhouse does eat its own) and we now have Fab "I delete all comments I don't like
cause censorship is the heart of academics" Sun. But, this is not a government site,
so there is no protection from the 1st Amendment. Looks like the content is thin
(based on all the flashbacks) and the community seems smaller.
For the new people, I'll reiterate my reasons why this blog should be closed down.
First, you are professionals. The difference between the students you complain about
and you? You are paid. You are suppose to be the mature, highly trained side of
academics. Posting snide, sarcastic stories about students and colleagues is a
little like giggling at the fat girl during recess. It's inappropriate and not the
kind of behavior we encourage in our students, much less ourselves.
Second, you represent a very small minority of academics. Most of us have rarely
encountered the situations you portray as common and frequent. The outside world
reads this blog and fears this is a typical college experience (well, perhaps no one
other than the clubhouse reads this blog). You are doing a disservice to the
academic community.
Third, a common refrain is that this blog is a "watercooler" to vent frustrations. I
get that, the pressure of your demanding jobs must rival air traffic controllers. But
remember those family gatherings and that uncle who needs to express his racist or
sexist comments? That's kinda how you guys sound. Now, if you were construction
workers, or in the food industry, we might expect this level of discourse. But you
are suppose to be the intellectual elite, you are suppose to be above this kind of
thing. If you need some way to vent, buy a kitten, talk to a mental health
professional. We don't need to be reminded that you have troubles, it seems a
personal matter to me.
Obviously, human nature makes this type of behavior impossible to stop or control.
But how about you, at the very least, put your site behind a password field. Keep it
secret. We know you are like angry white people, but don't emulate the Trump
movement and relish in the lowbrow.
Sincerely, honest_prof

Sent using
Block or report abuse:

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

More writing misery, plus a little spot of cheer from Frankie.

Unlike Cassandra, I'm not teaching a summer class, so for the time being I'm not obliged to read papers that start with "In today's modern world, ethics is a big problem" or " defines 'ethics' as 'moral principles that govern a person's or group's behavior.'" or "Throughout history, mankind has considered ethics to be a big problem."

I am, however, the administrator of our online resume book. Students upload their resumes, and it is my duty (and pleasure! Really! At least most of the time!) to provide feedback and suggestions for revision, in order to maximize our students' chances of getting a seat in the brutal and bloody game of musical chairs that is the current job market. 

Well, yesterday I got a resume that was...amazing to behold. 
Five pages. Comic Sans MS font (yes, really) in two colors. An objectives statement that was 100% word salad. Clip art of flowers. 

I did not post the resume as written, but instead (because I care!) spent half my morning crafting a series of gently-worded suggestions for improvement, including a short list of recommended fonts and a customized objectives statement derived from a painstaking exegesis of the coherent portions of the resume.

Why? I don't know. Because I'm a sucker? 

The student immediately submitted a revised resume and already has two job interviews set up. 

She wrote back, "Thank you for your feed back however I honestly believe there isn't an exact structure to formulate a resume."

Okay, then. Best of luck with that. 

Now here's the tiny bit of cheer I promised in the title. My murder mystery, The Case of the Defunct Adjunct, will be free on Kindle worldwide July 27-29, along with over 40 other mystery, thriller, and suspense novels. And to the best of my knowledge, not one of them contains the phrase, "In today's modern world..."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Throughout history, mankind. . . (a sorta-thirsty*)

I've just finished holding draft conferences with my summer-school students. They're all juniors and seniors (some super-seniors, ready to graduate if not for this one pesky required class), and the genre in which they're writing is a fairly sophisticated one, addressed to a scholarly or professional audience, not a popular one.  Audience is, of course, specified in the assignment (good composition-pedagogy  practice and all that). 

Of the papers I read, almost 10% (i.e. 3 or 4) began with some variation of "Throughout history, mankind has. . ."  Not that exact syntax, but the three key words, or very near synonyms, all showed up in the first sentence.  I have three strategies for providing feedback to students when this happens, two fairly gentle, one a bit less so (but perhaps more effective? That's what I'm wondering, so this is sort of a thirsty):

  • "You know; that's kind of a cliche. You probably want to think of a more original opener that will draw the interest of your particular audience."  [Most of them know about cliches, and that cliches are bad.  Of course they can't spell, or at least conjugate the various forms of, "cliche," but they get the basic concept, and we're talking, so spelling/conjugation isn't a problem]
  • "The opening perspective of the paper is a bit too broad.  You want to start at the wide-angle level and zoom in, not start at the satellite level and try to work all the way down from there.  Remember you're writing for a specialist audience."  [camera metaphors seem to work pretty well -- in fact they have since well before everyone was carrying a camera all the time.  Hey, even I am part of the post-Sputnik generation, and my students grew up in a world where we've always had views of the earth from space]
  • "You know; that's really not a good way to begin a paper. In fact, when teachers joke about the prototypical bad paper opening, that's the one they use."  [I only say this occasionally, usually after saying one of the above.  Obviously, it's chancy -- saying it's a really bad opening; referring to the fact that teachers joke about bad student writing.  There are lots of pitfalls here. At the same time, I wonder whether I should say it more often.  After all, they're halfway through college, and don't I owe them the information that this is a really, really bad way to begin a paper, so bad that it makes readers laugh or groan?] 
So I'm wondering: if you're in a position to periodically receive papers that might use this infamous opening (and I suspect a lot of us are, whether we think we should be or not), do you say something?  If so, what do you say?  And, bonus question,

WHERE IN THE WORLD DO THEY GET THE IDEA THAT THIS IS A GOOD WAY TO BEGIN A PAPER?  I more or less understand why the dictionary-definition strategy is still taught (and have a set of responses to that, too, related to audience and level of writing), and I'm sure that they're taught that introductions should start broader and narrow in (which they should, to an extent), but is somebody actually teaching "throughout history, mankind" openings?

If so, can we please call Strelnikov out of retirement (or detention, or the locked ward, or wherever he's gotten to) to deal with them?

And if not, where do students get the idea to begin papers this way?  Do they hear the jokes and not realize they're jokes?  Is there some gene or synapse or whatever that spontaneously recreates this monstrosity in each generation? 


*Yes, I'm trying to annoy Cal, even though I suspect he's too mellow these days, with the golf and the music and all, to be bothered.  This is also, of course, sort of a rant.  It's a dog days of summer, CM-genre-bending, probably way too long, cry of despair which incorporates some not-only-rhetorical questions.  And now I'm going back to grading. 


Monday, July 25, 2016

親愛的上帝. International Spam is Up.







1)您的全名:------------------------------------------- -------------------

2)您的國家:-------------------------------------------- ------------------

3)您的地址:-------------------------------------------- --------------

4)您的年齡:-------------------------------------------- -----------------

5)你的工作:-------------------------------------------- ---

6)電話:-------------------------------------------- ----







Saturday, July 23, 2016

We can be replaced, quatre cinq

No, I'm not reporting the the lack of buoyancy of a certain feline. I'm just unsure of how many posts we've had recently on the subject. Let's see: there was
Making the best of Clinton's new higher-ed plan from Frankie,
Our robo-proffie replacements: What could possibly go wrong?
also from Frankie (perhaps I sense a pattern), so that's un et deux, and there was possibly a third or fourth in there somewhere but I'm too lazy to find it (them), so mine is, well, you know, but it's not even a link to an article, it's to another blog (!) that's how fucking lazy I am right now (and pressed for time, but l prefer to think of myself as lazy than having the busiest summer of my life, because that would just be depressing).

The article: Meat Widgets and the End of College

Flava: This, in short, is a lousy idea.

Commentary: I agree. Good post!

---from OPH (almost too lazy to sign, but not quite)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Let's Flashback to 5 Years Ago Today...

You didn't teach me that!

I gotta get this out of my system or my head will explode....

I'm grading an exam in Moodle and asked how Squirrel Fur Weaving works.

A student answers: I don't know, but let me tell you all I know about Mouse Fur Weaving! [Explains in detail.] You must not have spent a lot of time on Squirrel Fur Weaving in class, because I take very good notes and I don't remember seeing anything about it when reviewing my notes.

My response: Well, we spent 90 minutes on it, I explained a worked example on the board, there was a handout LINKED from the schedule and there was an extra document with step-by-step instructions on how to do it, also LINKED from the schedule. Do I have to hide Pokémons in the files to get you to open them, or what?

Okay, I deleted that last sentence before pressing save. The audacity of this has me floored.

-- Suzy from Square State

Thursday, July 21, 2016

This Week's Big Thirsty From Terry P.

Below is my favorite ever Dr. Molly cartoon. She was here so briefly, and I miss her wit. Of course there are lots of people who've passed through these "halls" who have been central figures in our little amorality play. Yaro! Darla! Walter! Me!

Q: Who do you miss from the RYS/CM past? 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Welcome. How to Share Your Misery.

College Misery has been online since 2010, and we've always provided a (relatively) stress free location for faculty to vent the frustrations of an academic career. Oh, we don't care who you're mad at today. Colleagues, your dean, those damn snowflake students. We've even had terrific posts in the past about otherwise innocuous librarians! We can find our misery anywhere!!

In order to share your misery, simply use the green "to submit a post" icon at the top of the right sidebar. Write that post exactly how you want it to appear, and make sure to conclude the post with a user name - you know, Don from Detroit, Helen in Halifax, Mathology, etc. Your emailed post will go into a queue, and after the moderator is good and drunk, he'll check it, add a blurry graphic, and set it loose onto the page.

Further down the sidebar is a nice yellow icon for Fab, me, the RGM with the mostest. This is the link to use when you want to tell me what an asshole I am, or when you don't like the current background or font size.

Anyway, the point of the page is, we love our jobs and hate parts of them at the same time. We are not bad people. Well, Ben is, but most of us are good people. Well, Bubba isn't. And Archie. Cal neither. Wait. Some of us are good people. And we love to talk about the profession we chose. We even talk about ways to fix shit some time!

Anyway, as summer continues to crush us all, welcome, take a look around the archives, and let us know if we can help bring your misery to our readers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Plagiarism, People, Really...Not Politics. Leslie K. Sends in a Link from the WaPo.

Anyone who knows me knows my political affiliation, and this note is really not about that.

But the Melania Trump / Michelle Obama plagiarism thing last night really got me thinking about how we value words, language, and really the sentiments we express at important times.

When Trump supporters were confronted with the evidence, it was clear they didn't give a shit about it. It was offensive to them that anyone would point it out.

And I thought...that's like my students! My students years ago would be embarrassed. I've had students cry! (Lots of them, but just about plagiarism in this case.) And now my students couldn't give a shit either. They feel they've been wronged when I point out something they ripped off of Wikipedia. I don't even want to bring it up sometimes because their inappropriate response makes me want to strangle them.

So when real life plagiarism arises, I like to watch how adults handle it...

The flava:
It’s not clear whether there will be any long-term political fallout from Melania Trump’s speech Monday night, in which she introduced herself to the nation with passages that closely mirrored a speech Michelle Obama first delivered eight years ago. But high school teachers and college professors say it is almost certain that if Melania Trump were a student turning in a paper — rather than a prospective First Lady giving a convention speech — the consequences would be serious, ranging from an F on the assignment to expulsion from school.
And the rest of the misery...

Updates. CM Lives.

Now, time for dinner!
Got an email from the provider last night saying that terms of service (TOS) complaints had reached a "threshold" and that the blog was being reviewed. One of the former mods had a good contact with a person from the provider and I'll try to make contact that way. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Will post updates as I learn more.

4:17 PM Orlando Time
Comments have been turned off.

5:09 PM Orlando Time
The blog will slowly come back online. It will likely be a mess for a couple of days. As expected, a series of TOS complaints came from bots, most of them from a university in the Pacific Northwest, which many of us probably suspected.

Sorry for the inconvenience. Comments will be on shortly.

5:26 PM Orlando Time
Also, you will need a Google account in order to comment from now on. May be temporary. I know some users have made use of the User Name option, but it leaves too much to chance.

A former mod did make contact with a Google person we've corresponded with in the past and everything is fine. There was no valid TOS problem. Just a shitpile of automatically created complaints that triggered some automatic processes.

BUT, the rep could not tell us why the page didn't just disappear altogether. It's been suggested we try one of the third party security logins for mods that will further protect mod's access to the page itself. It had nothing to do with our email, and of course in our current format there are no users listed on the blog, as all material is sent in direct to the RGM or the queue. A colossal fucking headache, but nothing that impacts the anonymity of our users.

5:46 PM Orlando Time
90% of the old posts are now online. Surely there will be some things to clean up. Thanks for your patience.


Monday, July 18, 2016

But of course....

I know it took the entire summer session plus 24 hours for you to write every single lab report, but it only took me 98 minutes to grade all 14 of them. The only reason you don't see your final grade on Blackboard yet is because I'm fucking with you.

PS: tell your lab partner that thing about me on RMP where it says I don't actually look at anything, that's a lie.  Stapling a cover page to unblemished pages from the manual was a waste 14 staples. I read every single literally blank page and determined his final grade without a calculator, because unlike you, I can multiply by zero in my head.

- Unknown Sender

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Our robo-proffie replacements: What could possibly go wrong?

A robo-security guard in Palo Alto has run over a toddler, surprising everyone who thought it was a good idea to have an armed, 300-pound robot rolling around a suburban shopping mall. Happily, 16-month-old Harwin Cheng escaped serious injury. This is not the first recent robot malfunction:

Last month, a robot known as Promobot IR77 escaped from a lab in Perm, Russia where it stopped in the middle of a local street, causing a traffic jam. Then, even after being reprogrammed twice, continued to try to get away.

Now it's no secret that the Disruptariat is itching to replace us with robots.  Which brings me to today's writing prompt: How will the introduction of robo-proffies go hilariously, tragically, amiss?  ("Maybe the StaplerHands 3000 wasn't the best choice for our intro astronomy class...")

Friday, July 15, 2016

I keep reading things

I took a break from working for free to read this piece on student workload. According to their calculator, my students should spend about 4 1/2 hours per week on what I assign in one of my courses, which seems reasonable to me.

Yet, in one of my courses, I ALWAYS get comments about how there is too. much. reading., or how my course is the toughest version offered. This one is general ed, so lots of sections and everyone takes it. They are freshmen, so they are also living together and can easily compare notes. These kinds of complaints are the humblebrag of academia, of course, so I don't listen. This course, however, also has one of the highest grade distributions in the university - the various merry bands of freshpersons apparently picking up the A grades that drop from their rainbow unicorn proffies.

It does make me wonder what the heck my colleagues are doing. We have cross-section alignment meetings regularly, and I don't usually say much, but I am thinking I should pass this tool along...

Thoughts, fair miserians?

- Dr. Amelia

Thursday, July 14, 2016

This week's Big Thirsty from Frankie. The good news: You're getting a 40% raise! The bad news: This brings you up to just over minimum wage.

More adjunct misery.

The University of Memphis has given its adjuncts their first raise in three decades, from $1,500 to $2,100 per three-credit-hour course. They probably won't be able to teach more than three because then they'd be eligible for health insurance. So they'll max out at $12,600 a year.

Why don't adjuncts just quit, as a commenter (predictably) asks?

I wonder. Even if everyone who would prefer a T-T position walked away, we'd still have a good supply of people who have real jobs elsewhere and enjoy picking up a class or two on the side (like the adjunct history professor who is employed full time at an investment company). Add to that the retired professors who are so eager to stay active that they are willing to teach for free, and we don't have a lot of bargaining power for underemployed Ph.D.s.

Rio Salado College in Tempe, Arizona has no campus. All its courses are online, and the overwhelming majority of instructors are adjuncts (22 full-time faculty and over 1,300 adjunct faculty). Not only have they not been shunned and shamed, their deliberate mass adjunctification has been lauded as a strategic success, saving 27% on per-student expenditures.

It seems to me that the most effective action would come from the accreditors, but what's their motivation? Accrediting teams are made up of administrators, who may not be in a position to throw stones. And why should they? (See Rio Salado, above)

Q: Is there a way out, or are we headed toward postsecondary teaching as a hobby for people who don't need the money?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Spelling With Helena.

I recently taught a pre-nursing course of 40 students. A short two page case study about ibuprofen allergies was assigned. In the written discussion that followed, ibuprofen was spelled incorrectly as follow:
By the way, this
is such a good fucking
science joke that
I can't even tell you!

Ibprofen (4 students)
Ibuprfin (2 students)

My suggestion. Don’t get sick. Ever.

Monday, July 11, 2016

An Early Thirsty From Cal.

I am so tired of the divisions in our country. I stay holed up 90% of the time because the endless torrent of news has convinced me that we are in some sort of end times of everything from race to climate.

We can and have to do better. We can't just shut down when someone holds a different point of view. I've been guilty of this for too long, and I'd like to think I was a bit more evolved. The truth is, I have people in my life who think all different kinds of things. I know their hearts and know them to be good people, but what everyone has to say about, oh, just for example, the presidential election, often stymies any forward progress, any discussion, any movement to understanding.

You find out I'm for THIS and you're against THAT, and we're stuck. And it plays out locally, regionally, and globally, and the news breathlessly tells us in a never-ending cycle that it's somebody's fault and that it's like a car careening down a hill with no brakes.

It exhausts me, frightens me, and makes me want to hide out in a cabin in the mountains and let the world go to hell.

And I have to own up to that part of it, and I have to be better.

In my own classes over the past several years, I have grown tired of the uninformed "debate" that goes on between students. I used to work with them, help them critically think, help them form better and more clear positions. Now, I just don't want a fight to break out. I don't want the one student who believes THIS to argue with the one student who thinks THAT, because, honestly, I don't know what I'd do if a fight broke out, or if one of them had a gun, or if one of them was waiting for the other student or me in the parking lot.

I've done this job for more than 30 years and I confess I have at times tried to avoid confrontation. And I regret it. I've failed them in some way.

Because we have to talk, discuss, write, and we have to have confrontations, healthy ones. My putting my head in the sand and pulling my students down with me doesn't solve anything - except maybe make me FEEL safer temporarily.

Q: Help me. What steps do you take to encourage thoughtful debate in your classes where discussion of confrontational ideas come up? How do you keep cool heads? How can I do better?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Unearthing the RYS Archive Once Again Using the Wayback Machine.

Not seen in many years, here's a post from 10 years ago:

I stumbled over Rate Your Students on a grad student's blog and was immediately fascinated by all the rants. Of course, how could students be so stupid? Do the lazy fibbing students really think that a professor with a PhD will buy their lies and bullshit? Many do, and most just don't care. I have to admit that I have been that student in some of my courses, although I don't lie. I'm just forthcoming on how much I don't care about the course, which may or may not be worse. You be the judge.

The Sunday Thirsty.

Q: Which Game of Thrones characters do your colleagues and administrators remind you of?
Which one is you?


Two different readers sent me this Onion link so I thought I'd add it...


Area resident Jonathan Green does not own a television, a fact he repeatedly points out to friends, family, and coworkers–as well as to his mailman, neighborhood convenience-store clerks, and the man who cleans the hallways in his apartment building.

Jonathan Green, who tells as many people as possible that he is "fully weaned off the glass teat."
"I, personally, would rather spend my time doing something useful than watch television," Green told a random woman Monday at the Suds 'N' Duds Laundromat, noticing the establishment's wall-mounted TV. "I don't even own one."

According to Melinda Elkins, a coworker of Green's at The Frame Job, a Chapel Hill picture-frame shop, Green steers the conversation toward television whenever possible, just so he can mention not owning one.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

End of Domain

If you come here via our current domain, replace it with We are unable to return to as the asking price for it - while lower than it was - is still about $2000.

Most online searches find the page easily so it is only a problem if you have bookmarked one of the two earlier purchased domains.

Snowflake Mail. From Cindy.

Good evening.

I'm sorry that I am e-mailing you this late. I just checked my grade and saw that I did very poorly on the midterm. I scored a 30%. Is there any extra credit opportunities I can utilize either this week or next to raise my grade? I'm hoping to end the semester with at least a C but sometimes I feel like I'm not doing that well on the homework too. 

I do the practice homework assignments and it makes sense, or if it doesn't I redo it. 

Thank you for your time. I'm sorry again that this e-mail is being sent so late in the night.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Why I still need to rewrite 80% of my physics grad students’ M.S. theses, by Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

I still need to rewrite 80% of my physics grad students'M.S. theses. The main reason for this is that my students don't know doodley-squat about the subject matter. There are at least two reasons for this.

The first is that almost no physics majors, or grad students, take my general-ed, intro-astronomy class. I wish I could induce more of them to do so. It isn't a prerequisite for any of the other classes they take, though, and making it one would destroy enrollment in the upper-level courses on the subject they do take, including Observational Astronomy and Astrophysics. They do take these upper-level courses, which are heavy on the physics and math that most students in the general-ed, intro-astronomy course find terrifying. The worst problem is that, when the physics majors and grad students come to me to do research, the research requires fluent understanding of the basic principles, which are covered in the general-ed, intro-astronomy class. When physics majors and grad students do take the general-ed, intro-astronomy course, they often they act so bored, as if what we're doing is SO beneath them. Nevertheless, they emerge from this class STILL not knowing doodley-squat about what we do.

How I improve student writing. Yes, it is possible.

Sorry I missed the discussion for the June 30 post by College Misery on "How do you actually improve student writing? Is it even possible?"  I'm in the process of doing the final editing and proofreading for my intro-astronomy, general-ed textbook (now I know how my grandfather Viktor felt with his monster at his throat), but here's what I wanted to post:

I put a heavy emphasis on writing in my general-ed intro-astronomy class for non-majors. One reason I do this is because I'm supposed to, it being a general-ed class. Another, more cynical reason is that the students sure can't do math, and we do have to fill the class time with something constructive. Yet another reason that I think it matters. When I attended public school in a state not especially noted for education, I had the superb good luck of having four good English teachers in a row. The last was such a good writing teacher, I placed out of first-year comp when I got to college. Here in Fresno we have horrible public schools, and I feel genuinely sorry for many of my students. This helps to keep me going.

Of course I get "WHY ARE YOU MAKING US WRITE, THIS ISN'T AN ENGLISH CLASS." I tell my students that writing is an essential part of science. Many times during the history of science, important results were ignored because the scientists involved did a poor job of writing about the results in ways that other people could understand easily. Much of science is difficult enough to understand, without making it worse with bad writing. You don't need a polished literary style here (I confess I stole this line from The Astrophysical Journal's "Notes for authors"): just make everything you write clear and easy to understand.

The Teaching Methodology Hamster Wheel. A Friday Thirsty From Pissed Pumpkin.

Every batch of students is different, right? So the thing that worked last semester might not work this time 'round. And I've been at the job less than four years, so I'm still looking for that magical style which will enable the largest number of students to learn while not turning me prematurely gray.

During my first summer my department sent me to a week-long workshop on using the newest, research supported techniques in Quantitative Hamsterology Education Research (QHER). This was after a couple of mentors pointed me at some books on the subject, so I didn't go in totally unprepared.

I cast a cynical eye over the offerings, compared the preparations needed to the time available in my week and cobbled together a combination of old-fashioned delivery and a sprinkling of QHER techniques and waded back into the fray.

The first semester was a little rocky, but after some tuning the next semester and the following summer went pretty well. I felt like I had my feet under me, and could fine-tune my way to tenure.

By the sixth week last fall it was clear that things had gone horribly wrong. Two-thirds of the class failed the third test (high-frequency evaluation and rapid feedback are a QHER technique, y'all!). From the few who came to my office hours and the exam responses I knew where I had lost them.
  • I re-arranged the rest of the semester to give some class time to the recovery.
  • I scheduled two out-of-class study sessions per week for three weeks to provide a structured time for re-teaching.
  • I wrote extensive worksheets to use at the study sessions and made them available via email for students who couldn't come due to scheduling conflicts.
And, for the most part we made up the lost ground. The coverage of the second half of the semester was a little weak owing to a lack of time, but they had gotten the really important stuff from the first third. And I took a possible lesson from this: treating them like primary school students can help with core skills.

The next semester I used some worksheets to hammer home certain lessons that I knew to be stumbling blocks, and it worked. So, for this summer I decided to make more extensive use of structured practice activities to teach core skills; I had a worksheet (or two!) for almost every one of our long summer classes. I roamed the classroom spotting places where a group was going astray here, shoring up weak comprehension there, helping them to generalize in another place.

The first three exams were disastrous.

The students haven't been mastering the skills on the worksheets. They appear to have been treating them as busy work to be gotten out of the way and of no importance to the course. So, once again I am scrambling to re-organize emphasis for the rest of the term. More practice on those core skills for the next few weeks, which means for the rest of the term I'll have to devote more time to the principles that we're suppose to be mastering during these weeks, which means the second half is going to be a little weak. Again.

New lesson: the students have to <i>care</i> about the worksheets before they get enough out of them. It worked that first time because the class was scared by their performance on the first exams and they were grateful for a chance to catch up. It worked the second time because these were many of the same students from the first time. Going forward I need to make more sparing use of in-class practice tasks and really lean on their importance. Maybe provide some examples at the end of the worksheets?

Q: What is your single best method for helping them learn?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Can we talk about something wonky?

Universal Basic Income. 

Clinton's just proposed free state college tuition. Which, great. If that goes through, maybe there will be some Federal dollars to make up for the decreases in state funding. But how much can free college really accomplish when a substantial number of matriculants arrive unprepared? When student characteristics account for as much as 87% of the variance in graduation rate, there's only so much an institution can do. Even the best-designed program, one that doubles the graduation rate, only gets you up to around 50%. Besides, most institutions aren't in a position to pony up an additional $4700 per student per year, even if such a program ultimately reduces the cost per graduate.  

And even if we knock down every possible obstacle (?!) in order to get university diplomas into the hands of as many people as possible, what happens at the other end? 

According to the folks at the New York Fed, "perhaps a quarter of those who earn a bachelor's degree pay the costs to attend school but reap little, if any, economic benefit." That's now, with 34% of American adults holding bachelor's degrees. Does anyone think that increasing the number of college graduates will make this better? 

In the words of the NYT:  The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job. It's necessary but not sufficient; graduates find that they've bought themselves a hunting license, not a golden ticket. 

Middle-class jobs are disappearing  "as industries with low average pay grow significantly and mid-range industries wither." Low-paying jobs are replacing midlevel ones. 

Obviously (it's obvious to me, anyway) this is an issue that higher ed can't solve by itself. And credential inflation isn't going to fix this. 

Universal Basic Income. It sounds intriguing to me, but I don't know enough about it. What do you think? What's the answer? 

- Frankie

Amelia is Thirsty.

  1. Who is working for free this summer like me?
  2. Are you doing things for research or for teaching?
  3. Are you working on a way to fit the presidential election into your class? (I am...perhaps weaving the most appropriate hamster fur cape for each candidate to wear to the inauguration.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

okay, this isn't original content neither

This is a good article in the Atlantic on why grad students don't finish:

Conclusion: maybe the grad students weren't crazy to begin with. Maybe their grad programs drove them insane.

Duh. Ya think?

- Mildred from Medicine Hat

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Tip.

I've been reading here for a few months. Where you really should spend your time is here. Much better blog.


bad haiku for the first full week of july. (the return of greta...)

it's been one week since
the last term ended, and i
can do little more

than sit with little
ambition.  the coffee is
warm, the garden begs

for attention, the
birds chatter when the feeder
is empty. i bask

in the emptiness
of immediate purpose,

lacking intent. oh,
thirty years of tending an
academic plot,

plotting my escape,
and maybe i am starting
to resign myself

to the fact that i
am as rooted as landscape –
and as much noticed.

lately, the notes i
write on student essays are
clearly magic, inked

invisibly, clear
as air and just as grasped. oh,
man. the shapes a bright

container … mandates.
tee hee.  the rote with which my
students perform is

ghastly. who taught them
to ignore instruction while
asking, "is this what

you want?" what i want?
what i want is a thinking
student, a student

who reads, a student
who ignores the siren call
of the text, a class

with the texture of
unfinished tapestry, a
garden of words and

thoughts, and summers that
last longer than the novels
on my list, and an

empty inbox, and
the strutters ball daylily,
and a little rain,

and more coffee, and
one single night with viggo
mortensen – but i

digress … and i should,
as this is summer, and the
sunlight beckons, and

the moonlight brightens
the tiny, white alyssum
that borders the path

that leads to the chair
where i can contemplate the
landscape that recalls

a certain calling
more fruitful than writing with
invisible ink,

a small plot inked with
hydrangeas and monarda
and coreopsis

and sweat and wine and
thoughts of a greener fall than
all of those before.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Better at Making Problems Than Solving Them.

One of the features I use in teaching the intro classes for my discipline are "problem days". That means days when I give the students "context rich" problems to work as a group with occasional guidance from me.

"Context rich" means the problems are stated in very real-world terms as a story with the student as the protagonist. Ideally the students identify with the problem and have a motivation for deducing a fact or setting a operational limit of some kind. These problems are usually harder than standard textbook exercises as they require the student to build their own scaffold for expressing the question in mathematical terms. Toward that end the problem statements never include a picture or name any variables; those are decisions that the students have to make.

These days are opportunities to get personalized help with a subtle skill that forms one leg of the foundation of the material. An opportunity to get gentle criticism of approaches that don't work and pointers toward ones that do.

My summer classes are three hours long, which means that dedicating an entire instructional day to problems gives us time to do three to five of them. That's enough time to ensure that I can make more than one complete circuit of the class and talk to everyone a few times.

Last week I had the first full length problem day of the summer.

Some students started abandoning ship after their group had solved the second of five problems that I  had provided. Only twenty percent of the class stayed on to finish the fourth problem.

Now I told them that I don't take attendance and I don't enforce their presence in my classroom, so it's not like they are breaking any rules. But I also told them that I don't have to enforce attendance because no one who doesn't already know the material will pass if they aren't in the room the vast majority of the time. I have statistics to back up that claim.

And here is the clincher: the students who left the earliest are the same ones who have been struggling with application and analysis tasks on the tests; the very people who would have benefited most from expert guidance avoided taking advantage of it.

- Pissed Pumpkin

Sunday, July 3, 2016


Rantlet, Which, Seriously, Is What Speedy Rants Used to Be Called, but Cassandra, Whom I Love, Has Conflated Rant with Playlet and Added a new Word to the Ever-Evolving Lexicon. And Now That I've Thought About It, I'm Coming Around.

It's a small problem, really, and sort of a first-world one by CM standards, given that it arises from some of my students actually doing their work at the beginning of a holiday weekend (on a really lovely day in the local area, where most of them are located, despite it being an online class), multiple days before the due date, but:

Why, oh why, when a student figures out how to solve a technical problem about which (s)he has emailed me before I get around to replying, doesn't (s)he email to say "never mind; I figured it out"?

And why, oh why, haven't I learned to check the LMS site to see if a student reporting a technical problem has overcome said problem before I write a long trouble-shooting email (especially when it's a beautiful day outside, and the beginning of a holiday weekend -- the last partial respite before the way-too-intense-for-anybody's-good midsummer term starts)?


Friday, July 1, 2016

So, Who Is Your Favorite Canadian? Lorne Greene Or One of the Guys From Bare Naked Ladies?

Do You Have Any Idea How Hard It Is to Find A Picture of a Regular Beaver On the Internet?

Happy Canada Day!