Friday, March 31, 2006

    Academic outsourcing

    Academic outsourcing

    I think that in the outsourcing debate (actually, the “debate” seems to be a lot of finger-pointing and fear mongering) academics have had a relatively secure feeling of assurance that their service (and education is a service, just ask the students) cannot be replicated.

    That is a false feeling.  With the rise of the educated class in India and China (not to mention anywhere else with an internet connection), there will be a growing class of eager academics who are just as smart (if not more) than the smarter Americans who can step in and teach the content of the average college course.  Think of that.

    As non-American academics brush up on their English, they will position themselves as the true frontier of online education.  Will this be bad?  Will education suffer?  Will adjuncting be that much more difficult of a lifestyle (I dare not say profession)?

    What do you think?

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen

    Some thoughts on outsourcing

    Some thoughts on outsourcing.

    I have had some opportunities to work in IT, where the average worker is on a visa work permit.  One client I worked with employed 50 foreign nationals from India to write the code for their ERP implementation.  They were corralled, literally, in a part of the building in long tables with seats.  I don’t know if they had to provide their own laptop or not.  

    They were the ones I saw (and occasionally chatted with).  It is now much easier and cheaper to just hire them from their home.  Point is, the grunt code work is carried by outsourcing to a large degree…and code work ain’t easy.  Try an experiment.  If you are using Internet Explorer (and if you are I’m sorry), follow the menu path: view ( source.  While I have played with HTML for years, I still like the WYSIWYG interfaces.  Code hurts my head.  And that is just the relatively easy code of the web…what of some of the more arcane coding languages out there like ABAP (the code of SAP)?  

    Outsourcing works because there are people in the world who take the time and effort to learn and master the skills that are hard…and they are willing to do it cheaper than our neighbors in the US.  Is this a bad thing?  Wrong question…is this something that will hurt me, specifically, is more to the point.  Depends on their English language skills.

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen

Monday, March 27, 2006

    Life Update: toward the start of spring 2006

    Life Update—toward the start of Spring 2006.

    I have been debating how much specific information to give in an anonymous blog.  How specific do the details need to be in order to communicate the specifics of a given situation?  With no real answer, I will hedge around my current state.

    I have not been teaching for the past three months.  For a variety of reasons, I have taken some time off from the full-year, always on treadmill of online teaching.  That will change this coming week.

    I can’t make a living teaching, even when I was at three institutions teaching 10 courses (this time last year—boy, did that get old fast), so I have found myself, after a series of writing jobs, as an instructional designer for IT.  In essence, I have found in corporate education what higher education was not able to give me…a livable wage.  Well, mostly livable.  Corporate IT work is project based for the most part.  So, I live from project to project, limiting the overnight travel the best I can.  When the project is good, life is very good.  Then there are the between project times, and the last five years have not been the best for IT-related projects (Y2K, 9-11, “recession,” etc.).  

    Currently I am on project.  It lasts only three months.  Like adjuncting, project life is ever-seeking stability.  For now, I am still seeking.

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen

Friday, March 24, 2006

    Academic Missionaries: Part Deux

    I am taking some of the comments from my post on the use of adjuncts and giving them a spot in the limelight.

    Vito makes the following excellent points:
    UofA's salary range is "about half what the lowest paying CCs in the area pay their adjuncts. Closer to 1/4 of the higher paying CCs in the area." I would say that you get what you pay for...especially for-profit (an arguable term--see March Madness) universities. I don't have first-hand knowledge of a comparison. I have taught at other institutions where the pay was comparable (I break it down to a per-hour basis, given that some courses are 6 or 5 week versus 15-16 week).

    The quality of adjuncts is "abysmally low" to which he cites a personal example. My experience has been that the UofA adjuncts are on the lower end of the quality market. Another college, much to the north, seems to drink from a fresher stream. One to the South, not so fresh. So it seems to depend on the institution (dare I say the management, Dean Dad?) and the level of support. That is, if a sharp mind chooses the adjunct path, for whatever reason, and they have intellectual freedom (something the UofA doesn't allow or encourage), then the hiring school will attract the better quality instructor. The difference seems to be one of being an instructor versus a facilitator.

    Vito argues that the quality of student at UofA is lower...which I really haven't seen. The quality of student overall, it seems, is relatively low, No Child Left Behind notwithstanding. I have been posting some plagiarism stories of late. I doubt academic dishonesty is a new phenomena, and I doubt critics who argue that it has gotten more pervasive. I think it is now easier to catch (see and the like).
    Additionally, the worker of Inside the Philosophy factory (dare I say an educated Rivethead) says, right, that:

    "since the adjunct is (rightly) only committed for the length of their contract, their perspective is limited and their ability to make long-term commitments to activities or committees is equally limited." This, too, is something that I lay at the feet of administrators. It goes to how adjuncts are used. Dean Dad relates a small cc in Arizona that is staffed almost exclusively with adjuncts. Compare that with a university that employs them here and there as demand for a class fluctuates. It will depend on how the administration orients themselves to the use of adjuncts. If your entire staff is composed of adjuncts, you will, I would think, give them voice and input into the running as they are (no doubt a small town) the only game in town. If you employ them willy-nilly (for whatever reason), then of course the adjuncts would not or should not have a say as they are just passing through.

    The problem comes when these two extremes are mixed. It is cheaper to employ the part-timer (no benefits--see Wal-mart) for years on end. I mean, if the instructor is desperate enough to stick around, why pay him or her more when the dollars are needed elsewhere?

    The philosophical hardhat also makes the point that adjuncts can be hired because of their proximity to the hiring person. That is, while tenure track selection usually comes from a committee, hiring an adjunct can be as easy as walking out an office door and seeing who is around--actually happened to me.

    The bigger question here, as I see it, is why change the current system? Market forces are shaping the institutions, and economic theory will say that the leanest and most efficient system will result.


    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen

    The Church of Christ--a horror story

    I don't know if any of you know much about the Church of Christ. They would be technically labeled an evangelical fundamental church, meaning they seek aggressively to convert and they take, often, a strictly literal interpretation to the Bible. In fact, their approach, or hermeneutic, comes, often, in three parts:
    1. Direct command
    2. Divine example
    3. Necessary inference (a handy catch all)

    I was reminded of all of this by this story about a preacher's (they are not referred to as ministers) murder yesterday in Tennessee (a hotbed of CofCs).

    I lift this quote from an elder (sort of like a ruling council of old men who run the place--each church is theoretically autonomous, unlike the neighboring Baptist) about the quality of their preacher (they don't use pastor either--don't even think about priest). The elder, in typical CofC fashion lauds:

    "He seemed like he was real happy here, and we were happy with him," Ash said. "He preached the Bible. He didn't make his opinions known on what was popular or what was politically right. He just preached the Bible."
    I shudder at the memories...

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen

Thursday, March 23, 2006

    Academic missionaries

    In my morning routine, at least the routine that has evolved on this particular project, I skim over the headlines and drop into a blog or two. High on my list is the confessions of a CC dean, mainly because he is at times witty and always interesting posts. I usually agree. Today, he pissed me off.

    His topic is an important one, and anyone who has listened to Bruce Springsteen or lived in the oil fields of West Texas knows that decline of a community is first felt in the local college. In order to survive, the CC must adapt to the immediate and pressing needs of the immediate, lower-level work force. For good or bad, CC's fill the trade school role first and foremost. Need to learn machining, low-level CAD drafting or basic accounting? The CC is your place. Need to explore the nuances of Keats's Odes? It may or may not be the place, depending on the missionary sense of the English faculty.

    Which leads me to the line that pissed me off. Dead Dad observes:

    In higher ed, the major operating expense is labor. Most of that labor is either tenured, and therefore uncuttable, or adjunct, and therefore too cheap to be worth cutting.

    I think the idea he is relating is true, which is what annoys me so much. Coming from the experience of being such cheap labor, I don't think Dean Dad glosses the financial role of the adjunct too quickly. Certainly his larger aim is to explore the decline of a CC (which he gets right--once you start cutting, you start dying), but financially he should explore cutting tenured positions.

    I take a well publicized university from the Arizona area as an example. I will call it UofA (for university of adjunct). They employ almost exclusively (anyone have the number?) adjuncts. In fact, they market their approach by saying they employ teaching practitioners--that is, people who are employed full time in industry that teach a class on the side. Sounds great in theory. The student gets a "real world" instructor instead of some ivory tower egghead--someone who really knows the score and can give the inside dope (slipped into slang for a bit).

    UofA pays on the lower side. You would be paid per class a set rate, which, depending on you speed and agility with the technology breaks out to around $20 an hour (I can break this down a little more if you wish). Considering they wish to only employ PhDs, such an hourly rate attracts a certain type: missionaries.

    Academic missionaries are the mainstay of education. No one goes into teaching for the money. At best, people go into teaching for the security (health insurance, tenure, etc.). Which is why the UofA is so insidious. There is no security in adjuncting course to course. Each contract covers one course only. You are completely at the whim of market forces or the whiles of the deans.

    Back to Dean Dad. His justification at keeping adjuncts around is that their cut of the total costs is low compared to the revenue they generate (enrollment tuition divided by stipend). They are easy money. There are no benefits and little risk (they go from semester to semester, class to class). Why not be honest and say that the real model is to follow the UofA? Well then the quality would suffer. Dean elaborates:

    Major budget cuts require either eliminating entire programs, or therefore compromising our mission, or watering-down the full-time faculty with a greater percentage of adjuncts, which compromises quality over time.

    "Watering down" at the expense of quality. This assumes that adjuncts are by definition inferior. What of the UofA's approach? Are academic missionaries ipso facto inferior?

    I am annoyed and intrigued at the same time.

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    A study for Comp101

    A study for Comp101 courses. I first must make a confession. I teach composition. It is not sexy; it is not glamorous. It just is. I am one of the many, faceless, trench dwellers slogging away at commas, colons and citations. We are legion.

    We are also some of the main avenues of enrollment for English departments (which dare I say means revenue). As a grad student I was allowed (much to my delight) into my own section my very first day on campus. I was the teacher, with little to no buffer between me and the 20-odd, awkward Freshman before me. So, in my little cramped room I taught them, and myself, the basics of composition. Over the last ten years (a couple of 4 C's conventions) I have continued to teach comp, more so because it is always available than it is my dream course. In fact, I would much rather teach lit. than comp., but then again, who doesn't? I mean, try and get a tenured member of faculty to deign to teach writing... I digress...Teaching writing like I have has, much to my surprise, opened my eyes to stories like the Cloony-Huffington debate. Long story short, Huffington posted a compilation of quotes from a few of Cloony's interview, making it appear as if Cloony had written the material himself for the site (original link taken down, but archived here). Turns out he did not, heated exchanges ensued, and she has now apologized for the whole deal. Apparently it was a misunderstanding.

    I don’t see what there is to misunderstand. Proper citation is proper citation. If I quote someone, then I make sure that the reader understands what I am doing. If I compile a series of quotes transcribed from interview, I let my reader know. How hard would it have been to preface the post by telling the reader that the following comes from here and here, linking the transcripts.

    Huffington claims that there is a learning curve to blogging. I think she didn't pay attention in ENG101...

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

    Any additions to my blog roll

    Any additions to my blog roll.

    I am slowly adding people to my blog roll. Those that I list are the ones that I also include in Sharpreader to RSS aggregate into a first-morning read. So, if you would like to be included, sent me a comment or e-mail.

    I can promise you at least one reader. :)

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen

    Adjunct and Textual Freedom II

    SP, in reference to an earlier post about adjunct freedom to choose his or her own text, writes:

    I teach the only section of my course, but my course is part of a certificate program with very ill defined goals. We really could use a little more communication between instructors so that, for example, it's clear what the students in a prerequisite course like Molecular Biology are being taught. So far, I have no knowledge of any meetings about the certificate program's goals and I have never once spoken with another instructor. We're all adjuncts with other jobs too, so I'm sure that's part of the problem. But it does seem kind of sad to be spending our time on something that's so poorly organized. It feels like even if I do the best job I can do it could all be wasted if the dots don't get connected.

    I must admit that my desire to teach to goals has come from experience over theory.  I have, as stated before, taught at a number of institutions.  The ones that seemed to enjoy the most success were those which employed some manner of centralized, per-course objectives.  The nicer ones of this set would allow the individual instructor to meet those standards in a manner of his or her own choosing (within reason, I would assume).  

    The meaner ones, of course, would dictate down to the lecture (I am thinking online especially) the content they wanted presented in the course.  I did not enjoy these places.  I did not feel like a teacher, but more of an employee punching a participation clock (they monitored my feedback to ensure that I posted enough to satisfy their definition of instructor presence).

    I will post more on my specific experience, both online and on-ground.  I kind of need to gear up, as I will start a new online course in a few weeks.  I have been fallow for this whole year from teaching—the first break from continual, year-round teaching in 6 years.

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen

Monday, March 20, 2006

    Cost of Imperialism

    Cost of Imperialism -- however ideologically driven

    In an ever-urgent need to keep my site up to date, I have added a running counter that lists the financial costs of the war in Iraq (see other costs here and here).  Given the recent three year anniversary, I felt it appropriate.

    You can find the html code here.  

    NPR had an effective recounting of the war run-up, including most of the touch-stone pronouncements from the major players (“smoking gun as a mushroom cloud” kind of rhetoric).  

    As in the majority of fundamental philosophies, the present administration will see what it wants to see.  This deeply saddens me.

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen

Thursday, March 16, 2006

    Site Meter added to the site

    Site Meter added to the site.

    Just to be as ghoulish as possible to my own self-esteem, I have added the Site Meter service to my blog.  Now, I can see, officially, that I have an audience of none.  

    So, the grand total of visitors that I can verify, other than myself, is, officially, zero.

    Thank you, I am here all week.

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

    Oxford (and the world) Plagued by Student Plagiarism

    I don't know how many of you deal with plagiarism on a daily basis, but all too many articles lay the brunt of the blame on the internet and computers. I don't know if I buy that.

    Oxford Plagued by Student Plagiarism

    Certainly computers and the ease of access of the internet have facilitated the ease of copy/paste "writing," but I doubt that the act of copying from source to text with no indication of source is really all that new...or all that increasingly widespread.

    Consider enrollment has increased relative to population (at least from the century perspective):
    Population Division Working Paper No. 43: "The proportion graduating from high school grew from under 40 percent (among those born at the turn of the last century) to over 80 percent (among those born around 1950). The proportion completing college went from under 10 percent to over 25 percent (Mare 1995). "
    So there are more students enrolled, meaning more bodies sinning even is one assumes that the ratio of plagiarizers remains constant. More instances (because of more students) makes it look like a higher percentage.

    Second item to consider: it is now easier to catch plagiarizers--much to their chagrin. From simply "googling" a unique phrase to services like, instructors can now easily run down every paper instead of relying on instinct and library research.

    So, is the problem really on the rise? Hard to tell. I think the better question is how to curb its occurence. Aside from a random Chronicle of Higher Education article, no one seems to much care about that.

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen

Monday, March 13, 2006


    Bardiac says that I have long known:
    "(What does it say that I discourage my best students from studying to do what I do? I love what I do, after all. But the job market is horrid, and anyone coming from Northwoods U, and competing against students from Ivies or near Ivies is going to have a heck of a time getting into the best programs or having any real shot at jobs. )"

    In graduate school I was warned--actually questioned--about continuing with my studies. It went something like this:

    WiseAss (he was both): Why are you studying English--there are no jobs for non-minorities.
    Me: It is something that I love and I can't imagine not doing...
    WA: [rolling his eyes]well good luck on that.

    He was, by the way, a post-structuralist critic with Derrida on his dissertation committee. I blew him off because:
    A. he was a post-structuralist with Derrida on his committee
    B. I felt him to be an officious pin-head with little knowledge of the "real world"
    C. I still had a missionary zeal.

    Ten years down the road, I've got nowhere to run...I've got nowhere to go (with apologies to Bruce).

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen

    Confessions of a Community College Dean: Common Textbooks

    I have been a reader of Dean Dad for some months now, relishing his posts like the recent Retirement Letter Template. I do, however, feel the need to give a dissenting voice to his recent post on Common Textbooks.

    His basic topic is whether is necessary and/or useful to use a standard text in multi-sectioned, lower-level courses: i.e. composition and intro lit courses. Dean Dad argues that while the educator-side of him argues for intellectual control over the material (let the teacher choose), he must side with the centralized choice (let the chair/dead/administration choose). Why? Centralized selection:
    * saves students from purchasing the wrong text(s)
    * forces debate on the merits of the centralized source
    * allows deans to argue for greater acceptance of course credits for transfers, especially for cc and the like with a high transfer population.

    Speaking strictly as a low paid, time-taxed adjunct, I disagree.

    Students are learning more than just the rote content or specialized ideas of a course...they are learning how to negotiate a complex system (academia) that is not unlike other specialized systems (work, family, etc.). Purchasing the right text for a class seems to be to be a basic skill that falls fully on the student to learn. If that takes purchasing the wrong book to develop it, then the cost of the lesson is his or hers to learn.

    Second, to argue that a centralized choice forces debate assumes an equal voice in the department debate. As an adjunct, I have not, over the 7 institutions with which I have had relationships, had that voice. That is, those who are most likely to be saddled with a centralized choice are the ones least likely to be able to debate its merits.

    Saying that, real-world situations lean more to a lack of time. I am notified of an open section, at best, a few weeks before the course is to run. So, I have, for the majority of the times, been forced to accept the default text. There have been a few, nice exceptions, of course.

    Finally, transfer acceptance is a greater issue than just a standardized text. I have no doubt that it would be easier to argue for acceptance of a course for transfer is all of the sections teach (at least on the surface or syllabus level) the same content. Yet, as an adjunct, I don't see the selection of a centralized text as the best way to approach this acceptance.

    Instead, develop a set of objectives that all courses are to meet. These basic expectations (used for accreditation and already developed) are what serves as a the fundamental argument, not the text. If it becomes evident that one section (i.e. instructor) does not meet, then address it on that level.

    I do, of course, have a different agenda than Dean Dad. I am not paid enough to be a mere content facilitator...check that. I guess my pay IS that of a content facilitator. But, my academic aspirations and integrity demand that I push past the basic content and address the ideas. In order to do so to my full satisfaction--which is, after all, the ONLY reason I teach--I need control over the content.

    If and when I am given a centralized-chosen text, I will augment at my leisure.

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen

Friday, March 10, 2006

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    Post-PhD Blues: Get famous!

    I just read an interesting post on how to get ahead in academia. Post-PhD Blues: Get famous!

    The jist, for those in a hurry, is to:
    * Get famous by publishing in the top-notch journals
    * Be working on truly great stuff (preferably research)
    * Kiss ass and get the right people to like you.
    Of course, this is my take on her take of someone else's advice, but it seems pretty accurate. Teaching, for those who like teaching, should only occur at the community college level--or the land-grant universities. Leave the more prestigious posts to the professionals. :)

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen