Monday, August 28, 2006

    Lovely Wife...deflates my sense of self-importance

    Sitting in bed, enjoying the fruits that are a wireless connection, I was sharing how I now have three ways to blog: open up the Blogger interface (good for pictures), use the "blog this" extension in Firefox (good for grabbing page links), or use the Blogger toolbar for Word.

    I was feeling all geeky and good, especially that I was mentioned in another, nicely presented, blog.

    Then, Lovely Wife points out that my banner (which took way more time to create than it should have) reminded her of Home Alone.

    Not exactly the impression I was going for...and now it will be forever burned in my mind...

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    Just a quick update

    Just a quick update:
    • Visit to grandparent went better than expected.  She, though, looks as if to not be long for this world.  I am deeply saddened by that.

    • At the start of August I had no classes scheduled to teach for the coming fall…by mid-August I still had none.  I now have six.  Such is the nature of adjuncting.  

    • They are all online.  I never get to see my students.

    • I will also be transitioning from my current project to one just outside The City.  I will commute during the week, working M-R.  It will be hard on the family.  But, we need the money.  Such is the life of an adjunct.

    • Stress has not gotten any better.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

    The World of Adjuncts in Philosophy

    Rob Loftis, philosophy instructor and blogger, has a nicely snarky interpretation of a real ad for adjunct philosophy instructors. Two snippets:

    From actual ad:

    Applications considered immediately and until all positions are filled [10 possible positions]. Please note that the remuneration for these positions does not by itself constitute a living wage; it can serve only as a supplement. Please submit a CV and letter of interest to: Chair, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Marist College, 3399 North Road, FN 221, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601. (SW06), posted: 07/18/06.

    At least they are honest.

    Loftis's interpretation:

    We have a standing need for ten people to teach a intro level course which we clearly require of all our students. We have decided not to hire tenure track faculty to fill this need. Instead, our business model will require that we use adjuncts to provide the basic services we offer with the budget we are willing to spend. And we have no intention of paying a living wage.

    Ahh, it does my heart well to know that I too am part of a larger pool of over-educated, exp

    tag: academic, adjuncts, professors, tenure, universities, philosophy, exploitation

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

    First Day with Class

    Dr. Crazy has started a post (Reassigned Time: Day Two, in which I Make Students Feel Overwhelmed and Bored
    ) whose comment section has become a posting board for first day class management...various ideas are presented.

    I will summarize and pontificate.

    There are three main approaches (ok, that is false, three main and a lot of offshoots, but I will focus): The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

    The Ugly: anything to do with Power Points, note cards or anything more than 5 minutes on the syllabus sets a tone. Actually, anything you do, say, or wear on the first day sets a tone. The tone with ugly is: I am a geeky academic from which you may have to learn from in spite of my annoying tics, fumbled attempts at social conventions or, worse, my forays into pedagogical theories.

    As a student I hated these ugly days, knowing that many more were to come.

    The Bad: reading the syllabus to me, warning me of consequences to actions I have no intention of taking (why is it that the majority have to suffer the potential sins of the minority?), or going over every future assignment... Just give me the paperwork and move on. I can read it myself. I can work out my own schedule. It is, after all, college. If I wanted paternalism, I would have stayed in high school.

    The Good: These were rare. Something about academia that breeds poor teaching I have yet to figure out.

    These were the few that looked at what the first day was attempting to accomplish: set the tone, establish the expectations and forecast the content. Granted, the Ugly and Bad also set a tone--from which they will attempt to recover the rest of the semester (a heavy-handed tone--20 page syllabus--only sends the message that you are an ass, not that you are a thorough researcher). Firing off consequences sets the confrontational expectation early and well. There is enough conflict with the material, why set up a police state.

    What has worked is an adapted approach. For instance, I begin a writing course by building a sense of community, taking a small sample and setting a tone of try and revise--essential for a workshop atmosphere. For lit courses, I ask what they want out of the class (takes a quick 10 minutes and allows me to level-set expectations, get to know them and to let my excitement about the material come through).

    I think that is it. The first day students are asking if they want to take the course (those lucky few who have a choice) OR how they are going to make it all semester with the lame-o in the front reading the syllabus. One can scare them into silence (read wrongly as compliance) in the hopes they will drop (I have tried this one as an overworked comp. instructor—it didn't work). One can run rough-shod over them, establishing ones authority and might, but that comes off as insecure—which it is.

    OR one can demonstrate to the group of eager learners why you went into a particular field to begin with. That is, you can share your excitement about the subject. This can take many forms. The result, shared excitement—or at least excitement on your part.

    If you are no longer excited, make way for some lowly adjunct.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    Online Training for Adjuncts??

    After reading of the "new" service AdjunctSuccess in the Insider Higher Ed article Online Training for Adjuncts, my initial reaction is both snarky and dismissive. Then I researched a little more (a little more into Richard Lyons and a little more than the author, it seems), and my initial reaction holds. If you are an adjunct, don't waste your time. If you are an educational entity, don't waste your money--give it as a bonus to your adjuncts instead.

    Here's why: AdjunctSuccess is, from what I can gather, an offshoot of a consulting company called Faculty Development Associates (there is a link on their site to AdjunctSuccess). The older FDA (as I will call it), has been in business since 1999 providing "client universities, colleges and instructional departments with an array of services to improve the accountability outcomes of their instructional programs."

    Say what? Borrowing from my consulting lexicon (I am an instructional design consultant by day, adjunct by night) FDA is selling you "tools" and "metrics" by which you can "systematically surpass" expectations. Wow. Think of it. Instead of hiring well-educated people (Ph.Ds and the like) and allowing them to craft their classes into meaningful exchanges of knowledge in the classroom, you can have someone walk you through identifying: course objectives, course outcomes, course measurements, your own teaching style, Bloom's taxonomy (no lie, see here), and the list goes on as long your your wallet holds.

    Now, I know that there are lots of poor instructors who might actually benefit from a critical examination of their methods and practices, and on this level I wish FDA and their AS project success. But, if you are a bookworm already, just crack open a primer on instructional design. Its cheaper.

    BTW, does anyone even vet the stories on Inside Higher Ed anymore? The article on AdjunctSuccess is well-timed with the new company's add push (their newish web-site--much better than the do-it-yourself FDA site--is primed for linked traffic). Just for the record, I like my ads to be on the side where I can ignore them, not presented as a news story.

    Told you I felt snarky.

    tag: , , , , , ,

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Monday, August 21, 2006

    Academic standards for higher ed.

    [Dean Dad took up the idea of mandating academic standards for higher education, much like No Child Left Behind, to which he listed some well-presented critiques.  Here is my elaboration and response to the main idea.]

    I would agree with you, DD, that a NCLB model for higher ed. would be ridiculous if not outright impossible to administer.  

    The history of US education is filled with such movements and as many versions of effective pedagogy as there are administrators—not to mention the variations inflicted from one field of study on another.  

    The current state of higher ed is not broken.  It could certainly be tweaked, but it is a model of what I would call fuzzy market forces.  That is, a system in which self-regulating "rules" are defined by the system and evolve as the system changes.  For instance, I am Ivy U.  What have I got to prove to anyone?  To potential students, of which there is no small supply for me, I have to maintain a good brand name, strong intellectual achievement, etc.  All of which I do because I have been doing that for a long time—new Ivys are not an overnight occurrence, The Johns Hopkins at the turn of the last century not withstanding.

    OR, I am a State U.  What have I to prove?  To incoming students, a lot of which are from the local environs and would go to me anyway, I need to justify my costs, somewhat.  After all, how many state colleges have gone out of business lately?  Any?  I can't name one.  So, in this sense as long as everyone raises tuition, I don't even have to justify that.  Just going with the crowd.  To employers, I have to produce a seemingly intelligent worker.  That seems to be happening.

    Sure there are stories about the decline of the American college graduate, and I am sure that in some measures today's grads are less adept in one area than their parents or grandparents.  But there are other areas, which are probably far more applicable to modern business than others.  –These kids may not write for the New Yorker, but they sure can manipulate online communication –

    Are students better citizens that in the past?  Again, depends on the measurements.  And to those snotty, self-righteous Baby Boomers, who seem to loudly decry the moral decay of Gen X-Y: the current state is yours.  Anything going wrong right now is on you, not us (national debt, global warming, oil wars, etc.).

    Back to topic, the current system is not broken, so attempts at reform will flash and disappear.  There are just too many variables (private, religious, small, large, land-grant, heavily-endowed, etc.) in the college make-up to draft oversight regulations.  In this sense, there are more variables than in health care, and look how well that has been regulated.

    So, people will bitch about the cost of going to college—and rightly so—but measuring learning will be left to the business HR people.  They have been doing it for a long time, and are pretty good at it.  

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Friday, August 18, 2006

    The Terrorist War on Breasts

    The official government body, the same ones who have given us the color-coded signals to panic, are, to give them credit, reacting quickly to the British liquid-plane plot. One of their recommendations is:
    We encourage everyone to pack gel-filled bras in their checked baggage. We recognize the sensitivity of the issue and we are reaching out to key women’s medical associations to assist passengers and make information available to them while respecting their privacy. Passengers with medical gel prosthetics will be permitted through the security checkpoint.
    This comes on the heels (same page) of allowing baby formula (a small amount) and some prescription medication in liquid form.

    The issues abound. Sure, I can see some variant of a Chechian Widow who would want to martyr herself and, given the cultural, religious presecription against exposing any part of herself, want to sneak liquids in a gelled bra. A little on the edge, but certainly conceivable.

    So, here we are in the situation where breast cancer survivers are put upon to adapt or face scrutiny, that lactating mothers may have to endure extra attention (not every bra that looks gel-filled may be full of gel). What about implants? Is it not just as conceivable that instead of saline that the terrorist woman may be transporting acetone or peroxide? What about butt implants? The human body is up to 80% liquid, so there are opportunities for creativity here.

    So, that is the state of things. We spend half a trillion dollars on a war to ensure a steady stream of hate-filled extremist, yet respond with actions against self-image enhancements of our women.

    [I will return to this topic when I have a little more time to devote, but there is an active, American, internal conflict about the nature/use of breasts in our culture--see Nipplegate, etc. There are sites dedicated to educating about "real" breasts and breastfeeding, and there have been some strange and disturbing comments in a recent Bitch PhD post--will look for link--where one commented about feelings of abandonment about his wife breastfeeding. I have a lot to say on this, so don't let me get away from posting this topic.]

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    Nobody hires the old or adjunct

    The following is a cross-post to my response to this article and the subsequent comments. Click and return. I can wait.
    As identified above, there are two issues here (see the title of the article):

    1. why hire old people
    2. why promote adjuncts.

    Here is my take: Steven, right above, argues that it is more cost effective to overlook older adjuncts in favor of the young. The reasoning goes like this: two search committees over ten years costs more than one over 30 years. Steven is short sighted. He assumes that a younger worker will last more than 10 years. Spousal moves, kids, better jobs, etc. all could work against this. Not to mention a bad fit. Decisions driven by economic exigency always seem to bite one on the ass.

    So, hire the old person. They probably know a lot. If there is a proven class-track record, embrace.

    But you (being the search committee) won't. Here is why. Faculty is a club. It hazes (what is tenure-track if not a hazing), colludes and has internecine battles. But, above all, it wants cool people to join. Older adjuncts, from my experience, usually rank lower on the "cool" spectrum (even if they are cool once you get to know them, but that is a tangent). Hire the young'n because young is vibrant. Nothing needs an infusion of life like academic departments. Kind of vampirish, but there it is.

    But then again, you may not want to hire the adjunct. If they are excellent teachers, you want to flexibility of inserting them at will to save the day (none of our full-time instructors want to drive 2.5 hours to teach this class of nursing majors Business Writing—but you, Mr. Adjunct, are perfect). Or, you may secretly wonder why they were not hired full time to begin with. Yes, occasionally (so I have heard) adjuncting may be the way to full-time, but I doubt it. It is too easy to pigeonhole the adjuncts as also-rans. Prophets are revered in their hometown.

    So, if you are old and adjuncting, consider a move: to another institution, town or job. Why, because the track you are on is not tenure but dead-end bound.

    [After posting the above, I read Dean Dad's post on the "Grey Ceiling" (article link)which outlines the tendency of older workers to remain on the job, leaving little room for Gen-Xs. Initially I felt there was a conflict at work here: how can older workers make up the grey ceiling when they are not being hired?

    But there really no conflict, unless one of class or inclusion. In academia, it is still the tenured group which has the advantages (to hire their whim, to stay on the job, etc.) and the lower levels to suffer the consequences (older, haven't-worked-at-that-job-forever, adjuncts, etc.)]

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

    A Peak behind the Curtain

    Here is a quick take on my life at the moment, taking a break from the political and educational posts:

    • I will be flying to The Red State (there is only one like this one) to visit my
      Memaw. Hospice has been called, and I need to go. Hopefully, the call
      was premature.
    • I have applied online to a local law school. I will have to take the LSAT, so I don't
      know, still, if this is the way I want to go.
    • I have a stack of 20-odd books on my dissertation topic (roughly) that I got from
      the library. Ostensibly I am using them to fill out the prospectus section on the current state of scholarship in my area/topic. They have been sitting there for a week now.
    • I am at a crossroads, and I am not sure as to where I want/need to focus my
      energies. No signs are coming.
    • Pookie starts kindergarten this year. I dread her going away to school. The first 5 years have gone so fast that the next 12 will surely go as fast and then she will be gone. [Well, that was pathetically over-dramatic…but I am still sad]
    • Lovely Wife has an interview today. If it goes well, and I hope it does, she will be working in her field for the first time since getting the MA. Small town is rough for an Ivy grad.
    • My Dad has been diagnosed recently with Parkinson's Disorder, which is not the
      Disease, but close enough. Lots of bad news lately.
    • I missed my Papaw's funeral 6 years ago, and I still feel guilty. I was out of the country at the time and had just visited him maybe two weeks before, but still. I caught his last lucent moments—after driving for two straight days—literally walking up to the bed-side and having 5 minutes before what we think was a stroke took him away. I dread that I will do the same with Memaw.
    • Memaw and Papaw are such Southern names for grandparents.
    • I really wish that I had more comments from the posts I have been putting up. I am getting a little discouraged.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

    Reading is like a red, red rose...

    I just finished an interesting piece by Laurence Musgrove, writing here.  He argues that students bring metaphors of reading with them to learning which, if intrusive, can engage in "self-defeating notions of reading" which, once identified, can be remediated.  That is, like a triage nurse, the Freshman comp instructor (or reading instructor if you like) can diagnose faulty writing/reading philosophies by identifying the metaphors the students carry with them.  

    Examples of reading metaphors (answers to the question: "Reading is like…?") include:
    ·  1. Reading is grafting, and the reader connects new text to another text read.
    ·  2. Reading is dancing, and the reader follows the lead and steps of the text, including its rhythm, music, lyric, genre, and flow.
    ·  3. Reading is sorting, and the reader puts knowledge and experience and dramatic elements of text into categories.
    And on…  

    The comments section of the online article includes mainly positive remarks.  But I have some questions about this whole approach.

    While I have no problem with diagnosing "erroneous" metaphors for writing/reading (the lower the ACT scores, he argues, the more "realistic" their metaphors (concrete?) and the more oppositional (my word).  That is, if a student isn't successful in academics (as measured by ACT score), then they will have less abstruse approaches and appreciation for reading.  Duh.

    Not to be too self-evident, but if a student has difficulties in succeeding in writing/reading, then she is not going to view that activity in a positive, abstract light.  It is a pain in the ass, and the metaphors they use to describe that activity (itself ensconced in the very type of classroom activity—abstruse, tangential to the main topic, etc.—that they usually don't succeed in anyway) will reflect this antagonism.  

    I resist the notion of presenting students with better metaphors in the hopes that by better visualization they will be able to overcome their inherent resistance to the act.  This smacks of egotism and "teacherly" approaches that are insulting and not effective.

    Why, you may ask?  To assume that a reading/writing student must engage the text (either another's or their own) in the same generalized manner (abstract metaphors are indicators of success, says Musgrove) does little more than say to the student: be just like me.  It also degenerates into the "teacherly" activities that I deplored as a student (and don't think work as an instructor); namely, Fill-in-the-blank-pseudo-psychiatry.  
    • If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?  

    • Your approach to reading is like…?  

    • Learning is like…?
    Again, this may be good to gauge the starting point of a particular student, extrapolations to a larger pedagogical approach seems dubious at best.  I am going to put serious stock into a student's response that reading is like a sponge? Like a dancing? Like sorting?  Seems like I am finding what I, as an educated instructor, want to hear.  It is self-validating and complimenting.  

    Finally, the students will be drawing from a shared pool for their metaphors.  At best, they will overlap from what the students have shared from popular culture (reading is like a 50 Cent mash-up); at worst, they will give me, the instructor, what the think I will want to hear (reading is like grafting…one idea onto another…with nice, puffy, white clouds).  It is, after all, the "successful" students who scored well on the ACT that produced the satisfying (to the instructor at least) metaphors.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

    Claire Hoffman--Girls Gone Wild

    The feminist-leaning blog-world * (of which has myallegiance and readership) is humming about Claire Hoffman's 'Baby, Give Me a Kiss' story in the LA Times. If you haven't read it, do so now. Then come back. I will wait.

    I will talk about Ms. Hoffman's article, not of content (which is sterling) but
    of form and tone. First, her article moves and sounds like a feature of a
    news magazine (like the New Yorker or the like) rather than the standard news
    format. It appeared in the "Magazine" publication, but I found
    it online. This format allows her freedom in writing from a personal
    point of view. This pov is crucial and critical to her subject--as well
    as damn persuasive to her theme.

    OK, her content (I have to take it on) deals with a bio-piece on Joe Francis,
    the founder of "Girls Gone Wild" videos. In short, he is an ass that is at worst a rapist and a best a misogynist. This is
    not news so much as confirmation.

    Ms. Hoffman opens frames her expose with a tangible event (very well done--all
    comp writers take note): Joe twisting her arm and laying her down on the hood
    of a car a-la COPS. She will then return to this incident in the closing,
    providing more details and eye-witness accounts. She does so, with this
    frame, with a restrained tone. She is not on a screed, but rather
    presenting the initial telling in a reporterly sort of way. In the end,
    she is lawyerly laying out a case, closing with the devastating clincher (and a
    good story has a "gut-punching" clincher) of Joe asking for a kiss
    (giving the story a title--another excellent tie in, providing closure and a
    sense of symmetry).

    A kiss, asked after a physical encounter, evokes a long history of abusive
    men--which Hoffman, by only alluding to this dynamic, adds emotional weight to
    the story. In between the opening/closing frame, Hoffman details the
    public facts of the guy (started with exploitive violence, moved to exploitive
    sexuality) and his business (videos of teenagers getting naked sell really
    well) and his ethics (not actively investigated, but a case against him having
    any is well made).

    Hoffman doesn't present her case with emotional weight. Rather, she sets
    up a personal encounter and then develops a profile of the man finishing with
    specific actions alleged in court against him, including business fraud,
    abusive behavior and a set of rape allegations.

    I find her approach both compelling and convincing. Her only lapses come
    from a superficial overview of the societal impacts that his approach to female
    sexuality, including the flip-side of the exploitation--that being sexual
    liberation of young women. While I think necessary to the flow of the
    piece, it was not deeply investigated enough to be satisfying...especially
    after I finish the article, angry for a broader context in which to affix my
    reactions about what I just read. Of course, that was not her intent.

    Overall, a brilliant piece: well-paced and impacting. The fact that I
    have blogged on it (my first evaluation of a piece on this blog) points to
    writing that prompts action. Thanks Ms. Hoffman.

    * Below copied verbatim from Ancrenewiseass:
    Amanda at Pandagon, Ezra
    , and ZuZu
    at Feministe
    . Jessica
    at Feministing
    has an idea for taking action.

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Thursday, August 03, 2006

    Reassigned Time: Teaching As a Job - What I Wish I'd Learned in Grad School

    Dr Crazy, in her newly designed threads, has picked up a call for responses for the Teaching Carnival #11. In it Dr. Crazy recalls her graduate education, ending with the following:
    I suppose that at the end of the day I'd say the biggest problem with the way that graduate schools train English Literature PhDs to teach is that they don't train them to do the jobs that they will be hired to do. They train them to do the work that the PhD-granting institution needs them to do. That's not about training the next generation of professors - that's about training the current generation of exploited and contingent labor.
    From my own training and experience (we had a one-week training camp the week before school started to teach us to teach Comp--after which we were on our own, attending a Friday-morning break-out), Dr. Crazy speaks the truth.

    I see nothing changing, though. The dynamics in place ensure that those in power (admin, tenured, etc.) make it difficult for the others to come into their own place. After all, it was hard for them. The cycle of hazing continues.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    Happy B-day MTV

    I was 11 when the station first aired. Not that I saw it that year, or the next, or even the one after that. No, mine was the band-wagon voice (ah, teen pressure) that was chanting "I want my MTV" to no one particular, inspired by marketing execs (probably themselves only 25 at the time) to drive demand for the new station.

    And then it came. The new satillite dishes were installed at the local cable company (within bike riding distance from my house), and with it came expanded cable. To a teen in the far reaches of civilization, it was a lifeline...and MTV was the naughty indulgence.

    I found Martha Quinn cute, Tawny Kitaen a roucous dream and the heavy metal riff contagious. With an older sister into Molly Hatchet, Iron Maiden and the like, I was a rock dilletante, happy and content with the programmed format dished up for me. And life was good.

    And they played music: Sting, Dire Straights and Madonna. And there were the Pet Shop Boys, John Couger Melloncamp, and Robert Palmer.

    I don't know if the power of videos are as strong now, with reality TV (pioneered, for good or ill, on MTV's "Real World.") and the web (I can get all the videos I want on YouTube). But, at least for me, MTV served a vital, cultural function. It showed me rebellion, punk, rock and ballads; hair bands and vixens; scandal and cat-fights.

    Few other channels have held such a place.

    Happy b-day.

    Anyone have a favorite video from the past?

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