Monday, August 13, 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

    Distressing note leads to diatribe

    A loyal reader wrote a note that was for me most distressing. I present a culled, anonymized version:

    … I also work as an "instructional designer." It is kind of bogus work, though, mostly doing grunt work for existing professor to build online classes, further depleting the need for actual living, breathing, teachers. Most of these teachers are building classes outside of their core competency, which is easy, they just read the textbook manufacturer's provided power points into a camera and no student interrupts to actually find out if they really know what they are talking about. I transcribe said powerpoints into HTML and it pays as much as I probably deserve as an entry-level assistant professor. But 40-hours a week without vacation.

    I recently took this job when I relocated to [southern state]. The colleges and Universities down here pay $550 per credit hour, so as the fall semester winds around I may be forced to turn this down, or to "moonlight" as an adjunct instructor just one or two classes. How much teaching do you do vs. "consulting?" My ID job is full time, so I don't know if they would let me go down to part time or "consulting," but that might make giving my time away for free in the profession I really wish to pursue, manageable.

    I find many parts of this note distressing, in order:

    • The writer is not employed as an Instructional Designer (I mean no disrespect, we work where we can), but rather an instructional destructor. No good can come from reading PPTs, whether in person or {shudder} on video
    • If a professor is moving his materials online, he should only do so when he himself knows enough to perform the necessary tasks. If he outsources these skills, his students will know. They will pity and loath said professor. More educational destruction will ensue
    • The writer does not deserve (as s/he seems to indicate) to put up with a job like this. Even entry-level asst. profs should be able to design and craft the material – true instructional design – rather than convert the bloviating of others.
    • My advice is to look for night classes to adjunct. I have found that these students are more motivated (your job easier) and willing to put forth effort (your job easier). Community Colleges are a great place to adjunct. Really. If you are doing for the love of teaching, ignore the cattle-call university courses and go CC. Just keep your day job. One has to, like in any mission field, eat.
    • I wish the writer luck.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

    Movin' on up...or something like it.

    I noticed a stray link the other day, and look where I found myself...on the American Federation of Teachers blog called FACE. Well, here is equal time. :)

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    Online Adjuncting: student communication

    A quick Google search on online communication (here is one example) will point out that when you go online, you will likely lose all social restraint. That is, online people are more willing to say more and say it more bluntly than in person. Perhaps the fear of getting smacked in the nose keeps up inline offline.

    So, without the formality of the classroom, along with its inherent social rules, be prepared for a wider spectrum of discourse from your students. You might experience this to some degree with your on-ground students, but not to the online degree.

    How will your online students approach you? The spectrum is wide. Some will defer just as in face-to-face, treating you with respect and grace. They are few. Treasure them.

    The bulk will adopt the level of formality you present to them. Be keenly aware of this. If you wish to be relatively informal (my preferred approach), then expect that level to be the highest to which they will aspire. That is, your tone sets the upper limits. They will only go lower.

    If you give out your IM name (AIM, Yahoo!, MSN, etc) you can expect a ping anytime you are one. If you wish to separate your work and personal time, do not give this out.

    Also, I would recommend giving your students "office hour"-like times when you will be checking into the class (for forum questions) and e-mail. This will help level-set expectations for communication. Your students will appreciate this, only if you stick to it. Especially around assignment deadlines (which online come fast and furious). If you are not reachable, they will reach out to someone, often the online admin. This becomes a real pain really fast (more on online admin coming). Save everyone some grief and post some available times.

    I would not recommend giving out your phone number. Online students work all hours. Although they will probably be apologetic, they will still call at all hours. You will not be paid enough for this level of intrusion. Also, given the relative anonymity of online communication, phone tone will be lower than you will want. I even talked to a student's husband (told him I couldn't talk to him). He called three times. Again, I was not paid enough for that kind of hassle. E-mail works well enough.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

    Online Adjuncting: the numbers

    For those considering, or already involved in, online adjuncting. consider these numbers:
    • $1250--amount paid (I worked up to this number) for a six week session
    • 47 -- estimated number of days worked in a six week session (6 weeks x 7 days + 5 days pre and post class sessions for setup and grading--estimated low for grading)
    • $26.60 -- per hour rate if you worked one hour per day
    • $13.30 -- per hour rate if you worked two hours per day (more likely average)
    Factors that affect these numbers:
    • Add 8 hours if teaching a new class
    • Add 8 hours if creating new quizzes for a class
    • Add 8 total hours if teaching a writing intensive class (like composition)
    • Subtract a half-hour per day if you type really, really fast and have a high-speed connecting. If not, add another hour per day.
    Things that suck up your time:
    • Different schools have differing rules on instructor participation. For the six week school used above, they required at least 6 days logging in. What they also demand, but do not say, is that you not only log in, but that you directly interact with virtually forum posting. This sorts out to about 30--45 minutes on a good day per class.
    • Grading (see quizzes to cut the time) will take a large amount of time, especially if you are in a writing intensive course. I cut my essay grading time down using the GradeEaze program. I was able to save my most commonly used comments and just click them in. I still, though, had to check for plagiarism (I recommend using this site), and down and upload the submission.
    • Offline prep. I tended to edit my materials every half year. I didn't, though, have control over the book(s) used, and when they changed (it was my responsibility to check the book list each six weeks to ensure I was using the right edition), I had update time to factor in.
    • e-mails: students will e-mail you about anything. Then, they expect an immediate response, especially right before a deadline. I do not recommend giving them a phone number...perhaps an IM name, but no phone numbers.
    • Number of students in class--the "max" at the school used in this scenario was 12--15.
    • Number of sections/courses taught. If you are teaching three sections of the same course, then the time spent in each can be streamlined. Trouble begins when you are teaching 2-3 different courses. More trouble if those courses are spread across multiple schools (my record was 10 courses at three schools at the same time).
    Other numbers:
    • 6+ average years in acquiring a liberal arts PhD.
    • 3 -- number of years to acquire a law degree
    • $35-$42K -- starting salary for liberal arts instructors
    • $0--$45K -- starting salary for law grads
    • $50K -- average salary for liberals arts grad five to ten years into
    • $80-$120K -- average salary for law grade five to ten years into
    Still more numbers:
    • $10K -- annual salary at one course per 6 week semester
    • $30K -- annual salary achievable at this school (max of three courses per semester)
    • $4326 -- annual cost of health insurance for a family of three
    • $20K -- net pay
    • $15674 -- net after health insurance
    Final numbers:
    • 24 -- number of courses to make $30K
    • 288 -- number of students taught to make $30K
    • 1440 -- number of essays (five per 6 weeks) per year for $30K

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

    Family (dys)function

    The family and I (Lovely Wife and Pookie) spent the better part of last week broiling in the North Texas sun. It seems that I had a family (dys)function to attend.

    One thing about being from Texas (West Texas in particular) is the overbearing, heavy-handed sense of being the center of the world. I don't know a lot of other states that take such pride in their own sense of brand location.

    Anyhoo (the Texasisms have come creeping back into my language of late), my kid sister married (a pilot from Mississippi) a guy the family met at the rehearsal lunch. That was nice and awkward. He seemed relatively harmless and smitten, so I am in wait and see mode.

    I endured a lot of "How's the weather treatin' ya" jibes (I moved up North--Yankee land-- in 1993 and haven't gone back) and the occasional, "How can you bear that much cold..."? The questions are honest and sincere, which makes their provinciality, somehow, all the more painful.

    On the last day, Pookie realized that she had promised Special Boy a gift from Texas. He is five to her six. This happened to be in a CVS, so we went to the toy section. She picked up a Buzz Lightyear doll, and she wondered if he would like it. I said that I am sure that he would, but that we should maybe pick out something a little more Texas-sy... She looked and thought and then observed, "we could get him a gun. That is Texas-sy."

    I could not argue.

    We got a stuffed horse instead, though.

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