Attacking community colleges

by Henry on March 26, 2012

Even by the standards of Washington Post op-eds, this is shoddy and misinformed.

Such a schedule may be appropriate in research universities where standards for faculty employment are exceptionally high — and are based on the premise that critically important work, along with research-driven teaching, can best be performed outside the classroom. The faculties of research universities are at the center of America’s progress in intellectual, technological and scientific pursuits, and there should be no quarrel with their financial rewards or schedules. In fact, they often work hours well beyond those of average non-academic professionals.
Unfortunately, the salaries and the workloads applied to the highest echelons of faculty have been grafted onto colleges whose primary mission is teaching, not research. These include many state colleges, virtually all community colleges and hundreds of private institutions. For example, Maryland’s Montgomery College (an excellent two-year community college) reports its average full professor’s salary as $88,000, based on a workload of 15 hours of teaching for 30 weeks. Faculty members are also expected to keep office hours for three hours a week. The faculty handbook states: “Teaching and closely related activities are the primary responsibilities of instructional faculty.” While the handbook suggests other responsibilities such as curriculum development, service on committees and community outreach, notably absent from this list are research and scholarship.
…I take no issue with faculty at teaching-oriented institutions focusing on instructional skills rather than research and receiving a fair, upper-middle-class wage. Like good teachers everywhere, they are dedicated professionals with high levels of education and deserve salaries commensurate with their hard-earned credentials. But we all should object when they receive these salaries for working less than half the time of their non-academic peers. … An executive who works a 40-hour week for 50 weeks puts in a minimum of 2,000 hours yearly. But faculty members teaching 12 to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks spend only 360 to 450 hours per year in the classroom. Even in the unlikely event that they devote an equal amount of time to grading and class preparation, their workload is still only 36 to 45 percent of that of non-academic professionals. Yet they receive the same compensation.

I work at a strongly research-oriented department in a research-oriented university, and most of my colleagues work long, long days to keep up with research expectations. So Levy is right on this. But the claims that he makes about community colleges are – at best – remarkably obtuse. On average, faculty budget at least 3-4 hours of prep and grading time for every hour of teaching (I’m averaging about 6-8 at the moment – but then I’m teaching two graduate level courses). This is for students who tend to be pretty well prepared, and who also have a lot of time and outside opportunities. A lot of students at community colleges don’t have those advantages. I don’t have any doubt that the modal community college professor works harder, and under more difficult work conditions, than the modal professor at a research oriented institution. This blogpost written by a Montgomery College professor who is trying his hardest to sell his institution to potential job applicants, gives a much better idea of the pros and cons.

All full-time professors have to work at least 15 course hours a semester (we call these “esh”). To meet these hours, we either teach or do alternative projects. All full-time professors in the English department have a spoken agreement to teach at least two composition classes a semester and then any additional courses we offer. … here is never enough time to do much personal reading or writing. I have had to carve out some time for myself and have found that keeping a blog has given me one way to do some personal writing. Most of my reading and writing is work-related though. For the next year and a half, I’m the editor for the Potomac Review which means much of the fiction I read comes from the submissions we get. Also, even with a reduced teaching load (three classes this semester as opposed to five) I still have lots of grading to do. Summers are usually good for writing. …
Lately, I have been feeling like all I do at home is sleep and most of my time awake is spent at work. I teach a MWF schedule (with office hours on MW afternoons) but I’m on campus on Tuesdays and sometimes Thursdays for administrative tasks. After you teach for a few semesters, you will be invited to participate in governance roles. Currently, I sit on the Rockville campus’s faculty council, which meets on every other Tuesday afternoon for two hours. I also help plan the annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference, which takes a year to organise. And I am one of the Safe Zone organisers and trainers (a program that teaches faculty and staff to be accepting of GLBTQ students). I frequently volunteer to hold workshops or talks (recently I co-facilitated a poetry workshop for “Will Power,” our Shakespeare festival). And just last weekend I presented at the 4 Cs in Atlanta.
As you can see, a lot of my time is dedicated to MC-related projects, but I’m certainly not overwhelmed nor do I think I’m under appreciated. We are allowed one day off during the week (we are only required to be at work 4 out of 5 days but as you probably guessed I tend to read, write, or plan for work on that day too). Teaching at MC is a time-consuming but fulfilling experience.

This is a good job, as compared to many jobs in academia (e.g. the silent majority of adjuncts with rotten pay and no benefits or job security). There is some flexibility (Zachary Benavidez, the author of the blogpost has one day a week off in theory, if not in practice), and some of the work sounds interesting (he sometimes gets to teach courses that speak to his own interests). But it’s also, unmistakably, very demanding. Teaching 5 courses a semester is not fun – it takes a lot of preparation. Being able to substitute some administrative work for coursework helps, but not as much as you might think (administration is a time-suck). Teaching freshman composition courses to incoming students who are likely to have no experience in writing academic-standard prose is hard.

Community colleges get far less attention than they deserve in debates over US higher education. Journalists, who almost invariably went to elite institutions themselves, worry more about diversity issues at Princeton, Stanford and Harvard, than they do about the institutions that do “critically important work” (to use Levy’s inopportune phrase in a more opportune way), in supporting economic and social mobility among a far larger and more diverse sampling of the US population. Community colleges are badly underfunded, and becoming more so over time (see the background information in this article in the Washington Monthly, which has done a lot of good work on this over the years). Frankly, the US would probably be better off overall if institutions like my own got less support from the US government via various indirect means, and institutions like Montgomery College got more.

In any event, lazy and ignorant articles like this don’t help. I don’t know if this commenter’s suggestion that Levy has no teaching experience himself is true (I would guess that Levy has done some teaching, but that his days of doing any instructing that involved serious preparation are in the far distant past). But if Levy would like to put his money where his mouth is, I imagine that there are opportunities open to him. With his excellent qualifications, I’ve no doubt that he could line up four or five adjuncting courses over one semester in Montgomery College or an equivalent institution, perhaps, with the agreement of the college, under an assumed name. Afterwards, he could report – on the basis of actual knowledge this time – on whether or not community college professors are overpaid slackers.

{ 295 comments }

1

piglet 03.26.12 at 3:21 pm

“Journalists, who almost invariably went to elite institutions themselves”

Any evidence for that claim?

2

Henry 03.26.12 at 3:27 pm

Anecdotal evidence, resulting from frequent interaction therewith – I think that there’s statistical work on this but can’t remember where. I have seen occasional comment on the surprising fact that Ezra Klein was able to make it big, despite coming from UCLA (!) rather than one of the Ivies. I should make clearer that I am talking about the journalists in the larger newspapers and policy magazines who tend to set the parameters of public debate on this.

3

P O'Neill 03.26.12 at 3:42 pm

We may have a worthy successor to the Fafblog meme about Big Poor causing the financial crisis. It’s Big Instructor causing the higher education crisis. I wonder if he’s ever spoken to anyone at a community college on the teaching or student side? It’s very demanding — many students part-time, as a result of lot of evening or weekend hours, and a lot of ad hoc support time to students from different backgrounds, previous training etc. And not a word from him about administrative bloat at 4 year colleges or universities.

4

Meredith 03.26.12 at 3:50 pm

Robert Reich has been a vocal, informed advocate of community colleges since the early 1990′s. This from his (unsuccessful) primary run in the Democratic gubernatorial campaign in MA in 2002 — he really did make support for community colleges a major element of his campaign (guess who finally did become governor? yep, good old Mitt):
http://www.ontheissues.org/celeb/Robert_Reich_Education.htm

Business groups and right wing conservative “think tanks” have orchestrated a campaign to undermine public education on every level since the 1980′s, not least here in MA. Should we be surprised that the Kaplan subsidiary, the WaPo, publishes tripe like this?

As a commenter on Krugman’s post about this story repeats several times, “I smell Koch.”

5

mpowell 03.26.12 at 3:55 pm

Not that this would really address the cost explosion in HE, but is it possible that there is a lot of duplication of effort going on here? I’m sure very similar classes are offered at many college campuses. Why can’t all that prep work be better shared? This does nothing for grading or office time, of course…

6

Tedra Osell 03.26.12 at 4:20 pm

I taught one semester at a cc, for $2k. Got a shitty evaluation from the dean and chair for “not treating the kids enough like high schoolers.” Fuck that shit.

7

Joe 03.26.12 at 4:52 pm

I find it rather comical that David Levy, a former chancellor of a university, criticizes faculty members for making too much money. Do chancellors deserve the salary they receive? Maybe, but certainly not in all cases. When he was chancellor, he probably should have noticed the layers and layers of administrative positions that serve little purpose. Do educational institutions really need a “Director of Intramural Sports” or any “Assistant to the Assistant Dean”? Let’s “cut the fat” from administration budgets before we go on attacking those who serve the primary mission of colleges and universities.

Any rational person, and even businesspeople, will recognize that educating students is the primary function of colleges and universities (businesspeople: read “primary function” as “mission”). To recommend that faculty members at institutions where teaching is of greater importance than research ought to be compensated less is to undermine this goal.

8

afinetheorem 03.26.12 at 4:54 pm

Regardless of how many hours are spent in the classroom, isn’t it strange that 88k in one of the wealthiest counties in America (13th, in fact, in a metro area which includes 10 of the 16 wealthiest) for full professors that generally have PhDs is considered high? Without having access to the data, my very strong hunch is that a policeman or a high school teacher with 10 years experience in Montgomery teacher is making more than 88k. Standard community college salaries in poorer regions are much lower (even in econ, adjuncts I’ve known make something like 2500-4000/course, so 25k-40k for 10 courses over two semesters, which clearly is not a lot of money).

9

AcademicLurker 03.26.12 at 5:10 pm

My impression is that movement conservatives are outraged that professors and secondary school teachers get paid anything at all.

10

Scott Martens 03.26.12 at 5:12 pm

Yet another reason why I think I’m going to try to stick it out in European academia. I know my chances here aren’t great, but getting a faculty position in the States sounds more and more like a Pyrrhic victory. I remember my Dad struggling in vain for tenure in the 80s with a large classload and not enough research and ask myself if it’s worth it.

If Levy represents the direction of higher education policy in the US, I’d rather go back to writing code.

I am informed – rumor mill, but from someone who would know, so the usual disclaimers apply – that German universities are aggressively trying to hire European profs away from the States, and leaning heavily on “we’re not slave-drivers.” I know one well-known figure in my field has been hired away from a relatively high-tier Canadian university that way.

11

MPAVictoria 03.26.12 at 5:18 pm

“My impression is that movement conservatives are outraged that professors and secondary school teachers get paid anything at all.”

And the thread is over.

12

Meredith 03.26.12 at 5:19 pm

Henry’s observations about journalism (high profile jobs therein) and the ivy league (and other elite schools, public and private) rang true to me — recollection of reading various pieces about this over the last few years. Quick google search came up with:
Dana Goldstein, “Journalism’s Elitism Problem, ” The American Prospect 10/1/2009:
http://prospect.org/article/journalisms-elitism-problem
Very current:
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/03/29/961283/-The-Pack-of-Young-DC-Labor-Journalists-The-Shitkickers
Also, an excerpt from a new book, Viva Journalism! by John C. Merrill and Ralph L. Lowensetein:
http://books.google.com/books?id=wg4_62PgVuEC&pg=PA34&lpg=PA34&dq=ivy+league+journalists&source=bl&ots=NETfGOwDQy&sig=uwN-GhjF5T8Gtg8MJYhrZpjaYIk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=yJ9wT8yuO4Tx0gG7yvn0Bg&ved=0CE8Q6AEwBzgU#v=onepage&q=ivy%20league%20journalists&f=false

Now I must stop procrastinating. A good 40 hours of paper reading to get down to — along with lots of other work — on my “spring break.”

13

Barry Freed 03.26.12 at 5:24 pm

Good post on this by Robert Farley the other day over at LG&M: http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2012/03/stupid-or-lying-wildly-overpaid-faculty-edition

14

roger 03.26.12 at 5:35 pm

Have to inject the queasy position of the WAPO publishing anything about colleges, seeing as the newspaper is supported by its Kaplan “get students to take out gov loans, then screw em” for-profit colleges. Here’s a nice link to begin with: http://dailycensored.com/2011/10/10/lobbying-insider-trading-censorship-at-the-washington-post-kaplan-u/

15

js. 03.26.12 at 5:36 pm

Even in the unlikely event that they devote an equal amount of time to grading and class preparation

I think the only misinformation involved here is the attempt to actively misinform the public about the conditions of academic labor. I cannot for a second believe that this Levy person sincerely thinks that there’s a 1-1 ratio for time spent in prep/grading and time spent instructing. If he does, he shouldn’t be allowed within a mile of any university or college administration.

16

Ingrid Robeyns 03.26.12 at 6:02 pm

My thoughts were exactly what js. (@15) said. 1-1 ratio? Has he *ever* done, even spoken to a teacher??

17

J. Otto Pohl 03.26.12 at 6:40 pm

We have four classes and two preps each semester. So this reduces the amount of prep time by half. But, unfortunately classes here are huge so grading is much more burdensome than teaching four classes at some other places. I just gave a mid term exam to 115 students. Fortunately, I do not currently teach anything below 300 otherwise the numbers would be even larger. My understanding is that the Platonic norm that a lot of places shoot for is two to three hours outside the classroom related to teaching for every hour in the classroom teaching. That would make a 4/4 schedule equal to 36 to 48 hours of work a week without even taking into consideration research or service.

18

Marc 03.26.12 at 6:48 pm

I certainly agree on the substance of the editorial. What’s really striking is that he didn’t even bother to dig into the statistical evidence on what’s behind the cost increases.

In terms of tuition, this is an interesting resource:

http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=76

Inflation adjusted tuition costs across the 2000 – 2010 range did rise by a lot (37% in one decade, roughly a factor of two since 1976). Administration contributes, but since the average is of order 20% (up from much less in the past, of course) it can’t be everything. The full table is at

http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d10/tables/dt10_345.asp

A more detailed summary of statistics is at

http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d10/ch_3.asp

It isn’t having overpaid professors:

“Faculty salaries generally lost purchasing power in the period from 1970–71 to 1980–81, during which average salaries for faculty on 9-month contracts declined by 16 percent after adjustment for inflation (table 267). During the 1980s, average salaries rose and recouped most of the losses. Between 1999–2000 and 2009–10, there was a further increase in average faculty salaries, resulting in an average salary in 2009–10 that was about 8 percent higher than the average salary in 1970–71, after adjustment for inflation.”

Tenure is declining but not vanishing:

“The percentage of faculty with tenure has declined in recent years. Of those faculty at institutions with tenure systems, about 49 percent of full-time instructional faculty had tenure in 2009–10, compared with 56 percent in 1993–94 (table 274). Also, the percentage of institutions with tenure systems in 2009–10 (48 percent) was lower than in 1993–94 (63 percent). Part of this change was due to the expansion in the number of for-profit institutions, relatively few of which have tenure systems (1.5 percent in 2009–10).”

And the student to teacher ratio isn’t changing either. So rising tuition is mostly a combination of reduced state support, higher administration, and expensive capital improvements (including dorms, rec centers, and the like.) The labor cost of professors is only up by 8% over 40 years – and probably less if you include the decreasing tenure rate.

19

dsquared 03.26.12 at 6:52 pm

On average, faculty budget at least 3-4 hours of prep and grading time for every hour of teaching

This really does seem like a hell of a lot (perhaps not in cases like Henry’s where it’s a brand new graduate course, but when someone’s teaching an undergraduate course that they’ve got five years’ experience with?) Is there absolutely nothing that could be done to reduce it?

20

J. Otto Pohl 03.26.12 at 7:01 pm

No. 19

Yes, you can teach the same classes more than once and that will reduce prep , but not grading. I have four two hour lectures a week or eight hours of in class room time. But, I only need to prep for two lectures a week since I repeat them. So I put in less than the 24-32 hours of prep and grading a week that four lectures entails for some other people.

21

Tedra Osell 03.26.12 at 7:12 pm

I think that honestly, if you are re-teaching the same course for more than a few years and you *don’t* revise the prep/lectures/content/assignments, you’re doing a shitty job teaching. Most of the people I know revise courses regularly.

22

J. Otto Pohl 03.26.12 at 7:18 pm

I revise the courses from year to year. But, I teach the same classes twice each semester.

23

Dave 03.26.12 at 7:30 pm

if only the very top posts at colleges and universities throughout the land were not occupied by insane, degenerate people, how could we make this happen

24

dsquared 03.26.12 at 7:35 pm

I think that honestly, if you are re-teaching the same course for more than a few years and you don’t revise the prep/lectures/content/assignments, you’re doing a shitty job teaching

I don’t see this. The subject (at undergraduate level) doesn’t change all that much even in the sciences. It’s not like new works by Milton are being discovered every year, and there is no real reason (indeed, plenty reasons against) teaching the bleeding edge of academic research. I would guess that someone revising more than 20% of their course every year is either creating needless work for themself, or is doing so in order to correct massive flaws in the original material.

25

LFC 03.26.12 at 7:38 pm

W/r/t Montgomery College, mentioned in the OP, I taught there briefly as an adjunct about six years ago. (I could have continued but chose not to for various reasons.) My impression was that the faculty, at any rate in the department I was connected with, worked hard.

26

GeorgeNYC 03.26.12 at 7:42 pm

I am far from being a “market fundamentalist” but how does this make any sense:

. But we all should object when they receive these salaries for working less than half the time of their non-academic peers. …

Object to what? This is just whiney nonsense. yes there are “important” things that research universities do but there is certainly an element of “privilege” as well. The privilege to work hard to try to establish oneeself in an academic area where, hopefully, the rewards may follow. But those may not be monetary rewards.

27

GeorgeNYC 03.26.12 at 7:42 pm

I am far from being a “market fundamentalist” but how does this make any sense:

. But we all should object when they receive these salaries for working less than half the time of their non-academic peers. …

Object to what? This is just whiney nonsense. yes there are “important” things that research universities do but there is certainly an element of “privilege” as well. The privilege to work hard to try to establish oneeself in an academic area where, hopefully, the rewards may follow. But those may not be monetary rewards.

28

Tom Hurka 03.26.12 at 7:57 pm

When you’ve taught a course several times before, you needn’t and even shouldn’t, for dsquared’s reasons, spend a lot of time revising it. I look at my old lecture notes and tweak them for an hour or so before each one-hour class. If I did a lot of revising I’d be tempted to add more complex and interesting (to me) material that wouldn’t be suitable for beginning students, even at a good university.

Especially at a community college, though, the grading must be a huge burden, since there presumably aren’t TAs to help. In the sciences, with multiple-guess tests, that may not amount to that much, but in the humanities, with essays, it can be a lot. If Levy’s ignoring that he’s ignoring something very significant.

That said, there’s been no response to the “30 weeks” part of his op-ed. Faculty at research universities do research outside term times — if faculty at community colleges aren’t expected to research, what’s the justification for their having similarly long non-teaching periods? Presumably some prep is done outside term time, but can it fill 22 (or 18) weeks?

29

Alex K. 03.26.12 at 7:57 pm

… at least 3-4 hours of prep and grading time for every hour of teaching …

This really does seem like a hell of a lot … Is there absolutely nothing that could be done to reduce it?

For STEM courses I find it hard to see what will stop the transition to online learning. That is, the transition to a model of free information and remunerated certification.

Online learning needs two things to be successful — the stamp of approval from high status individuals from the current academic system and the stamp of approval from high status employers.

The first thing is happening as we speak. From Stanford we have and . From MIT there is MITx.

These are mostly computer science classes — but the model can be easily extended to all STEM fields. Only classes that are mostly interactive seminars seem safe from this transition.

The second part (having reputable employers use the certification) has not happened yet — but that’s not surprising since most of these initiatives are in “beta” mode and don’t seem to treat certification as the first priority at this stage.

If this model takes off, then community colleges will see dramatic transformations far beyond what uninformed critics from the WP op-ed pages imagined. Ivy league and equivalent universities will probably see less dramatic transformations — but I don’t think many people go to community college for the networking.

30

Alex K. 03.26.12 at 7:59 pm

The links above work, despite the nonsensical titles — the first is to “Udacity” the second to “Coursera”.
I wish there was a preview function.

31

piglet 03.26.12 at 8:02 pm

Re journalism (2, 12): Recent numbers about newspaper journalism (http://asne.org/article_view/articleid/1788/newsroom-employment-up-slightly-minority-numbers-plunge-for-third-year.aspx) highlight three facts: the number of journalists working in newspapers is in dramatic decline, and they are mostly white men (37% are women, 13% minority). The report doesn’t include data on education and wealth of journalists. Dana Goldstein (http://prospect.org/article/journalisms-elitism-problem) says that Ivy League graduates are in some fields “grossly overrepresented”, which is no doubt true but not the same as “almost all journalists are Ivy Leaguers”. Goldstein also says that the profession has become wealthier, for which no source is provided.

I have absolutely no intention of minimizing the destructive influence that the very American obsession with so-called elite education has. But statements such as “American journalism sucks because they are all part of the Ivy League elite” aren’t really that illuminating. What is getting overlooked is who is calling the shots in the media, and under what parameters the remaining journalists are working.

32

Marc 03.26.12 at 8:03 pm

@24: In the sciences the material does change. Astronomers can settle on a treatment of Kepler, Galileo, Newton etc. that works for them. But that’s not true for planetary science or cosmology, even at an introductory level. You also have to adjust your materials for demographics. But the biggest costs after the initial effort (which is far more than 3:1) are the fixed costs: office hours, assignment preparation and grading, and course administration. Even with a teaching assistant and familiar course material you will still spend 2-3 x as many hours on these out of the classroom tasks as the number of hours spent in it.

33

John Quiggin 03.26.12 at 8:04 pm

As I discussed in CHE not long ago, the community college sector is failing badly, as measured by student outcomes
http://www.admission.org/news/detail.aspx?pageaction=ViewSinglePublic&LinkID=731&ModuleID=20

It’s hard to believe that cutting staff numbers and increasing teaching loads will help this. And, as others have pointed out, the cuts will certainly be accompanied big pay increases and more support staff for senior managers like Levy, so there won’t even be a reduction in tuition.

34

Gene O'Grady 03.26.12 at 8:06 pm

Tom Hurka in no. 28, over the last three years or so I have taken several calculus courses at the local community college. Lots of written assignments and always returned clearly having been read, by people who have about 150 students overall in their classes; I don’t see where they find the time. Ditto for the accounting courses I took; the powers that be are trying to make them online courses but they will simply not be as good as they were when I took them.

Many years ago when I taught intensive Latin in summer school (one five unit course with about ten students) it took me at least forty hours a week to handle it adequately. And that’s a perfect example of a course that simply doesn’t teach what students need to be taught without a classroom teacher and written assignments that are marked in detail.

35

dsquared 03.26.12 at 8:12 pm

FWIW, my dad taught physics at Oklahoma City Community College when we were living there and did an excellent job in a normal working week by a) not ever even thinking about doing research (the idea would have seemed a bit odd to him; his job was teaching) and b) sticking closely to the same syllabus and plans that had served him well at Coleg Menai. I think a lot of the problem here is in the humanities, because AFAICS in the humanities (but not the sciences, assuming that physics in Oklahoma in the 80s was typical, which it might not be), quite a lot of people have got sucked into a teaching-only job which was marketed to them as if it included research when it basically didn’t.

36

Silly Wabbit 03.26.12 at 8:15 pm

I live in one of the more populous mountain states. A community college prof here makes about 40-50K teaching 5-6 courses per semester and hasn’t gotten a raise in three years. Most of the full time faculty are PhDs. Profs have a great deal of administrative duties also.
But roughly half the courses offered at community colleges in my state are taught by adjuncts who make about $2k a course.
Notice that the author mentions “full professors” as if the average salary of full professors told us anything about the average salary of all faculty. My grad program had roughly 20 faculty and about 4 full time professors. Its sort of like arguing that minor league baseball players make too much by providing data from the Yankee’s starting line-up.

37

Anderson 03.26.12 at 8:18 pm

I think D^2 and Hurka are off-base on revision. First, how long does it take to revise 20% of one’s course? A good bit of work there, I think.

Second, with all due respect, if your attitude is “okay, I’ve got this course the way I want it, no more prep needed,” then you’re, uh, awfully self-assured. I think more normal teachers would be constantly noticing that some parts of the course work better than others, and trying to figure out how to tune it up.

Really, how long would it take to decide one had English Comp 101 “down” and there was no further need for improvement in one’s teaching?

38

mbw 03.26.12 at 8:20 pm

It’s worth pointing out that his target is not just community colleges, but everyone who isn’t at a fancy R-1 research institution. Many such schools also have publication and research requirements — not to the extent of the R-1s, of course, but enough to make it challenging when dealing with five to ten times the number of students and no assistance with grading. And I can’t speak for everyone, but my contract is for nine months, which means I’m not paid for summers off to do research.

I’m skeptical that doubling the teaching load on someone with a 3/3 at a small liberal arts college would yield lots of educational benefits.

39

SamCehvre 03.26.12 at 8:22 pm

It’s hard to believe that cutting staff numbers and increasing teaching loads will help this.

Isn’t this though (discussion generally, summarized by this comment) missing an elephant in the room, which is adjuncts.

If you have one full-time professor, making $88K and teaching 4/4, and 6/6 classes taught by adjuncts at $2K per course (24K total) , would having 2 fulltime professors each teaching 5/5 and making $56K count as “cutting staff numbers and increasing teaching loads?”

40

dsquared 03.26.12 at 8:31 pm

I think more normal teachers would be constantly noticing that some parts of the course work better than others, and trying to figure out how to tune it up.

there’s “trying to figure out how to tune it up”, and then there is a process whereby {12 hours of classwork 30 weeks of the year} turns into {60 hours of work a week 50 weeks of the year}. Given how well other related industries (TEFL, the CFA etc) do with standardised course material, I really think it’s odd that so many college teachers reject the concept of standardisation so completely. I suspect that some of it is precisely because they lack the confidence in their role that you’re calling “uh, very self-assured”, and that this is because they’ve been sold a concept of their job that values research (which they aren’t doing) over teaching.

Really, how long would it take to decide one had English Comp 101 “down” and there was no further need for improvement in one’s teaching?

I would guess that by five years, diminishing returns would certainly have set in to the point where only a fraction of the time would be usefully spent in tweaking. These are undergraduate courses (and often survey courses!) that we’re talking about.

41

LFC 03.26.12 at 8:36 pm

T Hurka @28
re the last paragraph:

Quite a large proportion of cc faculty may teach in the summer, i.e., not in ‘term time’. I don’t have figures though.

42

Nancy 03.26.12 at 8:36 pm

“When you’ve taught a course several times before, you needn’t and even shouldn’t, for dsquared’s reasons, spend a lot of time revising it.”

Strongly disagree. At least in my field, the classroom experience and responses from students mean I have to revise how I teach the material, regardless of whether I’ve taught the course before. Why were students confused or bored with that approach? What assumptions did I make about students’ reception that turned out to be wrong?

And even an interval of 4 or 5 years will change what I can presume about how undergraduates will respond to a given topic.

For me there are 4 different phases of preparation: the spadework performed before the start of the semester; the preparation of the lecture or discussion before each class session; the notes taken after a given session to keep track of what I learned about student response; and (if I am going to teach the course again) a review at the end of the semester to decide what needs to be added, subtracted, or changed to make it a better course.

It’s not about trying to teach anything cutting edge in a basic course; it’s about making pedagogy more empirical, in touch with the learning as it is happening on the ground.

43

Marc 03.26.12 at 8:36 pm

Teaching loads at community colleges are far, far higher than those at research universities. A 5 + 5 load is teaching in the classroom 15 hours a week, which easily takes you to 50-60 hours a week just for basic tasks. You’re supposed to do research and course prep during the summer. If you’re preparing a course during the semester when you’re teaching it you’re doing things wrong – you want to prep in advance given all of the practical tasks related to actual teaching.

You could restructure matters so that the summer was shortened, but in practice this has developed into the window where students get internships and research experience. And you’d need to have some time for people to actually prepare and revise the course materials.

44

LFC 03.26.12 at 8:43 pm

dsquared
quite a lot of people have got sucked into a teaching-only job which was marketed to them as if it included research when it basically didn’t.

I think people who take academic jobs usually know whether they are expected to do research, and if so how much. An institution that cares mostly about teaching really has no incentive to mislead prospective employees on this score. “You may have some time for research” is not the same as “you will of course be expected to publish.”

45

js. 03.26.12 at 8:45 pm

Agree with Marc and Anderson. Even if you change nothing about a course you’ve taught before, you’re going a to spend 2-3 hrs (at least) outside the classroom for every hour of instruction (assuming no TAs for grading). But, you generally learn something from teaching, so you (or I at least) do modify things each time. And so, even without any radical overhauls (which I don’t think is a good idea anyway), you’re looking at 3-4 hrs prep/grading time for every hr of instruction. For a new course, it’s really more like 5-6 hrs to 1 hr.

46

dsquared 03.26.12 at 9:05 pm

But as a practical matter, if you’re spending exactly the same amount of time and effort on revising the course year after year, isn’t that a good sign that the effort in year N isn’t actually helping with year N+1 …?

In general, I am not trying to argue with professors about their job – I’m sure that you do spend that much time. But I am surprised that, despite the pretty clear empirical evidence that it isn’t working (cf, John’s link above), everyone seems to think that there is literally no room for improvement – that the 4 hours preparation per 1 hour classroom (plus grading?) is simply the way it is. Because it is actually quite weird for someone in what is basically a people facing industry to have a ratio of preparation and back office time to customer contact of nearly 7 to 1 (ie, 12 hrs/wk x 30 weeks = 360, 48hrs/wk x 50 wks = 2400). Any other industry that was using its key employees’ time so inefficiently would be desperately trying to find another way to work. And it’s not as if there aren’t a myriad of other models, as shown in Alex’s link. Does the field of undergraduate education at community colleges in the USA have literally nothing to learn from anything else in the world?

47

js. 03.26.12 at 9:25 pm

Sorry, I wasn’t saying 4 hrs of prep for 1 hr of teaching. I basically agree with Tom Hurka’s “(roughly) 1 hr of tweaking old notes before (1hr) class”. But Henry’s original point was that for every hour of teaching, you budget at least 3-4 hrs of time outside class—this includes prep, grading, office hrs, etc. And this seems exactly right (for classes one’s taught before). If you have TAs, it’ll of course be less.

48

Anderson 03.26.12 at 9:27 pm

Any other industry that was using its key employees’ time so inefficiently would be desperately trying to find another way to work.

Wait, you are SURPRISED to find that American universities are hideously inefficient at educating students?

… When people say “4 hours per class hour,” I think that’s “prep/grading,” not just prep. Tho depending on the subject, it could be longer.

Too, in some subjects you have to design new problems every semester – you can’t just re-use the same stuff, lest you promote cheating. Frats keep files of math tests, etc.

49

Salient 03.26.12 at 9:31 pm

“I would guess that someone revising more than 20% of their course every year is either creating needless work for themself”

Most of my prep time is spent analyzing student error and developing or researching ways to help them recognize and overcome those errors. If I had the same group of *students* each semester with new *content*, I would be sooooooo set.

50

Marc 03.26.12 at 9:35 pm

@43: A significant fraction of the out-of-class time is extra teaching for students who have problems, fielding their email questions, and so on. Given my style I’d have almost as many hour on that sort of work as I do in the classroom. And you’re right that the ratio between class hours and those outside is very large – it would be even worse without undergraduate graders and graduate teaching assistants.

Basically, if you have significant problem sets or writing assignments you have a lot of out-of-the-classroom obligations. If you want to use computer-graded multiple choice tests, no homework, and no writing assignments you can drastically prune the overhead. Unfortunately you also compromise learning. Some subjects also are intrinsically labor intensive; language instructors need unusually low student to teacher ratios for effective learning.

51

dsquared 03.26.12 at 9:36 pm

But Henry’s original point was that for every hour of teaching, you budget at least 3-4 hrs of time outside class—-this includes prep, grading, office hrs, etc

but this would get the 5/5 course load up from 15 hours of class x 30 weeks = 450 hours/year to 2,250 hours per year, which is a 47 hour work week based on a 48 week year, ie a normal middle class job, compliant with the EU Working Time Directive. Whereas it seems to be pretty well established that a 5/5 course load is a pretty dreadful life, not dissimilar from being an investment banking associate. So there must be more entropy in here – Brad DeLong suggested on Twitter that you can add anything up to 10 hours / week in internal meetings (which seems flat out fucking insane to me; I think my equivalent would be 0.5 in an average week, and if it ever goes above 4 hours I start shouting at people). Is that right?

Too, in some subjects you have to design new problems every semester – you can’t just re-use the same stuff, lest you promote cheating. Frats keep files of math tests, etc.

The idea that the solution to this problem is to make professors come up with brand new problem sets every semester suggests to me that the basic problem is that we are dealing here with a) an industry that values the time of its workers at close to zero, and b) a labour force that lets them.

52

dsquared 03.26.12 at 9:37 pm

Most of my prep time is spent analyzing student error and developing or researching ways to help them recognize and overcome those errors. If I had the same group of students each semester with new content, I would be sooooooo set.

Well, since you don’t, might it not make sense to stop doing this (as it appears you are constantly spending time working out how to win the last war) and just deal with the problems as and when they arrive, like Marc does?

53

Seth 03.26.12 at 9:39 pm

Anybody who thinks they have ENG 101 (First Year Writing) “down,” after 5 years or 20, is very, very wrong. There’s a whole field, Composition and Rhetoric, that’s researching the teaching of writing and learning new things about it all the time. Every class is so different that what worked one time probably will never work again the same way. The work of teaching writing is a lot more interactive between teachers and students than anything else I can think of, and to assume you can ever “finish” a writing course is terribly insulting to those of us who actually do them seriously, and terribly misguided.

54

dsquared 03.26.12 at 9:39 pm

Some subjects also are intrinsically labor intensive; language instructors need unusually low student to teacher ratios for effective learning.

Whoa whoa whoa. Mega, mega pushback on this one. There is a whole industry, called “TEFL” which is premised on this not being true. Since other countries don’t have massively lower student/teacher ratios than the Anglosphere (often quite the reverse), this argument really does have a problem in accounting for all those people out there speaking English.

55

Philip 03.26.12 at 9:54 pm

Dsauared that’s not really true for TEFL. If you have students with the same first language, similar age, and reason for learning English then you can pretty much choose a suitable coursebook and follow it. Otherwise you are going to have to mix and match resources and develop your own. If you do a DELTA you are encouraged to use real life sources of English instead of following a textbook.

I work closely with ESOL teachers in an FE college in the UK and am hoping to get some more teaching for myself. A full-time contract would be for 37 hours a week with 14-16 hours teaching, though in reality they often do more than the 37 hours. There would be about 36 teaching weeks, 8 weeks out of term time, and 8 weeks holiday.

56

js. 03.26.12 at 9:57 pm

I have absolutely no idea what it’s like to teach a 5-5 load at a CC. But I strongly suspect that Henry is right about student needs, which is going to push the ratio up (how much, I don’t know). Also, depending on class size, if you’re teaching English comp at a CC e.g., you’re almost certainly going to spend hell of a lot more time grading than 1-2 hrs per class per week. Add service and administrative responsibilities to that, and yeah, it’s probably significantly worse than the calculation in 48.

57

Colin Danby 03.26.12 at 9:57 pm

re dsquared’s queries on class prep

(1) I need to do all the reading I ask students to do, each time: I can’t rely on my memory of what a reading says. So while there may be an occasional math-heavy class session that I can do right out of memory, normally I have to put in at least as much time as I ask students to put in to prep each session.

(2) grading: I typically have one commented-on assignment per student per week. Some weeks an exam or paper, others just a little worksheet or discussion question that doesn’t take much time, but they’re getting written feedback from me continually and that’s a day or two of work every week. Not everyone does this, but I think you’ll find a lot of us putting in a lot of time doing individualized feedback.

(3) and then there are office hours and other meetings to help students individually.

My impression is that a lot of folks have in mind a lecture-and-exam model, with the exams graded by someone else and no other student feedback.

-

Admin work might be best reserved for another discussion, but the fact is that senior faculty, especially, have a management role and 10 hours a week is pretty normal. Dsquared is either working in a very different system, or a bad colleague…

58

js. 03.26.12 at 9:59 pm

…the calculation in 46, even.

59

Chris Bertram 03.26.12 at 10:03 pm

A few, abbreviated, observations ….

I’ve been both a manager in HE concerned with making effective use of our resources and a teacher and it is very easy for me to switch between these modes of thinking without noticing that I’m contradicting myself, but ….

It is very frustrating as a manager to find people who complain about being ridiculously overworked when then you find out they (a) spend 3 times the time necessary marking essays and (b) *write out* their lectures anew every year.

(I get an essay marked in 20 minutes and move on, and I go into the lecture theatre with a point-by-point list that I speak to… I change some lectures every year (new topics) and I may change some points, but that’s it. I’m keen to move away from lectures altogether as Harry has convinced me that they are not good pedagogically, and the transition may be labour intensive.)

In the humanities and some of the social science we have a problem. Unlike physics, where there’s a consensus on content for good reasons (and economics where there’s one for bad reasons) everyone has their own ideas on what should be on the curriculum. This means that if you take ethics in one place you may get _radically_ different content from somewhere else. That means less standardization, less reliance on textbooks and that the colleage who takes the course over from you basically invents their own course from scratch. Very inefficient, and we need to fix that. We could standardize more.

60

dsquared 03.26.12 at 10:05 pm

If you have students with the same first language, similar age, and reason for learning English then you can pretty much choose a suitable coursebook and follow it.

But isn’t this really quite likely to be the case for a class of American (check) undergraduates (check) learning French?

61

dsquared 03.26.12 at 10:16 pm

Admin work might be best reserved for another discussion, but the fact is that senior faculty, especially, have a management role and 10 hours a week is pretty normal. Dsquared is either working in a very different system, or a bad colleague…

Sorry Colin that was unclear – I’m a mid-level investment banker. By way of scale, in a typical week:

* I will make about 50 client calls, which are an average of ten minutes each – about eight hours on client calls
* I will spend maybe four to six hours in external meetings – more if I have designated it a “marketing week”
* I will produce an average of one 10,000 word research document, which will need to be backed up with a 20 slide powerpoint presentation
* In order to write the document, I’ll need to build one financial model

So my average of 12 hours direct client contact equates to a 4/4 course load, and I have research output at least equivalent to a professor at a research university. I probably do a longer work week than most academics, but my understanding is that my research output would be more or less physically impossible for an academic with a 4/4 course load. So somewhere, there is entropy in the academic system. I think that the big difference is that my employer is always looking for ways to economise on my time. But I don’t agree that the average college faculty is managed better than the average stock brokerage, and so I don’t believe that ten hours admin per week per vice-president level employee is necessary.

62

dsquared 03.26.12 at 10:18 pm

I get an essay marked in 20 minutes and move on

This would suggest that a lot of the problem is these huge class sizes. There are guys on this thread with 100 students, so that is 30 hours a week just marking essays. Which is crazy of course.

63

Chris Bertram 03.26.12 at 10:21 pm

_so that is 30 hours a week just marking essays_

Only if the students are producing essays every week …. your Oxbridge background is showing.

64

Henry 03.26.12 at 10:22 pm

bq. But isn’t this really quite likely to be the case for a class of American (check) undergraduates (check) learning French?

Not really in community colleges. They get students from a hugely diverse population – some right out of high school (hoping maybe to get into the standard state system through the back door, or just looking to get a two year degree), a lot of people working and looking to improve qualifications, immigrants looking for a US qualification, retirees interested in keeping themselves active. Very mixed bunch with huge variation educational and cultural backgrounds. I really think that it is hard to scale these up along the lines you suggest.

And you’re wrong about freshman comp. It isn’t ‘survey courses’ – it’s basic lessons for underprepared undergraduates in how to write acceptable academic English, and requires lots of quite intensive feedback if it’s to have any actual benefits. I’ve no doubts that there is a lot of inefficiencies that can be ironed out of higher education. There are also wildly underexploited efficiencies to scale, especially in STEM, but also in some of the topics that the social sciences cover. But I don’t think that they apply e.g. to freshman comp, which tends to teach to fairly standardized texts already, and that require a fair amount of time-consuming interaction if they are to work. The likely effects of further budget cuts and increased teaching loads would be to turn these classes into ‘we’ll pretend to teach you and you’ll pretend to do the work’ exercises of no great benefit to the student.

65

Chris Bertram 03.26.12 at 10:24 pm

(People getting 50+ emails a day from students is more of a stress/timesink issue than essay marking, especially when adminstrations want us to be warm and friendly to them and they have “consumer” expectations.)

66

nick 03.26.12 at 10:30 pm

As someone who’s been teaching for more than a decade post-PhD in the humanities, I offer the following formulation: “the more time you devote to student writing, the better teacher–indeed, the better person!–you are.” Never directly stated, very often thought, this is the characteristic form ressentiment takes in the literary academy.

But what makes things tricky is that those professional self-help strategies that suggest ways to spend less time per student while grading just as effectively are fundamentally dishonest. Up to a certain point, the more time one spends with a, say, 5-page freshman composition will be genuinely helpful to the student–and if one routinely reaches that point with all the student writing one has to read, well, the hours add up in just the way person after person in this thread has testified that they do….

67

chris 03.26.12 at 10:30 pm

There are guys on this thread with 100 students

Well, I think we can all agree that if you’re teaching a 100-student class with no TAs, someone is nuts. Either you or the administrator who ordered you to do so, most likely. (Or both — the administrator has to be nuts in order to tell you to teach under those conditions, and you’re nuts after you try to do it.)

68

Colin Danby 03.26.12 at 10:36 pm

Thanks dsquared: this makes sense, and investment banking sounds like the right place for you.

What assumptions generate “12 hours direct client contact equates to a 4/4 course load” ? I would average 12 hours a week for one course, based on the work I describe above.

Whether or not colleges and universities are well-managed is a harder question. One peculiarity at least in the U.S. is a tradition of “faculty governance” which has implications for the overall structure. A large claim on faculty time is personnel work, from hiring committees through the annual merit process and promotion&tenure committees. I could make a long list of admin functions performed by senior faculty, but I think that would get us away from the OP. But I think that a brokerage is a pretty different animal.

69

Colin Danby 03.26.12 at 10:42 pm

And just to chime in with Henry @64: if a lot of your students are the first in their families to attend college and/or coming from a variety of different educational backgrounds and different countries, there is more work involved in making it clear to them what they need to do in college — what the expectations are and how to meet them. Most will do good work with encouragement, but it’s hard to overstate just how opaque higher ed is to a lot of entering students. You have to deal with them individually.

70

Chris Bertram 03.26.12 at 10:44 pm

nick: well put.

The adminstration operates on the assumption you can grade a paper in n minutes.

The “professional” view is that it takes 2n (or even 3n mintutes to grade a paper properly.

Many “professionals” then grade to this higher standard that no-one will provide the resources for, thus also feeding student expectations and peer pressure within academia.

It is a form of scabbing, basically (or, alternatively, self-exploitation). People taking extra stuff on themselves for reasons of professional ethos means that administrators never have to face hard questions of the resources that are necessary to teach to the standards they lead students to believe are the norm.

(Of course there’s the other side: if people won’t pay for this stuff to be done as it should be done, then maybe it shouldn’t be done …. cue deparmental closures. Since that’s unthinkable, people work themselves into the ground.)

71

Philip 03.26.12 at 10:49 pm

But isn’t this really quite likely to be the case for a class of American (check) undergraduates (check) learning French?

Yeah it probably is but I was just making the point about TEFL in general. You still wouldn’t want a huge class because you’ll want to monitor students when they are doing group/pair work (in most other countries students will get more exposure to English than Americans do to French). Another problem, I assume, would be having to differentiate resources if the students are at different levels.

72

Cranky Observer 03.26.12 at 10:49 pm

Teaching is always easy (and can easily be made more efficient). To those who don’t do it.

Cranky

73

christian_h 03.26.12 at 10:58 pm

D^2, I do think you are mistaking “lecture time” for “contact hours”. As one of the lucky ones at a major research university, I teach 1.5 courses per term. When I teach 2 undergraduate courses (this quarter, for example), this will mean 6 hours lecture, 3 hours office hours, on average another 1-1.5 hours meeting with students who cannot make the office hours, or need more privacy (concerns about their grade etc) or attention than the office hours can provide, and in addition communication via email. I’d guess that I have been spending an average of 12 hours a week in “contact” with undergraduates (in addition I have grad students, but a community college instructor would not have those).

74

Tedra Osell 03.26.12 at 11:09 pm

D2 @24: It *may* differ from subject to subject? But I know that I just used to get effing bored with the same thing every semester. Plus, you want to prevent cheating: so you need new paper assignments and/or new tests every term. And surely it helps keep students engaged if you occasionally update the examples you offer, so you’re not giving them examples based on outdated news items, pop culture references, etc. And of course as technology changes around, you revamp certain things–add visual stuff to what used to be just straight lectures, maybe, or experiment with using clickers or questions or different teaching methods.

I’m sure there are professors who don’t do this. But as I said, the vast majority of my peers talk about revamping assignments or syllabi or adding new courses pretty frequently.

75

Tedra Osell 03.26.12 at 11:16 pm

@Chris @59:

“if you take ethics in one place you may get radically different content from somewhere else. That means less standardization, less reliance on textbooks and that the colleage who takes the course over from you basically invents their own course from scratch. Very inefficient, and we need to fix that. We could standardize more.”

Why does this need to be fixed? Serious question. I agree that it’s silly to have required courses reinvented from scratch every time a new person takes over, but surely familiarizing oneself with someone else’s syllabus, texts, etc., is also very time consuming (and arguably it could be far more time-consuming than using texts that one is familiar with and doesn’t need to re-read).

The single biggest reason I didn’t transition to secondary-school teaching after I left higher ed is that I don’t *want* to be standardized. I liked being able to bring in my own materials, create my own assignments, and so on, and I firmly believe that I was a better teacher when I did so than when I was teaching someone else’s course. There’s a lot to be said for thinking from the ground up of what your educational goals are, how you are going to get the students to achieve them, and so forth–which you need to do when you’re designing a course.

76

Tedra Osell 03.26.12 at 11:24 pm

D2 @46: Honestly, I do not think I spent 4 hours/contact hour for every class, every semester. For courses I’d taught before, I spent less–except when I was marking papers, when I took more. Or during weeks when I was conferencing with students, which was pretty much 20 hours for a class of 40. But on new courses, one can easily spend that, or more, depending on how conscientious one is.

Re. efficiencies, the industry valuing its workers time, etc–really? Academia doesn’t value faculty time. At all. And “efficiency” in academia means cutting tenure and replacing permanent positions with adjuncts, at $2k/semester/class. And since adjuncts are often younger people, and/or teaching new courses, the prep time on that stuff is quite high. Plus, if you don’t have an office, “office hours” are way more inefficient to schedule and keep–you end up sitting in the cafeteria for hours, or spending chunks of the morning and chunks of the afternoon there, schlepping student papers and books back and forth each time. Add in reapplying for your job every semester.

77

Donna 03.26.12 at 11:32 pm

@7: I agree, administrative bloat is the problem. Which should we cut first?

“Not only have diversity sinecures been protected from budget cuts, their numbers are actually growing. The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.”

http://www.city-journal.org/2011/cjc0714hm.html

78

dsquared 03.26.12 at 11:41 pm

What assumptions generate “12 hours direct client contact equates to a 4/4 course load” ?

My understanding was that “a 4/4 course load” means “four three-hour courses per week”. So I spend as much time in direct, planned, equivalent-to-lectures-and-classes contact with my clients as someone teaching a 4/4 load does with their students. We both have “office hours”, except that mine are defined as “any hours I happen to be in the office”, plus any other hours I happen to look at my blackberry, for good clients. I have to do preparation just like you do, mate.

79

Colin Danby 03.26.12 at 11:46 pm

An enthusiastic assent to Tedra @ 74-76, especially ” There’s a lot to be said for thinking from the ground up of what your educational goals are, how you are going to get the students to achieve them, and so forth—which you need to do when you’re designing a course.” Even if you are teaching to common learning goals, you have to think out for yourself how you are going to work with your students to get there. Starting with someone else’s syllabus is actually harder because you have to reverse-engineer their thinking. Much of the actual work of the course is not in repeating standard stuff, but responding so student questions, providing useful feedback, and other activities where you’re responding to your students out of your own internalized sense of how the course works.

I do think, again, that part of the difference is that some folks are used to a lecture-plus-exam system with minimal interaction with students.

80

dsquared 03.26.12 at 11:47 pm

It is a form of scabbing, basically

As usual, Chris cuts to the heart of the problem – except that of course in most cases, scabs know that they’re doing something wrong, and don’t try to claim that blacklegging is the honourable, moral thing to do. As Tedra says:

Academia doesn’t value faculty time. At all.

Why would it, when there are no consequences at all to not doing so?

81

dsquared 03.26.12 at 11:51 pm

I mean, Colin says:

I do think, again, that part of the difference is that some folks are used to a lecture-plus-exam system with minimal interaction with students.

But if this “difference” doesn’t make a difference in terms of measurable outcomes (and as John’s links show, the evidence suggest it doesn’t, then “some folks” are right, and the problem is simply that American community colleges have a load of faculty who are producing a wildly over-engineered product for a consumer base that doesn’t apreciate the over-engineering, because they have an ideology (or, which means the same thing, a completely misleading and dishonest set of marketing material to job candidates) which tells them that everyone with the job title “professor” ought to be pretending to be a fellow of Jesus College Oxford.

82

Colin Danby 03.27.12 at 12:26 am

I don’t see a link in John’s piece to data that gets at the outcomes difference between lecture-plus-exam and a more individualized, feedback-rich kind of class.

I would be cautious about generalizing across U.S. community colleges. A lot of their classes *are* lecture-plus-exam.

83

subdoxastic 03.27.12 at 1:00 am

“Black and Wiliam’s (1998) literature review underscores the potential value of using assessments for formative purposes. They report a meta-analysis that obtained a mean effect size of 0.92 for studies in which teachers pursued explicit procedures for reviewing data and determining next steps based on the analysis, compared with a mean effect size of 0.42 for studies in which teachers used data at their discretion (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1986, cited in Black & Wiliam, 1998). In their meta-analysis of the effects of instructional cues, student participation, and corrective feedback, Lysakowski and Walberg (1982) also report an average effect size of almost a standard deviation (0.97) for the 94 studies included in their analysis. Among those studies, the 20 studies focused on corrective feedback resulted in a mean effect size of 0.94″
-Young, V.M. & Kim, D.H. (2010) Using assessments for instructional improvement: A
Literature review. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 18 (19).

Sure, teachers at all levels could use some help with their approach and use of data-based decision making, and that may involve differing levels of standardization, but I’d argue that’s not a problem of an “over-engineered product”. It’s equally likely to be the inverse. Furthermore, as long as constructed response items are valued (and I’m not arguing they shouldn’t be) by instructors for their ability to highlight student thinking (both correct and mistaken) then providing corrective feedback is going to be time consuming in proportion to the diversity of one’s students and their responses.

84

Henry 03.27.12 at 1:06 am

dsquared – there’s no doubt that there are lots of misaligned incentives in the US community college system. But the claim that it’s a product of “wild over-engineering” by professors who have fantasies of intensive tutorials a la Oxbridge isn’t even at the races as an explanation. Rather, it’s beleaguered teachers trying their best to keep their heads above water in a system with bollocksed up incentives, chronic underfunding, and a lot of political pressure. This piece from the _Washington Monthly_ a few years ago (before the California study that John cites, but written after an earlier version of the main author’s argument was doing the rounds) gives some idea of what the actual issues are. Also – of what what freshman comp. is actually like at some community colleges.

bq. This willingness to offer opportunities and second chances to disadvantaged students, opportunities that aren’t available in many other countries, is what first appealed to Thomas-Val—herself an immigrant from Antigua—about American community colleges. But in her decades of teaching, she has been shocked at just how unprepared most of her students are, how little they know—and how hard it is to help them. “It’s unbelievable, just totally unbelievable,” she says. Of their writing, she says, “It’s filled with all kinds of sentence-level errors. Not knowing how to join sentences or where sentence boundaries are. Capitalization problems. Stuff like that that you learned in grade school, or should have.” Faced with these circumstances, Thomas-Val has adjusted her own expectations. “Let’s say I have fifty students this semester,” she says, “and five of them do exceedingly well. I am so grateful for the five. [For] the other forty-five, yes, my heart breaks, but I think, ‘Oh, I’ve got five!’ ”

I think you have to agree that this isn’t Jesus College wannabe-ing, or anything that even faintly resembles it.

85

LFC 03.27.12 at 1:20 am

D^2
…are producing a wildly over-engineered product for a consumer base that doesn’t appreciate the over-engineering, because they [i.e. the community colleges] have an ideology … which tells them that everyone with the job title “professor” ought to be pretending to be a fellow of Jesus College Oxford.

Do you think fellows of Jesus College Oxford have to spend time correcting their students’ written English grammar? Of course not. Their students are entirely capable of writing grammatical English sentences without their assistance. If anyone begins to teach, on any basis, at a community college thinking that they are a fellow of Jesus College Oxford (or Christ College Cambridge or whatever), they are going to be disabused of that totally idiotic notion in roughly twenty seconds. How any educational institution can construct a successful “ideology” around a proposition that is ludicrous and that has no connection to reality, is beyond me. There is no such “ideology.”

86

Peter T 03.27.12 at 1:20 am

This isn’t about whether college teachers are actually overpaid or work less, it’s part of the continuing assault on any sector (unions, libraries, public servants….) which produces or maintains opinion leaders whose opinions are at variance with those of the right. It’s about de-housing an ideology.

87

engels 03.27.12 at 1:21 am

The description of someone who takes more time or care over their work than they are contractually obliged as basically a scab is wonderful, and seems quintessentially British…

88

LFC 03.27.12 at 1:21 am

I posted 85 before seeing Henry’s 84. Same pt, obviously.

89

hellblazer 03.27.12 at 1:46 am

Chris Bertram at #70:

(Of course there’s the other side: if people won’t pay for this stuff to be done as it should be done, then maybe it shouldn’t be done …. cue deparmental closures. Since that’s unthinkable, people work themselves into the ground.)

Yep, that sounds familiar. On another note: what Henry describes at #84 is not something I can personally attest to, but it seems all too plausible.

90

Alan 03.27.12 at 1:53 am

Peter T @ 86 gets my nomination for vice-president of this thread, with Henry of course the head of the ticket.

91

JimV 03.27.12 at 2:00 am

“The subject (at undergraduate level) doesn’t change all that much even in the sciences.”

I taught a course on the use of eigenvectors for vibration analysis to engineering students as part of General Electric’s Advanced Engineering course for about ten years. It included a class project which required writing a computer code to analyse a real-world vibration problem. The first year I spent about a month preparing the four-hour lecture, including writing a sample code in Fortran, and giving hints about it in an appendix to the lecture notes. Over the ten years I revised the problem a couple times to more current, real-world examples, and also had to revise the programming procedure, from Fortran to Matlab to Excel. (I quit after a class in which nobody had any experience in any sort of computer programming, but that’s another long story.) My point is that even though the math didn’t change, the ways of implementing the analysis changed quite a bit over ten years, and that was part of the course material. Also the teaching tools changed from chalk board to transparencies to Power Point. (Chalk board still seemed better to me, but one has to move with the times.)

92

geo 03.27.12 at 2:02 am

Chris B @70: It is a form of scabbing, basically (or, alternatively, self-exploitation). People taking extra stuff on themselves for reasons of professional ethos …

I know this is well-meant, but it also seems … well, cynical or naive, I’m not sure which. Professional ethos (pride of craft, intellectual integrity, conscientiousness, etc.) is not a thing one can turn on and off at will. If the students don’t give a damn, and nothing can induce them to, then all right, the hell with them. But if they’re doing their humble best, and they actually care what they hear back from you, then you simply can’t — I don’t mean shouldn’t, I mean can’t, if you have normal emotions — simply toss their work into the “Done” pile when the timer goes off.

Am I missing something?

93

Salient 03.27.12 at 2:11 am

might it not make sense to stop doing this (as it appears you are constantly spending time working out how to win the last war) and just deal with the problems as and when they arrive, like Marc does?

Uh, … I suppose “deal with the problems as and when they arrive” is another way to talk about what I was talking about? Ok, so, your comment bewilders me a little. In my experience, it’s possible to determine from a person’s early exam and homework performance likely points of difficulty on subsequent material, and often it cues me in to little things I should emphasize in lectures going forward. I really don’t feel like that’s time wasted.

If you’re preparing a course during the semester when you’re teaching it you’re doing things wrong – you want to prep in advance given all of the practical tasks related to actual teaching.

The class I’m currently teaching was assigned to me less than 72 hours before the first day of class. In the past three years not counting this current class, I’ve been reassigned to a new course at the last minute (fewer than three days’ notice) twice. I’ve never been assigned the same class twice. I retain some hope that once I’m past the graduate student stage this won’t continue to be the case, but we’ll see…

And even if I was given time to prepare the class in advance, this seems to leave no room for reflection and adjustment mid-semester. If you’re lumping that kind of reflection and revision into “all of the practical tasks related to actual teaching” then we might just be arguing about definitions or something.

as a practical matter, if you’re spending exactly the same amount of time and effort on revising the course year after year, isn’t that a good sign that the effort in year N isn’t actually helping with year N+1 …?

I guess, but don’t courses teach different stuff over the years? I’m not really party to the course revision process, but am I far off in understanding that the content itself changes quite a bit over time? On the other end of things, I’ve never been in a class that covered the entire textbook, so it seems possible that even a course sticking with the same text could focus on different material as years pass. (I’m not really in a position to argue about why content covered in a class should or should not change; maybe your point is that course content should not change?)

94

ezra abrams 03.27.12 at 2:37 am

with 2 kids, 18 and 16, college costs are very much on my mind.
As a scientist, or simply as an educated member of the polity, I find it astonishing that there is no simple clear website with a simple set of numbers that cover the period , say 1950 – 1960, and have numbers for # teachers, salarys/full time student, admin costs, buildings and grounds, healthcare and retirement, athletics, etc etc

I think this is an astonishing indictment of the lazyness of the professoriate; they have done a terrible job

One argument advanced by Farley (url below) is that admin costs are out of control; he provides a link to a 2008 UC analysis, a poorly formatted, hard to understand paper.
(I mean seriously, the assignment was admin costs in the UC system, would you give this paper more then a B- ?? the formatting and wierd data presentation make it almost worse then useless; by definition, I shouldn’t ahve to think; it should be so clear that it is obvious [the diff between smart people, really smart people like I saw at MIT, and semi smart people, is that the really smart people have enough self confidence to be simple]

Why, oh why can’t we have a better professoriate, where a well known webpage offers authoritive numbers on the cost of college from, say 1950 to now, with numbers for salary, admin, athletics, academics, buildings and grounds, retirement and healthcare, etc – sort of the basic statistics you would expect from FRED

As a parent with an 18 and a 16 year old, I find it astonishing that these numbers are not readily available. It is sort of like buying a car; a huge enormous industry with only one tiny little source of unbiased info (consumers reports)

Levy doesn’t tell us his own salary; and his salary at Corcoran and earlier at The New School don’t seem to be readily available – why hasn’t someone dug up these numbers, which would make clear that Levy is part of hte 0.1%s assault on the rest of us

PS: I did not think PKs piece was very good; it lacked specifics and details; compare to the two URLs below.
I would say this is a generic weakness with PK; he has THE most prominent voice, for a liberal in the country. When he does econ, he changes the debate; when he does this sort of thing, all his fans go rah, all his enemies go, socialist commie, and nothing changes or happens. And the reason is no details, no specifics.
Surely there are oodles of incredibly smart hardworking kids who would dye (devil wears prada) for a chance to intern for PK; they could have added to this, a link on the outsized salarys of admins like Levy, a link to other stuff, and the column might actually have an impact.
PK has, it may sound righteous, a responsibility, and with blog post like this he is failing us.
farley = http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2012/03/stupid-or-lying-wildly-overpaid-faculty-edition
http://virtualpaperballs.wordpress.com/tag/david-c-levy/
http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/do-college-professors-work-enough/

95

Tedra Osell 03.27.12 at 3:59 am

D2 @80: Well, yes–sort of. I mean, I’m not teaching any more, and while there were several contributing factors, it did, basically, boil down to “I’m not going to keep doing this bullshit for which I am grossly undercompensated.”

But, see, I have a husband. Who works for the military-industrial complex, and as such (with his BS in computer science) started his latest job earning roughly twice what I *would* have earned in the f-t job that I left. Most professors are probably fully 50% or more of their family income; I was 100% while I held the tt job and didn’t leave until the mister landed his. So it was relatively easy for me, financially speaking, at least.

Also, be fair: even assuming you are the consummate professional, as I’m sure you are, surely financial clients don’t have quite the same pull as students. There really is something to be said for the feeling of obligation teachers have to students, perhaps especially in those situations where the teachers are the most exploited (i.e., teaching-heavy institutions where students are by and large a lot less well off). It’s easy to say “fuck the system, leave” but. (Now, whether or not the feeling of obligation that many instructors feel towards students smacks of classism/false consciousness sure, we can have that discussion, but you can’t just dismiss it out of hand.)

Anyway. Maybe all the bitching and moaning academics have been doing for the last couple of decades is just a very long process of organizing….

96

John Quiggin 03.27.12 at 4:48 am

One benefit of all this is that it is a confirmatory data point about the Kaplan Post. The sooner this corrupt rag dies, the better.

97

Dr. Hilarius 03.27.12 at 5:20 am

afinetheorem at 8 raises an important point about pay levels and is correct that 88K is not excessive or even adequate in many parts of the US. Starting pay for a Seattle Police officer is $64K/year. After four years, base pay is $84K. This does not include any over-time pay (time and a half) or working private gigs as security. Jail guards earn almost as much and with overtime pay some pull in over $100K a year. And don’t forget to add in extremely generous benefits and retirement plans.

In the local community colleges the majority of faculty are part-time. Some teach in several different systems, commuting long distances, trying to cobble together a full-time job. Part-timers get little to no benefits.

I’m out of the teaching game but my wife is a lecturer at the University of Washington. Some of her lower level classes mirror the problems of underprepared students with problems in writing and reading comprehension.

In the biological sciences things change so quickly there is no way to use the same lecture notes for any length of time. More like constant revision. Classes are large, usually over 100 students (some due to previously separate classes being consolidated due to money woes) and the exams do not lend themselves to quick grading. Exams have to be assembled in three versions to frustrate cheating. If there is a lab section she has to locate and assemble the necessary specimens, oversee the TAs (now including undergraduate peer TAs) and proctor the lab exams. Some of the TAs have no background in the course material and have to pass questions on to her. Students rely upon email for communication and faculty are expected to timely respond. Add in the fact that she’s an something of a perfectionist and the hours greatly exceed “full time.”

98

Meredith 03.27.12 at 5:45 am

Taking a break from reading papers and exchanging emails (exchanges with colleagues about a number of things, among them, very short list: assistant professor/tenure review issues; leave-plan glitches, which screw up a million other things; are we going to try a new intro Latin text as early as next fall, which will mean LOTS of new prep time for several of us in that language that’s been taught to students for a very long time now — by me, for quite a few years, too, but a new text will mean massive reorganizing of supplementary materials, quizzes, tests, whole shape of two semesters — just when each of us has gotten our most recent choice of textbook down to an art! yet that textbook — there are problems; when can you and I meet, before you go off to give that paper at meeting Q?; how much do we have for an honorarium for speaker X in April? can we help sponsor speaker Y in another department?; several high school prospectives want to meet one of us; registrar wants proofreading of next year’s course copy; honors thesis applications must be considered; oh, I forgot this report is due and that office wants to know what hours members of our department will be available for meeting x; and oh, yes, there’s that study abroad set of concerns we were going to take care of two months ago; adm. asst. wants day off for doctor’s tests; and oh, yes, there’s…. All this before the interdisciplinary program and college-wide committee emails.
I know my situation is not unusual. My department’s newest, and most protected-from-it-all, assistant professor is in the throes of organizing a summer study-abroad trek, for instance. (Plus, he’s under lots of pressure, from me, to get that article submitted.) No one escapes. So, that’s life.
Oh, yes, those actual current students. Well, they’re on spring break. But still emailing me about one thing or another. And I still have so many of their papers to read. Plus, I was looking forward to rereading the Odyssey in preparation for their first classes after spring break, a poem that (perhaps more than any other poem) is, by its own design, never the same twice. And I’d hoped to have time to read several books and articles for another course — last time I taught this play: nearly 30 years ago. Yes, I chose to read this play in Greek rather than another, because, gee, silly me, I wanted to go back to it (one of my favorites, and wrote about it once, but I haven’t taught it or devoted myself to it for so long. I don’t teach the same courses year after year — a luxury I read about, or my colleagues in larger departments or at major research universities may enjoy — who are all these people who teach the same courses year after year after year? not me, not my husband, who teaches English at a state college — not even most of my colleagues at major research universities, not in my field). But this Greek play is new to me now! Not the scholarship (I’ve mostly kept up), but the play. Gee, the students have changed but, even more, I have changed! (Tedra and a few others here, like Colin Danby, Gene O’Grady, I feel I can count on getting this.) So, it’s a new play. And then, I have a paper to give in early May: will I have to fall back on my old ideas, or will I find the time to develop the new ones (the main reason I took on this paper)?
I am not complaining. I love this life! I appreciate that I have been fortunate in it.
Just saying, it’s crazy to try to compute (a la dsquared) # of hours in class meetings as any base measure of time a teacher/scholar spends in vital work. Talk about misapplying industrial time-clock models. Lawyers try, with their billable minutes (down to two or three, from five, I understand). Doctors don’t even try (though soon they, too, may be forced to?).
Did I mention? Much time spent in the last ten or twelve hours noting dangling participles and incomplete sentences (like this one) and trying to gauge, on issues more subtle concerning argumentation and diction and register, the level of intervention that might truly be helpful to each student. Sometimes painful duty. Also, pleasure. I have been learning quite a bit about the Iliad. As from the student who was arrested by Hektor’s being “shackled” (Lattimore) when, with Achilles on-coming, the Trojans stalwart found himself outside the walls, impervious to Priam’s and Hekabe’s entreaties. She struggled to connect that word “shackled” to “fate” in the poem (with due, semi-understanding of the notion of “apportionment,” esp. of life-span) and divine intervention — an insightful struggle. I learned much from her. I think she learned from her struggle.
We are not cogs. Our students are not cogs. End of story. Beginning of story.

99

dsquared 03.27.12 at 6:19 am

Rather, it’s beleaguered teachers trying their best to keep their heads above water in a system with bollocksed up incentives, chronic underfunding, and a lot of political pressure.

But in that case why are they (as everyone in this thread appears to be) also taking on massive amounts of non-crucial work in rewriting the whole course every year, rejecting any idea of standardised course materials and actively questioning the professionalism of anyone who doesn’t? I mean, the idea of individual instructor attention as crucial to a language course? That doesn’t seem to me to be the action of someone trying to keep their head above water; it’s more like someone who is trying to swim toward a lifeboat while also carrying their precious carriage clock. The “system with bollocksed up incentives” is exactly what I’m talking about here.

I mean, I presume nobody is going to defend the academic job market as a sensible or even sane way to allocate people to jobs, are they? (If someone asked me to read thirty monographs and carry out two days of onsite interviews for an entry-level position, I would immediately hand them a jacket with sleeves that buttoned together at the back). Given that the way to make progress in the profession is to engage in a load of horrendously wasteful activity, is it surprising that the everyday work of the profession is also very wasteful?

We are not cogs. Our students are not cogs. End of story. Beginning of story.

Oh do me one. As people might notice from watching the news during 2008, the stock market also changes quite a bit from time to time.

100

dsquared 03.27.12 at 6:43 am

I also don’t agree with this:

it’s basic lessons for underprepared undergraduates in how to write acceptable academic English, and requires lots of quite intensive feedback if it’s to have any actual benefits.

“Improving one’s written English” is a subject that’s been taught for decades via correspondence courses with a high degree of success. This might not be the best way of teaching it, but it does imply that there are substantial benefits of standardisation available, and that it shouldn’t necessarily be the kind of thing that (as I keep saying, this shouldn’t be treated as normal) blows up 12 hours of face time into the equivalent of 60 hours of total work.

101

hellblazer 03.27.12 at 6:47 am

dsquared, do you want to tell all my “English as first language students” to enrol on these vaunted courses in addition to their existing course load? The problem is precisely that the students don’t get to do this as a dedicated course, one has to try and fix this while supposedly teaching one’s own specialization. An analogous comment applies reading basic mathematical competency, there are plenty of proven standardized drills one can force people through, but there aren’t usually the resources to offer these on top of or instead of the 1st year load .

102

Meredith 03.27.12 at 7:09 am

Sorry to have been motivated to comment, in large part, by dsquared. In other blogs, he would be identified as a troll. To be ignored.

103

Chris Bertram 03.27.12 at 7:15 am

_Just saying, it’s crazy to try to compute (a la dsquared) # of hours in class meetings as any base measure of time a teacher/scholar spends in vital work. Talk about misapplying industrial time-clock models._

Believe me, the adminstration in your college is doing exactly this, right now. It isn’t irrational for them to do so as they have to allocate their budget in a sensible way. If you don’t take account of the fact that they are doing this in the way you organize your life, then you will drive yourself and your colleagues into the ground. Moreover, you may be setting a standard of commitment that, for example, people with families just can’t meet (without neglecting their families that is). Meanwhile (pending your nervous breakdown and replacement by a new, idealistic, and naive younger person) your administration is getting Rolls Royce performance whilst paying for a Ford.

104

Colin Danby 03.27.12 at 7:21 am

Rubbish, Chris. Meredith has it right as usual.

105

Chris Bertram 03.27.12 at 7:27 am

Colin: which part is rubbish? That the administration in your college is making just these calculations? Have you ever held a managerial position? Believe me, they are.

And take the second part seriously too. I’ve had too many experiences of, for example, the commitment of young women with families to the job being questioned because they made the trade-off at a point their colleagues deemed “unprofessional” – then they don’t get promoted, or worse. Equal opportunities and long-term employee health and safety matter, and the “whatever it takes” attitude that discounts what people are willing to resource puts both at serious risk.

106

dsquared 03.27.12 at 7:28 am

dsquared, do you want to tell all my “English as first language students” to enrol on these vaunted courses in addition to their existing course load?

Well, the alternative is that you do all the work yourself for no extra money, and surely you can see how this isn’t a sustainable solution on an ongoing basis? At present it seems to be the case that the community college system is offering a university education to people, then not providing the resources to give them a university education, and then presuming that its employees will fill the gap for free. And the employees are not only going along with this plan (which seems crazy to me in the first place), but doing so in a comparatively labour-intensive way.

107

Phil 03.27.12 at 8:20 am

The adminstration operates on the assumption you can grade a paper in n minutes.

The “professional” view is that it takes 2n (or even 3n mintutes to grade a paper properly.

Many “professionals” then grade to this higher standard that no-one will provide the resources for, thus also feeding student expectations and peer pressure within academia.

Praise be, I can generally get marking done in the requisite n minutes per essay, averaged out over a group of essays. But if it took me n+5 or 2n, I would swallow that, and push the research work I’m also supposed to have time for into evenings and weekends. Same with lecture preparation: you can do it in the time allowed or you can do a proper job.

Why do a proper job? Three reasons. One is that we’re all under pressure to produce good results and high student satisfaction scores. A lecture you pull together in half an hour may be more informative – and ‘satisfying’ – than one you spend a day on, but it’s not the way to bet. Secondly, I’m doing this job because I love it (I’m certainly not doing it for the money), and deliberately delivering shoddy work would be soul-destroying. And thirdly, if for whatever reason the results aren’t good or the students aren’t adequately satisfied, I’m going to be more than ever exposed if I haven’t been putting all that I can into the teaching. I want to be able to defend what I’ve been doing and make changes to something I believe in, not junk something I don’t believe in and replace it with something else that’s barely adequate but in a different way.

It’s like the Apprentice in here – everyone’s giving 110% and pulling out a star performance and being the best no matter what it takes. It’s like the Apprentice without the fame and money and status.

108

Chris Bertram 03.27.12 at 8:33 am

So Phil, what happens to your single parent colleague who has less time at evenings and weekends than you do? Who gets the promotion, you or her?

Well done comrade!

109

dsquared 03.27.12 at 8:42 am

everyone’s giving 110%

A much maligned phrase and one that’s wholly apropos here. When someone specifies the output of a machine, they usually mean its output in normal operation; ie when it is running at optimum capacity aimed at maximising the value of its output over the depreciation life of the machine.

If there is a sudden demand surge, it is usually possible to run a machine at substantially more than 100% of its capacity – more or less any output unit can run at 110% for quite a while, simply by postponing scheduled maintenance. Most factories in the UK and USA were “giving 110%” and more during the Second World War, for example.

But, you can’t postpone maintenance forever. Giving 110% is a bad idea unless it’s done for short periods and for well-defined reasons, precisely because it degrades the equipment and hastens its eventual failure. Worryingly, this appears to be the operational basis of teaching, and it’s been internalised by the workers – even in your comment, Phil, you’re talking about “putting all that I can into the teaching”, when you’re specifically describing a situation in which you’re putting more than all you can into the teaching. This whole task needs to be re-engineered in order to design an educational product which isn’t shoddy but which can be delivered within the applicable constraints[1]. Which is a bit of a problem because (cf #102 above), the re-engineering of the product needs to be carried out by people who have a bit of a tendency to go shouty crackers when they hear the words “re-engineering” or “product”.

One is that we’re all under pressure to produce good results and high student satisfaction scores.

The thing that worries me is that there really doesn’t seem to be much research or consideration over how much the students actually benefit from the Rolls-Royce approach; all that I have to go on is the perhaps indicative fact that they don’t want to pay for one. If you’re delivering 110% of the education that they have the capacity to consume, the excess is just getting wasted; it’s like piling extra food onto somebody’s plate to demonstrate how much you love them.

[1] AFAICS the current position of a lot of people is just a brick-wall insistence that there are no changes that can be made (ie, that the current way the academic profession is organised is literally perfect, with perhaps some possible gains from efficiency in photocopying), and that the resource constraint itself needs to be lifted, via more money taken in taxes from the rest of the economy, or from student fees if you’re Grayling House. It definitely looks true that a lot of colleges are under-resourced, but there’s really not much democratic support for a big reallocation, and the current system of funding the gap (basically via an in-kind labour tax levied on academics) is obviously unsatisfactory.

110

Chris Bertram 03.27.12 at 8:50 am

… also, the Baumol effect.

111

Andrew Fisher 03.27.12 at 9:33 am

Can’t help making a link to http://crookedtimber.org/2012/02/03/jennifer-dibbern-and-michigan-student-unionization/ and subsequent threads. Henry’s reference to Jedi Masters in that thread seems to apply to this one too, and I think that shows very clearly, for anyone who was in doubt, that Chris’ points e.g. @105 and @108 are not theoretical or imaginary.

None of which is to say, of course, that the original Washington Post article is either sensible or well-informed, but I don’t think that is the position that Chris and dsquared are defending.

112

dsquared 03.27.12 at 9:43 am

Chris’s #108 is really important here. Obviously, when I am talking about re-engineering and changing the educational experience to fit the needs and resources available, the people who really ought to do this are the administrators. And lassitude, incompetence and overpay on the part of administrators does seem to be a lot of the problem here.

But the trouble is that a lot of the reason why educational administrators (cross-check: also medical administrators) are so bad is that the people they’re managing won’t let them manage. If we expand Chris’s points here, we can see that if you set n as the standard for grading, someone who is trying to deliver 2n thinks that he’s being a good guy. And if Chris says “no, do n, then you can get your research done”, then he is the evil one, who is trying to deprive the students of their 2n grading, while also making unrealistic demands about research.

So the employee goes on delivering 2n, while complaining about it. And then after a while, he gets burned out (or decides that the hours he’s working, he might as well go to Goldman Sachs) at which point the problem lands on Chris’s table. And the administrator is in an invidious position, because the only way that this train keeps rolling is to have a constant supply of idealistic youngsters – you can keep running a factory at 110% if someone keeps giving you new machines, which is not a particularly ethical way to work, but it’s how law firms, investment banks and apparently universities go about it.

This is a particularly sinister managerial pathology, because it implies that even the first-reach solution of throwing resources at the problem won’t work. If you double the workforce, then it’s all too likely that some ambitious or idealistic sprog will now decide that 5n is really the least these kids deserve, and anything less than 4n is shoddy.

113

dsquared 03.27.12 at 9:44 am

None of which is to say, of course, that the original Washington Post article is either sensible or well-informed

Yes absolutely – Henry’s point about underfunded community colleges is really important and needs to be emphasised – it isn’t *all* about overengineering – but there is a problem there too I think.

114

dsquared 03.27.12 at 10:01 am

Looking back at the thread, it seems to me that there are some underlying philosophical and/or ideological issues that I hope Harry has a moment to comment on. For example, look at this from Seth at #53:

Anybody who thinks they have ENG 101 (First Year Writing) “down,” after 5 years or 20, is very, very wrong. There’s a whole field, Composition and Rhetoric, that’s researching the teaching of writing and learning new things about it all the time. Every class is so different that what worked one time probably will never work again the same way.

This can’t be right taken literally. My first reaction on reading it was that if every class is so different that what worked one time probably will never work again the same way, then there is no point in doing any preparation at all, because how do you know what to prepare for? But it goes deeper than that – if every class is completely different and nothing works the same way, then what is all this research in composition and rhetoric learning about? Surely the existence of the research base implies that there are lots similarities between different classes, and that lots of the same things do work in all sorts of different contexts.

I say “ideology” because I think there’s a very strong commitment to saying that the students are individuals and that the teacher/student relationship is a personal one. But I don’t think that’s necessarily or intrinsically true – it’s a statement about how people wanted to make that relationship work.

115

Andrew Fisher 03.27.12 at 10:06 am

dsquared@112 I’m afraid you give us educational managers too much credit. In addition to the lassitude, incompetence, and overpay most of us are as powerfully bought into exactly the ideology at work on this thread, which is why our stock response to almost any problem is to exhort the academic staff to work harder.

116

Chris Bertram 03.27.12 at 10:08 am

_what is all this research in composition and rhetoric learning about? _

As a rough generalization, academics just don’t want to know about pedagogical research. They believe they know it all already, and haven’t got time anyway (for reasons covered upthread). Hence massive scepticism from colleagues towards the research on the effectiveness of lectures. One person (an academic!) literally said to me “You only think that because you read a book about it.”

117

Phil 03.27.12 at 10:14 am

So Phil, what happens to your single parent colleague who has less time at evenings and weekends than you do? Who gets the promotion, you or her?

This is offensive on so many levels I’m not sure where to start. Let me just say that I am not the problem here. Nor am I likely to get a promotion any time soon, and nor am I doing any research to speak of. My secret is being on a part-time contract – the pay’s low, but at least the work can get done on weekdays.

And if Chris says “no, do n, then you can get your research done”, then he is the evil one,

No, he’s the one who is setting me up to fail. The same management that sets n at unrealistic levels continuously tells us to deliver better results and more student satisfaction – and if that takes me 2n instead of n that’s not their problem. I’m not the one that’s choosing to work at 110%; they’re the ones who are defining the time allowable so that the work takes more than 100% of it.

there really doesn’t seem to be much research or consideration over how much the students actually benefit from the Rolls-Royce approach

Could you define your terms? What is this “Rolls-Royce approach”, other than “putting in a level of effort that takes more time than management have allocated”?

At the moment all I’m getting is that anyone complaining of having constraints imposed on them that make it difficult to do their job is actually the author of their own misfortune, because the only way to do a job properly is within the constraints that have been imposed. I don’t find this very satisfactory, as it’s essentially a justification for any speed-up or cutback that management may wish to impose at any time.

I’m not completely out of sympathy with Chris, for as long as he lays off the ad hominems. If management were doing this kind of thing in a way that took the faculty with them – what are the problems, is it possible to do the work in less time, might you actually benefit from agonising less over each individual essay, how long does it really take to write a lecture – this would be a totally different matter. (Apart from anything else, I’m confident that it would come out that it really does take more than four hours to write a lecture, which would help a lot with that particular 110% problem.) What we’re actually getting is just a speed-up: you, more work, less time.

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dsquared 03.27.12 at 10:32 am

because the only way to do a job properly is within the constraints that have been imposed

Although I see why you find this unsatisfactory, it’s the only way to have managers at all. I obviously don’t know what your specific situation is and if your actual managers are not setting things realistically that fits into the heading of “managerial laziness, incompetence etc” above, but being able to specify the standard to which the job is done and the time allotted to finish it in is pretty much definitional of what it means to be a manager.

Could you define your terms? What is this “Rolls-Royce approach”, other than “putting in a level of effort that takes more time than management have allocated”?

well on a tu quoque, what’s your definition of “shoddy”, other than a level of effort that takes less time than you personally have decided is appropriate?

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Chris Bertram 03.27.12 at 10:43 am

_I’m not completely out of sympathy with Chris, for as long as he lays off the ad hominems._

The point of the _ad hominem_ was to make the point vivid to you by exposing a conflict between different values I’m sure you’re committed to. I didn’t mean to offend you, but I did intend your discomfort.

Another point of tension can arise with trade unionism, as was brought home to me on a picket line recently. Many of the very same colleagues who complain bitterly about Gradgrindian management either carried on teaching during a strike or rearranged their lectures so as not to disadvantage the students (the latter colleagues losing a day’s pay anyway). One picket-line crosser (a serial complainer about spending every evening grading essays) lectured me on how, as professionals, we had a sacred obligation to our students … You can’t help some people, who are determined to make it worse for themselves and others: Kantian martyrdom!

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Chris Bertram 03.27.12 at 10:48 am

dsquared: One problem for managers in HE, is that you can’t actually stop people from killing themselves by working all night and all weekend (and then boasting about what Stakhanovites they are!).

(At least this would be a problem, for any manager set on attacking this issue. Few are, given the apparent appetite of the teaching staff for literal self-sacrifice.)

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Phil 03.27.12 at 10:55 am

Although I see why you find this unsatisfactory, it’s the only way to have managers at all.

Firstly, there has to be somebody in the organisation who knows how long it takes to do the job & can give an authoritative answer when asked by someone outside (HR, other departments, whoever). That doesn’t mean that there has to be someone who decides how long it takes to do the job; academics can circulate memos and hold long meetings with the best of them, and a collegiate view on workload could easily be arrived at if there were the will.

Secondly, if you concede the necessity for managers (which even my employer doesn’t entirely; ‘head of department’ is a job title, but the postholder is a research-active academic), that doesn’t mean that those being managed should generally take the approach of bowing their heads and getting on with weaving three yards an hour instead of two. I would have thought this was common ground, but apparently not.

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Alex Prior 03.27.12 at 10:56 am

piglet @31. Thank you. Journalism numbers are in decline, and what this thread is reacting to is opinion, not journalism. We have a saying: ‘Facts are expensive, opinion is cheap’, and that is the model that is currently driving newspapers. I run a lean journalism shop, of expert journalists, and each one of us can do the interviews and research for 3-4 ‘standard’ stories per week. An investigation takes much longer, and you can add the expense of lawyers. We are specialists. The mainstream dailies are asking their beat (specialist) journalists to push out up to 3 stories per day. Which is insane, because there is no time for research and tracking down hard-to-get sources. And more and more specialists (they are expensive) are being sacked and replaced by ‘pool’ journalists, who despite their best intentions are only able to ask the obvious questions, and have no in-depth knowledge of an area to warn them when an answer is a flat-out lie. They also don’t have time to develop sources. Levy is opinion. The average grunt journalist… deserves a bit of pity. He or she would like to do a good job.

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Phil 03.27.12 at 11:00 am

Chris – the offence was in the implication that I think the current situation is fine and dandy, that I’m happy to work unpaid, that I benefit from it & anticipate benefiting from it in future. None of this is the case. I do it partly because I think I’d be miserable if I didn’t, but mostly because I’m sure I’d be more vulnerable if I didn’t.

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Chris Bertram 03.27.12 at 11:02 am

_I’m sure I’d be more vulnerable if I didn’t._

And you are not wrong about that.

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Phil 03.27.12 at 11:04 am

What is this – Good Manager, Bad Manager?

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ajay 03.27.12 at 11:09 am

123: I am pretty sure that none of those implications were intended.

But you can see, surely, that if you have a system where the norm is to work large amounts of unpaid overtime, you effectively have a system where only people willing and able to put in that amount of overtime will get ahead? This is the sort of thing that would be rightly decried in – say – the financial sector, and HE shouldn’t be any different. The whole “professional ethos” argument is a bit of a blind: what would you say about an industry where you could make 20 quality widgets an hour and management expected you to turn out 240 quality widgets a day? And the response of labour was not to say “can’t be done” or even “can do, but they’ll be inferior widgets” but “we will work harder!”

I would also like to question the unspoken assumption that academics are the only people in the world who can work longer and longer hours without the quality of their work product deteriorating. Is spending twenty minutes on grading an essay really worse than spending one hour, when that hour is between 11pm and midnight?

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Chris Bertram 03.27.12 at 11:14 am

A bit of both Phil (I served 4 years as Head of School). I’ve been on both sides of the fence. The trouble is, as I see it, that people both contribute to the reproduction of the system and deplore its effects on them. There’s a multi-player game here and you are both constrained to act as you do AND your actions (like everyone else’s) are making life worse for yourself and others. Moreover it isn’t clear that your managers can do much about it because the whole framework is set by things like REF which establish inter-institutional competition. Solutions? No comprehensive ones from me, but I’d say (a) don’t get trapped by buying into the stories academia tells about itself and (b) build the union.

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dsquared 03.27.12 at 11:26 am

academics can circulate memos and hold long meetings with the best of them, and a collegiate view on workload could easily be arrived at if there were the will.

This is what happens though. Chris (who isn’t a professional administrator) and his colleagues reached a standard of n, and then the colleagues all marched off and started grading to a standard of 3n. Your own situation might be different if n started off as too large a number, but the gold-plating problem definitely exists.

None of this is the case. I do it partly because I think I’d be miserable if I didn’t, but mostly because I’m sure I’d be more vulnerable if I didn’t.

But isn’t a lot of the reason why you’d be more vulnerable if you didn’t that someone else would be more than willing to do so? And (I realise this is a bit teaching-granny-to-suck-eggs trade unionism) isn’t that a bit of a problem? And what happens when some little keener comes along and declares that the minimum standard is weaving four yards instead of three? I think Chris’s point here is that management are not necessarily the ones driving the speed-up (or rather, that, as you say, the management and the workers are the same people). The speed-up is being driven by a running Dutch auction of “professional standards”, which is subject to the same winner’s curse as any other auction.

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Lurker 03.27.12 at 11:38 am

One of the things I don’t understand here is the ununiformity of the student body. Why on earth are the community colleges taking everyone in, and teaching rather (within-college) standardised course structure to all? Why can’t they differentiate, giving simply remedial classes to those who are unable to follow the usual 1st year material? Or barring that, why do they accept students who are unprepared? And barring the exclusion of unprepared students, why cannot they fail the students who can’t follow the usual run of the course, even if they are from unprivileged backgrounds?

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Phil 03.27.12 at 11:51 am

This is what happens though

Where Chris teaches, maybe. It’s a bit more top-down where I work. Perhaps Chris is thinking “look, guys, we agreed to this”, but what I’m hearing is “look, this is just the way it is”.

isn’t a lot of the reason why you’d be more vulnerable if you didn’t that someone else would be more than willing to do so?

Not really. I’d be vulnerable in and of myself, so to speak, because my results and/or student satisfaction figures would be likely to fall. The (unlikely) fact that all my other colleagues were equally vulnerable, because their ratings had also fallen, would be no consolation to anyone.

If there is an element of competition it’s with senior colleagues who genuinely don’t need to take so much time over the job, because (as Chris said of himself) they’ve done it so long that they know it inside out. When I’m rearranging my notes on a topic I know, a new lecture isn’t that big a deal; unfortunately the range of topics I know isn’t broad enough to cover every area where I might be called on to give a new lecture. And things change; my brilliant lectures on New Labour’s criminal justice policy are starting to look a bit whiskery.

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Jeff 03.27.12 at 12:23 pm

I teach Calc 1 and Calc 2 at night at a local university. They are each 4 credit courses and I get paid $700/credit (which has been unchanged for 6 years). Out of that salary I am expected to pay SS, parking, etc.; i.e., I am a contractor.

Each course meets twice a week, and each session is 1 hour and 40 minutes long. I also provide a problem session from 1-5 on Saturday afternoons. I have no office hours as a I have a full time job during the day. However, students regularly email questions to me so I spend 2 hours/week answering questions.

There a roughly 30 class meetings per class per semester, I spend 40 hours/semester in problem sessions, and I spend another 2 hours/week answering email questions, so the gross hourly rate is 2800/(50 + 40 + 30) = $23.33/hour. My net is about 75% of that amount. It does not seem to me to be an outrageous salary for the level of material I’m teaching.

Off topic: However, the most significant issue which I see is that every year the students seem progressively weaker in the basics (algebra and trig) which makes it increasingly difficult for them to learn Calculus. Here in Ga there IS a crisis in secondary math education.

Great blog!

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Marc 03.27.12 at 12:37 pm

One important element of job satisfaction is control. Whatever the intention, Chris et al. are really advocating a style of work where the professors don’t get to make decisions about how to educate their students.

More to the point, a lot of us have seen this game before. At the K-12 level, for example, education theory fads are notorious. The powers that be dictate that things be done this way, then that way, that teachers do things in precisely this manner. And yet the magic method of today becomes junked tomorrow – a lot of effort for almost no gain.

There is also a real lack of respect for teaching as a lifelong experience. A good teacher will notice things that worked better or worse, and adjust their approach accordingly. They may make a connection that they didn’t the last time. This is, again, *the fun part* of teaching; the part where you’re not doing tedious chores like grading. And the industrial approach takes this away – most likely to be replaced with yet more rote tasks.

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Neville Morley 03.27.12 at 1:20 pm

Among the many things making the situation such a mess – and I should lay my cards on the table in admitting that I’m another academic who has spent time in a faculty role, trying to oversee UG teaching – are the problem of measurement and the fact that there are many different ways of achieving the same result, none of which is obviously or intrinsically superior to the others and none of which will suit everybody all the time.

Class time, for example. Like Chris, I avoid traditional lectures wherever possible, even when faced with eighty-odd students; the more I can keep things flexible and improvised, the better I can respond to particular issues and the less preparation I have to do – at the most, it’s a matter of keeping up with reading and tinkering slightly with the Powerpoint slides or whatever, rather than having to rewrite anything. Thing is, I simply can’t imagine some of my colleagues being able to offer this sort of class very successfully, whereas their more thoroughly prepared lectures work very well and are equally popular with students. They could be ordered to spend no more time than I do on preparation, and the result would still be the delivery of one lecture – but with the fear that its quality would be inferior. Certainly that fear would be in their mind, with the implication that if student satisfaction declined it might affect them directly and, even if not, it might affect the department and it would be their fault; the result is that they’ll put in the extra work they think they need to guarantee the quality of the product.

Likewise essay marking: it’s not just that I feel I can do a decent job in n whereas a colleague insists that only 2n is sufficient time, it may be that this is actually true for each of us. Moreover, is ‘a decent job’ defined by my own feeling that I’ve reached a sufficiently considered judgement and offered a decent amount of feedback, or is it defined by the student agreeing with this feeling? Again there’s a clear and increasing pressure to go the extra mile for fear of student dissatisfaction, and there is no empirical basis for asserting that n is sufficient time to mark an essay ‘properly’, because there’s no way of establishing an objective standard of proper marking.

*The* major problem, though, as already noted, is academics’ willingness to exploit themselves far more effectively than any management structure could achieve; too many of them still love the teaching and want to educate students, and also love researching and writing. The main variables seem to be how far they neglect one in favour of the other and how far they’re unconsciously driven by a model of academic life dating from the days of far greater resources and lower staff-student ratios.

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ajay 03.27.12 at 1:31 pm

Again there’s a clear and increasing pressure to go the extra mile for fear of student dissatisfaction, and there is no empirical basis for asserting that n is sufficient time to mark an essay ‘properly’, because there’s no way of establishing an objective standard of proper marking.

Well, there must be some standard. It’s manifestly not the case that academics mark essays until they are physically unable to continue, so each one must make her own decision that n or 2n or 4n or whatever is the ‘right’ amount for them; based on what? What do they take into consideration when they look at a pile of essays and think “that’s going to take me the rest of the morning to do properly” rather than “that’s going to take me the next two days”? What makes you think that (say) 20 minutes is too short a time and one hour is adequate, but that you wouldn’t do a ‘better’ job by spending two hours on it?

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Chris Bertram 03.27.12 at 1:31 pm

Marc wrote (reasonably enough):

bq. Whatever the intention, Chris et al. are really advocating a style of work where the professors don’t get to make decisions about how to educate their students.

I’d push back from that by saying that teachers ought to have a lot of control but subject to resource and time constraints. So if there’s only one human body (salary) to do a block of teaching (plus prep, grading etc) and that teaching is going to be done in a time-frame consistent with the body doing the same thing for year after year and having a life outside work, then that limits the possibilities. And I certainly think managers need to challenge “autonomous” responses to the resource problem that involve people harming themselves because they think “I’m tough enough” or “Everyone else seems to be coping, I must be inadequate, just got to push on …” etc

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dsquared 03.27.12 at 1:38 pm

Likewise essay marking: it’s not just that I feel I can do a decent job in n whereas a colleague insists that only 2n is sufficient time, it may be that this is actually true for each of us.

But surely in this case, it’s worth asking if your colleague needs some training or something? I suppose the generally poor state of industrial relations make it impossible to do this without getting immediately into constructive dismissal territory, but really if someone takes twice as long as anyone else to do something that’s a big part of the job, that’s a problem.

I also think that academics have a structural tendency to underestimate the benefits of standardisation, overestimate the benefits of customisation and (weirdly, for a profession that is all about qualifications and testing) overestimate the difficulty of measurement. I think a lot of this is ideological.

(Parenthetically, AIUI Chris’s move away from lectures isn’t based on personal idiosyncracy or style – it’s research-based because they don’t work and technology has made other approaches possible. Your colleagues may think that their more prepared lectures work just as well and are just as popular, but it’s quite likely that they’re wrong; it could be that you’re just better at teaching than they are, and they need training to improve their methods rather than the brute force approach. This is the sort of thing that ought to be the role of education administration).

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Neville Morley 03.27.12 at 1:46 pm

@ajay #134: very good question. I think my sense of ‘acceptable’ involves marking up any errors in the bibliography or references with some explanation, underlining spelling and grammar errors (but not necessarily correcting them), writing marginal comments at least once per paragraph in particular to identify major errors and nice ideas, and filling out the space for feedback on the cover sheet with general comments on knowledge, understanding, structure of argument, originality and suggestions for improvement. I would generally give myself half an hour per 3,000-word essay for that, reading the thing once only; the major variable is clearly the level of marginal comment, which could in theory be expanded exponentially and which does in practice generally need to be expanded in the case of essays that are either very good or very poor. The *really* time-consuming activity is checking suspicious-looking phrases on Google; if I didn’t have to do that regularly, I could probably bring the average down to about 20 minutes in short bursts before my arm gets tired…

This all seems entirely sensible to me. Looking at other colleagues’ marking habits, especially in my capacity as an external examiner, I’m most often struck by the relative paucity of written feedback by my standards. I can only imagine that they read essays several times, or read very slowly.

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Barry 03.27.12 at 1:47 pm

03.26.12 at 10:18 pm

Another: ” I get an essay marked in 20 minutes and move on”

dsquared: ” This would suggest that a lot of the problem is these huge class sizes. There are guys on this thread with 100 students, so that is 30 hours a week just marking essays. Which is crazy of course.”

I’d say that 20 minutes/essay is none too long. Remember that you’re trying to communicate with somebody about what and *why* they’re doing right and wrong,
and how to do better.

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ajay 03.27.12 at 1:56 pm

137: thanks.

The really time-consuming activity is checking suspicious-looking phrases on Google; if I didn’t have to do that regularly, I could probably bring the average down to about 20 minutes in short bursts before my arm gets tired

I take it this is about detecting plagiarism, yes? Could this not be done automatically if you ask your students to submit essays in electronic form rather than (or as well as) hard copy, and then run it through an automated plagiarism checker? Which is exactly the kind of thing that management should be telling you how to do…

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Neville Morley 03.27.12 at 1:57 pm

@dsquared #136: entirely agree about resistance to standardisation, obsession with customisation etc. – but I would feel very reluctant to set myself as a standard for anything, and would probably get lynched if I did. Equally, I know the research on the problems of lectures as a mode of teaching; but the student satisfaction data, here at least, which plays a far more significant role than pedagogical research in determining what actually happens in the classroom, *does* support the idea that traditional lectures can be at least as popular with students as more flexible approaches (in some cases more so, because they feel they’re getting value-for-money facts from the authority figure rather than a lot of debate and student input). The fact that they ought to be less satisfied because they’re getting an inferior lesson doesn’t adequately counterbalance their belief that this is what lessons should be like.

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Barry 03.27.12 at 1:57 pm

ezra abrams “

” with 2 kids, 18 and 16, college costs are very much on my mind.
As a scientist, or simply as an educated member of the polity, I find it astonishing that there is no simple clear website with a simple set of numbers that cover the period , say 1950 – 1960, and have numbers for # teachers, salarys/full time student, admin costs, buildings and grounds, healthcare and retirement, athletics, etc etc”

[note - that data would be soooooo out of date............]
If you’re talking about the USA, the thing is that there is no ‘system’ for which upper management staff can pull reports from the routine data submitted by lower units (e.g., the US Dept of College pulls reports from their 50 administrative ‘Divisions of College’, who each pull from 50-100 ‘Local College Stations’).

Educational researchers do it, but they aren’t doing it for raw public consumption.

You might go to something called a ‘public library’, and pay one of their sorcerers (who hide under mundane titles such as ‘reference librarian’) to help you. I’ll bet that you’ll find far more information than you think is out there, and reasonably well put together. It will still be light-years from what you’d like.

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Barry 03.27.12 at 2:02 pm

dsquared @ 100: ““Improving one’s written English” is a subject that’s been taught for decades via correspondence courses with a high degree of success. “

Right. And those Kaplan schools do a real good job at anything other than extracting money.

Dsquared, you keep saying things, about something you know nothing about, while those who know disagree with you. Now, that’s not necessarily bad (see ‘economics, corruption thereof’), but you’re pretty much just bringing ‘well, I still think……’ to the table.

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Phil 03.27.12 at 2:04 pm

Could this not be done automatically

Can be and is, and is quite useful once you learn to tune out the false positives and ignore where the program thinks the text is being taken from, which is very often wrong. Supplementary Googling is still required.

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Barry 03.27.12 at 2:05 pm

dsquared @ 109: “But, you can’t postpone maintenance forever. “

Your whole analysis here is rather bad. The point is from upper management’s view, they can. Units can be discarded; many will self-discard.

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Marc 03.27.12 at 2:10 pm

@136: I can be effective in using some methods that don’t work for others. Some students respond well to some approaches and not others. This is an important limitation of standardization.

More to the point – this is already the approach being favored in K-12 US education and it has serious problems. We’re making sure that our widgets /students have quantifiable outcomes – so we’re ditching things like art and music that have no “profit” or easily testable outcomes. Teachers are forced to teach in particular ways and teacher satisfaction drops through the floor.

And, since this is the US, “productivity savings” simply go into increasing workloads. If we adopted a model where professors spent fewer out of class hours we would end up with more classes being taught (worse) and no fewer hours actually spent working. We’ve seen this movie before, and we’re not anxious for a rerun.

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ajay 03.27.12 at 2:16 pm

And, since this is the US, “productivity savings” simply go into increasing workloads. If we adopted a model where professors spent fewer out of class hours we would end up with more classes being taught (worse) and no fewer hours actually spent working

No, not “(worse)”, because the point about increasing productivity is that it takes less time to achieve the same results. This is not a nitpick; it is the whole point of this discussion!

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Chris Bertram 03.27.12 at 2:16 pm

Neville is absolutely right about students quite liking lectures as passive infotainment. They are also cheaper than some of the more interactive methods, especially if the latter involve technology. Since pedagogical failure can often go undetected, as the student (though not really understanding) gets the credential anyway, we have a problem. I’m sure there’s something to be said about Soviet tractor output at this point: you meet the production targets but the rate of mechanical failure is absurdly high.

Note though – for the benefit of those tempted to think of the debate above as being between the defenders of quality and the routinizing managerialists – that here the roles are reversed. The traditionalists (who would insist on their right to spend an hour per essay) are defending the quick-and-dirty in the face of the evidence that their methods are actually worse.

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ajay 03.27.12 at 2:19 pm

143: OK, fair enough. Sounds like it’s still the sort of thing that doesn’t need a highly educated and (relatively) highly paid faculty member to do. Unless he’s willing to do it in his own time for free, of course. But I bet that a non-academic institution with a similar task would give that job to some sort of junior clerical staff rather than the subject matter expert.

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Henry 03.27.12 at 2:28 pm

A number of different issues here. In no particular order (and without much backup for claims since I am typing on a mobile device …).

Meredith – Better to think of dsquared here as a _muops_ (if my rusty Greek is more or less accurate rather than a troll). Or Socratic trolling. Sometimes it is useful to have basic preconceptions challenged.

dsquared, chris etc. It may be worth making explicit that there are two different conversations getting munged together here. One is a specific conversation on US community colleges, and courses that they teach such as freshman lit. The other is a conversation about UK and US universities, and the expectations they impose. These are two quite different things. US community colleges really don’t aspire to be Oxbridge colleges. Many of their instructors – especially the adjuncts – are terminal MAs. And as I said above, there actually _is_ a reasonable amount of standardization of courses like freshman comp. It’s teaching basic literacy skills – there are different approaches as to how best to do this, but instructors are using standard textbooks and methods. If there is Stakhanovism here, it’s the ordinary sort of instructors feeling a basic sense of obligation to students who are in difficult circumstances. I think that the useful comparison here is with social workers or others in what are quasi-pejoratively described as the ‘caring professions.’

This is somewhat different from the kinds of problems that people are arguing about in UK universities. What it shares is the issue of how to reconcile some sense of vocation (in Weber’s terms) or craftsmanship (which is what George seems to be pointing to above) with more purely market oriented incentives, in which students are the consumers of a service, academics the producers, and managers (heads of department etc) seeking to allocate resources so as to meet demand with a limited set of resources. I think that’s the implicit logic of dsquared’s line of argument here. The particular issue that makes this all difficult is how decentralized universities are – there is really not all that much that managers can do to micromanage what academics do or do not teach. If you want to analyze this in economic terms (a mode of analysis which has problems as well as benefits), you might think of autonomy as an important part of the implicit reservation wage that universities pay. Most academics in research universities _could_ make more money doing other stuff (yes – this is true), but they are prepared to take lower wages in return for more freedom to teach as they want, and to do research on things that they are interested in. Again, this doesn’t apply so well to community college instructors, many of whom (although not all) are simply and directly exploited. This makes management extremely difficult – but I suspect that the alternative of a much more directly market oriented approach would have problems too. There is a lot of apparent slack in academia – people studying topics without much obvious use. But some of this slack is potentially useful redundant capacities (I’m prepared to argue e.g. that there are lots of useful things that you can learn from how Athens and other cities organized politics), and it’s very hard to tell what those capacities are going to be in advance. A much more streamlined system in which academics had much less autonomy, higher pay, and taught and carried out research in a far more standardized fashion would have short term efficiency benefits, but long term costs.

Finally – and this is something which is much more obvious perhaps to people working in the US than in the UK system – standard curricula are much easier to weaponize. This is obviously true at the high school level, where curricula are set in many states by elected representatives of one sort or another, leading to all the problems with teaching evolution etc that most CT readers are aware of. Creating common curricula would surely allow universities to achieve economies of scale, but also create a point of entry for all sorts of dubious political organizations. I’d be more comfortable seeing this happen in private universities like my own, where university presidents are going to be more worried about the bottom line, than in state universities, but even in private universities there are going to be problems (e.g. in places like Georgetown, where conservative alumni are always threatening to withhold donations if the university isn’t sufficiently right-wing Catholic).

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Marc 03.27.12 at 2:29 pm

@146: If you think that education lends itself well to mass standardization, and that teacher morale is irrelevant, then yes – a universe where I process 300 widgets a term is better than one where I process 200 widgets. However, if many of the teachers are not well suited to the methods they’re forced to use, they are actively discouraged from giving students extra help (detailed comments on essays), and their autonomy is removed…yes, this outcome will be worse.

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dsquared 03.27.12 at 2:33 pm

Dsquared, you keep saying things, about something you know nothing about, while those who know disagree with you.

Not actually obviously true. Chris, Andrew Fisher and Neville Morley all seem to think I’m at least worth discussing the subject with, and they all know a lot about the subject. Your own value-added, by contrast, seems pretty low.

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dsquared 03.27.12 at 2:47 pm

If we adopted a model where professors spent fewer out of class hours we would end up with more classes being taught (worse)

?? I thought that teaching the classes was the fun part, while grading papers and going over course notes was the grind?

US community colleges really don’t aspire to be Oxbridge colleges. Many of their instructors – especially the adjuncts – are terminal MAs. [...] It’s teaching basic literacy skills – there are different approaches as to how best to do this, but instructors are using standard textbooks and methods.

Also ?? Have community colleges changed completely since the 1980s? My dad was a “terminal MSc”, but he wasn’t teaching in an environment where remedial literacy and adult education was a big part of what was going on – OKCCC was roughly equivalent to an FE college in the UK, but which did award undergraduate degrees. Teaching there was (unlike my mum’s job teaching in the Federal prison system, where there was a substantial pastoral element) just a matter of keeping bums on seats, and imparting enough knowledge of physics to get the buggers onto an engineering course, whence they would hopefully graduate with enough understanding to drill for oil without killing anyone. Is this a state-level variance or something?

And on Henry’s main, quasi-Hayekian point:

There is a lot of apparent slack in academia – people studying topics without much obvious use. But some of this slack is potentially useful redundant capacities (I’m prepared to argue e.g. that there are lots of useful things that you can learn from how Athens and other cities organized politics), and it’s very hard to tell what those capacities are going to be in advance.

Up to a point, Lord Copper … agreed that it’s hard to tell what those capacities are going to be in advance, but it seems unlikely to me that the missing cure for cancer is hidden in an annual revision of someone’s course notes or in Googling to try and pick up plagiarism. It’s precisely in order to free up some time for this sort of serendipity that I’m trying to work out where some of the entropy can be engineered out of the more routine tasks.

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AcademicLurker 03.27.12 at 2:58 pm

Have community colleges changed completely since the 1980s?

At least in California, the destruction/defunding of the public secondary education system hadn’t proceeded as far back then, so there was less need for CCs to do remedial teaching.

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ajay 03.27.12 at 3:07 pm

150: my own education was methodologically outdated and inefficient, Marc, but it was efficient enough to teach me the meaning of “false dichotomy”. Thanks for playing.

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MG 03.27.12 at 3:18 pm

Great discussion. My own (disjointed) thoughts:

In our local high school students are required to use a website called “turn-it-in”, which automatically checks for suspicious phrases, etc. Couldn’t this be done at the college level to free up time?

Also, to ajay’s point — there are only so many hours in a day. People experience fatigue. Couldn’t there be a standard of a 20 min review of all papers, followed by a break, followed by a more intensive review of the papers flagged for follow-up? What does the research suggest is the best way to review papers?

Also, can we separate “nice person” from “good teacher”? Sure, you can be both but really, students need the latter. And by “good teacher”, I mean someone who has students who understand the material.

I like having some base level of quality assurance. For example, pilots use check-lists prior to take-off, as do surgeons. Could some sort of check-list approach be adopted for teaching, even at a college level? Is the problem one of isolation and competitiveness as much as individualism?

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Barry 03.27.12 at 3:19 pm

Lurker @129

” One of the things I don’t understand here is the ununiformity of the student body. Why on earth are the community colleges taking everyone in, and teaching rather (within-college) standardised course structure to all? Why can’t they differentiate, giving simply remedial classes to those who are unable to follow the usual 1st year material? Or barring that, why do they accept students who are unprepared? And barring the exclusion of unprepared students, why cannot they fail the students who can’t follow the usual run of the course, even if they are from unprivileged backgrounds?”

They are. Please consult the course catalog of your nearest community college. in any academic field, you’ll find course from 200-level down to high-school dropout level.

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LizardBreath 03.27.12 at 3:20 pm

Looking back to 61: Dsquared, you’ve got a strong intuition that college teachers are overestimating necessary prep time because you’re thinking it should be about the same ratio you need for the same number of hours of client contact. Looking at the client contacts you describe, external meetings are probably comparable to class time, but “I will make about 50 client calls, which are an average of ten minutes each – about eight hours on client calls” seems to me like it’s leading you astray. As a lawyer (and an ex-teacher), I spend quite a lot of time on the phone with clients (although not as much as you do), and it doesn’t take anything like the time preparing for a class did: it’s a one-on-one conversation, often largely driven by the immediate needs of the other party, and on a subject where they’re familiar enough that there’s no real need for prep beyond knowing the facts we’re going to discuss — I don’t think of a ten minute client call as something that needs prep at all, as long as it’s about whatever it is I’m actually doing for them.

That’s two-thirds of your client contact right there. If you thought of your workload as more comparable to someone teaching four hours a week, with eight hours of office hours, and the remaining time for research and so on, I think you’d be closer to a fair comparison.

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Steve LaBonne 03.27.12 at 3:24 pm

Couldn’t this be done at the college level to free up time?

What makes you think it isn’t?

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ajay 03.27.12 at 3:25 pm

Couldn’t there be a standard of a 20 min review of all papers, followed by a break, followed by a more intensive review of the papers flagged for follow-up? What does the research suggest is the best way to review papers?

Exactly. I refuse to believe that academia is the only profession in the world where people instinctively know the best and most efficient possible way to do their jobs. It’s certainly not true of any profession I am familiar with…

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Paul Orwin 03.27.12 at 3:28 pm

It seems like there are a lot of people talking past each other who pretty much agree. Two things strike me. 1) the pride that many college professors take in their work comes from in no small part a feeling that what they do is noble and good in exactly the way that investment banking isn’t. 2) Dsquared is more or less exactly right about where that feeling leads in terms of efficiency and work conditions (in his typically sharp but a little discomforting way). Working in the California State University system, I of course have it worse than all of you. The words of a colleague (sadly passed away) have stuck with me on this subject- to paraphrase, if you continue to do more with less you will continue to get less and be asked to do more.

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AcademicLurker 03.27.12 at 3:41 pm

Part of the issue here is managerialism. It’s the experience of many academics that upper management at universities is particularly disfunctional.

At a previous institution of mine, the faculty spent several years developing an intensive first year seminar curriculum. The administration intervened at the last minute to replace the carefully planned staged rollout with “let’s introduce it all at once” without consulting the faculty. Of course, the resources weren’t in place and the whole thing was a cockup.

That sort of thing is not exactly atypical. If professors are jealous of their autonomy it’s in part because they fear that administration will spread their disfunction to anything they touch.

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Phil 03.27.12 at 3:42 pm

Yes, we use TurnItIn. Yes, it’s handy. Yes, it saves time – there are some false positives and false negatives, but mostly a low TurnItIn score is a paper without any major misuse of sources. But no (Ajay), I don’t trust anyone who’s not capable of teaching the course to interpret what it says.

I think 20 minutes to mark a short essay & write feedback is pretty reasonable, to be honest. Put it another way, anything over 20 in a day is good going.

Paul O – I’ve always believed that I wanted to do something good with my working life. The belief made me miserable all the time I was working in IT, and when I finally made it into academia it made me miserable all over again. I’m starting to suspect it’s not a very adaptive belief. (Looking back, I think what I really want to do with my working life is work hard, with complete autonomy and a lot of variety, and have people regularly give me money and periodically tell me I’m doing a great job. Academia only ticks some of these boxes – and the work isn’t there in freelance journalism any more.)

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MG 03.27.12 at 3:42 pm

Two more thoughts:

It seems that two problems that seem two major time sucks for academics are checking for re-used papers and re-writing exams to reduce cheating. Neither of these, I would imagine, occupied much of the time of pre-computer age academics. But people today have the tools at their disposal, so they feel compelled to use it.

But what about simply adopting a code of conduct for students? An honor code. Would that be as effective and cut down on the prep time? Again, what does the research say works best?

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Phil 03.27.12 at 3:45 pm

On reflection, make that “ticks most of”.

Could still be a lot worse. (Could still get a lot worse.)

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Phil 03.27.12 at 3:47 pm

what about simply adopting a code of conduct for students? An honor code.

Where I work every student states, on the cover sheet of every piece of work they hand in, that they understand the university’s policy on plagiarism and that this piece of work is all their own.

What else were you thinking of?

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Alex K. 03.27.12 at 3:52 pm

Creating common curricula would surely allow universities to achieve economies of scale, but also create a point of entry for all sorts of dubious political organizations

Engineering courses for mass consumption –which achieves economies of scale– can be done without imposing standard curricula across an entire country.

What would be the downside to giving disadvantaged students from community colleges access to world class teachers (via standard lectures, standard feedback, standard grading) while assigning only the indispensable individual feedback to local tutors or local teachers (who could easily point people who struggle to more basic mass consumption classes)?

It’s perfectly true that good, up to date lectures take a lot of time to craft — but isn’t it likely that a group of people whose only job is to craft lectures for tens of thousands of students will do a better job than an overworked college professor?

The problem is that the radical thinking of the academic world is reserved for fields other than its operation.

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MG 03.27.12 at 3:57 pm

No, it would be something institution-wide, with the buy-in of the student community. The idea that cheating is a bad thing — not only for the active culprit but for the student who stands by and does nothing. Some places with honor codes are the US military academies, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, etc.

Here is an overview of some preliminary (dated) research:
http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2005/03/11/pavela1

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Phil 03.27.12 at 5:14 pm

Shared context fail – that paper tells me everything except what an honour code actually is.

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Barry 03.27.12 at 5:28 pm

Alex K: “What would be the downside to giving disadvantaged students from community colleges access to world class teachers (via standard lectures, standard feedback, standard grading) while assigning only the indispensable individual feedback to local tutors or local teachers (who could easily point people who struggle to more basic mass consumption classes)?”

The trick is that this isn’t really ‘access’; the whole point of real live instructors is personal feedback.

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geo 03.27.12 at 5:28 pm

Paul Orwin @160: the pride that many college professors take in their work comes from in no small part a feeling that what they do is noble and good in exactly the way that investment banking isn’t.

This seems to me an entirely reasonable feeling. Teaching is to some extent a gift economy, in which one is motivated by mysterious and spontaneous generosity to pass on the inspiring experiences that have made one’s own life worth living. Very few teachers, and no effective ones, rationally calculate their aptitudes and appetites versus demand schedules and pay rates and, as a result, decide to become teachers rather than real estate brokers or investment bankers. Obviously this is only true to some extent, and obviously, as Paul goes on to point out, it leads to many teachers (like most generous people in a capitalist society) being exploited. Obviously they should do what they can to minimize that exploitation, and obviously the rest of the society should be concerned to help, even more than it should be concerned to help prevent the exploitation of non-gift workers (or even of real estate brokers and investment bankers, if they need help). But the idea that the labor problems of teachers should be discussed in exactly equivalent terms with those of workers in more purely commercial activities is somewhat amiss, as many people seem to be trying to point out.

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Barry 03.27.12 at 5:35 pm

03.27.12 at 2:33 pm

Me: ” Dsquared, you keep saying things, about something you know nothing about, while those who know disagree with you.”

dsquared: ” Not actually obviously true. Chris, Andrew Fisher and Neville Morley all seem to think I’m at least worth discussing the subject with, and they all know a lot about the subject. Your own value-added, by contrast, seems pretty low”

This is an honest question, not being nasty – what *is* your value-added here?

The reason I ask is that your questions are the sort of questions which somebody who didn’t pay attention to what teachers do would ask (I count myself in this category; I was shocked in high school when I saw the pile of papers that a husband-and-wife pair of teachers had to grade – I sorta assumed that it ‘just happened’). You’re not alone here; a couple of others seem to assume that one can supply standard inputs (e.g., video files) to standard pieces (students) and get standard outcomes.

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Alex K. 03.27.12 at 5:36 pm

Teaching is to some extent a gift economy, in which one is motivated by mysterious and spontaneous generosity to pass on the inspiring experiences that have made one’s own life worth living.

All too true — but wouldn’t it be more consistent with this spontaneous generosity to share those experiences with twenty thousand people rather than twenty people at a time?

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Barry 03.27.12 at 5:40 pm

goe @ 170: “But the idea that the labor problems of teachers should be discussed in exactly equivalent terms with those of workers in more purely commercial activities is somewhat amiss, as many people seem to be trying to point out.”

Yes, because (a) a good business should be ruthless at finding and eliminating non-profitable clients, and (b) ripping off clients is much more acceptable in the business world. A ‘college’ based on extracting student loans while delivering minimal value for education is a bad thing; in the USA at least some horribly large part of the financial sector considers that somewhat overly ethical (delivering fraudulent garbage is considered to be ethical; the equivalent would be teaching the student things which are wrong and would hurt them or others).

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Steve LaBonne 03.27.12 at 5:40 pm

All too true—but wouldn’t it be more consistent with this spontaneous generosity to share those experiences with twenty thousand people rather than twenty people at a time?

Nothing that is really valuable about teaching can be shared on a video screen. Hell, lectures are a pretty sucky instructional method even in a live classroom. Which was discussed above, you know.

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Barry 03.27.12 at 5:43 pm

Note – sectors of the US educational system seem to be well within the first part (get the tuition, and deliver sh*t). The Kaplan corp., whose ad started this discussion, is supposed to be prominent there.

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Marc 03.27.12 at 5:45 pm

@172: Except that it tends not to work. Some professors in our department get unusually good evaluations, for example, and their students do well. But other professors who use their course materials as templates just don’t replicate this. That’s because the personality of the instructor has a lot to do with how well it works. One professor might be a bit shy, but able to work well with students one on one; others might be outgoing and good storytellers. Some will have an approach that works well for bright students, others for struggling students.

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Substance McGravitas 03.27.12 at 5:46 pm

Nothing that is really valuable about teaching can be shared on a video screen.

There’s the Open University…

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jack lecou 03.27.12 at 5:46 pm

that paper tells me everything except what an honour code actually is

I think an “honor code” differs from a “university policy on plagiarism /etc.” mostly in that the former is something with a lot more institution-wide buy in. An honor code is an integral part of the culture/’DNA’ of both the institution and the way students identify as members of it. Not just a rule on a page in the orientation material.

I believe they also tend to involve a high level of active student participation in rule setting, enforcement, adjudication, etc. (Which is probably important for achieving the high level of buy in.) As well, at some places they may (or used to) cover more than just academics (like cheating at cards or using bad language in front of ladies).

Such cultures probably do help reduce cheating, so far as it goes, but I would think it might be somewhat more difficult to muster an effective level of institutional identification at, e.g., Suburb Community College X than at Elite Ivy League College Y or Elite Military Officer Academy Z.

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Alex K. 03.27.12 at 5:51 pm

Nothing that is really valuable about teaching can be shared on a video screen.

That’s such a strong statement that it almost refutes itself. In fact, at elite universities, for STEM subjects, most of the introductory classes and a lot of mid-level classes are taught for classes that are large enough that the experience is indistinguishable from a video session. The passion for the subject from good teachers comes through just fine.

The original post discussed community colleges — I think that community colleges can do quite a lot worse than having the same level of lectures as Ivy league students have, only in a video format.

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Steve LaBonne 03.27.12 at 5:52 pm

There’s the Open University…

From what little I understand, and taking their own website at face value, it certainly doesn’t function merely by making lectures available. A prior I would doubt that the lectures are the most important part of the experience.

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Steve LaBonne 03.27.12 at 5:53 pm

That’s such a strong statement that it almost refutes itself. In fact, at elite universities, for STEM subjects, most of the introductory classes and a lot of mid-level classes are taught for classes that are large enough that the experience is indistinguishable from a video session.

And low-level STEM teaching at large universities is renowned for sucking, and for turning off a lot of potential students. Your point?

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Steve LaBonne 03.27.12 at 5:55 pm

And I very much do mean to include large elite universities, as I can attest from my own experience as a Harvard undergrad.

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Chris Bertram 03.27.12 at 5:56 pm

geo: you are quite right that the relationship between some types of workers and their clients is special. Nurses would be another example. But if there’s a sure way to destroy that relationship it is through failure to manage people’s time and self-exploitation. I believe the phrase du jour is “compassion fatigue”. So we need to think about how we can get the job done without burning people out. That may indeed involve an examination of such mundane matters as how much time people spend doing stuff, and the asking of critical questions about whether what they’re doing is really such a good idea. Concerns about whether this represents the triumph of “sophisters, economists, and calculators” and the end of chivalry are misplaced.

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Alex K. 03.27.12 at 6:08 pm

“And low-level STEM teaching at large universities is renowned for sucking, and for turning off a lot of potential students.”

As opposed to low-level STEM teaching at community colleges, which is well known to turn people into overachieving citizens.

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Steve LaBonne 03.27.12 at 6:14 pm

As opposed to low-level STEM teaching at community colleges, which is well known to turn people into overachieving citizens.

Some CCs to my personal knowledge, do in fact do a better job of teaching intro science course than most big universities; they turn out transfer students who go on to earn science baccalaureates but almost certainly would not have done so if they had been thrown into the melting pot at enormous State U. (I have taught such students back in my college teaching days.) And MANY 4 year liberal arts colleges do a better job, which is why their graduates are very significantly overrepresented among those who go on to earn Ph.Ds in science.

I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. But somehow, that never stops anybody when the subject is education.

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Alex K. 03.27.12 at 6:23 pm

When your argument rests on claiming that “some [community colleges] to my personal knowledge” do a better job than elite universities in intro and mid-level STEM classes then I can leave my argument as it is.

And note that no one is suggesting video lectures as the only teaching material. Both tutors and various ways of providing feedback are possible.

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Steve LaBonne 03.27.12 at 6:29 pm

When your argument rests on claiming that “some [community colleges] to my personal knowledge” do a better job than elite universities in intro and mid-level STEM classes then I can leave my argument as it is.

Why? Because the fact that something is obvious seems obvious to you, in the absence of any actual argument or evidence, or of any actual experience on your part, settles the matter? I too stand by the last two sentences of my comment. If you ever decide to become better informed, you could start by delving into the growing literature on the pedagogical inferiority of lecturing to other teaching strategies.

(And I notice that you avoided addressing what I said about 4 year liberal arts colleges, which is fortunate for you because in that case there’s plenty of evidence, one of the strongest bits of which I mentioned.)

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Alex K. 03.27.12 at 6:53 pm

Steve, the people experimenting with the educational models that I linked to in an earlier post seem well aware of the advantages of interaction with the course material. I took a few classes from one such course, and I spent either the same or more time answering interactive quizzes as listening to the lecture. These are not the passive lectures that are used as control in some of the learning experiments.

For a physical college student interaction should also not be a problem.

Listening to you I would get the impression that there is in fact no problem of privilege perpetuating itself via education, that a community college STEM education is as good as any, only employers are not sufficiently attuned to their own self-interest to hire more CC graduates with good GPAs.

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MQ 03.27.12 at 7:04 pm

Looking at the client contacts you describe, external meetings are probably comparable to class time,

I don’t think even external meetings are. There’s a world of difference between presenting to adults who are interested and motivated to follow your discussion of a topic they already have some familiarity with, and teaching a topic de novo to adolescents who may not want to be there. It’s like the difference between walking up a hill with someone and carrying them up a hill.

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MQ 03.27.12 at 7:08 pm

Of course there is a tradeoff between the greater complexity of the material you have to present in external client meetings / seminars…but I think it can be easier for an expert to present complex material for a motivated audience that shares assumptions than laboriously unpack the assumptions of the field for an unmotivated audience.

None of this is to say that post-secondary teaching is done efficiently (it probably isn’t for reasons discussed above) just that teaching is a pretty distinct skill and it is hard to compare it to non-teaching work , even when that work involves presentations.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.27.12 at 7:33 pm

It would not be a novel situation if management were to demand greater headline productivity at the expense of doing a proper job, and if conscientious/professional workers were to make up the difference at their own cost. This is a familiar phenomenon in the case of nurses, doctors, teachers, etc., but also all kinds of other employees whose job has an internal rationale and professional or quasi-professional standards.

When such work has direct effects on third parties who trust and rely that (rely that?) the job will be done to objectively adequate standards – one important basis for the idea of professionalism – it is hard to blame individuals for ‘propping up’ the system, since such people tend to be reluctant to take industrial action for fear of the short-term impact this will have on their patients, pupils, passengers, etc.

I think calling such people ‘scabs’, especially in the absence of an actual strike that they are breaking, is therefore a bit harsh. Nonetheless, they do need to organise and try to form a united front.

But the n-c economic answer to this issue, viz. methodological egoism (which comprehends ‘warm glow’ altruism) is neither true or good. This is not, I would submit, just another revealed preference for which people must pay the cost. They are being taken adavantage of, because the Aristotelian kind of approach they (rightly) take is not shared by the management, who tend to adopt a crude Benthamic (or is that a kind of posh vinegar?) approach.

(At this point I believe it’s traditional for someone to mention barbering services, attesting to the continued influence of Prof. Nozick. The first guest on the latest ed. of BBC Radio 4′s execrable but presumably not entirely un-influential Moral Maze, about taxation, was an orthodox Nozickian libertarian, too, btw.)

Which is not to say that trade-offs don’t need to be made, technical adavcnes shouldn’t be adopted, etc. I come neither to priase dsquared nor to bury him in opprobrium. I do though question the extent to which investment banking is an apt analogue for teaching in community colleges. It’s no doubt a foul calumny to treat Goldman Sachs as a stereotypical exemplar, but if it weren’t I’d note that it treats its supposed (fiduciary) principals with utter contempt and is to that extent unprofessional. (Though no doubt in many cases such contempt is well deserved, cf. grifter movies, note too that it’s not greed and dishonesty that the masters of the universe deride, but supposed gullibility cf. W.C. Fields.)

More to the point (and less contumeliously) the internal aims of investment banking largely come pre-instrumentalised, specifically monetised, and insofar as it’s not a vampire squid job, the interests of money-hungry fiduciaries tend to be aligned with those of their principals by systems of commission or similar incentives. It’s also a very small and exclusive club so that the kind of coordination problem under discussion is unlikely to apply. (Also didn’t someone recently resign from GS, supposedly in protest? No-one was terribly bothered about the poor investors who were left in the lurch as a result, and rightly so. There wasn’t any lurch, and they weren’t left in it, I shouldn’t imagine.)

Oh and another thing – recommendations to make a stand with perverse short-term consequences for the sake of long-term advantage in a bargaining ‘game’ (or indeed – and I am specifically and solely thinking of JW Mason here – to stick to impuslively-issued comment bans for fear of a lack of general deterrence), ought, I’d've thought, to fall foul of the Davies Folk Theorem, were it cogent.

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librarian 03.27.12 at 7:55 pm

Congratulations! You have just discovered graduate students.

That is precisely a description of what TAs (teaching assistants) do and are. Community college faculty, as noted, don’t get this help, and neither do faculty for most regional comprehensive universities.

Your reinvention of the wheel is not enhancing your credibility in this discussion.

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Barry 03.27.12 at 8:01 pm

Alex: “That’s such a strong statement that it almost refutes itself. In fact, at elite universities, for STEM subjects, most of the introductory classes and a lot of mid-level classes are taught for classes that are large enough that the experience is indistinguishable from a video session. The passion for the subject from good teachers comes through just fine.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teaching_assistant

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Paul Orwin 03.27.12 at 8:03 pm

The 4 year liberal arts v. big state U is complicated by the fact that most SLACs are much more expensive (and therefore out of reach for many students) making the populations difficult to compare. You may have data on this that is good, though, and I would generally agree that the education at those types of schools is superior – I might add, that there is a good reason for that: they invest money in paying for strong faculty and giving them resources to work with. They also (usually) have small class sizes and lots of money/time/equipment for students to use. Finally, they often have research as a component of student work and faculty work (at least in STEM).

I have a comment that I think is probably a separate blog post or discussion, but seems entwined with all of this – what is a college education for? Is it the same for all students at all institutions? Should faculty at all institutions approach their job the same way.

On the one hand, I think the answers have to be “to give students an opportunity to succeed in life by preparing them with advanced knowledge/thinking skills” to the first, “no” to the second, and “obviously not” to the third. At least these are the answers that pop into my head when I ask myself what I am doing.

On the other hand, I worry that while the answer to the first is generally true, it is different for people from different socioeconomic backgrounds (uh oh…). A privileged kid at a SLAC who went to a private high school and has parents with advanced degrees is obviously different from a kid at a CC or a state university who went to an underperforming inner city high school and whose parents never graduated HS. So they have different goals, different starting points, and deserve to have their needs met. However, if we start treating CC and 4yr state universities as vocational schools we risk abetting the economic stratification we think we are trying to ameliorate. The kid at the SLAC (or the Ivy, or Oxbridge for the UKers) is probably not worried about vocational learning (i.e. job prep) exactly, and can luxuriate in the life of the mind (or more likely the bottom of a bottle for most of the time), secure in the notion that they have the tools already to succeed (ie they come from a high enough socioeconomic stratum that someone will step in and help them before they sink too far).

On the gripping hand, I worry that if I focus on vocational stuff (here’s what you need to know to get a good job/get into med school or whatever) and don’t give them the thinking skills I think are necessary for life in a complicated world, perhaps we end up with a lot of somewhat prosperous “sheeple” who can perform a complex task at work but can’t apply that thinking to the real world, and thus vote for Mitt Romney or worse.

To make matters worse, and to get back to the point, it seems to me that college administrators are largely in favor of the “sheeple” model, since it is efficient in moving students through. Don’t worry about if they can think, just give them skills they need to survive/thrive in the job market. This has the benefit of getting them high marks from politicians who see efficiency and marketability as the prime virtues of education, and the ancillary benefit of producing consumers/customers who don’t think too much about the big picture of what’s happening in the world, because they haven’t been taught how to do that.

So, I think Dsquared has a point about how we use our time poorly in some ways, but I think we also have to recognize that the institutional goals are substantially different. Which is why the initial op-ed was so aggravating, of course.

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Phil 03.27.12 at 8:15 pm

An honor code is an integral part of the culture/’DNA’ of both the institution and the way students identify as members of it.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a university that had a way students identify as members of it (and I did my first degree at Cambridge).

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Phil 03.27.12 at 8:20 pm

we need to think about how we can get the job done without burning people out. That may indeed involve an examination of such mundane matters as how much time people spend doing stuff, and the asking of critical questions about whether what they’re doing is really such a good idea.

This sounds positive and constructive, benevolent even. And yet what I’m hearing isn’t “you haven’t got time to get the work done – how can we lighten your load?”, it’s “you haven’t got time to get the work done – here, have even less”.

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Chris Bertram 03.27.12 at 8:34 pm

_And yet what I’m hearing isn’t “you haven’t got time to get the work done – how can we lighten your load?”_

Well we could lighten your load by providing you with lots of additional resources Phil. Perhaps we could increase the proportion of public spending going to higher education? If other things were equal, I’d be in favour of that. But when welfare budgets are being cut and so forth, I think you may have a bit of a struggle. Also, again, there’s the inexorable grind of the Baumol effect. So, taking resources as a given, I’m in favour of working out how we can get you to do your job without killing yourself in the process.

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Steve LaBonne 03.27.12 at 8:51 pm

The 4 year liberal arts v. big state U is complicated by the fact that most SLACs are much more expensive (and therefore out of reach for many students) making the populations difficult to compare.

You can make an apples-to-apples comparison of elite liberal arts colleges and elite universities and you’ll still find that science majors at the former are significantly more likely to go on to graduate-level study in science. (This is a fact that was drummed into me as a LAC professor!) I believe they also do better at retention of students who enter college intending to go to med school, though I’m less sure about that. It’s hard to get around the disadvantages of big lecture courses (only partially mitigated by hit-or-miss experience with TAs) and the importance of personal contact.

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Alex 03.27.12 at 8:58 pm

1) There’s an operations problem (hideously inefficient process).
2) There’s an industrial relations problem (workers are suspicious of any effort to improve the process because they fear this will be used for layoffs or wage cuts).
3) There’s a technical problem (if Daniel Kahneman is right, grades on a given question are determined to a terrifying degree by the halo effect of the grade you gave the last question, and frantically grinding through hours of unpaid overtime is a great way to let your cognitive biases gambol like spring lambs).

I don’t think insulting everybody involved except those with the power to solve it is going to solve 1, 2, or 3. FFS.

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bianca steele 03.27.12 at 8:59 pm

It’s certainly true that teaching of freshman comp has changed significantly, if (as I’ve read in the alumni magazine, as well) it’s now geared toward dealing with the writing needs of undergraduate coursework. In the mid-1980s at an Ivy, the non-remedial version of the course was called “expository writing” and IIRC focused largely on the personal essay, though I remember one assignment was to critique the argument of a recent newspaper op-ed of our choice.

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Henry 03.27.12 at 9:07 pm

bq. Also ?? Have community colleges changed completely since the 1980s? My dad was a “terminal MSc”, but he wasn’t teaching in an environment where remedial literacy and adult education was a big part of what was going on – OKCCC was roughly equivalent to an FE college in the UK, but which did award undergraduate degrees. Teaching there was (unlike my mum’s job teaching in the Federal prison system, where there was a substantial pastoral element) just a matter of keeping bums on seats, and imparting enough knowledge of physics to get the buggers onto an engineering course, whence they would hopefully graduate with enough understanding to drill for oil without killing anyone. Is this a state-level variance or something?

I don’t know of any cross-state research on this (my knowledge is of the ‘if I see an article or paper on this topic, or have a chance to talk to someone who knows it from the inside, I’ll probably take advantage of the opportunity’ rather than the result of any real expertise), but my first approximation guess is that it has more to do with time (and the deterioration in education budgets) than anything else. The _Washington Monthly_ piece that I link to upstream suggests that the problem is pretty endemic – a lot of what community colleges do is teaching kids what high school should have taught them in the first place.

bq. And on Henry’s main, quasi-Hayekian point: … it seems unlikely to me that the missing cure for cancer is hidden in an annual revision of someone’s course notes or in Googling to try and pick up plagiarism. It’s precisely in order to free up some time for this sort of serendipity that I’m trying to work out where some of the entropy can be engineered out of the more routine tasks.

In some ways it’s an anti-Hayekian point (the implicit claim is that the price mechanism is likely to destroy important information). Otherwise, fair enough – but is this a politically attainable equilibrium? I’d suggest not, for two reasons. One is the standard problem of credible commitments and piecework (Gary Miller’s _Managerial Dilemmas_ is excellent on this). One of the reasons that piecework systems tend to break down is that as soon as workers up their productivity to get more pieces out, management has an incentive to lower their per-piece payment and pocket the proceeds. I suspect that productivity gains in more routine tasks are going to be turned into more performance of routine tasks (or, alternatively, less people performing them), rather than more time for research. The second is a version of the problem that Niamh talks to in her last post. It seems to me to very nearly be a general law that when a bureaucratic organization is deciding whether people should perform activities that are quantifiable and rationalizable, versus activities that are not easily quantifiable or rationalizable, they will tend to push the former at the expense of the latter (I’m sure someone has made this into a law-like generalization before, likely more elegantly than I do here).

There’s empirical evidence in support of the first of these propositions at least. One of Rick Perry’s mates has been trying to push the rationalization of teaching in Texas.

bq. In the 17-page paper, Vedder analyzed faculty productivity based strictly on the number of student credit hours each professor taught. He calculated the most-productive fifth of UT ‘s faculty, about 840 instructors, taught an average of 318 students, and 896 credit hours, per year. That comes out to 57 percent of the campus’s total student credit hours taught.

bq. The remaining 80 percent of the faculty, by comparison, each taught an average of 63 students over the year, or 167 student credit hours, the analysis found. It also calculated that “77 percent of all faculty at the Austin campus receive no external research grants.” “You could enormously reduce the number of people needed to fulfill the teaching obligation of the university” without reducing research, Vedder concluded.

bq. University faculty were quick to point to omissions or weaknesses in the report. The UT System’s original spreadsheet of salaries and course loads released in early May, for example, used a weighted system to count credit hours that assumed upper- and graduate-level courses required more teacher time per student. “Usually a graduate course is considered more intense, more of a load than an undergrad course,” said John Curtis, director of research for the American Association of University Professors.

The fact that UT Austin is not a hotbed of support for Governor Rick Perry is not, obviously, coincidental to this suggestion. And I’d be startled if the opportunities for inserting state government directly into the process of curriculum review for ticklish subjects, and getting rid of swathes of academics who can’t get big research grants (and, purely coincidentally, tend to be concentrated in the humanities) haven’t crossed Vedder’s mind.

All this said, the ropiness of academic pedagogy is not only a problem, but a quite considerable scandal. Professors are tossed in at the deep end, on the assumption that they can teach, and given no training whatsoever. I would be _strongly_ in favor of a compulsory pedagogy course at the beginning of one’s career (perhaps in return for a course release) followed up by smaller refresher courses at regular points thereafter. I’d also have no problem with salary increases being more directly linked to teaching rather than research. But given the potential for damage, I’d take a fair bit of convincing before being persuaded that more radical change was warranted. I’d certainly be opposed to Texas-style reforms (wouldn’t trust the fuckers as far as I could throw them).

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Alex K. 03.27.12 at 9:08 pm

Some people are talking about teaching assistants. Is their point that TAs are more expensive than professors? Is it that the time a teacher saves by relying on mass consumption lectures doesn’t exist? Or is it another type of argument that I am missing?

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novakant 03.27.12 at 9:40 pm

Nothing that is really valuable about teaching can be shared on a video screen.

There are several highly successful counterexamples that disprove this claim – of course it doesn’t work for every field, but teaching that is primarily video based can be very effective and is a godsend for people who cannot or pursue traditional ways of study.

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Phil 03.27.12 at 10:36 pm

taking resources as a given, I’m in favour of working out how we can get you to do your job without killing yourself in the process

I’m afraid this has been a dialogue of the deaf for some time now, but here is the way this has played out in practice at an institution familiar to me.

OMNES: “We’re busy! Insanely busy! We’re so busy we’re all doing unpaid overtime, it’s the only way we can get the job done!”
MANAGEMENT: “What nonsense. Just look at this table – it clearly shows that you can get all your work done with time to spare. Enough time to take on even more work, as it happens.”
OMNES: “Excuse us, but the underlying assumptions of this spreadsheet bear no relation to reality.”
MANAGEMENT: “Don’t they? Sorry about that. Let me… there. Fixed that for you. Now it’s all realistic, and look – you can still get all your work done with time to spare. Lucky you to have all that spare time in your working week! Better not tell management – sorry, our little joke!”
OMNES: “That spreadsheet looks almost exactly the same as it did before.”
MANAGEMENT: “Sorry, can’t talk about it now, we’ve got to move on and draw a line and forge ahead. Coping with change is very important, you know. There are courses you can go on. Hey, you’ll be able to do that in all the spare time you’ve got now!”

If people are taking 10 hours to do something that officially takes 7, telling them that henceforth it officially takes 4 doesn’t strike me as the most helpful thing you can do.

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SamChevre 03.27.12 at 11:29 pm

I think that Tedra Osell, back at comment 74, had the most important comment.

But I know that I just used to get effing bored with the same thing every semester.

Here’s my point (and at least related to D^2′s).

I. don’t. care.

Assuming that the purpose of the university is to provide some social good or goods (which isn’t “professors don’t have to do boring things”), then how bored the professors are is irrelevant.

A lto of the arguments against more standardization, more teaching, and so forth, seem to proceed as if “not boring the professors” was one of the social goods to be provided.

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Tedra Osell 03.27.12 at 11:46 pm

How bored the professors are is relevant to (1) how engaged they are with the course material and the students; hence (2) how effective they are as teachers.

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Henry 03.27.12 at 11:56 pm

bq. Assuming that the purpose of the university is to provide some social good or goods (which isn’t “professors don’t have to do boring things”), then how bored the professors are is irrelevant. A lto of the arguments against more standardization, more teaching, and so forth, seem to proceed as if “not boring the professors” was one of the social goods to be provided.

More generally, as I noted above, not doing boring work is an important part of the non-wage compensation of being a professor. Most academics genuinely would be able to make significantly more money in the private sector – this is most obviously true in the hard sciences, economics and law, but is also plausibly true across vast swathes of the social sciences and liberal arts too. One of the reasons (arguably _the_ major reason) that academics are prepared to earn less money is because they get more autonomy, and more ability to pursue stuff that genuinely interests them. If academia were 100% rote work, I’d be looking for other work (perhaps equally boring but more remunerative) myself, and I think I’d have a decent chance of finding it. Nor would I be the only one, on either front.

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Barry 03.28.12 at 12:05 am

Alex K. 03.27.12 at 9:08 pm

” Some people are talking about teaching assistants. Is their point that TAs are more expensive than professors? Is it that the time a teacher saves by relying on mass consumption lectures doesn’t exist? Or is it another type of argument that I am missing?”

I thought that my point was obvious – a professor may be ‘teaching’ a large class by lecture, which is not much better than a video, but there’ll be TA’s providing the personalization and feedback.

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Peter T 03.28.12 at 12:07 am

Chris:

Concerns about whether this represents the triumph of “sophisters, economists, and calculators” and the end of chivalry are misplaced.”

Don’t know about the end of chivalry, but I thought lot of the commenters were making the point that such concerns are not misplaced at all. The calculating approach exemplified by D2, ajay and others leads in the wrong direction – it can’t see that the most efficient production of economically-useful units of something or other is not the point. It’s an approach which degrades the process, the people, and the outcome.

No straw men about some calculation-free paradise. We may all decide where we can afford to take someone to dinner without computing the return on investment.

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christian_h 03.28.12 at 12:45 am

Are we really reduced to arguing under the basic assumption that education is just another commodity? I hope not.

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Andthenyoufall 03.28.12 at 12:59 am

Just adding my own thoughts on where the hours go.

1. Syllabus design… The teacher is often caught between an ideal of “what one must learn in an intro course on X”, departmental pressure about what must be included, past experience on what worked and didn’t work, and real limits on the length of the semester and the expected abilities of the students. There is no way to meet all of the constraints, and trying to inevitably results in an unsatisfactory syllabus. I’m willing to accept that spending a week rewriting a syllabus may not improve the experience of the course, but few conscientious people can reteach a failure of a course under the exact same syllabus without becoming hopelessly disheartened.

2. Class prep. Anyone who has made a public presentation will understand why a sixty to ninety minute lecture will require several hours of practice. You’re basically writing and rehearsing a one-man play. But seminars can require just as much or more prep time, because such an astonishing variety of questions, both profound and confused, can come up, and every aspect of the assigned reading needs to be fresh in the teachers mind so he or she can not only answer complex questions without becoming tongue tied, but tie the answer in to a larger lesson to lubricate the discussion.

3. Grading. I don’t know how people grade papers in 20 minutes. At any rate, I’m dubious that they learn anything from the paper if you don’t give fairly explicit feedback. Furthermore, if you give less feedback up front, you are more likely to get embroiled in a time-consuming exchange about the grade later.

4. Office hours. This may nominally be some limited number of hours a week, but there’s a norm that the instructors be willing to add hours by appointment – and also reply to queries by email, which can be deeply time-consuming, especially when it involves special pleading and dead grandmothers.

5. Then there are miscellaneous meetings, teaching workshops, review sessions, and who knows what else.

My estimate is that 3 hours of class time could easily 8-12 hours a week of work, plus 100-150 additional hours spread around the semester. It’s easy to cut back in various ways, of course… Refuse to met with students who are busy during your office hours, don’t answer email, limit yourself to one sentence of comments per essay, don’t give an exam, steer discussions into vague generalities that don’t require guidance from the instructor. It’s just I’d tend to think that’s shirking the job.

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Marc 03.28.12 at 2:06 am

@207: You’d also end up driving the best people out of the field – the ones who have choices.

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js. 03.28.12 at 4:21 am

One of the reasons (arguably the major reason) that academics are prepared to earn less money is because they get more autonomy, and more ability to pursue stuff that genuinely interests them.

Were several people above actually not getting this? Because that might explain some of the discussion above. I mean this is so insanely obvious (at least to basically every academic I’ve ever known), that maybe one just forgets to mention it. I mean, in a way, what other possible reason would I have to pursue a career in academics versus something else that paid more. (And yes, at the post PhD stage, humanities PhDs may be less able to pursue other careers, but if I didn’t have some sense of how academics differed from law or banking, e.g., I wouldn’t for fuck’s sake have spent the much better part of a decade at near poverty level just so that I could have a career that in the relevant respects was just like law or banking.) Seriously, it’s to a large extent a labor of love, and if it weren’t, I and a lot of other people wouldn’t be in it.

Also, forget all this reengineering. Why don’t more faculty unionize?

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Salient 03.28.12 at 4:21 am

Backing up Alex in #199, possibly a bit of a disservice was done by those who approved of the label “scabs” for teachers that are putting in uncompensated time attempting to improve their job performance. It’s a bit like calling minimum wage workers “scabs” for putting any more effort into their job than is required to stave off getting fired or penalized, because it means everyone else needs to ‘step up’ that much too.

Except, in this case, it doesn’t mean that. Seriously. Nobody has ever clapped me on the back and congratulated me for spending some evenings working to improve my teaching. I could have left at 3pm free and clear every day, and literally no one would be the wiser. The difference in benefit to the students, even if substantial and positive, would never be seen or noticed by an administrator or even a colleague. They’re too far away from what happens to be aware of that kind of thing. And they make no effort to obtain better awareness of how much time or effort we spend on these revisions. There’s no one looking around seeing if my colleagues are investing this kind of time. There’s no professor or administrator stopping by to see what improvements have been made on the previous semester’s syllabus or lecture notes. Nobody who would be in a position to make decisions based on this uncompensated work is aware of that work (or the lack thereof).

And to be honest, looking at the past year in particular, I can easily be counted among the teachers who don’t put in the time. There are quite a lot of times and days when I’m just not able to do a whole lot (blah blah medical conditions blah blah) and so I have been teaching in an entirely standardized way, patterning on the course’s textbook, this past year. Also I’ve cut back rather severely on my reading of pedagogical materials and my engagement with communities developing math education (sadly). This choice, to spend time elsewhere that I could in theory be spending improving my teaching, goes completely unnoticed. Nobody really knows, or makes any effort to know, that many of my hours are spent doing or not doing that kind of uncompensated extra work.

Frankly, even if the department or admin desired this information, I don’t know how they would readily obtain it — many of the improvements that come from that process are too subtle to be noticed by people other than the students directly helped by those improvements. When you adjust your presentation in a way you feel confident will be helpful to some students, nobody else watching knows what your presentation would have looked like without the adjustment, except possibly those students themselves, and sometimes those students don’t consciously notice even as their performance improves. And even if the department somehow did obtain this information, I think they’d push in the opposite direction; honestly, I bet if anything I would have been criticized in previous years for spending too much of my time on reading pedagogy and education-related materials, and not enough time on conducting research that’s directly relevant to my degree.

I feel confident asserting that nobody (except in ‘corner cases’) is losing out on a university teaching position because they’re not able or willing to put in all this uncompensated ‘extra’ work. No evaluator really knows if you spend 5pm-10pm at home revising your lecture notes or watching TV. The extra work we do is not known, and can’t be known, to those making hiring-type administrative decisions, and the lack of that work would not be at all apparent to them.

So, an accusation that we’re costing others the opportunity to get a job alongside us feels unfair to me. It only seems worth mentioning this because on some level (build the union!) we’re in complete agreement; it just stings a little to be hailed with a sarcastic “Well done comrade!” I guess when folks are unable to obtain jobs, the idea is, those who have the jobs deserve this kind of spiteful derision? Seriously, is it reasonable to direct any amount of viciousness about this at us?

But let’s be honest, though. The extra uncompensated work is not even entirely for the students’ benefit. It’s not wholly self-sacrificial altruism. I enjoy reflecting on my own understanding of what I present. As I review and reflect, my own understanding of the material develops, and the fact that this enriches my teaching (by making it possible for me to highlight connections better) is only part of the justification for doing the prep work.

There’s this Elvis Costello lyric, Every day I write the book. That’s lecture in a nutshell; it’s basically an interactive audiobook I write whose new edition comes out every semester: how can I improve upon the previous edition? (The pleasure of this is mitigated somewhat by the department always assigning me different classes to teach, but some of the presentation, and having a stronger sense of the more advanced material does help one better emphasize what’s important in the less advanced material.) Every class I write the book; I come away with a stronger understanding of the materials, and a stronger set of presentation tools. That’s pretty awesome. I like it. And I would like it even if it was my last semester teaching and nobody in future semesters would get to benefit from it. It’s nice to develop one’s skills. Maybe the knife doesn’t need any additional sharpening in order to fulfill its required function of cutting bread, but sharpness is itself a pleasant state.

Now, ehh, is it really part of the job requirements of a professor or lecturer or PTI to improve upon their own holistic understanding of fundamental material, even that which does not inform their research? Probably not, not really. There’s not really a reliable way to quantify that or even measure it qualitatively. But presumably a lot of people choose the job of professor or lecturer or PTI in part because it provides them with the opportunity to polish and refine their own understanding of the material they teach. It’s not just autonomy, it’s engaging with material you love and appreciate and find interesting, over and over and over again. That’s basically the main thing (other than improved student understanding and performance, obviously) that makes the otherwise grinding process of preparing lectures enjoyable.

And, contra SamChevre’s rather biting remark, non-financial benefits matter. (I suppose it’s fair to presume that SamChevre also does. not. care. about whether or not I receive decent health insurance. If we’re arguing on the grounds that it’s not “the purpose of the university” to provide its professors with autonomy, well then, it’s sure as hell not “the purpose of the university” to provide professors with health care, is it?)

If we set aside any benefit students receive from it, it’s easy enough to say that the extra uncompensated and unnoticed and unrewarded hours spent engaging with material are, for many of us, a rewarding experience — and those who do not feel rewarded by this process (or who do not have time for this process) and therefore do not spend much time engaging in it, are rather unlikely to have that choice held against them or even noted by their employers or colleagues. (I guess it means they’re basically missing out on a potential benefit, but so are professors who don’t need to claim their parking pass because they bike to work. Not really a problem.)

So in some meaningful and vital sense, what you’re actually doing is arguing for a reduced benefits package for those instructors who enjoy reflecting upon and improving their own understanding of fundamental material and enjoy improving their own presentation and pedagogical skills. Is this what you mean to be doing?

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Paul Orwin 03.28.12 at 4:57 am

Also, forget all this reengineering. Why don’t more faculty unionize?
As a member of a (ineffective) faculty union, let me just say that this is not the answer to anyone’s prayers, necessarily. I am not against unions – I am very much for effective ones. However our union is small, weak, and muddled in its thinking, for various reasons, including apathy among the members, divided loyalties among the members (tenured v. tenure-track v. part time), and a difficult labor environment in CA for state employees. Add to that the inevitable won’t someone think of the (underprivileged) children, and it is next to impossible for the union to bargain effectively.

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Horace Winter 03.28.12 at 5:45 am

MG 03.27.12 at 3:18 pm

What does the research suggest is the best way to review papers?

I don’t know there is any global answer to this in the form of “x minutes per y pages”, but this has certainly been an active question in rhetoric & composition research. A number of annotated bibliographies on responding to / assessing student writing and how to address errors are on the web–one such bib. is here:

http://www.indiana.edu/~cwp/lib/evalbib.shtml

The somewhat short answer to MG’s question, though, is that while there is some consensus (that feedback is preferable to its absence, that focus on higher-order concerns about argumentation, clarity, use of evidence, etc. are more appropriate than responding to surface errors of grammar, spelling, etc. on first drafts), the question of how best to respond isn’t once-size-fits-all but rather complex, as it varies by genre, purpose, audience, etc., as well as whether the assignment is designed for formal or informal assessment, the goals of the assignment in the context of course goals, etc. It gets worse, too, due to differences between what students (think they) want and what instructors want for them; a brief excerpt from Richard Haswell’s treatment of just how complicated this question gets may be helpful:

[A]lthough students, especially second-language students, may pay more attention to comments on drafts than on final papers (Ferris, 1995), overall they don’t consume teacher response very well. Research into student perceptions have demonstrated this again and again. Students are avid for commentary (though they may first look at the grade), but when forced to explain their teachers’ comments, they misinterpret a shocking portion of it. When forced to revise, they assiduously follow the teacher’s surface emendations and disregard the deeper suggestions regarding content and argumentation. They prefer global, non-directive, and positive comments but make changes mainly to surface, directive, and negative ones. In sum, they want lots and certain kinds of response, but have trouble doing much with what they ask for (Hayes & Daiker, 1984; Ziv, 1984; Straub, 1997; Winter, Neal, & Waner, 1996; Underwood & Tregidgo, 2006). Of course, some of the blame rests on teachers, who often think they are positively emphasizing central qualities such as reasoning, genre form, and reader awareness while in fact the bulk of their commentary dwells negatively on surface mistakes and infelicities of syntax and word choice (Kline, Jr., 1976; Harris, 1977; Connors & Lunsford, 1988).

To make matters worse, the problems lie not so much with students or with teachers but with the interaction between them. Some of the most disturbing investigation into response seems to show that students and teachers operate under very different evaluative sets. Whether it is due to age, gender, experience, expertise, social position (Evans, 1997), or classroom dynamics (O’Neill & Fife, 1999), students and teachers tend to consume writing quite differently. They have trouble speaking the same language of response because their responses to the writing itself are so far apart. [....]

If students and teachers conflict so much in preference for style and attitude toward the author’s task, then we may have a partial reason for another discouraging set of research findings. Little consistent association between writing improvement and volume or kind of response has been documented. It seems that the time-honored effort of inscribing commentary on student papers is sometimes honored with a proven pay-off and sometimes not, at least within the time span of the course. In a characteristic pre-post study, Marzano & Arthur (1977) compared the effect of three kinds of commentary, one that only marks error, one that only suggests revision, and one that only fosters critical-thinking. They found minimal effect on the students’ writing with all three types (for somewhat dated reviews of such studies, see Knoblauch & Brannon, 1981; Fearing, 1980). The type of response that holds the best record seems to be praise, as opposed to commentary that finds only things to correct (e.g., Denman, 1975), but even that record is inconsistent, and students rightfully are leery of praise when it is general and gives little direction. All this is no reason to return to the practice, universally condemned by most teachers, of restricting response to a grade, or worse of hoping that sheer volume of writing without any teacher feedback will improve student skills and not merely ingrain bad habits (the negative research findings on that hope are reviewed by Sherwin, 1969, pp. 156-167).

Oh, and about plagiarism detection software such as Turnitin: it’s actually not all that great and has a few inherent negative pedagogical consequences. It’s therefore widely discouraged among rhet/comp professors for a number of reasons succinctly laid out here:

http://louisville.edu/english/composition/policy-against-the-use-of-plagiarism-detection-software.html

How to cut down on plagiarism, other than resorting to panopticonic, for-profit software or typing sketchy-looking phrases ad nauseam in teh Google? Well, understanding why students plagiarize and designing better writing assignments is a good start.

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Horace Winter 03.28.12 at 5:48 am

Apologies–blockquote fail on my part. The two paras that follow are also from Haswell’s piece. My comments resume with switching gears to plagiarism detection.

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dsquared 03.28.12 at 5:55 am

If academia were 100% rote work, I’d be looking for other work (perhaps equally boring but more remunerative) myself, and I think I’d have a decent chance of finding it. Nor would I be the only one, on either front.

This might be the right thing to happen. I don’t think it should be taken as given that undergraduate teaching has such massive synergies with academic research that the same people should do both. Some people (like my parents) enjoy teaching as an activity in itself and aren’t particularly interested in using it as a creative outlet, and maybe it would be better if undergraduate education was staffed with people like that. I’ve characterised this view in the past as “it’s ridiculous that we’re doing so much form-filling and photocopying – we ought to be concentrating on our core competence in web design and underwater welding!”

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Phil 03.28.12 at 6:37 am

So we’ve got an interesting job which is mostly done by free spirits. D^2′s reform project seems to consist of making it less interesting and driving the free spirits away. That may be the only cure for what ails us, but I’m not convinced.

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Chris Bertram 03.28.12 at 7:12 am

Phil – re your dialogue of the deaf above ….

I’m very familiar with those conversations too. But there’s a big difference between saying that your management have got their figures wrong or have failed to take account of some vital and time consuming aspects of the job and resisting all and any calculation on principle.

How is anyone supposed to deal with someone who says “I’m terribly overworked” but then resists any rational inquiry into how much time their tasks do and should take?

Management have to allocate (limited) resources. They also have to beg additional resources from the people that give resources to them. They need a basis for that job and that conversation.

I take it that as someone with some kind of familiarity with Marx, you know of the concept of “socially necessary labour time” – yes?

Well that’s the operative concept here.

I’m overworked because the tasks you’ve allocated to me require more hours than there are hours is one conversation.

I’m overworked because it takes me three times as long as the average person takes to do these tasks is a different one.

I’ve had both of them.

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Chris Bertram 03.28.12 at 7:19 am

Re free spirits ….

I’m totally in favour of giving teachers lots of autonomy when it comes to how they teach.

I’m not in favour of tolerating people who insist on sticking to methods that don’t work, in the face of compelling evidence to that effect. Professorial autonomy shouldn’t permit giving the students a raw deal.

I’m not in favour of tolerating people whose autonomous choices impose massive resource costs on other people and who then complain about being overworked (where said complaint invokes a duty of care on the part of their management). At that point, it becomes wholly legitimate to look at the choices they are making.

Seems to me there’s a lot of having cake and eating it in this thread.

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John Quiggin 03.28.12 at 7:26 am

@DD Speaking as someone who has gone for (usually untenured) full-time research positions rather than teaching/research positions, but has done a fair bit of teaching, my observations on teaching/research synergies is that they are substantial but not, for me, as substantial as the synergies between research and more research.

That said, research-only works for me because I have the attention span of a goldfish, and like to work on at least 10 different projects on any given day. If you are the more normal kind of person who likes to focus on one project at a time, it seems to be impossible to spend more than a few hours a day on productive research, so the rest of your time will inevitably be taken up by something else – teaching seems to be more complementary than any of the usual alternatives.

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Chris Bertram 03.28.12 at 7:35 am

… and Phil, it is the job of your _union_ to make sure that management put the right figures into their spreadsheet. That’s one reason why academics should be in the union, strike when there’s a vote to etc. From this point of view, the people going around pretending that we’re “special” and not like other people are part of the problem.

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dsquared 03.28.12 at 7:48 am

So we’ve got an interesting job which is mostly done by free spirits. D^2’s reform project seems to consist of making it less interesting and driving the free spirits away.

fly my little birds, be free!

Seriously, I would not be having opinions about this if it seemed to be the case that the academic labour market was working very well and that all the people in it were happy. But it isn’t and they aren’t (apparently – I suppose I have to at least consider the possibility that academics are amazing whiners but for the time being I’m taking it at face value).

If all academics had really great jobs like Henry’s then there would be no problem (or at least, a different set of issues). But the profession isn’t set up to do that. At present, it appears to be set up on the basis of holding up a few dream jobs like Henry’s as a glittering prize in order to attract a load of clever and idealistic free spirits into the industry. Then it sets up a tournament reward structure in order to encourage the youngsters to massively overwork themselves. Half of them burn out or leave and a few lucky winners are selected from the remaining half in order to attract the next generation, on slightly worse conditions. The people who don’t burn out and don’t get the dream jobs are left to settle down to barely survivable levels of work on a more-or-less middle class salary.

I am not exactly unfamiliar with this kind of system of personnel management (my industry pretty much invented it), but I don’t think it’s a very ethical way to run a railroad – ironically, universities have pretty strict rules on how much access banking recruiters have to the sprogs. So yes, I think a fundamental rethink might be in order, based on unbundling the really good free-spirit bits of the job from the marking-four-dozen-essays bits.

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dsquared 03.28.12 at 8:04 am

I also want to push back on whether standardisation of the course really represents “rote work” or “making the job less interesting”. I do actually think that something like the French system ought to be at least considered, because I’ve worked with so many graduates of French universities and whatever else you might think about that system it does a fantastic job of producing people who know their subject. But if we’ve decided for whatever reason that we don’t want to go that far, there are still large gains to be made from asking people “do you really need to spend so much time and effort on changing the course every year? Is this textbook change really necessary, given that it will eat up a load of time for the entire department? What great benefit is going to accrue from rewriting your lectures? Can we make more use of off-the-peg material? Is this really a part of the job you enjoy, or are you just doing it because you kind of feel you ought to – have we created an unproductive norm here? Wouldn’t you rather be doing some original research than reinventing this particular wheel?”

The thing is that the autonomy that Henry values comes at the cost of there being basically no pressure on anyone to adopt best practices. And so best practice spreads incredibly slowly, and as a result I think that the prior has to be that there are likely to be lots of big and easy wins available if anyone was able to impose it. And also, a lot of people might see a net improvement in their autonomy if someone came along and reorganised their working practices in a way which reduced the burden of overwork.

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Neville Morley 03.28.12 at 8:28 am

@Phil #204: “If people are taking 10 hours to do something that officially takes 7, telling them that henceforth it officially takes 4 doesn’t strike me as the most helpful thing you can do.”

From my perspective – as previously noted, having spent eight years trying (and largely failing) to nudge my faculty in a more rational direction on UG teaching – either your management team really is unspeakably evil, or you’re missing something important. The message is not simply “do this in half the time without compromising the quality”, which in most instances would be ridiculous, but “do this differently so that it takes half the time”, or in some cases “stop doing that time-wasting thing so you have more time for more important stuff”.

I’m not denying that there may be serious concerns about whether Method B (quicker) is actually as good as traditional Method A, and that it’s entirely legitimate for academic colleagues to resist change for change’s sake; a significant part of my job was gathering together the evidence to test whether B was indeed good enough to be an adequate replacement for A, and then talking colleagues through the arguments. Where it got frustrating was dealing with people – not everyone was like this, but there were (are) entire departments of them – who would accept that B was both quicker and just as good, and nevertheless insist on sticking with A anyway, or would formally agree to adopt B but carry on doing A in secret (and then of course complain about workloads).

My initial reaction to dsquared’s characterisation of the academic profession (#224) is that it’s mostly, depressingly, correct, esp. as regards the tournament reward structure. Obviously the rewards for all but a tiny minority of the high fliers are less monetary than personal satisfaction – and if you actually enjoy teaching as well as research, rather than using your success as a means of escaping the more mundane aspects of the job, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of self-exploitation and nagging anxiety.

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Phil 03.28.12 at 8:39 am

it is the job of your union to make sure that management put the right figures into their spreadsheet

We’ve got quite a strong & vocal union branch, as it goes. The trouble is that we’re already in semi-permanent dispute over pay and pensions – involving actual strikes – so there isn’t much left for the union to throw at issues like workload, in terms of their resources or available threats. (I suspect some elements of higher management have made the same calculation.)

I’m overworked because the tasks you’ve allocated to me require more hours than there are hours is one conversation.

I’m overworked because it takes me three times as long as the average person takes to do these tasks is a different one.

In our case it’s more like “we’re all overworked because it takes us three times as long as these metrics which nobody could hit – well, almost nobody; sorry, Dr Stakhanov, didn’t see you there”.

Yes, there are always voices in the corner of the room saying “three times as long? six times if you’re going to do a proper job!”, and if I’m honest I suspect they’re actually partly right – there are things I don’t do because of time constraints, even with unpaid overtime. But those people are a small minority and they’re not the ones who are driving the discussion.

“You aren’t squeezing a fourteen-hour job into ten hours, you’re stretching a seven-hour job ” is one starting-point; I’d still be sceptical (it doesn’t feel like that), but I’d listen. What we’re hearing is more like “You know what? It’s not a seven-hour job at all, it’s a one-hour job. Maybe two. OK, three, and that’s my final offer.”

I think a fundamental rethink might be in order, based on unbundling the really good free-spirit bits of the job from the marking-four-dozen-essays bits

And who could resist such a plan, except everyone with a sneaking suspicion that they’d end up on the essay-marking career path – i.e. everyone below about Senior Lecturer (pre-92)?

(I was going to say something about “research-informed teaching” here, but I argued myself out of it. Curses.)

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Phil 03.28.12 at 8:53 am

do you really need to spend so much time and effort on changing the course every year?

Again, I think this question shows a lack of awareness of why people are doing what they’re doing. I taught three units this year; on every one of them there will be some negative feedback (there’s always some), and on at least one of them the ‘average’ feedback may be more negative than the target that’s been set at upper management level. Everyone will be asked, routinely, what they’re going to do to address negative feedback; people whose ‘score’ is below the ‘target’ may be asked this question more personally. We redevelop units because they didn’t deliver the goods in terms of student satisfaction and/or results (as measured in numbers, which can’t lie) and occasionally – at the level of individual lectures and seminars – because we weren’t satisfied ourselves with the way they went. At the moment we’re redeveloping the entire curriculum because we’ve been told the entire curriculum needs to be redeveloped. Very rarely do we do this kind of thing on a free-spirited academic whim.

The message is not simply “do this in half the time without compromising the quality”, which in most instances would be ridiculous, but “do this differently so that it takes half the time”

The message we’re getting is “we’ve never had metrics before, so we’re going to have some, and these are the ones we’re starting with”. If anyone has done any thinking about how things can be done in less time, I haven’t been made party to it. Maybe that’s coming later.

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dsquared 03.28.12 at 8:59 am

And who could resist such a plan, except everyone with a sneaking suspicion that they’d end up on the essay-marking career path

Different people like different things. The essay marking career path would have fantastic holidays.

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Phil 03.28.12 at 8:59 am

One final note – I really am not resisting all and any calculation on principle. What I’m questioning is who does the calculation, how it’s done and how it’s agreed and/or imposed. Tyler on distributive vs procedural justice is relevant here.

231

belle le triste 03.28.12 at 9:00 am

I work in and around the arts-and-crafts centre (actually in magazine production), so I don’t have direct knowledge of any of this. But I do recognise the nature and tone of the angst: that of highly skilled specialist craftspeople lamenting what will be lost if/when they industrialise. But isn’t the problem that to sustain the current numbers in HE without skying the costs — let’s leave the question who pays to one side — there has to be a degree of industrialisation. What I’m basically hearing is a lot of voices saying “This current system really really sucks” (no argument here) “and to make it work, I’m quietly going to have to internalise the Stahknovism — and if I don’t I’m betraying my students and the ethos of my profession…”

But en masse the internalisation is in effect — as dsquared is pointing out — a Dutch auction. Teaching is suffering because teachers are unable to meet their own private targets. Obviously the solution is the establishment of soviets of the relevant artisans, and seizure of the entire system from below, hurrah: then management can be guided by those who know what teaching entails, and is for.

But the nub of “HE for all” is that HE becomes a factory-system; the crafts approach becomes a luxury niche. So the issue is, how to design a factory system that retains quality and delivers value.

(Obviously this analogy is all a bit abstract and projected: maybe teaching really doesn’t function as a craft the way chair-making or glassblowing does, and all the above can be ignored. But if the harried teachers don’t think the problem through and act, then either HE student numbers are going to be even more radically slashed than seems already likely; or the worst kind of standardisation will be imposwed on the mass, with luxury high-end excellence available to a small elite of high-paying customers…)

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Chris Bertram 03.28.12 at 9:05 am

I think you’ve identified a key problem there Phil. Because university management is, very often, shit management, there is (understandably) no trust. I doubt there’s any way to make your management and their pathologies go away any time soon. Unfortunately, the problems of workload and resources still need solutions though.

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Phil 03.28.12 at 9:06 am

The essay marking career path would have fantastic holidays.

Our students have essay hand-in dates staggered through both semesters, which in our case run from October to Christmas and from New Year to Easter, followed by exams in May and resits at the end of August. Factoring in a bit of time to get up to speed on all the stuff he/she was going to mark in the new academic year, your average professional essay marker would be busy from September to June. (Last Christmas I made a point of doing no work at all on Christmas Day itself. Christmas Day was a Sunday.)

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dsquared 03.28.12 at 9:15 am

Again, I think this question shows a lack of awareness of why people are doing what they’re doing.

Phil, triangulating between your comments and Chris/Neville/Andrew’s it really looks like you’re in a quite pathological situation (and the near-constant state of war in industrial relations sort of confirms this). I don’t think your experience necessarily generalises either. And there certainly are people commenting on this thread who have said that they regard it as close to a dereliction of duty to not revise your course every year because they bring out a new Iliad or something.

also, unrelatedly, statements like:

Nothing that is really valuable about teaching can be shared on a video screen

really look like the kind of technological hostage to fortune that always ends up sounding ridiculous. Children in the Australian outback go to the “School Of The Air”.

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dsquared 03.28.12 at 9:19 am

Our students have essay hand-in dates staggered through both semesters, which in our case run from October to Christmas and from New Year to Easter, followed by exams in May and resits at the end of August. Factoring in a bit of time to get up to speed on all the stuff he/she was going to mark in the new academic year, your average professional essay marker would be busy from September to June.

These and many other practices would also be up for examination in my optimal redesign of the system! (also a pedant would note that having the entire months of July and August off scot free is actually already pretty good)

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Phil 03.28.12 at 9:46 am

a pedant would note that having the entire months of July and August off scot free is actually already pretty good

ENTIRE ACADEMIC PROFESSION: Don’t get us started.
REST OF WORLD: No, what? Seriously, what? I get five weeks, don’t always take all of that.
ENTIRE ACADEMIC PROFESSION: You wouldn’t like us when we get started.
REST OF WORLD: OK, never mind.

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Chris Bertram 03.28.12 at 9:52 am

dsquared: a pedant would have a pedant’s concern for accuracy.

238

dsquared 03.28.12 at 10:22 am

what? what? the person in 235 isn’t part of “the academic profession” as it is currently understood – he/she is a professional essay marker (and plagiarism checker, I’ve started pushing the targets already!). And so he/she doesn’t have any work when there are no essays to mark – no course preparation, no research, nuttn. Phil has already factored in the time for training on the syllabus etc, and so this person is “busy from September to June”, which can be redescribed as “Busy from January to June, then on holiday from July to August, then busy from September to December”. It’s a great job for, say, a competitive surfer.

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ajay 03.28.12 at 11:05 am

And who could resist such a plan, except everyone with a sneaking suspicion that they’d end up on the essay-marking career path

You know, spending all your time teaching classes and marking essays and never doing any research isn’t actually a bad job…

240

Cranky Observer 03.28.12 at 11:06 am

I have a family member who works in an essay marking factory for the on-line schools division of a US state board of education, and I can assure you that all the Industrial Age horrors that have been put forth as possible consequences of letting education management (and the for-profit K-12 education sector, which has a hand in the situation as well) implement such an “optimized process” occur and more. It is a very ugly work environment and does actual harm to the children it is supposed to serve.

Cranky

241

magistra 03.28.12 at 11:06 am

One issue that hasn’t been mentioned is that effective support for distance learning takes a lot of doing and doesn’t come cheap. A lot of correspondence courses (even from reputable organisations like the National Extension College) essentially send you a coursebook and say “come back when you need something marking”, and I suspect have horrendous drop-out rates as a result. In contrast, my husband works for a company that does legal distance learning. Admittedly, that’s a subject where the courses have to be re-written every year, but the amount of additional effort they put into student support, re-writing manuals to make them clearer, using new media, providing web forums etc is substantial. They’ve also introduced initial assignments checking on students’ writing skills, because they found people were enrolling who just weren’t up the course in that way. OU courses have never been cheap for the same sorts of reasons. If it was easy to learn things without a highly structured support environment, everyone would buy a shelfload of Teach Yourself books and be set for life.

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dsquared 03.28.12 at 11:09 am

It’s not a bad job if it’s what you want to do (my parents loved it). It’s a terrible job if you end up in it, having been drawn into a profession that promised you a job like John or Henry’s, then saddled you with a massive volume of debt.

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chris 03.28.12 at 12:19 pm

If it was easy to learn things without a highly structured support environment, everyone would buy a shelfload of Teach Yourself books and be set for life.

…until they got to their job interview. College isn’t just about learning things.

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Phil 03.28.12 at 12:25 pm

Plus (ajay) nobody mentioned teaching classes – which is just as well, because you couldn’t do that and be a full-time surfin’ essay-marker.

The “teaching some classes and marking some essays” career path already exists, of course; it’s called things like “Teaching Fellow” and “Lecturer (Teaching-Focused)”. (Or there are institutions like mine, which take the view that all lecturers are teaching-only lecturers unless they can prove otherwise.) There are routes out of it, which people in it are usually keen to take, but for anyone who actually doesn’t want to research or write (or, more usually, doesn’t want to research or write any more) it’s an OK job. It can get a bit demanding, though.

245

AcademicLurker 03.28.12 at 1:57 pm

Folks in this thread should go read Timothy Burke’s post on this:

http://blogs.swarthmore.edu/burke/2012/03/27/the-last-enclosures/

Especially worth considering is his point that increased corporatization in Medicine and the corresponding loss of autonomy for doctors has decidedly not resulted in more affordable health care. The opposite, in fact.

246

Anderson 03.28.12 at 2:28 pm

Y’know, there are blogs where I would expect to find an investment banker telling college professors what ignorant fools they are about teaching, but before this thread, I wouldn’t have expected CT to be one of them.

247

Steve LaBonne 03.28.12 at 2:32 pm

There are several highly successful counterexamples that disprove this claim

Unless they come without any additional mechanisms for instructor – student contact, coaching, etc., no they most certainly don’t. And I’ve never heard of a distance learning program that doesn’t include such mechanisms. Have you? (See also #241.)

“Classroom” time per se is certainly easiest to do via lecturing in a distance learning situation. That doesn’t mean it’s optimal, and still less that lecturing is optimal when students are physically present. There is now a pretty substantial body of research to the contrary.

248

ajay 03.28.12 at 2:55 pm

247: FAIL. The claim was “Nothing that is really valuable about teaching can be shared on a video screen”. Not “you can’t teach anything through video teaching alone”.

249

Steve LaBonne 03.28.12 at 3:05 pm

What is really valuable about teaching is not the mere transmittal of information. (Personally, due to my unimpressive attention span, I prefer to receive that via reading rather than listening to a lecture.) If you think that’s what teaching is mostly about, you know little about teaching. But, as often observed, that never stops anybody from pontificating about it.

250

dsquared 03.28.12 at 3:11 pm

Y’know, there are blogs where I would expect to find an investment banker telling college professors what ignorant fools they are about teaching, but before this thread, I wouldn’t have expected CT to be one of them.

Contrariwise, Anderson, there are lots of bores and fools who think that a fairly tedious ad hominem argument based on the job someone does is a really clever and even witty point, and I would (and did) expect that you were one of them. Rimshot-cymbal, well done.

251

MG 03.28.12 at 3:15 pm

Some people: “We are overworked and much of our time is spent on x and y that take so much time and are dull so I have no time for z, which is what I love about my job!”

Other people: “You know, there are ways to do x and y more effectively so you have more time for z”

Some people: “Stop crushing my dreams and turning me into a robot”

I’m not unsympathetic to people arguing that management could turn this efficiency into a larger workload and/or less pay. But that’s a different problem, altogether, at least for me.

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dsquared 03.28.12 at 3:17 pm

Especially worth considering is his point that increased corporatization in Medicine and the corresponding loss of autonomy for doctors has decidedly not resulted in more affordable health care. The opposite, in fact.

However it decidedly has resulted in very large income gains for medical doctors. If you’re talking about structural change over the last twenty years, you’re going to have a very, very hard time convincing anyone that humanities academics have done better than physicians.

253

ajay 03.28.12 at 3:22 pm

249: once again arguing against a point that no one actually made.

254

jack lecou 03.28.12 at 3:26 pm

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a university that had a way students identify as members of it (and I did my first degree at Cambridge).

Well, OK, but… 1. How can anyone NOT identify somehow or other as part of the university? Even if that relationship is just “I commute to this place that sucks, but I’m gonna get my degree and move on”?

And, 2. I might be confused, having never actually attended anyplace that had an honor code (to my knowledge) but a key component is apparently the elevated level of both self-enforcement and student-on-student pressure/reporting/enforcement. The first might well involve, at least in part, reinforcing thinking along the lines of, e.g., “I’m a Cambridge man, Cambridge men don’t cheat.” And the latter at least partly depends on changing your reactions if you notice, say, your roommate is bending the rules a bit, from “it’s none of my business,” to something more like, “cheating not only reflects badly on him, it also reflects badly on the institution, and therefore on me.” All of that sounds a lot like identification to me.

255

Steve LaBonne 03.28.12 at 3:31 pm

On the contrary, ajay; overestimation of the pedagogical effectiveness of lecturing is still very common within academia and is nearly universal outside it. So there remains much need to argue against it.

256

dsquared 03.28.12 at 3:33 pm

Steve, you really appear to be making claims that look much stronger than what you really mean. If the point is just about lecturing then fair enough, but “Nothing of value can be transmitted through a video screen” and “What is really valuable about teaching is not the mere transmittal of information” are a bit absurd on the face of them.

257

MG 03.28.12 at 3:35 pm

Horace Winters @216: Very interesting!

Honor codes at community colleges: Here is place that has one:
http://www.smc.edu/StudentServices/HonorCouncil/Pages/Honor-Code.aspx

To a larger extent, I do think that if you appeal to the best of people (all people, not just the elite, who I see do not have monopoly on virtue), this has a positive impact.

258

christian_h 03.28.12 at 3:37 pm

D^2 (229.): As Cranky mentions in 240., the profession of “essay marker” (or standardized test evaluator – much of the standardized tests nowadays is not multiple choice and has to be evaluated by a person) already exists. and how is it done you ask? As piece work. After a big test is administered (nationally or in a state) the test evaluators sit down at home in front of their computer and get paid some amount of cents per question they evaluate. Once all questions are evaluated they are done – out of work – which forces them to be as fast as possible so they can evaluate more than their colleagues they never meet.

Another area of completely commodified education in the US are for-profit colleges, run according to sound management principles. Of course they result in indebted students who didn’t learn a thing, but hey, best practices were implemented I’m sure.

What you are arguing might be a good idea in a perfect world. It is a horrible idea in the real world where such methods will result in worse labour conditions AND higher costs for the students.

259

Steve LaBonne 03.28.12 at 3:40 pm

If the point is just about lecturing then fair enough, but “Nothing of value can be transmitted through a video screen,…

This was in a context where I understood us to be talking about LECTURES delivered via video. If you admit the dubious value of lectures delivered viva voce then you can hardly claim that video lectures are somehow better.

But really now you’re just arguing for the sake of arguing, and I shall cease contributing to the thread derailment.

260

Watson Ladd 03.28.12 at 3:41 pm

Steve, what’s most valuable (in science/math classes) is doing the pset. Good psets are worth their weight in gold, and should be copied and reused. Does anyone think that not sharing the effort of making good problems is a good idea? What about conducting research into teaching methods? MIT recently remade the introductory physics class to have small groups interacting and solving problems during class: that’s only possible by forcing those who don’t want the change out of the way and increasing the number of instructors, who all have to coordinate the curriculum.

261

slim's tuna provider 03.28.12 at 3:44 pm

this is a fascinating discussion that brings in so much more than issues of teaching efficiency. isn’t the background here that the system is pretty terrible at allocating people to their proper roles, and also that the job market is awful? for example, take the example of the untenured teaching professor that takes 3X the time to grade than her peers. D^2, what is the appropriate thing to do with that professor? we all know what the answer is at the i-bank (off with her head, what are having for lunch?) but that can’t be the answer in every industry. in fact, lots of otherwise smart people go into academia because they don’t want to be pushed in this manner under threat of termination. now, clearly that’s a mistake on their part, but is what you’re really saying, D^2, is that smart people who are inefficient at one or two parts of their job are toast, and should start looking for a mallcop job (not so easy these days!). because for all the discussion of “management”, that sounds like what you mean. that cannot be a net win for the economy or for society. do you think it is? how about you, phil and chris?

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ajay 03.28.12 at 3:51 pm

, take the example of the untenured teaching professor that takes 3X the time to grade than her peers. D2, what is the appropriate thing to do with that professor?

Advice from management? Training? Administrative support? Maybe even move her into another job where she can spend more time doing stuff she’s good at? I mean, that’s what I would try to do in the non-academic world.

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slim's tuna provider 03.28.12 at 3:58 pm

ajay, do you really think management at the university is qualified to give advice on how to grade papers? do you think they will take responsibility if the advice is followed and student satisfaction decreases? do you think that management is capable of creating effective training and then take responsibility if student satisfaction decreases as a result of following the training? also, what other job at a university/college is there that is appropriate for that person? i believe there isn’t one, and even if there were, that job is not open, because of the labor market, and the department head of the new job will never agree to take a person already administratively marked “defective”.

264

Steve LaBonne 03.28.12 at 4:08 pm

Watson, where did you get the idea that I wouldn’t be all in favor of initiatives like MITs (which are really just late adoptions of ideas some LACs have been implementing for years)? But as your description implies, they’re far from cheap, which is what fails to endear them to the “efficiency” “experts”.

265

Marc 03.28.12 at 4:12 pm

I don’t understand what problem is being solved by gutting and replacing the current model of how professors operate. If you’re trying to reduce costs it is extremely clear that professor salaries are not responsible for skyrocketing US tuition – I provided the relevant links much earlier. An 8% real increase from 1970 – 2010 does not explain a factor of two real cost increase from 1980 to 2010, especially when coupled with flat student to teacher ratios. It’s ballooning capital costs and administrative overhead, amplified in the case of public universities by a move from support via taxes to support via tuition.

To give a sense of this, I’ll take a large public university like Ohio State. There are 3,000 faculty and 56,000 students. If you adopt an average salary of 75K you get a cost per student of about 4,000 dollars a year – much less than the total cost, and about 40% of tuition. (The direct book-keeping is complex because large universities frequently have hospitals, and you have to factor in grants.) Tuition and fees are of order 35,000 dollars a year now for private universities, and the student/faculty ratios are comparable. There is just no way that you can claim that instructional labor costs are driving these expenses.

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Chris Bertram 03.28.12 at 4:14 pm

stp: the person’s immediate manager is probably another academic, so is qualified to give help/advice. Lot of early-career people have difficulty with various parts of the job and need (and get) help. The real problem here is the person 20 years in, who insists, as a point of principle, that grading _properly_ takes however long they claim it takes. Going from X does part of the job poorly to X should be fired (as an attribution to dsquared) looks totally unwarranted.

267

dsquared 03.28.12 at 4:17 pm

Well, your example works because you constructed it to, but really – if grading papers is part of the job, and someone is really “smart” (good at research? good at teaching) but can’t grade papers (because they have exactly that kind of slightly implausible cognitive deficit) then there is a problem here. I’m assuming that the extra paper-grading time means that Prof. Hypothetical can’t get other parts of the job done. So now somebody else has to do part of Prof. Hypothetical’s work. Sucks to be them. If Prof. Hypothetical is a really really fantastic researcher and teacher, then maybe it’s worth the university’s while to pay someone to do her grading. If she’s just “smart” and otherwise average then well – not being able to do part of your job is a problem. If Prof. Hypothetical is prepared to do huge amounts of unpaid overtime to overcome this unlikely cognitive deficit, because she is that committed to academia, then I would say this is one of the few cases where it might be ethical or reasonable to allow someone to work themselves at burnout levels, provided that counselling is given that the workload she has taken on is in fact unsustainable.

What about (since I’m allowed to make these things up too) an academic who is really good at grading papers and admin, but can’t really do research and seems to be a bit thick? Why don’t they get accomodations made? This is kind of “and a pony” reasoning.

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Meredith 03.28.12 at 4:17 pm

Just to give a strong “second” to the recommendation made by Academic Lurker @245:

“Folks in this thread should go read Timothy Burke’s post on this:

http://blogs.swarthmore.edu/burke/2012/03/27/the-last-enclosures/

Especially worth considering is his point that increased corporatization in Medicine and the corresponding loss of autonomy for doctors has decidedly not resulted in more affordable health care. The opposite, in fact.”

The comments, too, which include responses/further insights from Timothy Burke.

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slim's tuna provider 03.28.12 at 4:57 pm

chris, i agree about your point about the 20-year veteran. and i also agree that your proposed response to the issue is plausible, and am glad that in your experience more junior colleagues get effective help without permanently damaging their future prospects. that is not my experience in my line of work, nor in the line of work of my sig. other, who used to teach at private middle school. there are no incentives to develop juniors, because there are always fresh bodies, and no manager ever gets punished for a junior colleague quitting. that is one way to achieve efficiency of a kind, i freely grant. and if i painted d-2 personally unfairly, i’m sorry; but i think that the cannon fodder approach i describe is fair to impute to modern managerial zeitgeist, which he admits (i think) in the thread above.

this feeds nicely into d-2′s response to me, which suffers from the nebulous concept of “doing your job” . d-2, you know that people’s capacity and ability for work is a complex thing, and varies greatly within organizations and departments. also, of course, “doing your job” varies greatly based on who gets to define it, as well as the available resources and output goals, and training and support by management. in biglaw, those associates that survived 07-09 know well that “doing your job” don’t mean what is used to, as i am sure i-banking associates and junior VPs do too. those places were never meant to be safe havens from constant pressure to live up to the pressures of the hour, and maybe academia isn’t either. but the direct outcome of this, today, in the real world, is lots of mallcops and baristas with masters degrees, JDs, and MBAs . so, no kidding, in academia, where those threatened with mallcopism have at least some cultural latitude to fight management, however misguidedly, do so.

in that sense, my reasoning of course is of the “and a pony” variety — in that i want more resources to be available to a certain group. you, in a way, also want that — you want more effective training, and more intelligent (and presumably reasonably non-self-esteem-eviscerating) management feedback, involvement and evaluation — why isn’t that a “pony”? i have seen those deployed so rarely ( despite chris’s comment) that i would upgrade them from pony to full unicorn. at the heart of my comments is not the idea that your goals are wrong, but that they are incompatible with current managerial thinking and the current labor market.

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AcademicLurker 03.28.12 at 5:06 pm

Among other things, there seems to be a big divide in this thread between those who see “more management” as likely to contribute to the solution and those who see it as likely to contribute to the problem.

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js. 03.28.12 at 5:12 pm

Just want to say thanks to AcademicLurker and Meredith for the link to Timothy Burke’s post. Really great.

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geo 03.28.12 at 5:14 pm

belle le triste @231: But the nub of “HE for all” is that HE becomes a factory-system; the crafts approach becomes a luxury niche. So the issue is, how to design a factory system that retains quality and delivers value.

Yes and no. The nub of “cars for all” or “dishwashers for all” or “beef for all” is that transportation or domestic appliances or meat must be mass-produced. OK, those things can be mass-produced, though in some cases (eg, meat) with a drastic and inevitable deterioration in quality. Of course meat certainly could and obviously should be produced less factory-fashion and more craft-fashion, but that would mean large changes in our political economy (serious regulation of the meat industry, large increases in income for those who now consume mass-produced meat) that are, alas, impossible in our current irrational and degraded political environment.

Education obviously can be and is mass-produced, but with even more drastic and inevitable negative consequences. It’s surely sensible and humane of Chris and dsquared to try to mitigate these negative consequences. And of course, as belle points out, more individualized, craft-like education for all would be a great luxury. But what is the promise of capitalism if not luxury for all? We were, after all, promised a pony; that’s why we agree to put up with the insecurity, regimentation, uglification, environmental degradation, and political powerlessness that capitalism entails, isn’t it? I wish we could be clearer when discussing the above educational management reforms that we’re grudgingly making the best of a bad, deceptive bargain rather than, as belle’s formulation seems to imply, maturely accepting the necessary conditions of any imaginable modernity.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.28.12 at 5:17 pm

1. The ‘essay marking career path’ – good grief. (This remark now superseded since this comment has being lying around for a while).

2. From my experience as a detached participant observer in private sector skilled employment, I’d say that the standard position, and one that management are at the very least happy to acquiesce in, is that no-one wants to say I’m overworked because the tasks you’ve allocated to me require more hours than there are hours is one conversation. because they are afraid that this will be understood as I’m overworked because it takes me three times as long as the average person takes to do these tasks. And no-one wants to admit to being overworked (except when this is obviously supererogative, when there is a ‘big push’ or deadline on – and even then they have to look keen, i.e. hardworking and dedicated rather than overwhelmed), so many people furtively put in the extra hours, under the impression that they are the only one who is struggling. A prisoners’ dilemma/divide-and-rule situation.

This general phenomenon is exacerbated because, while CB speaks of the ‘average person’, standards do not tend to be set by the average person (and of course it is a mathematical fact that minimum standards should be set by reference to the mean, except in the limit case where mean=min=max). Instead we tend to see the ‘super-hod’ syndrome, which as the choice of exemplar suggests is a standard right-wing trick: look at these young, single, mobile and unusually enterprising Polish builders on a short-term mission to amass some savings; we were poor but I never rioted; what about ‘self-made’ millionnaire X, with his unusual luck, enjoyment of wheeler-dealing, borderline psychopathy etc. – you could do that (or worse; everyone could do that! Cf. the attitudes implying that unemployment figures track fluctuations in laziness).

3. CB: Seems to me there’s a lot of having cake and eating it in this thread. Presumably having the cake is claiming, as (as I now see) geo does, and as I’ve suggested is a plausible approach, that there are objective standards whereby management’s efficiency drives are revealed as corner-cutting, while eating it is demanding autonomy as a personal preference (i.e. not necessarily subordinate to objectively determined standards. This approach perhaps suggested by Henry and Salient.

This looks a bit like a collective ad hominem; the eaters and the havers are not the same people. And while you can’t have your cake and eat it, some people can perfectly well have their cake while others eat theirs. But in any case, the two need not be contradictory – if autonomy is required to implement objective standards – TO’s suitably curt response Sam Chevre illustrates that approach (a bored teacher is a crap teacher – anyone? Bueller?).

To some extent, the two approaches may correlate with other diofferences – perhaps those who stress personal autonomy as a goal are in a position of being reasonably satisfied that their students are being well-served in general and aren’t under any plausible scenario going to be consigned to a life spent working for minimum wage or less. I dunno.

But the two approaches also occur at different times – a self-interested preference for autonomy operates primarily at the career choice stage, while a need to put in extra effort to do a proper job arises once in the system. Here is one little nugget of truth in amongst all dsquared’s ambiguously trollish (hit-and-miss, ignore the misses) comments: it may be that the conditions under which – on this view – many teachers in community collges work should be advertised more clearly, like a sales job but with the variable being hours rather than salary: ‘on-target hours: 40, basic: 70. But that’s not going to happen, and for those viewing the job as a vocation rather than a preference, would be somewhat beside the point anyway.

4. CB is of course right that given funding cuts something has to give – exactly what that should be I don’t know. Typically management will leave it to the employees on the ground to clear up any really ‘serious’ mess (one that might make the boss look bad) out of their own conscientious atttude, or by the divide and rule tactic mentioned above. Not that this strategy is necessarily adopted in a particularly conscious way, mind you – cf. http://surelysomemistake.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/no-smoky-room-no-smoking-gun-corporate.html

5.
LECTURER: Come in.
STUDENT: I don’t understand the comment on my essay. I took the tack you mentioned in the lecture and we discussed in the mini-seminar session you did in the lunch hour. But on my essay, you said this was completely misguided and just referred me to Blenkinsop 2003, even though we’d agreed it was only half the story.
LECTURER: Oh, that wasn’t me. I don’t know who that was.
STUDENT: ???
LECTURER: Here, let me have a look. Hmm, we haven’t got time to go through this at the moment – I’ll have a look at it tonight. Next!
STUDENT2: Hello, why did I only get a beta-minus-question-mark-minus for my essay?
LECTURER: I have no idea.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.28.12 at 5:18 pm

Silently sent to moderation?

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Chris Bertram 03.28.12 at 5:26 pm

Tim: if you write enormously long comments (especially containing links) the software will send you straight to spam without even appearing in the moderation queue. I have rescued you from the spam folder, but take it as a cue to write shorter comments.

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Tedra Osell 03.28.12 at 8:29 pm

@D2 #252: Especially worth considering is his point that increased corporatization in Medicine and the corresponding loss of autonomy for doctors has decidedly not resulted in more affordable health care. The opposite, in fact.

However it decidedly has resulted in very large income gains for medical doctors. If you’re talking about structural change over the last twenty years, you’re going to have a very, very hard time convincing anyone that humanities academics have done better than physicians.

Not for family practitioners, it hasn’t–and they’re the closest analogue to undergrad teachers, I think. Specialists are the ones who get rich; the docs who actually work with individual patients over time and get to know their histories, do the day-to-day preventative care and checkups, and counsel them about treatment plans when problems come up are a vanishing breed. I’ve lost four doctors over five years because they keep moving to less expensive states, being unable to afford a living here (seriously, I was told by one guy’s replacement that the guy he replaced had been living, with his wife, in a converted garage. They moved to Texas because they wanted to have children and live in an actual house or apartment.) The family practitioner problem is specifically one of the main issues in health care reform. My understanding is that that kind of “old-fashioned” care actually *saves money* overall.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.28.12 at 10:35 pm

OK, thanks Chris.

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merian 03.29.12 at 1:04 am

I’ve been staring at this thread with the fascination of someone watching a train wreck, and have been wondering why it looked like that to me. That is, beyond desquared’s borderline trolling, which is tolerated mostly because he is who he is and has proven his good will in the past. Still, it’s something in the neighbourhood of the concept of education-as-commodity being accepted without examination by the community of this eminently academic blog — indeed, to me the very best of academic blogs — that leaves me slightly nauseous.

As train crashs go, a single comment has little hope of making a difference, unfortunately. So more to settle my own mind, some points that don’t seem to have been addressed too much.

a1) Example of excellence in commodified education as per d2: TEFL. As a person who has learnt two foreign languages from scratch to near-native level of skill, my reaction is “huh?” Sure, up to a certain degree, you can train and drill people up in grammar and vocab, but to achieve proficiency, at least in production, you need all the accoutrements of moderately individualized (eg small-group) teaching, or a really good grasp of self-teaching (which you also typically learn from someone). To me, the offerings of mass language teaching have been useful mostly for certification purposes. The people I’ve seen come out of such a factory farming language bootcamp have been a good measure away from being able to function in the English environment. Worse, I’ve often thought it would be interesting to do research into the frequency of fossilization errors in this population, that is, errors that have become part of the speaker’s idiolect and are extremely hard to undo.
a2) Example of excellence in commodified education as per d2: “the French system”. He doesn’t make it clear which part of the French education system he’s referring to — the massified universities for the mid-tier postsecondary student? the extremely selective grands écoles for the upper tier? the secondary system? Having worked in the latter for some years and studied in the former two a little bit, the least I can say is that the main points of relevance I see are centralized curricula and instructors who enjoy a high level of autonomy, not a very high class load, relatively good job security, relatively mediocre pay, and an expectation of being at the intellectual cutting edge of their field. Not really an example of commodification as discussed here.
a3) Example 1 of commodified education as it occurs to me: IT training and certification. That’s an area I’m familiar with. In particular in the systems administration and information security sectors as well as in project management and similar disciplins, certification classes & exams by vendors and sometimes professional organizations have become commonplace. The outcome are people who know (one way of) how to carry out certain tasks by typing commands at a prompt and tend to think of themselves as experts, but frequently lack understanding of the field in question and, worse, the intellectual agility to discern where they’re wrong. So maybe we don’t need as highly skilled sysadmins as in the early days, but I’m surely not the only one to see a system as at minimum off-kilter and at worst dangerous whose main purpose is to generate cash for proprietary corporations while at the same time producing highly specialized morons.

b) What problem are we trying to solve? This thread looks like a piñata to me where everyone finds themselves a stick and hits whichever end they favour.
b1) The failure of US community colleges as described in the article linked by John Q? Does this failure have anything whatsoever to do with instructors requiring 2h to prepare 1h of class? Or rather
b2) The 2-3h of prep for 1h of class? Is this *really* something that needs fixing? It is understood, to me, that there’s a high level of variation in this, both between fields, from one end of one’s career to the other, from one type of class to the other. Sometimes, instructors will eat the variation — one tough semester followed by an easy one, for example — and sometimes it needs to be, or can be, addressed systematically. The latter cuts both ways: some things just *are* labour-intensive (anatomy lessons, remedial writing, whatever) and some things can be industialized with no loss in quality of outcome. In particular, following standard curricula does help. No re-inventing of wheels, fine. No skin off my nose.
b3) The quality of the *spit* “product”. That’s where it gets a lot more controversial. Teaching, education isn’t reducible to skills transfer. Some, in particular some on the managerial side, seem to think it is: a big oven that spits out little bread rolls with at least X units of algebra to at least level 4b and at least Y grams of literacy to at least level c. Measurable by absolutely objective standardized test. I contend this is a fiction. Not only because it doesn’t seem to work all that well where it’s being attempted, but also, and more importantly, because short-changing today’s and tomorrow’s students by failing to put them through the old-fashioned enlightenment-style intellect-forming experience of education would be quite a mistake.
b4) The quality of management in institutions of higher education. Well, let’s just say, I moved into a staff position at a US university (small and somewhat marginal state U) after 6 years in mostly mediocre software companies, and I’m somewhat aghast.

Now Chris B is worried about self-exploitation in the light of lofty goals, and that’s to his honor. College instructors can be just as infuriating as any employee, I’m sure. But he also seems to think that people should be less dedicated to quality and just obey orders on this matter, and that’s probably not going to work very well, especially when the current zeitgeist seems to consider a model akin to the University of Phoenix as at least potentially desirable.

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Barry 03.29.12 at 1:11 am

dsquared 03.28.12 at 8:04 am

” I also want to push back on whether standardisation of the course really represents “rote work” or “making the job less interesting”. I do actually think that something like the French system ought to be at least considered, because I’ve worked with so many graduates of French universities and whatever else you might think about that system it does a fantastic job of producing people who know their subject. “

I would actually like to know more about how the French system works. The only thing I know is that they have something called ‘Grand Ecoles’, which supposedly graduate an elite (which does good stuff). How the elite system works, and how the bulk of the system works, is a mystery to me. My starting guess is that it’ll be far more systematic than what the US has.

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Watson Ladd 03.29.12 at 1:34 am

Steve, the MIT approach entails a massive reduction in the autonomy of the teacher: they now have to do what is proven to work to teach a fairly fixed set of material in cooperation with others.

Centralized curricula are to my mind commoditization: The professor becomes tasked with transferring a very specific set of knowledge and skills, and can employ any means to do so. Tim argues in favor of a sort of bildung approach, which I agree is the purpose of education. But the bildung approach fails to take into account that for many kinds of knowledge and fields (even some humanities) there are things that have to be known in very particular ways. Forming an intellect means acquiring certain kinds of knowledge, and in principle we can say “this how well this method of education teaches this”.

If the teacher has to have some degree of freedom to do that, why does the Core at Chicago work given that the professors are essentially controlled in what they are teaching?

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ChrisTS 03.29.12 at 5:35 am

@Dsquared:

“What about (since I’m allowed to make these things up too) an academic who is really good at grading papers and admin, but can’t really do research and seems to be a bit thick?”

I suspect that research is not a primary requirement at most CCs. Being “a bit thick” would seem to be a bad sign for teaching, research, grading, and [effective] administration. So, I suspect your hypothetical needs reconsideration.

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ChrisTS 03.29.12 at 5:52 am

This thread may have outlived its usefulness, but I did want to proffer some thoughts about course preparation time and the revising of courses (as addressed by Tom Hurka, Nancy, at alia).

I am not aware of any disicpline that has been frozen in time. In philosophy, I find I have to revist – in more than a ‘tweaking’ way – not just the assignments/structure but also the content.

Even in ancient Greco-Roman philsopophy, new translations, new discoveries, and new analyses need to be considered by a responsible teacher. One might not decide to bring in all the newest materials and analyses, but one ought to know what they are.
In normative fields, keeping up with the current literature and/or new cases is crucial to good instruction.

If we think teaching is important, even at those ‘lower levels,’ then we must recognize our obligation to revisit and, if needed, revise all of our courses at least every two years. I’m rather shocked that academics would think otherwise.

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dsquared 03.29.12 at 6:07 am

That is, beyond desquared’s borderline trolling, which is tolerated mostly because he is who he is and has proven his good will in the past

Stick it up your jacksie, please. Actually, yes I am who I am and I have proven my good will in the past. And you haven’t, so wind your neck in. And could you please recognise that the only people who have actually admitted to experience in academic management were (if not exactly agreeing with me) very much agreeing that there was a genuine problem here which couldn’t be solved by ignoring it and talking about how evil “commodification” was. If you are going to call the existence of a debate (and therefore of a side in that debate other than your own) “borderline trolling”, then this is going to go really badly for the credibility of your claimed commitment to intellectual values.

And look at your examples. You provide:

a1, on TEFL) – this produces people who can speak languages to an acceptable standard in order to do their jobs and communicate, but you think they ought to have a standard higher than the one they are prepared to pay for.

a2, on the French university system, based on your experience of French secondary schools. Here you agree that there is an entirely centralised curriculum, but you’ve decided that I want to reduce the status and pay of teachers, and France doesn’t do this so it must be a counterexample.

a3, on technical training – again, your example is of a load of people who have learned difficult skills to a standard which is entirely adequate for their own purposes, but doesn’t meet some higher standard that you have arbitrarily chosen as the minimum and so you’re going to call them “morons”.

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dsquared 03.29.12 at 6:11 am

ChrisTS:

Even in ancient Greco-Roman philsopophy, new translations, new discoveries, and new analyses need to be considered by a responsible teacher. One might not decide to bring in all the newest materials and analyses, but one ought to know what they are.
In normative fields, keeping up with the current literature and/or new cases is crucial to good instruction.

I don’t think you understood Tom Hurka’s point. His view (and he is an experienced teacher of philosophy) is that trying to introduce bleeding-edge new research into an undergraduate curriculum, while it’s interesting for the instructor, is inimical to good instruction. He was quite specific about this. He doesn’t keep his undergraduate lectures static out of laziness or resource constraints – he does it because it’s the right thing to do. If professors are creating large amounts of work, the effect of which is to confuse their students by dragging them too quickly into current research disputes that they don’t have the grounding to understand, this is definitely the sort of thing that senior faculty members should be stopping.

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merian 03.29.12 at 9:16 am

Oh, ferchrissakes, dsquared, you’re one of the landlords here so it’s perfectly normal that you can do however you please. As an 99% observer of this blog I merely wonder about the origins of the asshattishness of this thread.

a) I doubt that this is the case. Where students emerge with usable communications skills, it’s because the same tried methods are applied as teaching does everywhere. In many cases they don’t. A lot pocket-lining is taking place.
b) Centralized curricula can be a great thing. All the great teachers I remember operated under them, but within intelligent frameworks that gave them great autonomy at the same time. I didn’t decide anything about your aims.
c) I’m not arbitrarily choosing anything, but in this case am offering a considered opinion. The vast majority of my acquaintances who’ve been in the business for a while observe a level of de-skilling. My hunch is, it comes out as a waste of money: What I’m currently seeing in mid-range organizaitons is underskilled and overstaffed departments that are wasting significant money on external contractors because of the shaky quality of their in-house staff. When it comes to information security, the result can be dangerous.

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magistra 03.29.12 at 10:11 am

[Tom Hurka's ] view (and he is an experienced teacher of philosophy) is that trying to introduce bleeding-edge new research into an undergraduate curriculum, while it’s interesting for the instructor, is inimical to good instruction.

To which the answer is, it depends on what subject you’re teaching. My first degree was in mathematics, where the vast majority of what we learned had been known for the last 100 years. We were recommended to read an introductory textbook on mechanics that was fifty years old, because it was so clear.

On the other hand, if you’re teaching a first-year history course in the UK (as I have done) and you don’t tell them about research from the last five years or so, you’re letting your students down, and in some cases seriously misleading them. Some subjects are far more pyramidal than others: you have to learn a, b and c before you can understand d, and then a standardised, unchanging approach may well make a lot more sense. Whereas if what you want is to engage your students with medieval history or American literature, etc, one of the obvious ways of doing this is tying it into things that are currently interesting them, which means references that are often ephemeral. As a specific example, there are a lot more students interested in learning about the early history of Islam or religious conflicts after 2001 than before, and if your history course doesn’t take advantage of that, it’s missing a key component.

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Barry 03.29.12 at 11:59 am

It’s true that what they’re teaching undergrads in math has been known for a while, but the problem is teaching it. I don’t know what the exact failure rate in the Calc I-III sequence is in most colleges, but I expect that it’s far above the failure rates expected in industrial work.

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Barry 03.29.12 at 2:00 pm

dsquared: “I don’t think you understood Tom Hurka’s point. His view (and he is an experienced teacher of philosophy) is that trying to introduce bleeding-edge new research into an undergraduate curriculum, while it’s interesting for the instructor, is inimical to good instruction.”

PZ Myers (of the blog Pharyngula) made a comparison between teaching economics and biology; he said that he was regularly using current research articles in the 300- and 400-level classes. [The comparison was caused by him reading some study of economics instruction which showed that it took (IIRC) 30-40 years for economics research to make it into Econ 101]

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Anon 03.29.12 at 7:06 pm

I use recent papers (past five years or so) in all of my economics classes, including intro. Otherwise intro economics just gives a completely wrong impression of the discipline to the majority of students who won’t take another course. I re-use a lot of my notes and rotate problems on problem sets and steal as many good ones from other teachers. I am being efficient. But examples and papers have to be refreshed. So while my work for a course I have re-taught is much less than the initial prep, its asymptotes to maybe 40%. Like- I don’t do trade theory most of the time, so when I teach intro every other year I do have to spend some time reviewing it.

The other major problem with D^2 comments is that is dealing with adults. Twenty year olds need some emotional connection to get through a tough course. They have a lot of kid in them still, and if you treat the less-prepared students like widgets they are going to mentally drop out on you. DD is dealing with such a more selected set of people so there aren’t much comparisons. I don’t have to put anywhere near as much thought into my presentation to policy and business audiences because they are selected for interest and just a lot more mature. And I’d guess he’d say I don’t need to spend the half hour just bucking the kid up who came from a bad HS and just lacks confidence. But I think then you are doing triage not teaching.

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Steve LaBonne 03.29.12 at 7:17 pm

Steve, the MIT approach entails a massive reduction in the autonomy of the teacher: they now have to do what is proven to work to teach a fairly fixed set of material in cooperation with others.

Nothing new; that’s always been the case for undergrad science (first two years, at any rate) vs. humanities and social science curricula. For most lower-division courses there is a pretty broad consensus as to what beginners need to learn, and a fairly narrow range of textbook choices which all live within that consensus. As a consequence, procedurally the content of at least the lower-level courses tends to be set by the department as a whole rather than by individual instructors, and so it does not (as it should not) change much when a different instructor takes over a course. Which is why I’ve avoided commenting on the “autonomy” issues in this thread, since they’re less germane to science, and teaching science is what I know about.

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Barry 03.29.12 at 7:27 pm

“DD is dealing with such a more selected set of people so there aren’t much comparisons.”

There’s also the fact that in corporate life, dropping difficult/unprofitable clients is what a good business is *supposed* to be doing. The equivalent in education would be not just dropping students who can’t handle the course at all, but also those who are likely D’s, and possibly even C’s. The equivalent of other things which would pass muster in certain corporate fields would be to sell the student obsolete/erroneous materials (at a hideous markup), fraudulaently teaching them classes which aren’t what they say that they are, and setting up them up deliberately to flunk, so that you can make more money off of them. I think that G-S alone would provide many examples of doing just that, and more. And in the mortgage sector, the equivalent would be sending out letters claiming that people didn’t pass all requirements for their degrees, even if they never went to that school.

Which leads back to the basis for this post – the Washington Post is owned by the Kaplan Corp, which makes its money from private schooling and test prep services. It’s been pointed out that the paper loses money, and so the only value for the corporation is as advertising/lobbying. That’s lead to the moniker ‘Kaplan Post’, and suchlike.

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curtott 03.29.12 at 8:33 pm

If schools are giving away money to the lazy teachers, and you know about it, and you don’t get some of that free money, yer stoopid.

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Daniel 03.30.12 at 12:21 am

PZ Myers (of the blog Pharyngula) made a comparison between teaching economics and biology; he said that he was regularly using current research articles in the 300- and 400-level classes. [The comparison was caused by him reading some study of economics instruction which showed that it took (IIRC) 30-40 years for economics research to make it into Econ 101]

If biology classes were really popular and crowded while undergraduate economics withered on the vine I would be more convinced by this; the simple fact that he’s doing something different doesn’t mean he’s right.

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Barry 03.30.12 at 2:54 am

“If biology classes were really popular and crowded while undergraduate economics withered on the vine I would be more convinced by this; the simple fact that he’s doing something different doesn’t mean he’s right.”

Of course not. The point is that different fields will probably have different needs in terms of changing things.

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Barry 03.30.12 at 11:33 am

And at this point (where Daniel’s anecdote is data, while mine is an anecdote),
I’m going to quit. I’m not going to play Calvinball.

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