Before Xtra Normal went by the wayside, people had a field day of making and posting these types of videos. One of the things that the high number of these establishes is that there are some fairly universal experiences from school-to-school and instructor-to-instructor.
There is a great piece that came out this week titled "I would rather do anything else other than grade your final papers." I feel much empathy for Robin Lee Mozer here. And as the transition from one session to the next is upon us where I work, I thought I'd share some tips for those folks who might be in my upcoming class who really want to underperform.
There are lots of videos on YouTube that give tips for F2F students, but what about students in online courses?
I recently got a demand. Note that I didn't say "request." The demand was this: "Replace the points I lost."
As we near the holiday season, students start to grumble. Or maybe it's just that some students forget that they aren't the instructor's peer. Now, don't get me wrong; I've been in plenty of learning communities that were made up of peers. There's lots of value in those situations and it's one reason that I keep up with writer friends and teacher friends who are my equals.
Have a great essay or piece of writing you would like to publish? Check out this call for submissions from Queen City Writers at the University of Cincinnati. If you would like to submit and wish for a set of trained eyes to look at your submission file before you send it on, please email me and I'll be happy to help you out.
From that CFP:
Our three reviewed sections include Inquiry, 2,500-5,000 word critical essays informed by research; Multimedia, video, audio, or mixed media pieces of 15 minutes or less and accompanied by an artist’s statement that explains purpose, motivation, discussion of medium, and so on; and Storming the Gate, featuring 1,250 to 2,000 word essays by first-year writers in any discipline. We also publish reviews of works relevant to our focus; snapshots of writers and/or their experiences; and comments or responses to work in current issues.
To kick off the New Year, I want to share a great set of resources: Gatsby's Light Apps. I've embedded the video for their Literary Analysis app above, and it's worth a watch. I've also viewed their basic Essay Writer, and it's a winner, too. At $2.99 each, you really can't lose. I would recommend the basic Essay Writer for any course you are taking that requires writing essays. The focus on things like topic sentences and the examples of paragraphs will go a long way toward helping you to hone your writing skills.
The Literary Analysis App would be great for students in any literature-related courses (ENG221, LIT331, LIT332, ENG331 at Baker, for instance). In viewing the brief video above, I noticed that basics like considering the title as a "key" to meaning in the work are covered. These apps also contain links to web resources that students will find valuable.
Students who ask for samples of what instructors are "looking for" will find these apps handy as they include not only examples of literary works that demonstrate the basic principles, but they also include analysis paragraphs that model how to set up topic sentences and direct analysis of specific evidence from the text.
One word of caution: The literature apps focus on MLA format (which is logical) which is not typically used in online courses. If you recommend these applications to students, you'll want to emphasize that MLA is different from APA and consider providing the students with a template for APA and maybe even having a thread in the discussion board early in the term that shows the slight variations in MLA and APA.
Interestingly, Gatsby's Light also offers their apps in book format for those who are not really into using an app, but I suspect the apps are more useful, given the links to other resources.
So, my last entry was sort of on this issue already, and things just continue to make me pause and think about how the profession is continuing to morph and change. I'm not sure that most folks who have never been adjuncts and particularly who have never been online/virtual adjuncts really know how the landscape is. Of course, there have been some events lately that have made me think that some of my virtual colleagues who never taught on ground have lost their marbles.
I am in a "closed" Facebook group devoted to teaching online. Granted, the group is run by someone who wrote a book on online teaching that focuses even in the title on making six figures teaching online. The fact that that is in the title should be a tip off that for some folks it's all about the dollars. While the group is interesting, it does turn into a bit of a whine-fest and student bashing spot from time-to-time. Recently, someone posted about a student situation and they were incredulous that it took the student a few days to contact them. I'm not going to give any more details than that, mainly because the instructor who posted the information gave enough detail that it is possible someone could pick out the student she was talking about.
I commented on the post, mainly to let the person know that it is possible the student's excuse was legitimate and that just because she couldn't find "proof" of the situation with Google didn't automatically mean the student was trying to get one over on the instructor. I suggested that they could politely ask for some verification and place the burden on the student. If a student has a real reason for late work, they usually are more than happy to provide some verification of the issue.
The conversation got a bit ugly (not with me, but with others in the group).
And then, a student showed up in the "closed group."
Now, mind you, the person who facilitates this group is not overly interested in screening who gets in. After all, the facilitator sells consultation services for CV and portfolio building that I'm sure are stellar. Translation: The more folks who join the group, the more likely someone will pay this person to help with their job application materials and give them leads.
So, this isn't a closely monitored truly "closed group."
The student was very nice about saying, "Hey, I'm not sure how I wound up in this group, but I'm a student. I've been here awhile and I notice that this isn't the first time that I've noticed that this group turns into a bitch-fest about students. As a student, I am shocked to know that professional educators would share so much personal and sensitive information here." This is paraphrased, but that was the idea.
I expected some back-pedaling. Instead, the original poster stood by the "this isn't whining, it's sharing best practices and getting another point of view. Besides, I didn't give any names."
OK, so no actual names were given. However, the situation (I know I said I wouldn't give more details) was a homicide situation in a named town. The instructor also indicated where they teach at some point. In other words, it wouldn't take Columbo to figure out who this student was if they were at the same school (which it kind of looks like they might have been) as the student in the group or if the students even just lived in the same town.
Yep, not only did an instructor overshare sensitive information and say "who does this" about the student's behavior--she then slapped down another student in the group who said, "hey, this might be too sensitive or specific to share."
What was worse was that many other educators in the group followed up in that thread by ignoring that there are obviously some students in the group--you couldn't tell from their commiserating "oh, you think your student is bad, let me tell you about a student I have/had and the lame excuses they gave." I eventually stopped reading because I kept screaming at my monitor.
So, the very things we tell students not to do--share sensitive information on the net that might compromise their jobs or ruin future chances--are the same exact things these colleagues of mine were doing.
It gets worse.
More recently, one of them posted asking if we allow students to submit a draft early for feedback prior to grading. To me, this is a no-brainer; when I was on ground I had office hours. What did I do in those office hours? I met with students who wanted to go over a draft before the due date, ask questions about the assignment, or get more detailed formative feedback on a graded assignment. Heck, sometimes they came by before they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard for an old-fashioned brainstorming session.
So, my response was "Sure--it's no different from office hour consultations. The same restriction that they leave time to apply the information applies in both situations, but they should be encouraged to get help ahead of time--it shows initiative."
Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I believe that consulting with students one-on-one is called teaching and it is part of my job.
The responses after mine were quite a shock. Some suggested that "if you do it for one you have to do it for all." Well, sure, but only if every student gets work done ahead of time and shares it with you and is an active participant in that process. We should all be so lucky.
A lot of folks said "send them to the Writing Center and let them edit it." Someone suggested that they tell the student to "hire a professional editor." I'm not even going to get into the issue that people think that all students need is editing or proofreading to get good grades and seem to ignore that content is really what we should be focusing on.
I'm saddened by this attitude of "I don't have time to deal with the student who works ahead and wants my help." We are turning into grading robots if we refuse to actually teach. Is that what it has come to? Am I supposed to just let the pre-designed course run itself and just serve as the house-keeper and make sure things open when they are supposed to and that links work? Am I just there to keep the machine running and to slap scores in the grade book?
Sadly, it seems that a lot of my colleagues think so. And given some of the student complaints I get about how I expect them to do graduate level work when I ask for reasonably organized and focused work, I suspect some of my students think so, as well.
And, in a world where adjunct faculty are more frequently asked to keep time-sheets and ensure they don't go over 27 hours a week because the employers don't want to shift to full-time and benefits packages is fueling this attitude of "go to someone else--I don't have time for that and it's not what I'm paid to do."
I kind of hope more students find their way "in" to the group. We need more reminders to behave ourselves and truly share best practices, rather than just using the group as our own virtual slam book.
This is going to be a bit of a rant about upper level administrative issues, so students might find it boring. It's more about the sort of larger issues in higher education, not about writing tips or the like. If that interests you, read on.
Recently there was a job ad on HigherEdJobs.com for adjunct instructors online for Rutgers' Online Liberal Studies master's degree program. They were looking for literature folk who could develop and teach interdisciplinary courses focused on literature specifically. At first, I thought it was a great idea. But then I started looking around.
AAUP's page on the issue.
Now, if you read my latest article in the "What can't you do with an English Major?" issue of The Journal of South Texas English Studies you probably know that I'm already in a spot where I teach for an institution that does not have English majors in the traditional sense (we do offer certification for ENG teachers in the state of Michigan). I will not have the option of teaching graduate students literature in my current job. After 20 years of teaching undergrads who are not majoring in my discipline, I felt butterflies at first when I saw the offering. I could apply to it without it being a conflict of interest at my full-time job (we have forms for that, and since the douses are graduate level in a field we don't offer graduate courses in, teaching these would actually make me even "better" as a faculty member at my current institution).
The butterflies lasted a short time. I read and reread the job ad. They wanted a full syllabus, a completed module for the course, and the ad states that they want the course basically ready to drop in E-College the moment you apply.
Reading the articles that AAUP collected above, I realized that there are some very real reasons why the faculty are upset. Specifically, there are huge issues with academic freedom and with intellectual property. The contract (at least the early versions of it) for development and teaching indicates that:
1. Those who develop a course will get a first run of the course. After that, any adjunct can be given the course to teach. All tidy and packaged in E-College (owned now by Pearson). This is where the intellectual property issue comes in.
2. If Pearson finds material that is "unsuited" or "inappropriate" for children, that can be cut from the course. So, say I developed a course on separatist lesbian utopias in American women's literature. Some reviewer finds that objectionable, so the course gets censored. This is where the academic freedom issue comes in.
3. Not only is the call for applications a pretty clear "propose some great stuff and give us a syllabus we can give to our course design department" but it also creates a situation where new remote adjuncts are likely to be seen as "scabs."
Ultimately, I decided those three reasons are enough for me not to apply. My focus these days is on writing, anyway, and I'm constantly finding ways to get more satisfaction from the undergraduate literature courses I teach. I'm transitioning to a spot over the next few years that is different. So, to yoke myself up to be a scab and producer of course templates just doesn't sound attractive.
The title of this post, though, goes further. When I started college years ago, we had a new president at UCA. The faculty voted no confidence in him, yet he was still there when I left with my MA in hand six years later. The Rutgers situation reminds me of this and how faculty really have no power. I'm reminded of the tenured professor (John Lammers) who was led off campus from Irby Hall and how his class was finished out by someone else. Just because he voiced his opposition to administrative issues. Isn't that something that we value? Open dialogue? Apparently not. (I'm also amazed at how many connections I have to Auburn University--I didn't realize until I looked up the AAUP page on Lammers that he was an Auburn Alum. That's a whole different post, I suspect--my connections to AU. War Eagle and all that).
Academia has changed. It's not just my current position in my current institution, which is a career-focused institution. It's a larger shift. Add to that shift that was going on in the late 1980s and 1990s the "Pearsonification" of education at both the lower levels (Common Core) and at the post-secondary level, and you have a pretty complex stew brewing.