Tag Archives: Higher ed

September 8, 2011, 7:30 am

A slight defense of syllabus bloat

Two things I noticed at the start of this semester were (1) the number of articles and blog posts coming out about “syllabus bloat” (see Profhacker, for instance), and (2) the insane degree to which my own syllabi have bloated. My Calculus II syllabus is 12 pages long, for instance, and I wasn’t exactly using 36-point font.

I liked (in a chagrined sort of way) Barbara Fister’s metaphor very much of the syllabus as Terms of Service. Put together all the boilerplate, all the course policies, all the tables of grade assignments, etc. and what you have is not very different from the Terms of Service (ToS) agreements we all click through without a glance when we start up new software. And that’s not a good thing:

The trouble is the syllabus-as-contract is not only tiresome to read, it’s not inspiring. You must, you can’t, you ought – that’s not an itinerary for a trip to someplace…

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October 29, 2010, 7:40 am

Pushing back

Seth Godin has a lot of good things to say in this short blog post, such as:

When a professor assigns you to send a blogger a list of vague and inane interview questions (“1. How did you get started in this field? 2. What type of training (education) does this field require? 3. What do you like best about your job? 4. what do you like least about your job?”) I think you have an obligation to say, “Sir, I’m going to be in debt for ten years because of this degree. Perhaps you could give us an assignment that actually pushes us to solve interesting problems, overcome our fear or learn something that I could learn in no other way…”

When a professor spends hours in class going over concepts that are clearly covered in the textbook, I think you have an obligation to repeat the part about the debt and say, “perhaps you could assign this as homework and we could have an actual conversation…

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March 17, 2010, 8:26 pm

You can't become an expert in college

Cover of "Outliers: The Story of Success&...

Cover of Outliers: The Story of Success

Here’s something of an epiphany I had at the ICTCM while listening to Dave Pritchard‘s keynote, which had a lot to do with the differences between novice and expert behaviors in problem-solving.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, puts forth a now-famous theory that it takes at least 10,000 hours to become a true expert in a particular area, at the top of one’s game in a particular pursuit. That’s 10,000 hours of concentrated work in studying, practicing, and performing in some particular area. When we talk about “expert behavior”, we mean the kinds of behaviors that people who have put in their 10,000 hours exercise as second nature.

Clearly high school or college students who are in an introductory course — even Dave Pritchard’s physics students at MIT, who are likely…

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March 4, 2010, 10:12 pm

Working and having a life, redux

Harvard Yard. Photo taken by Dudesleeper on Se...
Image via Wikipedia

The Chronicle has an article on a Harvard survey of Gen-X professors and their attitudes toward the balance of work and the rest of life. The professors surveyed indicate that they want to be successul in their careers but don’t want to sell out their personal lives in the process. The main survey report is here (PDF, 2.1MB). Here’s a representative quote from one of the interviewees, a business professor, talking about the perils of overwork that Gen-Xers perceive in their older colleagues:

There’s really nothing to be gained by closing your door and working until 11:00 o’clock at night, other than the tenure hurdle that is somewhere out there. If you want to pole vault over it, you go right ahead, but no one here is going to back up the Brinks truck and start dumping all this cash on you, simply because you’ve decided to work like you have three jobs. So that…

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February 14, 2010, 10:35 pm

Must the tenure process really be like this?

Like a lot of people in higher ed, I’ve been following Friday’s deadly shooting at the University of Alabama-Hunstville. (Click the link for background in case you missed the story. I have no idea how much press it is or is not getting in the national mainstream media.) It’s known that Amy Bishop, the UAH biology professor being charged with the shooting, was denied tenure in April and had made an unsuccessful appeal regarding her tenure denial. It’s not clear that the shooting was related to the tenure situation, but the speculation — especially in the article at the second link — is that there’s a connection.

What is clear, at least from my perspective as a professor and as somebody in the fourth year of a five-year appointment to my college’s Promotion and Tenure Committee, is that something is really badly wrong with UAH’s tenure system, and perhaps with tenure as a concept….

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January 26, 2010, 9:44 am

A school for grown-ups

My 6-year old is in kindergarten and fascinated by school and schoolteachers. Last week she asked me: “Daddy, are you a teacher?” I told her I was. “What’s your school?” I told her I teach at a college. “What’s a college?” I told her: “A college is a school for grown-ups.” And in that off-the-cuff answer, we have an economical way of describing the difference between college and pre-college education, and of encapsulating the hopes and goals of higher education.

College students, even the wide-eyed freshmen who show up every fall, are not kids. They are emerging adults, having worked 12 years for a high school education and who now enter a 4-5 year buffer zone before entering into the world with nothing more than the things they know, the experiences they’ve had, and the people around them. Therefore we college professors aren’t serving students if we treat them like kids, refer to …

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July 27, 2009, 12:45 pm

The blogging VPAA?

I was thinking over the session coming up at Blog Indiana by John Oak Dalton titled “Chancellor 2.0″ which promises to address “existing and emerging obstacles of CEO-grade context” [sic? Was that supposed to be "content"?] for Twitter. In other words, it sounds like the session will be about how to get your college’s upper administration up and running with blogging and tweeting. I’m curious to see what Dalton makes of this, because his home institution seems to have embraced blogging and Twitter at a scale you don’t normally see from a university. Even the chancellor tweets.

I’d love to see more college administrators blogging or twittering, using their real names, making no secret of their institutions, and writing honestly about their successes and struggles in the work that they do. There’s no faster track to giving higher education a measure of transparency that it badly needs…

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October 31, 2008, 10:18 am

Four questions to ask about tenure

Over at the Young Mathematicians’ Network, I have an article today on four revealing questions that young faculty should ask about tenure. Since you have to have an account to post comments at the YMN web site, and since some readers who aren’t mathematicians might want to discuss this stuff, I’m going to reprint the article below the fold and open comments for it. Enjoy!

(more…)

August 13, 2008, 5:52 am

Wednesday morning links

  • Walking Randomly has an interesting discovery about the Fibonacci sequence and linear algebra.
  • The Productive Student offers up some advice on how to be a leader and conduct killer team sessions. It’s good stuff not only for students who are doing collaborative work but also for anybody who goes to meetings. Are there people who don’t have to go to meetings?
  • InsideHigherEd reports on an interesting setup to attract Chinese students to study in the US — the 1+2+1 degree, which involves one year in China, two in the US, and then the final year back in China. (Unfortuately, as the article notes, you can’t Google “1+2+1″ because all you get is “4″.)
  • Also at IHE and a lot of other places, Rice University is now using an open textbook for its elementary statistics course which is not only free but open for rearrangement and adaptation by any user. A shot across the bow of traditional…

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July 23, 2008, 6:26 am

Getting fired for helping students?

When you’re teaching a class and students are having trouble understanding the textbook, usually the responsible thing to do is provide them with some form of clarification in the form of a handout or some web links to additional resources. But apparently that’s a firing offense if you’re an adjunct faculty at Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College:

Pejman Norasteh — like many adjuncts — didn’t have much control over the material he was supposed to cover [in his statistics class]. But students started to send him e-mail saying that the textbook was unclear. One student said he was getting “depressed” and giving up when he didn’t understand the required assignments. Another student wrote: “As usual, our textbook does a poor job of explaining concepts. I am adding this chapter to my list of examples of how poor our book is….”

In response to the e-mail messages and personal…

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