Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More on class prep

One of the "career advice" articles in IHE contains an outline of what is termed the Sunday Meeting.

This is first rate, although I don't find it all that revolutionary. I've always done that.

Indeed, I've done some of it over the summer so my entire semester is planned out on a calendar that combines all of the major tasks for every class I teach or have important managerial responsibilities to carry out.

Now it is time to get back to my regularly scheduled Tuesday Grading.

Read Entire Article......

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Preparing for class

There is a nice question/poll today from Unbalanced Reaction concerning prep time for class. I'm in the 1 to 15 minute category, but that is for classes that I have taught (many times) before and represents an average that often includes zero if "prep" means actually writing out detailed notes for what will happen in class.

And that isn't because I use my old notes in class, even though I have them with me.

I sensed this incipient digression as I wrote my comment at UR's place, so I will digress here instead. Most of my prep time is spent on the broad outline of what I will do, what might be considered a lesson plan if actually contained any detail beyond Problem x or Example of topic y.

Prep is usually more about clearing my mind to see if there is something new I should try. Lately that means what I write below, but also an approach that puts EVERY key formula for a new subject up on the screen, rather than having them show up here and there as we deal with new parts of a single topic. Then I only use those few things in everything else I do.

I used to have problems worked out so I could "work" them without having to pause to do calculations, but I have decided that is a bad model for the students even if I pause to use an air calculator before writing the answer down. It turns out that, despite being a digital non-native (wrote my first computer program my senior year in HS and didn't own a calculator until I started grad school), I am a lot faster than most of them are at slamming the keys.

So I might project a problem, either prepared or out of the book, but then all of it gets done for real in class. I've observed people who have the answers on plastic or ppt, and the kids (who I am also observing) just don't get the details. Sometimes they can't see the details, other times they just follow the terse bits on a ppt printout outline -- but never put together a coherent solution. Of course, some don't ever take good notes or recognize my board work as how I actually do the problem myself, but that is a different problem that requires constant teaching effort.

The only time I make sure I have the worked version handy is when I put up a problem for them to do. Then I want to be able to flash memorize the key results so I can provide right/wrong advice as I move around the room.

The important thing is that I have fixed in my head the need to be very procedural in everything I do in class. I don't need notes for that. In fact, my notes are not as good as what I put on the board.

Read Entire Article......

Three Un-related Topics

All below the jump ... thoughts about perceived quality of faculty at a CC, the Gates Foundation and education, and keeping happy as a professor -- all triggered by recent items in IHE.

Faculty quality at the CC Level

Hat tip to an IHE Quick Take, pointing to this article in the Detroit News. Michigan is apparently facing the question of whether community colleges should be allowed to offer 4-year degrees in selected fields. They probably got the idea from other states where CCs now offer BS degrees in nursing or education.

Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council of State Universities of Michigan, said:

"Community colleges do not have the base of professional educators needed to provide accredited bachelor's degrees."

to which I say "BS". Reminds me of nearby Wannabe Flagship, where they try to claim that our organic chem class (30 students) is worse than theirs (300 students) when our professor used to teach ... THEIR class as an adjunct!

I'll use nursing as an example, since it is an area where there remains some prejudice against licensed RNs who earned an AS rather than a BS degree. (Yes, I know that you cannot move up into surgery or anesthesiology without the BSN degree, but I am talking about entry level positions.) It is convenient because I can look at the requirements for the degree at Wannabe Flagship and see clearly that (a) they do require important non-nursing courses that are not in our AS program, and (b) our CC teaches every one of those non-nursing courses at a level that they accept for transfer students, and (c) that many of their classes are taught by adjuncts and typical adjuncts and full-time faculty have an MSN as their top degree. There are some doctorates (including an EdD or two), but those are only needed for the MS and Doctoral programs, not the undergrad BSN degree program, which explains why there are so few of them.

Our faculty are just as educated, experienced, and licensed as theirs are and could teach the same upper-division classes that theirs teach. Our program is accredited for the RN license by the same national organization that theirs is, and ours has the same high pass rate that theirs does ... and higher than some other programs in the state. Yes, we do need to hire more faculty, but that is just for our growing AS degree program. You see, Wannabe Flagship has very limited admissions and does not offer any program that can be taken by non-traditional students, so we turn away many qualified students. And there is no shortage of demand, even in today's economy.

The propagandist for the state universities in Michigan is either a liar or ignorant.

Education Research

A Friday Viewpoint at IHE posed a challenge to the Gates Foundation to fund more research, but I have in mind some nonsense embedded in the article.

The author says:
There were some 65,000 doctorates in education granted over the last 10 years for which we have data (1999-2008). During the same period, there were about 21,000 doctorates awarded in chemistry. Which do you think has had the greatest consequences, knowledge-wise?

I know that comparing education and chemistry in this way is unreasonable; for one thing, many of the education degrees were awarded to practitioners, rather than to researchers.

BZZZZT, but thank you for playing. Those persons with a chemistry PhD are all, every last one of them, practitioners. And that identifies the main problem with education degree programs. Few of them have faculty whose research is based on actually doing (say, teaching elementary school) what they teach. In contrast, that chemistry PhD actually does chemistry, including the ones who are teaching chemistry at a university. In my opinion, that is why education research has not made as much of a dent in our national K-12 problem as, say, chemistry research has improved batteries and many other important products.

I might add more (like references to what others said about Gates and accountability for outcomes from those projects), but time to move on.

Enjoying the job

Also from Friday, we have this ad dressed up as Career Advice from IHE. There are some good things in there worth thinking about, but I'll start by observing that if you get migraines as a stress reaction to the research demands of your 1-1 teaching job at an R1, you really should think about moving to a teaching intensive college or do what the author did: Join a leadership program to learn how to manage research (rather than do research) and start the move up into Provost world.

The real lesson in there, which does not require buying the book, is that you need to identify your "soulful values" and set your goals around them. Since regular goal setting is part of what every professor at my college does each year (as a way to encourage us to stay "fresh"), that is a useful way to think about how to choose among many things that one can do to improve teaching.

Read Entire Article......

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Ah, two nations separated by a common language.

I see every indication that the following part of a story is written in English, but I have only the vaguest idea[*] what they are talking about. See for yourself:

Spinner Graeme Swann found massive turn to take 2-14 as Pakistan struggled.

England also had batting problems, but Eoin Morgan and Michael Yardy put on 67 from 43 balls in a five-wicket win.

They came together after Luke Wright had been bowled on the sweep for a duck, leaving England in a precarious position at 62-5 after 10 overs in Cardiff.

Many players on both sides had made batting look difficult on a slow wicket, with the ball stopping in the pitch.

I wonder if the British feel the same way when they read the description of someone "throwing a pitch" in baseball!

But one thing I like about British sportswriters is that they don't mind being rude when describing someone who "produced a series of desperate swishes at fresh air". We could use a bit of that when a millionaire strikes out.

I know a bit more than I let on. I've actually played a bizarre version of street cricket (using trash cans for wickets) with some Aussie-Americans, but it would take a lot of gin for me to sit and watch a match on TV. But I am only guessing at what "2-14" means, and I have no clue at all what a "duck" might be.

Read Entire Article......

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Today I am blogging to myself. You see, I know I wrote several brilliant ?? comments giving advice to new faculty and my thoughts on mentoring new faculty, and ... well ... now I am a mentor to a new faculty member. So what was it I said?

Took more time to find these than I thought it would.

Mentoring New Faculty (April 2008)
Concerning my thoughts about our college's mentoring program.

Advice for a New Professor (March 2009)
Includes links to two other articles and a few thoughts of my own.

New Adjunct (July 2007)
Although directed at a question from a first-time teacher, some of this is probably relevant in many situations.

I'm sure there are others (like in my "jobs" area or dialogs on other blogs), but I don't have time to track those down right now. Will update later when I think of one.

Dean Dad on becoming an Administrator
On one level, completely irrelevant. On another, totally relevant. Anyone in a new job has to learn, and listening is how you learn. For that matter, even people who have been on the job for years still have things to learn. Listening is how learning happens.

Read Entire Article......