November 10, 2012

Student Online Anonymity: The Uselessness of RateMyProfs

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:17 am by profart

If you are a professor, you probably know the several online sites where students provide feedback about you anonymously, and how if you want to get really grumpy, you go look at the students whining about how much they have to actually do work. I find it particularly insulting to find students there who think having a strong personality is insulting, suggesting they think about material differently is offensive, and who for some reason think I don’t care if they pass or fail.

I hate students who fail. BUt I can assure you, you have to work really hard to fail one of my classes.

Complaining about professors using videos in class is just hilarious.

BUt what really gets me grumpy is looking at how students rate some of the other folks I work with. Professor I know for a fact could not care less about their students get these wonderful ratings and comments. There is a colleague I would dearly love to smack for some of the downright racist and otherwise bigoted things s/he says about students, and s/he has a rating of “5”. Scantron appears to be highly popular among students.

Part of the problem is, of course, anonymity. Students who don’t like you are more likely to comment, for one. But to see professors who are know are inaccurate, irresponsible, and simply burned out and don’t care get high marked, when I’m busting my butt over here to make sure my students actually learn something new and grow as scholars, I get trashed.

And I mean, TRASHED.

It is a disservice to students trying to select classes… unless they don’t care about actually learning.

I have taught 13 years now. I have had almost 3000 students come through the classes I have taught in that time. The largest pool of comments I have on these sites is about two dozen.

Although I feel for the students who might be using these sites as a guide for selecting classes, noting that not ALL the comments are negative… I think I’ll call that a win.

October 24, 2012

Contractual Obligations

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:12 am by profart

So, a few years back, there was a new center for my college, and few people wanted to drive all the way out to Timbuktu to teach there. I arrived at my class to discover it had been turned into a “video linked” course, so that it could be offered at the new campus. I was told I would not actually have to drive out there- I would simply stand in front of a camera, and would be seen at both campuses. All the students would see me, the course would be available at both campuses, and the college would only have to pay for one teacher. I was a little hot under the collar at having been basically told to teach two classes and get paid for one. But I decided, for the good of the college, I would do it. I was then told I would get an extra half-credit in pay to make up for the extra students. All well and good. 

There were technical issues to smooth out. It took some doing. But I found a great way to set it up so that both sets of students could see and hear and get all the material. I gave out my cell phone number and set up email so that students could reach me, even if they never saw me. I made a lot of my online course material available to the classes to support those who would never actually see me. I had it chugging along fairly smoothly. 

It was noted this week- three years later- that oopsie, I was required to visit both campuses equally. That meant once a week, I had to drive out to Timbuktu. I was then informed that differential that I was told was for the extra student load was actually to cover this extra commute. Which is fine- except for the fact that it is a massive commute for this area, and they overbooked my classes, which was already irritating. I got fussed at for not reporting it. Last I looked, I am an adjunct. The dean and the department chair were supposed to be reining in the enrollments, and no one bothered, because hey, two classes for the price of one! Almost three, actually, considering the enrollment! 

The students complained that I wasn’t out at the other campus at all. To the dean. You know, the one supposed to be watching the enrollment? And so I got called on the carpet. It wasn’t fair to the students at the other campus, who also had complaints of issues with hearing the lectures, because the campus where I teach has bandwidth issues. 

So I marched my butt out there, since if you can’t hear, that certainly is not fair. I knew the bandwidth problem was worsening, because we were now having trouble with the camera sending signal, and I often could not see the Timbuktu campus room- the picture would pixelate. I could hear them, as long as the AC wasn’t going- for some reason, they mounted the microphone next to the duct. And hey, I was apparently contractually obligated to be out there. It isn’t in my actual contract, by the way- but there is now a paragraph to that effect in the handbook. Mea culpa. 

Out I went. And when I got there, I was… shocked. And saddened. And angry. 

Where I have been teaching, we have everything projected to a single screen. That screen is broken into three views- a large “main view” that takes up 3/4 of that single screen, about two and half feet wide, and then two smaller views to one side, about 12 inches wide. I use one to keep an eye on the Timbuktu campus, the other is a second projection to the Timbuktu campus, so that I can see what they see. What they see are two views, the view of the camera on me, and the view of the powerpoint. So at Main Campus, We have one screen, split. When teaching at Timbuktu, I can switch to a two-screen layout, so that they see me and the presentation. However, that makes both less than 2 feet wide, for the entire class to see. And remember, that microphone is next to the duct. They can’t hear. 

At Timbuktu, they have two large screens on the wall, like two large-screen TVs. The really big kind. When I am at Main Campus, they see me,slightly over life-size, on one screen. They see the powerpoint on the other. The sound was so crystal clear, I had to ask the students at Main Campus not to move around their papers and chairs, because we could hear a pin drop in the corner of the room. 

I looked at this, and instantly knew what it meant. 

It meant I had been doing the right thing. 

When I teach at Main Campus, both sets of students can see and hear the lecture, both with the powerpoint, and with a view of me actually teaching. They both get the material. The issue is convincing the Timbuktu Campus to participate, when they often have to speak up to be heard in the microphone over the duct when the AC is on.

However, when I have to teach at Timbuktu, only the Timbuktu students can hear and see the lecture. The Main Campus students have that pixelating screen, so even if the view was large enough for them all to see, they can’t see. They can’t hear me over the duct. 

in other words, I am contractually obligated to exclude a complete half of a class from half of the course, when I have a possibility of all the students being able to access the entire course for the entire time. When I pointed this out, the dean only repeated that I was “contractually obligated” to be in Timbuktu for half of the lecture meetings. 

How’s that for academia? 

May 22, 2012

Paper Snobbery

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:47 am by profart

OK, here’s the rankle of the day: what I call “paper snobbery.” People who get their undies in a twist because they have a piece of paper. It is seriously annoying. 


You know, maybe my view is rooted in being an adjunct so long, where the difference between having a master’s degree and having a PhD is about $50 a month in your paycheck, and you remain pond scum. Maybe its from watching other people bullshit their way through grad school, to be the faculty in departments that the students don’t want to get, while I sit here in my corner of adjunct-dom. But I truly find it annoying when someone puts forth their opinion of a situation as better than everyone else’s, and dismisses everyone else’s perspective- because they have a higher degree. Or even several. 


There is something innately arrogant in people who dismiss experience in favor of paper. If you have a piece of paper that says you have, say, a maser’s degree in something, that should say to me that you have certain skills and knowledge- specific knowledge on a specific subject, plus general skills in researching and communicating that can be used anywhere. If you display to me otherwise, I don’t give a damn about your piece of paper. You are still an ignorant idiot. 


After all, I have a double-major BA, two MAs, and a PhD. Heck, I have a PhD in art history; that doesn’t mean I’m an expert in Michelangelo. And most PhDs in art history know almost nothing about my own speciality in ancient arts of India. (Or llama herding. Whichever.) And it certainly doesn’t mean I’m a shining expert in, say, biology. 


There is a difference between people who have higher education and are able to use those skills constructively and generalize them to other fields and areas of life, and people who use their precious pieces of paper to lord over others and demean them. Paper snobbery can easily degenerate into paper bullying. 

And the big red annoying flag is when you’ve been a nasty, ugly snob to me for weeks, then had a sudden and dramatic attitude change when someone called me “Dr. Art” instead of “Ms. Art.” 

Really, really annoying. 

April 30, 2012

Life After Class

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:06 pm by profart

I have two beautiful weeks of break between spring semester and summer semester. Here’s what I plan to do once I get all those papers, discussions, and exams graded: 

Learn to crochet

Read a book

Pet the cat

Cook dinner for my kids

Take a nap

Weed the garden

Clean the house


What I will actually do: 

Completely redesign my summer class, because the publisher re-edited the textbook AGAIN. 


April 11, 2012

How about “No”? Is “no” good for you?

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:23 am by profart

I had a student request that I provide access to the final exam for an online class early. No emergency. They just wanted to take it early so they won’t have to take three exams in the same week. Now, remember that students have a full week to take their final exam. In traditional classes, you might even have to take three exams on the same day. So the answer is no. Unless you have an emergency and need to make arrangements around extenuating circumstances, the syllabus clearly states when the final exam is available. It is available during exam week. That is why is it called “exam week”– because that is the week when you may take the exam

So I emailed back with my polite but firm no:

The final exam is available only during exam week. You have the whole week to complete it, so you are welcome to complete it at the beginning or end as you please, but it is only available during exam week.

This was apparently not clear enough. I received an email that demanded to know why I would not permit students to take an exam early. 

Hint to the clueless: when a professor says no, it means no, and the discussion is over. Writing back demanding explanations of a standing policy, especially one made clear in the syllabus and email, is rude and childish. No matter how you put it, you are whining like a toddler asking for mom to buy him a toy in the checkout line. In fact, Richard Scarry had a term for this kind of behavior: the Driving People Crazy Pest. “When their parents tell them they can’t do something, these pests just keep pestering and saying, ‘Why? … Why can’t I?’ over and over again.” (Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank You Book, c.1973). 

So I sent back a clear, if slightly terse, reply that the answer was no, and if he needed further discussion, he should consult academic advising. My intent was to imply that perhaps he needed to learn a little more about being a college student, and how to not be a Driving People Crazy Pest to a professor. But oh, no, this wasn’t good enough.  Back the student emails again, claiming “confusion”- should he ask permission of academic advising? 


What has happened in the world when grown people do not understand the concept that no means no, and the person saying no has no obligation to explain their stated policies?


But I already know how this will play out. I will get a nasty comment about how I am rude and nasty and not flexible with students in my student evals. I will probably get reamed out by my department chair, and maybe even the dean. As an adjunct, I risk losing my job, because this student has no concept of professionalism and propriety, and is acting like a spoiled brat, instead of learning to respect the policies they agreed to when they continued in the course, putting on their big-kid pants, and getting their act together to take their exams during the designated exam week. 


Seriously, student- you have a whole week. You are in college. Leave the whining to the preschoolers. 




March 10, 2012

Getting my Snark On.

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 8:06 pm by profart

I think I may buy a really wonderful hat, walk into class, and announce that it is my “Snark Hat.” When I put on my “Snark Hat”, I am no longer Prof Art, I am Womba from Ivanhoe, here to make merry at the expense of my wise students. After all, I gave my students a TAKE HOME, OPEN-BOOK midterm with an in-class review, and they had a WHOLE WEEK to take it.

Some advice:

1. When you have an open-book exam, try opening your book.
2. It is NEVER OK to cut and paste from Wikipedia. Ever. This includes your exam.
3. If you are going to cheat and copy each other’s short answers and essays, at least give me the courtesy of writing GOOD answers or essays.
4. Thou Shalt Proofread, or Thou Shalt Become Blog Fodder.
5. Even my fourth grader knows an “essay” is more than three sentences- in fact, he knows it is more than one paragraph. He also knows what a paragraph is.

Seriously. How do you flunk a take-home, open-book, week-long exam?


October 14, 2011

Accommodation and Evaluation: The Case Of Elizabeth Snyder

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:20 pm by profart

If you haven’t been following, Elizabeth Snyder is the professor who sent an email to a student with a stutter, trying to offer him an alternative to verbal participation because she apparently was having trouble getting in time to lecture and to allow other students to participate in discussion.

Reading the comments that follow any of the articles about Ms. Snyder and Mr. Garber (the student) is an exercise in raising my blood pressure. Some scream that Mr. Garber needs to shut up and realize other students have rights, that he shouldn’t be concerned about writing his questions down (the suggestion made by Ms. Snyder), that he should understand his limitations, etc. etc. etc. On the other side are the folks screaming for Ms. Snyder to be fired for insensitivity and disregard for Mr. Garber’s rights.

And they are both disgustingly wrong. Blood-boilingly wrong.

Both of the people in this situation have rights. Mr. Garber’s classmates need to learn to appreciate his participation and learn patience with his disability, to be encouraging and supportive. From the articles I have, I am assuming in this that Mr. Garber is not the type of student who uses “questions and discussion” as an excuse to wander off-task or derail a lecture. He simply takes longer to express himself verbally. That should be respected.

In order to do that, you have to know how to accommodate a student who may have a severe communication disability, such as a stutter or a processing issue. Most professors have no training in disability accommodation. If a professor wants training, they must actively seek it, which I fully recommend they do. But as an adjunct, Ms. Snyder likely had little access to such training. People outside the disability community have no sense of it, or familiarity with the resources and issues connected with it; understanding that you have to go knock on your disability coordinator’s door in order to get proper basic training in disability accommodation, an then go knock again each semester to discuss your students with specific disabilities, is just outside the realm of experience and reality to most people. Any screaming “she should have known!” are not most people- as clearly shown by the vociferous chorus of people calling for her termination.

Ms. Snyder is an adjunct. For many people that means “part-time.” We don’t know how many classes Ms. Snyder is teaching. Most adjuncts in this day and age actually teach full courseloads; sometimes more, if they teach at more than one institution. They usually are paid about half what a “full-time” professor makes. It used to be that they would come in, teach and leave; but as institutions depend more heavily on cheap adjunct labor, adjuncts are being asked to take on other duties of full-timers: advising, curriculum development, faculty meetings and governance, etc. The least colleges can do is offer appropriate training to these overworked and underpaid members of their faculty.

However, this would assume the administration is aware of the issues of disability rights and accommodation. Often, they are just as clueless, just as outside of the community as the majority of the world. They have to be clued in, and that can be a sticky row to hoe- a fine line between suggestion and criticism. Why must politics pervade everything? Ah, the joys of the social animal- we must be careful not to tread on toes as we assert ourselves, because if you call too many people out too harshly, far more people get up that defensive back and then fall into the two camps of this case: blaming the professor or blaming the student.

The facts appear to be that Ms. Snyder had a large class with other students to consider along with Mr. Garber, but had no training or plan for how to do that. I have some suggestions, but I recommend anyone and everyone with a student in your class who requires accommodation to march straight over to the disability resource person and have a sit-down with your student to find out what is needful and appropriate.

My first suggestion is to put support material and discussion online. Most colleges have online resources these days, and having modules to follow your lecture material is a great idea for our increasingly computer-savvy and web-familiar student body. Students who are not familiar with forums, discussion/message boards, blogs, etc. probably need to add that to their education, anyway. Using online discussion supplements your classroom and allows for more thought-out responses to questions, while allowing you to add in questions and remarks that may have been eliminated from class due to time constraints.

Second, there are many things we are teaching in our classrooms besides the subject of our courses. Patience and compassion are among them. Speak to your accommodation-requiring student about how to address the rest of the class and encourage classmates to be supportive and patient. Be sure other students who may be unfamiliar with disabilities, or frustrated with disabled students and what they see as “advantages” instead of accommodations, get the support and education they need to handle the situation and cope. People will be encountering people with disabilities all their lives. Here is a chance to help them learn to interact appropriately!

Third, if accommodation is viewed as disruptive or time-consuming, make sure your other students are supported with extra office hour availability, online access, and given equal access to class time. You may find that putting the whole lecture online, and saving classtime for discussion, may be the way to go with a certain group of students; another group may prefer the online discussion, and live lecture. Being flexible about material delivery is increasingly important, as the goals of education shift to being more concerned about student success and actual learning, rather than simple presentation. If you are not afraid to deflect and re-direct a student without a disability, you should not have to fear to do so with someone with a disability- “let’s give someone else a chance, too!” and call on students specifically. Make it clear from the syllabus that you want to hear from every voice, every day.

No, it isn’t easy. Yes, there are fine lines to walk here. Villifying student or teacher in this situation is utterly inappropriate. Yes, the professor is in the role of power and therefore bears more responsibility for appropriate action. Yes, we professors, even as adjuncts, must currently be proactive in making sure we are prepared and trained. This situation should be a wake-up call for college administrations everywhere, to be sure all staff are equipped to accommodate. It should not be a call to fire Ms. Snyder or put down Mr. Garber in any way.

July 17, 2011

You’re kidding, right?

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:58 am by profart

From a student:

Dear Profart:
Why was my grade on last week’s quiz so low?

Thanks, Student

Dear Student:
Your grade was low because you answered the questions with incorrect information. Please see the feedback section when you turn in a quiz for pointers to the correct answers, as well as the correct answers listed (still available via the online gradebook, for your convenience).


May 31, 2011

The Syllabus Is a BIG CLUE.

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:00 am by profart

If your professor puts something in the syllabus, they are serious. Don’t email the professor saying something like, “I know this is in the syllabus, but…” because it is a HUGE red flag that says you are a problem student with a serious reading comprehension issue.

If you professor tells you that you must have the textbook by the start of class, don’t email the professor complaining you don’t have a textbook. Go to the library or order it from Amazon.

If the professor has written in the syllabus that work is due on Monday, do not email them asking if it is OK to turn stuff in on Tuesday. If you have a problem with Mondays, try scheduling your time to turn it in on Sunday. Or Saturday. Or whatever earlier day is good for you.

If your professor states in the syllabus that the exam is only available between this date and that date, don’t email the professor saying you are going on vacation that week and can you take it the next week?

Seriously. It is in the syllabus. If you are taking the class, you agree to follow what the syllabus says, just as the professor does. Unless you have a serious emergency, there’s your answer.

May 9, 2011

Watching Them Learn

Posted in miscellaneous other matters, Semester endcap, teaching revelations at 2:22 am by profart

I love grading discussion boards. I have a little trick for making them uber-successful, even those it KILLS my eval scores:

1. I make them post at least twice.
2. I require one of the posts to be up by mid-week.

In other words, I force discussion. However, this also means they get more learning out of it, because they have to process enough to respond to classmates and what they have to say. Some even make a good conversation out of it.

You get to watch people learn.

To be honest, there is rarely anything new being said on those boards. I am teaching basic-intro classes, over and over and over. The discussion questions are the same ones I asked last semester’s students to ponder. And the students before that. And the students before that.

Because you know what? These are all new students. They have never thought about art this was before. They have never considered the idea of a portrait creating presence before. They have never thought about architecture as controlling your experience of space before. For each group of students, this is all new. And even as they come up with many of the same answers to those same questions, for them it is new answers and new thinking.

Is it any less wonderful to watch your last child walk and talk than to watch your first? For me, not a chance. It remains a miracle of wonder.

Perhaps that is why I love teaching those base-intro courses: I still love getting students interested and excited. Or at least giving them something new to think about, if they so choose.

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