September 26, 2009

Young and academic

Posted in miscellaneous other matters tagged , , , , , , , , at 3:41 pm by profart

My little community college has grown by leaps and bounds, and has now opened a new “center”- four classrooms, a computer lab, and a group office with a front desk and restrooms. Its a lovely little satellite for folks in that area to be able to take classes.

I am used to group offices. After all, I’m an adjunct. In fact, I consider myself lucky to be permitted such a luxury as a group office. People who are not used to group offices, such as permanent faculty and new adjuncts, can be quite the adventure. Sometimes they are pains in the ass, such as the lady who couldn’t understand why I was meeting with a student in the group office- she seemed to think this was some kind of adjunct faculty lounge, not an office. Sorry, sweetie, group office means just that- its the office space we have. When enough of these PITAs accumulate in a single semester (which happens during budget cuts, when colleges do away with permanent positions in favor of cheap adjunct labor for teaching- we’re even cheaper than full-time contract labor!), you end up having to meet students in hallways and libraries. Not a good thing.

On the other side of the spectrum are folks who are just plain not used to group offices, but are trying to roll with it in good humor. After all, they have a permanent office somewhere else, or were clear that they wouldn’t be getting one, or are clearer on the concept of “center” instead of “campus” (ie, no one has an office in a satellite classroom location!) than PITAs. When you have a nice accumulation of these kinds of people (such as when a satellite is supported by the faculty and faculty are happy because they have less of a commute to the satellite than to campus), the group offices is something like a Greek Theatre, in the vein of an episode of Cheers. Folks walk in, and you know who’s there because hey, there’s only four classrooms, so there are only a certain umber of classes going on at a time, you can’t be in the office when you are teaching, and PITAs tend to only drift in when they need to make a copy of something.

So in our usual exchanges, I and another part-timer for the biology department were noting disappearing students, and the bio prof was noting that putting up materials on Blackboard was useless because none of her students were using them, and they were failing her tests because they included material from the stuff she had put up on Blackboard. And we laughed about how I put up the exam questions on Blackboard two weeks ahead of a test, harp on the fact they are there, and still get crappy essays. The New Adjunct from the English department is still getting used the group office thing, and she was nodding and smiling, I think more because she was unused to having to share space with two people who talk too much than in actual understanding of what we were talking about.

In walks Permanent Full-Time Tenured Professor, who is a stitch. He’s having student woes, too. We also discuss the technology woes of my virtual section (not the online sections- the section where I am teaching two places at once, via video). Bio Adjunct and I both note that with kids back into full-day school, and that means we can take on more classes and students, but really, its the night classes that have the best students; adult day students have a much less serious attitude towards the classes, and pondering if the connection with school being back in session is a factor (adults taking night classes often work, but you don’t hear them complaining about it like the day students do). However, having kids, we can’t take on as many night classes. With that, PF-TTP offers up that he doesn’t have to worry about that, because his kids are 35 and 38 years old. He heads out to class as we all laugh.

Then Bio Adjunct and I look at each other.

“Should we tell him we’re the same age as his kids?” I asked jokingly.
“Nah,” Bio Adjunct replies. “He doesn’t want to know. We’re just young and academic.”

And marginally employed.

September 23, 2009

Disappearing students

Posted in teaching revelations tagged , , , , , , , , at 2:38 am by profart

Each year, we are required to fill out some paperwork that asks us if students are attending classes. This has something to do with financial aid. As long as they have shown up at least once, they can’t be automatically dropped from the roster- but if they have not shown up at least once in the first two weeks (to the end of the drop period), then the registrar automatically pulls them. They don’t have to actually do any of the work, they just have to show up. For online classes, all they have to do is log in. In other words, I just need proof that they are aware they are registered for the class. By the time the paperwork is due, it is too early to tell if the student is going to hang around. We can also report them in this paperwork for “excessive absence”, but it is often due just after the first assignment. Basically, if they manage to turn in the first weekly assignment, I have nothing to report.

It is shocking how many kids disappear after that first assignment. Or how many suddenly “forget” how to access assignments. Or “forget” they have to participate in discussions. Retention in these classes is a serious problem. The nature of online classes means there is no-one standing in front of a student reminding them of what needs to be done. They have to prompt themselves to do their work.

I am considering putting out a weekly newsletter to my students. I thought I would include some discussion points, some new links as I find them, some pointers to any added material (ie, when I put up a new presentation), and a reminder that they have to participate and complete the weekly assignment. I would at least catch the folks who remember to check their email. Or am I just wasting my time?

September 11, 2009

The color! The color!

Posted in student mistakes, student stories tagged , , , at 4:12 am by profart

Recently there has been a huge increase in vague, empty writing coming from my students. In trying to follow certain writing formulas, student not only end up saying nothing at all, or not what they thought they were saying, but there is often complete disjoint between sentence parts; clauses don’t jibe. Paragraphs shift gears halfway through. Random things- I can’t say fact, because they aren’t usually accurate- are tossed into the middle of discussions. It’s weird. Very Dada.

In discussing Flemish art during the Renaissance, I often ask my students to consider a few issues: why did oil paint become important? What is the difference between humanism and secularism? What factors resulted in the differences in style between northern and southern Europe? What is “International Gothic Style”, and why is it considered a Renaissance style, not a Gothic one?

Remember, these kids have a textbook to read about this stuff. I provide external links to look at and read about these issues as well. Some of the responses are precious. Allow me to conflate some of the responses while preserving the flavor of the posts:

Medieval art had more of a religious focus, whereas Renaissance focused on realism and everyday life. Because of the shift from religion to humanism the art work changed and though its style was similar the term “renaissance” became to represent the focus more so than the style. The International Gothic style referred to the people of the 14-15 century with the thin pale skin. It was the end of the Middle Ages and would start the change for a new world. For this it is called the “REBIRTH”.

The Tres Riches Heures portrays the International Gothic style very well. It conveys a sense of comfortability. It captures a feeling a cold winter weather with the bare trees, the snow covered landscape, the dull gray skies/high horizon, the smoke from the chimney, the size of the trees and buildings compared to the people. The things get smaller towards the back of the picture in contrast of to the front of the photo. Also the top half consists of a calender device with a sun, and a zodiac symbols.

[Tres Riches Heures] is also an example of secularism.This can be inferred in the flaunting of jewels, tapestry, stone and sculptures. It focuses on the Dukes and their collection of these lavish items. All noble men and women and no inferences of religious symbols can be found but a large amount of vanity of the Dukes and others are abound. Unlike the opposite that you would find in a piece such as Unicorn is Found at the Fountain. There we find small suggestions of Christ within the unicorn and other woodland creatures representing symbols of faith, valor, mercy. This tapestry depicts the Resurrection of Christ in a different form and is a great reference to humanism while still representing the rich colors of this period.

Find yourself saying “huh???” and “What does that have to do with anything?” a lot? Imagine a whole message board full of this stuff.

This may be a long semester.