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?