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.

February 27, 2011

What My Professors Really Taught Me

Posted in miscellaneous other matters, teaching revelations at 8:19 pm by profart

Now that I am teaching, I keep in mind what it was like to be a student; and I find I have learned many valuable lessons about teaching simply by being in successful- and unsuccessful- classrooms. When I think about the world of academia as a whole learning process, I remind myself that my students are at the beginning of that process, and I am in the middle. Not at the end. PhD and all.

Most of the important lessons I learned about teaching were from my professors:

If you want real students, give them real challenges. Students rise to challenge. I had a professor who tested on anything and everything covered- if it was in your book, if it was even briefly mentioned in class (whether it was in the books or articles or not), it might appear in that exam. As students, we often bemoaned the hours in the library digging up items that weren’t in our books, but we learned how to do it. How do you start with a photo, and end up with full identification of an object? How do you track things and information down? (And this was before Google!)

If you want students to meet a challenge, make sure give them the tools to do it. That same teacher had a little corner in the library where she had a box. If you paid attention to the syllabus and went to that box, you found photos of every single thing she mentioned in class or was in any book or article you read for her. Every. Single. Thing. So at least you had a place to start to track it down.

Be holistic. When you are teaching students to think, analyze, and communicate, don’t over-emphasize any one of those elements at the expense of another. Don’t ignore one just because a student excels at another. Work to have your students present with a whole package- that’s education. You have to think to analyze. You have to analyze to understand. You have to be able to communicate those thoughts to be taken seriously in the world. All three are skills that can be taught.

Be present. There is nothing more frustrating to a student than actually having a question, and not being able to find the professor. In this day and age, there is no excuse for it. Email is open 24 hours a day.

Share. Why is research considered so important to Universities and to academia? It gives you something new to share with your students, new perspectives for you and for them to explore. Any student can read a book. They’re college students, after all. They are paying your salary to get you in front of them, to have you share your perspective and knowledge and understanding, and train them to do the same.

Even as a hired gun, these ideas are important to teaching, and getting real education to the students in front of you. Teach them to give and meet challenges, look at the world as a whole, be truly present and truly experience the world, and share that experience with others.

We only have one lifetime, and it seems it is never as long as we think it should be. Unless we become educated and alive, we risk missing that lifetime. And what would it really mean, if we don’t bother to pass it on?

April 23, 2010

A Solid College Try.

Posted in miscellaneous other matters at 12:06 pm by profart

Well, folks, this is it- today I have an interview that may (or may not) lead me from the adjunct world into the world of real employment of an academic nature. How exciting is this? (You are missing me bouncing about going *woo-hoo!* like Daffy Duck). See, to be at the interview stage is a huge huge deal. This is the first full-time position to open up in my field in this area in a long long while, and this is a big area. They had to be swamped with applications… and Im in the top five. Not bad for someone who’s been adjuncting as long as I have, without publishing (except a few small reviews and a few conference papers here and there). The question they have asked us to speak about today in our teaching sample is pretty specific and unusual, so I suspect they already have someone in mind- perhaps a long time adjunct of their own- but I’m still pretty happy. Perhaps I will head over there and really blow them away. Wouldn’t that rock?

I haven’t been actually idle in these last years, either. I have become an expert in specific disabilities and disability law, therapy, school policy, and education in order to advocate for my kid, and that’s been nearly a full-time job in and of itself. What do I have to show for it? A child who talks. That’s no small potatoes.

So here I go. May the guidance of Leonardo get me up there, and Ganesha open all the doors.

April 20, 2010

Grade Inflation: I’m a-g’in’ it. (I’m also a-g’in student torture).

Posted in miscellaneous other matters, teaching revelations tagged at 2:52 pm by profart

What is grade inflation about? It is about avoiding our jobs: to teach students. Don’t do it. Stand up against colleges and universities that work to support grade inflation rather than focus on student evaluation and teaching, ESPECIALLY in core or basic requirement courses.

The teacher in this article was, in my opinion, slightly extreme. Note the slightly. I think making a multiple-choice quiz with ten choices is not a good choice of testing format, and it significantly and purposely daunting to beginning students. But daily quizzes? I have no trouble with that. And if you put it in the syllabus that you are going to have daily quizzes, then kids have no right to complain when they get quizzes every day on material they should know. On the other hand, I don’t know what standards the professor was using, what questions were being asked, and how much detail the professor was expecting, which may have justified removal from the class. There is a difference between evaluation and torture, and I do not believe in torturing students.

I do, however, believe in teaching them. Yes, teaching material that is of little interest to a student when they initially walk through your door is a challenge. It is part of the great challenge of teaching- that makes it fun. If it isn’t fun for you… um, get out of teaching. Lots of other things to do in life.

Teaching is about meeting the challenge of getting students what they need and making it relevant to them. Even the best of teachers are not successful with every single student that walks through their doors. That would be a bloody miracle. Making education accessible is our job; there does come a point when the student has the responsibility to actually access it. Making it scary is not making it accessible; on the other hand, you have to evaluate students in order to help them.

Evaluation is a tool, both for the student and for the educator- a tool to evaluate progress and intellectual development. Not a tool to force students out of a class… a tool to track development, and act as a warning to help me, as the educator, adjust my delivery and explanations to fit the needs of my students.

But I don’t like it being my fault if none of them are bothering to do any work. Which, unfortunately, does happen. For some groups, material being relevant to them is beside the point to them.

February 26, 2010

And sometimes I do something right (for a change)

Posted in Helpful Hints, miscellaneous other matters, student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:22 am by profart

With the increasing crush of posts and emails to the effect of “this class has so much information, how can I learn it all this week, in time for the midterm???” I get this time of year- increasing not only with the flow of the semester itself, but in comparison year to year- I decided to put my butt in gear and do something. After all, I teach intro classes. My students are about 40-60% first-years, and some of my non-first-years are only that by technicality (in reality, their “first year” was 20 years ago, and they are back for another round of college in order to finally finish/get a new degree/change careers/etc). The idea of “study skills” is either non-existant, forgotten, or not internalized for whatever reason. The result is a lot of students with few or no tools for independently learning and analyzing material. In other words, they have no clue what to do with the elephant on their plate, and don’t even know what a fork is.

So, as I said, I put my butt in gear, and put together a new tutorial module, “How to Study.” I included some basics on studying techniques, note-taking, and the all-important flashcards and timelines, so useful for beginning art history students. I put in some weblinks to cool sites about all these topics, posted it, and held my breath.

So far, I have sixteen thank-you emails, four thank-you posts, and a instant ebb of the “How do I do this???” messages. Holy frijoles, I might have actually helped somebody and taught them something.

I mean, something actually useful.

October 12, 2009

The Adjunct Shuffle

Posted in miscellaneous other matters tagged , , , at 1:03 pm by profart

One of the most annoying things about being an adjunct is being treated like pond scum. When registration approaches, regular faculty have an idea that they will 1. have jobs and 2. will teach x number of classes. As an adjunct, you are at the mercy of whomever is running the department.

Now, most college I teach for are very polite about it. You hear from them by the end of October for spring classes, and by about mid-February for summer and fall schedules. You say yay or nay, and they can plan accordingly, before registration begins. If you haven’t heard from them, they don’t have classes for you. You then start to plan accordingly.

For some reason, one of the colleges I work for has hired a person who seems completely unfamiliar with this idea. Registration comes and goes, and suddenly they are scrambling to cover the classes they have students signed up for. On top of that, we now have 3 campuses to cover (technically 4, but the one campus has been turned over to a single program, so we don’t teach there anymore). Our new person called a big meeting, and two of the three adjuncts turned up, and we made it very clear: the one adjunct covers the campus in the west, the one not there usually was given the east, and I took both east and online. Very simple. Don’t assign me west, don’t assign Ms. West to the east.

This past semester, we were still scrambling a week ahead of classes, so I agreed to take an extra class virtually (that’s through the fancy TV sets). It has been a challenge, but I have a good many of the kinks worked out, and am well on the way to finishing the kink-settling as much as one can in a given semester.

This time, I got the email with the classes (yay!) and was offered the online sections (yay!) and one in the west. That would be an hour and forty minute drive. Um… no. Why they are even trying to offer the day class out there I have no idea, the reason we never had before was because Ms. West has a day job and can’t do day classes, which we also told out new Fearless Leader at the big meeting. Yes, way to show respect to your adjuncts by listening to them, right?

My suggestion was to do what we are doing now, offer the class split with the east, and then connect virtually to the west. We’ll see how that goes.

October 3, 2009

Syllabus Insanity

Posted in miscellaneous other matters tagged , , , , , , , at 2:45 am by profart

As you may know, my syllabus is completely out of control. It is up to 11 frickin’ pages. The college I’m working for insists that certain sections be included, even if the information is included somewhere else. The latest addition was a “Dates to Remember” section. Even though I carefully list every due date with the description of the assignment, I now have to have a section with every “important date” listed. When I first saw this requirement, I thought I was already meeting it by listing the add/drop, withdrawal, and exam dates on every page in the footer, and the list of things to be included in the final grade (also now required). But no. I was tongue-lashed by the instructional secretary and sent to syllabus purgatory, where I had to write the section required and insert it after the semester had begun.

I have to list every assignment, plus the instructions for the assignment, in detail. I have to include the description of the course quoted from the college catalogue. I have to list a clear and specific attendance policy. I have to include a paragraph about the disability center, which I have always done anyway. I must include a clear academic honesty policy.

Then I have to have certain things synched with every other professor who teaches the intro classes throughout the college. I don’t have to do this at any other college I have ever taught for, but whatever. Who needs control over their own classes, anyway? I was shocked to find, however, that despite the clear description of what time periods begin and end each section of the intro, one of the other profs was going way beyond where the first half was supposed to stop, because they were very into modern and contemporary stuff and wanted to spend more time on that in the second half. Never mind the description for the course catalogue which clearly states what general material the class is supposed to cover.

Eleven pages, people. The class I just took over at the local four-year school? Her syllabus was two pages. Just like I told you about, the way I remember syllabi being. Student knew they were expected to be in class. The assignments were listed, but everybody knew specifics came later.

Now, there is apparently a move to included a standardized grading standard, to be included in the syllabus. I have wishful thinking that this just means I have to list the grading scale, which I already do, but I have a bad feeling about this. I have never, ever had to put in my syllabus specifics about how each and every assignment is graded. If I grade holistically, and someone else grades substractively, and a third grades additively, we are not going to agree about how to assess students. It is a basic difference in pedagogical philosophies. It would be like asking Jews and Muslims to agree on religion, and now write it all down and nice and clear for everyone.

Part of being in college is experiencing different ways of doing things. Different ways of grading and assessment are part of that. When you go out in the workplace, bosses aren’t standardized. They all have their ways of assessing you, providing feedback, and setting goals. They have different ideas of how the same job is to be done. Some under-manage you, some micro-manage you, and you have to go with the flow and learn these different styles and philosophies.

These kinds of standardization may look good to students- hey, I know what to expect from class to class!- but I find it is not to their advantage. Slackers tend to figure out how to work the system, and with a single system, it makes it easier to work it. Teachers with differing philosophies than the one selected for the “standard” either go teach elsewhere, or squeeze their own standards into the standardized frame, so that students think they know what is expected, and in fact find that “interpretation” can vary. Besides, micro-managing professors? We’re not children, thanks.

I have the feeling I now have a 13-page syllabus. Plus the lecture outline.

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.

January 20, 2009

Thou Shalt Teach

Posted in miscellaneous other matters, teaching revelations, Uncategorized tagged , , at 12:00 am by profart

Tuesday is the inauguration. They only happen every four years, and this one seems to be a particularly big deal. I will be watching it Tuesday night, off my DVR. Tuesday at 11 am, I teach. 

You see, students pay to take college classes. Well, someone pays for them to. So they have the right to have those classes taught. In order to allow my class to watch the inauguration, I had to have permission from every single one of them to basically cancel class so we could go watch it. I was planning to discuss it Thursday- the wonderful visual vocabulary of presidential pageantry! What an opportunity! But the message has been made crystal clear: Normal Class Shall Be Taught, Unless All Students Agree Otherwise. 

Of course, I have a student who does not want anything to do with the inauguration. Actually, three. So DVR it is. But I’m a little miffed that I don’t have control over my own class. It’s a wasted teaching moment.

August 28, 2008

What is the big deal?

Posted in miscellaneous other matters tagged , , , , , , , , , at 12:07 pm by profart

The complete ignorance of art history and political imagery in this country is rearing its ugly head. The discussion of the neo-Classical stage set for Obama’s speech is both interesting and depressing. 

The man is running for the White House. The set references the White House. What is the big deal? 

This country began its artistic roots in the neoclassical- the style hugely popular in the 18th century and referencing the power imagery of Rome and the Classical world. It was used all over this nation’s capital, including the Capitol Building itself and the White House.

The neoclassical facade of the White House.

The neoclassical facade of the White House.


The neoclassical facade of the Capitol.

The neoclassical facade of the Capitol.




The stage set uses Doric-style columns, which communicate more strength an solidity than the elegant Ionics used on the White House itself. They are also simpler than the Corinthian columns of the Capitol (though Doric pilasters can be seen on the lower and upper levels). 

The format of the stage follows the Pergamon “altar”, which was probably actually a war memorial, and is Hellenistic. 

Western power imagery is usually laden with Classical imagery and visual vocabulary. I find it fabulous that Obama’s campaign is showing its cultural knowledge and understanding by using these Classical elements in their own power imagery. Politics is all about power. Of course it will reference Rome. People who laugh are only revealing their own ignorance. 

Perhaps they ought to take a class in art history.