Monday, November 5, 2012

Big Data, Evaluations, Adjuncts, Money

Last week was pretty interesting, but between storms, workshops, and work (it's advising and registration time), I only got away with one initial blog post last week.  I did keep up with the discussion, thanks to a large part to the daily newsletter for #cfhe12.

As I was reading the various blog posts, this popped up to me: MOOCs and the Teaching Profession. I was really surpsised (I think my jaw dropped) when Rolin's acquaintance told him that he didn't think teaching was a profession.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised. In my area (as I am sure in others), K-12 is highly regulated, so much paperwork and documentation to be completed, I guess anyone pushing paper effectively was be seen as competent whethey they are or not.  K-12, however, is not my area of expertise, I know something here and there.  Higher Education I am more familiar with.

I guess, in a higher education context, I am still shocked to hear that teaching is not, by some, considered a profession, but I guess it's to be expected? Think about it, what are tenured professors hired to do?  If you said "teach" you're dead wrong†. Most faculty these days (at least in my own experiences in colleges and universities) seem to be research focus first, teaching second. Even at my university, where we are supposed to provide an accesible education (our "urban mission") faculty in my college are moving to officially teach 1 less course per semester in order to focus on research. Of course we won't be admitting fewer students, and we won't be hiring tenured faculty, so who is left? Adjuncts.

On the one hand, adjuncts are economically disadvatanged. Even though our university pays adjuncts well, compared to other institutions, thanks in part to our faculty's collective bargaining agreement, adjuncts are still underpaid. An adjunct is paid  about $4000 per course taught, and does not get medical or dental insurance unless they've been teaching a certain amount of courses over a certain period of time. For long term adjuncts, this may not be bad, but if there is a downturn, and you are hired semester by semester, you may end up losing your coverage for a semester while you rebound.

Our lecturers fare better, they can get 3 or 5 year contracts, and they generally teach 3-4 courses per semester. Their salaries don't reach the entry-level tenure track faculty, but it's closer than being and adjunct, and you get benefits. Generally lecturers do not have the requirements for research and service. Then of course you have tenure track professors with teaching, research and service requirements, but research seems to be the larger "leg: of the bar stool.

Just by luck, I also read Course Evaluations and External Biases on IHE. This brings me back to adjuncts. Course evaluations are our one official rubric for assessing adjuncts, so if students don't like someone, the adjunct can easily be let go. You could ask for adjuncts to provide some evidence of research, but when they are teaching 10-12 courses per year to make ends meet, there is little time for professional development. Using learning and teaching analytics can be another tool to use to evaluate the effectiveness of adjunct teaching, but what then? Will you use it only as a punitive tool to let "bad apples" go? Or will you use it as a carrot? A path toward a future with more equitable pay, job security, and peer recognition. What's interesting is that some academic department don't want adjuncts creating courses, only tenured faculty are allowed to create and revise courses, but it is those same faculty who are now teaching less, so how does this make sense?

This, sadly, brings me back to teaching as something that is now, or is in the process of, being deprofessionalized. If tenured faculty aren't fighting for the adjuncts; if tenured faculty don't treat adjuncts with peer respect by bringing them into the fold and giving them a voice in govenance and in course creation (courses they will be teaching!); then you have the same situation as in K-12, where some bureacrat creates the content, and masses of underpaid minions are asked to teach it as is, no questions asked.  Is this what education is? Is money making where education should be? How do we put this thing in reverse and get back on the right path?

† unless of course you are working in a community college, or a teaching focused school!
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