Thursday, September 3, 2015

Valuing teaching...and teacher effort expectations

Yesterday another faculty member took on the role and responsibilities of department chair.  This is quite exciting for a variety of reasons, but one of them that comes to mind is that I get to experience things anew.  "Training" a new department chair, even though my colleague and I report to them, provides an opportunity to explain to someone new what the operating rules of the university are, from HR and Procurement to new staff hiring.  It's also a great opportunity to really problematize current policies and ways of doing things at the university. Reading Audrey Watters' keynote from #DigPed also contributed (a lot) I think to this mental gear churning.

The thing that perturbed me these past few days has to do with teaching, and the increasing 'accountability' that instructors, teachers, and professors are expected to have in this new working environment.  The problem, however, as I see it is that no one is connecting the dots.  One of these HUGE dots in my mind is the amount of effort faculty are expected to exhert in any one given course.  The way that I could people's expected effort is by the amount of hours people are paid to do a specific task. The more difficult or complicated a task the more time you expect someone to spend on it.  It also means that individuals with higher qualifications are higher and paid better for their work.

At my university a lecturer's FTE status is determined by the amount of courses taught.  Each course counts for 25% FTE, therefore 4 courses per semester is considered to be full time employment.  That said, I don't think I really spent a lot of time problematizing what 1 course  25% FTE really means, but it was right there, in front of me, in an HR timesheet that we were explaining to our new department chair. One course, meaning 25% FTE means that you are paid for spending 10 hours per week on that one course.  This to me seemed rather low in terms instructor hours spent on a course. I was actually thinking back to this past summer, where I taught the Introduction to Instructional Design course for the first time, and I was spending something like 16 hours per week on the course between prep, keeping an eye on forums, being the devil's advocate, providing feedback for each student on both reflective writing and their semester project, and troubleshooting. And all this while running an asynchronous course (synchronous sessions would have added to the hours I spent on the course).

Now, even assuming that I am some sort of crazy online professor who likes to spend time in Blackboard and stretching the minds of his students, what if I were on-campus? What if there were no technology component?  Would 10 hours per week be enough?  I don't think so.

In a week's time 3 hours would be spent in class lecturing or conducting laboratory sessions.  That leaves 7 hours.  Hmmm...Well...If I take at least 1 hour to prepare for each hour I am in the class, that means I have another 3 hours of preparation (if I don't want to totally wing it).  So that leaves 4 hours. Out of those 4 hours I need to have  a mandatory 2 hours of office hours per week.  So that leaves me 2 hours in the end for grading and providing feedback.  If I have 20 students in my class that means that I have 6 minutes of time per student to grade and provide feedback.  Errr...are you kidding me?!

Am I the only person who finds this patently ridiculous?   Now, people would most likely spend more time than 10 hours per week, per course, like I did, but that basically means that I am lowering the per-hour pay since I put in more hours than what I am compensated for.

I knew that teaching is not an activity that is promoted often at the university (grants and research seem to be the most rewarded things - just anecdotally speaking), but breaking it down to hours per week and doing a task analysis really underscores, to me, how undervalued teaching is in certain quarters of academia.  I do have to say that my university seems to pay non-tenured faculty pretty well per course, as compared to other university which don't even pay half of this, but at the same time, when thinking about fringe benefits and what you need to do to get them, it's clear to me that something radical needs to happen in academia - beyond unionization.  I think unionization is good, because people can at least get some protections; however what we need is an attitudinal change.  It shouldn't be alright to say that faculty are paid to spend 10 hours per week on a course of 15, 20, 30 or even 40 students. Students shouldn't stand for this either.

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