Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Formal education and social capital

You don't go to Harvard for the Education. You go to Harvard for the Connections!
- someone from my past (I don't remember who).

The other day a long-distance friend and colleague posted an interesting blog post pondering (or positing?) that Social and Cultural capital are the main problem in online education. A very engaging twitter thread and discussion ensued (which I am having trouble locating at the moment), but I thought I'd let the dust settle a bit and collect my thoughts on the matter first.  It is a little self-serving too because I wanted to get back into the habit of writing and this seemed like a good opportunity.  As I was thinking about where to start untangling this thread the quote at the beginning of this post came to mind†.

As I was thinking about this I interrogated some of my educational experiences, both undergraduate, and graduate, and free-range learning (like MOOCs).  Most of my education was residential in nature. Although I do prefer distance education‡ life circumstanced necessitated campus courses for most of my education♠ I am also leaving free-range learning aside. This sets the background for my views. So, what do my (totally anecdotal) experiences point to?  Social Capital♣ is not baked into higher education at all.  It may be the frosting on the Higher Education Cake, but it's not really an integral part of the experience. There are some courses, that required collaboration, cooperation, or some form of human-human communication certainly approached the topic tangentially♥ but large section courses and lecture courses did not.

So where does learning about social and cultural capital come from in the higher education environment? Extracurricular activities! Oddly enough I think I learned most of my face-to-face skills in this area during my MBA program.  There were a number of guest lectures and free workshops available throughout my MBA program that looked at this topic. It was also included in quite a few cases in managerial and HR courses♦ I took.  Now, do I remember most of my classmates that I had in class (in person, no less!).  Not really.  I remember the dozen or so people I worked on projects with, but thanks to LinkedIn I am reminded there were others too 😊. I do consider myself to be an introvert, so organized events and socials, like the ones my MBA program had, were not my favorite venue, but I attended some nevertheless because of the value associated with them.

This begs the question: who do I remember the most? The answer is people from my free-range learning, and people who I met online.  Social capital, for people that are at a distance, for me developed outside of the classroom, and not even as an extracurricular activity that was tied to the classroom.  University facilities did help◊ but ultimately those connections were made via trial and error, and the willingness to take a leap of faith and chat with total strangers⊕. What makes that leap of faith worth taking?  I suppose it depends on each individual. For me, it was finding people to chat in Greek.  For others, it seemed to be about soccer, or hockey, or super Mario or some other common interest.  The skills learned in these online experiences and online social circles translated directly to both formal distance education as well as free-range online learning. A bit tangentially, the benefit I saw of online vs. face-to-face was that I could easily lurk in online environments and jump in when I felt ready, whereas in face-to-face environments that's a bit awkward.

From my experiences, it seems to me that learning about and experiencing the accumulation of social capital, is a by-product of actual social experiences themselves. And, in order to have those social experiences, you need some other motivating subject (learning, language practice, keeping in touch, discussing the finer points of your favorite novels, etc.).  Curriculum (online or f2f) doesn't do that by itself.  The experience needs to be engineered in order for it to happen. So, I would say that social and cultural capital are not problems in the online learning environment.  It's a bit of an issue across all learning - but it's only an issue if you expect that to be an outcome (sort of like the nameless person who said what I quoted at the beginning).

Your thoughts?




Marginalia:
It's been said and heard many times, but the one that sticks out to me is the context of cost: You can get an equally good education at Harvard and at your local state university, but you go to Harvard for the connections that will potentially set you up for life. It's highly problematic if you think about it, and it becomes even more so with recent news of Epstein and his connection to universities (i.e., paying large amounts of money to be close to influential people and thinkers). Anyway, I digress.
why drive into campus, park, pay for parking, and deal with traffic when you can learn on the train?
tuition for campus courses was free (employee benefit) whereas online was not.
defined as "the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively." by the OED - didn't bother diving deeper into the sociological literature
Hey, we did have to work together after all!
As opposed to marketing, finance, IT/IS and accounting courses
I didn't have the internet at home at the time, but high-speed internet was available on-campus, so I spent a lot of time in the computer lab
Ah, the Yahoo! Chat days... brings back good memories

Thursday, August 29, 2019

A look back at this summer's PD - Part I: Conferences


Summer is usually the time for some professional development, after all during the academic year things are going at such a fast and furious pace that it doesn't leave much time (let alone brain/mind-space) to undertake much professional development.  This summer (because of "factors") professional development was not as easy going as it has been the past few years, so I needed to pick a time to do schedule in the PD rather than pick it up throughout the summer.  This year one of my big work projects was  to manage and lead an OSCQR review of my department's online courses.  I started out with a manageable goal of 10 courses (our core courses consisting of 80% of the required curriculum for all of our students), but once I saw that our I am our three fabulous summer student aides were cracking through those 10 courses in about half the time I had originally budgeted, I decided to utilize the resources that I had on had (three great reviewers) and add another 8 courses, for a total of 18 (or - to put it another way: 75% of our entire course catalog).  Because of this massive project I ended up bracketing my PD to a week in August, and a week in June.  Even though it was a bit more compact than previous years, I thought I'd reflect a bit on it, and perhaps reflect a bit on the OSCQR process.

In this blog post I will focus on the two conferences I attended in June: LINC at MIT, and the Mass College Online Conference.  Hat tip to John (@dbeloved) for letting me know of the LINC conference - something that was in my back yard, but I was totally oblivious to.  The Proceedings for the 2019 conference are not online yet (hopefully they will be soon) because I want to dive into the sessions that I missed.  In addition to this thing being local, one of the things that piqued my curiosity was that Peter Senge was presenting (of Firth Discipline fame).  He was one of the favorite people of some past professors I had in the instructional design program, so it was an opportunity to see them live.  Throughout the three days there were a number of very interesting talks (to many to even recall everyone - but names do pop out when I look at the schedule).  From this conference there are two things that are still vivid in my mind:

There seems to be a lot of talk about using technology platforms and MOOCs to teach ESL. As a language learning geek, and a MOOC person (yes, still am!) I find this fascinating.  I WANT to see it happen: language learning through massive online environments.  It is undeniable that English at this point has a massive advantage as being the world's lingua franca, and it's understandable that people want to use technology to teach ESL broadly.  But... what about using the expertise that we have, and the technology at our hands, to teach other languages?  For example why not a Greek MOOC†?  Or an Arabic MOOC? Or Algonquian (the language of the people who are native to Massachusetts prior to colonization)?  It seems like you can't walk a kilometer in Greece (or any other country in Europe for that matter) and not see an advertisement about learning English.  There are so many people that teach English, so why not use our technology and knowledge to promote other languages?

The other thing that stands out is the panel about Educating the Future of Work (see here for schedule) which had panelists from Microsoft, American Job Exchange, and San Jose – Evergreen Community College District.  One of the things that is often talked about are alternative credentials (and related to that micro-credentials).  Not that it was brought up in the panel (as far as I remember), but news (greatly exaggerated IMO) about companies doing away with the college degree as an entry credential to the job market have been making the rounds.  Taking these two threads an putting them together might make it sound like the days of the college degree are numbered.  However, I don't feel like we reached that conclusion with this panel.  A lot, from what I read into the discussion, seems to revolve around trust relationships.  A college degree, as vague as it may be when it comes down the the specifics, comes from a trusted source, whereas some letter vouching for your apprenticeship or micro-credentials (as they currently stand) do not.  Furthermore, there is a bit of an implicit bias favoring bigger college names.  So, someone who graduated from MIT (we liked to pick on MIT since they hosted  us 😜) would have an advantage over someone who graduates from a State college somewhere.  There is lots to unpack here I think, and lots of room for discussion. It's also such a multilevel/complex problem that I think we need constituents discussing this now just from higher education, but from government and private industry.

Anyway - some short reflections from the two conferences I attended this past June.  Your thoughts?




MARGINALIA:
† - MOOC here is just a placeholder. Fill it in with whatever open classroom you'd like.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Hey! This isn't what I signed up for!


In my last blog post I was responding to the academy that isn't - or, perhaps, as some comments indicated, the academy that never actually was.  This past week I was at MIT's LINC conference.  It was a good opportunity to attend (since it was local), listen into some interesting panel discussions, and meet some folks from all over the world doing interesting things.  It was also a good opportunity to connect with folks (via twitter mostly for me) to think about academia (and the role it has) from a systems point of view.  I was rather happy to have been there to see Peter Senge speak at the end of LINC 2019 as he is a systems person, and someone whose work was foundational in my instructional design learning.

Now, I wasn't really planning a follow up to my last post.  I sort of wrote it in order to contribute my 2-cents to the discussion, as a response to @Harmonygritz (George), and also point people to it when they ask me if I want to pursue a tenure-track job.  However, the topic of faculty not being prepared  to do what their schools ask them to do came up on twitter during my #mitlinc2019 posts (via @ksbourgault) and oddly enough when I returned home and checked the subreddit r/professors the following post was made by one of the users:

I got into academia because I love creating and sharing knowledge. As I sit here working through my day, I can't help but wonder how I turned into a website administrator and customer service agent. Next year I've been told I'm going to have administration/management duties I never wanted and won't be very good at. I used to be the kind of person that didn't work a day in their life because I loved what I did. Now...well...getting through the days require medication. God dammit. Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.

So, I thought - what the heck?  Why not write about this?  After all, some people tend to give you a strangle glance when you point out the problem but offer no solutions.  So,...here is my tenative solution, as imperfect as it may be.

As I mentioned in my previous post, a tenured (or tenure-track) professor job has three main responsibilities: Teaching, Research, and Service. I would say that here, at the "job description" level there is a problem. Faculty are not prepared for all of these things during their studies.  Faculty are only prepared for one thing in their doctoral studies.  That one thing is Research.

Educating credible, ethical, and competent researchers is the distinguishing characteristic of a doctoral program and that is what makes as doctoral program different from a master's program.  Some people may argue with me that this is specific to a "PhD" whereas an "EdD" is more applied in nature - but I respectfully disagree; I've written this in another blog post year ago, and I am sticking with it. The crux of my argument was this:  Both PhDs and EdDs need to be able to critically consume literature, critically produce research literature, and critically apply research literature.  If you can't do that, then there is a problem.

What you'll notice is that those three verbs (consume, produce, apply) do not include the verb "to teach".  This is something that, in my opinion, could be remedied at the doctoral education level.  It's also something that could be remedied at the hiring level.  K-12 teachers (and other professionals) are expected to complete a certain amount of hours in CPD (continuous professional development) every year to maintain their teaching license.  Why not tenure-track faculty?  My fellow instructional designers bemoan the fact that faculty rarely reach out to them for training, and no one attends the workshops that they spend a lot of time on preparing.  Well, I can tell you why (and I've told my colleagues this too):  This type of CPD is not something that is valued at an institutional level.  No one is forcing faculty members to attend CPD sessions and apply what they learn in their teaching. It's not something that faculty get 'brownie points' on their annual reviews for, and when push comes to shove and they need something to clear off their places, CPD is it.   In my proposal I would say that doctoral students should get their "starter pack" in instructional design and teaching while they are doing their doctoral studies, and then they continue with CPD at the workplace (and have it be required).  Simple.

But, hold on, let me get a little more granular here, because I think it's needed. My proposal doesn't just stop at mandatory CPD.  I would argue that - depending on the needs of the organisation - the job duties of the "professor" position should be malleable and negotiable every so often. What do I mean by this?  Well, I'd say that we should start off with two "starter" JDs (job descriptions), and for a lack of better terms I'll call them:
  • Researching Professor (RP)
  • Teaching Professor (TP)
The RP would spend 25% of their time teaching, and 75% of the time applying and getting grants, and researching and publishing.  The TP would spend 75% of their time teaching and 25% of their time researching and publishing.  Both positions would be compensated the same, would get the same prestige, and the same benefits, but there would be a difference in how they were evaluated.  A researcher would be mostly evaluated on the quality and volume of their published work, they would need to attend teaching CPD (although I think less than a TP), and they would be evaluated on their teaching, but we'd go "light" on them since this would be a part time responsibility on them.   The TP on the other hand would be required to have higher amounts of teaching & learning CPD for the year, given their teaching-first responsibilities, and conversely would be evaluated annually with more weight going to the teaching than the research output.  This is important because at the moment (from my own little microcosm) I see a lot of emphasis placed on research and publishing in tenure and promotion cases.  Knowing what "track" you've applied to, and what track you are in is extremely important in my proposed model.

Another key element here is the negotiability of the position.  How frequently this happens is up to the organizational needs.  But, let's say that I am hired into a TP-tenure-track position and after a few years of courses I really want to focus a bit on my research for the next year or two. Maybe I want to be 50-50 (teaching/research), maybe I want to be 25/75 (thus being moved into the RP structure).  This should be negotiable between the faculty member and the chair - keeping in mind the needs of the department as well as the needs of the individual.  Likewise, if I am in an RP-type of position but my department suddenly has a ton new students and needs me to teach more courses, I could negotiate to go into a TP-type position for a year or two with this new cohort of learners, and thus be evaluated mostly on my teaching.  The key thing here with evaluations is that we don't privilege teaching over research (and vice versa) when conducting annual evaluations (or even tenure/promotion evaluations).

But...wait!  You are asking me "what happened to service???"  Well... service is kind of a tricky subject, isn't it?  I would treat the service category as a category that would push a faculty member to the "exceed expectations" category of the annual job evaluation, and because of this consideration, the service category would potentially want merit pay (for a job well done, not just having it on paper). One reason for this is that lots of things could fall under service: such as: Organizing a conference, undertaking student advising, sitting on someone's thesis/dissertation committee, doing some marketing for the program or recruiting new students, serving on the library committee, or on the technology advisory board, etc. Because there is such variety in terms of service postings it's hard to say what faculty should or should not be part of. However, CPD and some method of evaluation should be part of these service decisions.

For example, when I was an undergraduate, meetings with my major advisor were short, he looked at my transcript, signed off on courses I wanted with very little dialog, even when I tried to engage about my interests in computer science and future goals I'd basically hear crickets, and that was about it. Except, when my GPA dipped and he advised me to change major - instead of figuring out why this was the case, where my areas of deficit were, and how to improve (I guess he was worried about departmental averages than retaining students in the STEM field...).  In the meantime (last 15 years) I've met faculty "advisors" from all across campus that "advise" students without even knowing the degree requirements for their own programs. This is just plain wrong. So, taking this as a use-case as an example, if your service advising I'd say that those faculty members should attend CPD to get informed (and test on) departmental, college, and university policies; get trained on degree requirements; know the costs of attending college; and getting to know people in other departments that support students (such as the writing center, the ADA center, and so on).

There are some service duties that faculty shouldn't be in charge of.  Marketing and recruitment being one of them (I am sure there are others too).  Faculty just don't have the skill set, and it's not really efficacious to have them obtain it.  There are positions on campus of people who do this type of thing.  If faculty want to switch careers, that's fine, but I do have an issue with faculty keeping their position as faculty while half-assing something (or worse, passing it onto staff...). Faculty can be part of these processes (of course), as experts in their own discipline and experts of their department, but really marketing and recruitment should reside elsewhere, not with faculty.

In the end, here are the guidelines for my NuFaculty setup:
  • Get rid of Tenured and Non-Tenured distinctions.  Everyone now becomes Tenure track with two possible starting points:  An RP and a TP. Having tenured and non-tenured tracks leads to discrimination and classism IMO. Just as there can be a lot of different types of professionals, there can be (and should be) a lot of different equal types of faculty.
  • Faculty get evaluated not on on a one-size-fits-all model, but rather based on their designated positions and through consultation with their department chairs
  • Faculty CPD is a requirement, especially for TP.  CPD factors into annual and tenure evaluations.
  • Positions are flexible based on the needs of the individuals and the needs of the department, but they need to be setup before the evaluation period begins (can't change horses in mid-stream...)
  • Faculty positions are 12 month positions, not 9 as they currently are now.  Yes, they accrue vacation time that they can take. As a 12-month employee they can decide when their "summers" are when they don't teach, so their period of teaching responsibility can be flexible, and this is a win-win both for faculty and the school.
  • Service isn't required for faculty positions, but highly encouraged.  To undertake service the appropriate service type needs to be matched with pre-existing skills.  CPD is available for those skills if faculty want to grow into that area, but you can't practice until you show some competency.  Depending on the department needs service can substitute for 25% of the research or teaching component with prior approval and for defined periods of time.
  • The incentive to sign up for service is merit pay.

Your thoughts?




Wednesday, May 29, 2019

This is not the academy you are looking for...

Have PhD...(source)
George Station had posted this article titled "The academy I dreamed of for 20 years no longer exists, and I am waking up" with the lead in of: Ellen Kirkpatrick has yearned for an academic career for many years. But 18 months after finally earning her doctorate, she is no longer sure she wants to remain in a sector defined by precarity, exploitation – and ‘quit lit’ 

George asked us (tried to bait us? 😏) to see what we think about it in his Fb posting, and I am surprised (given the circle of people George and I follow) that no one else jumped into the discussion.  I though I'd give it the old college try and write a blog post about it.  It is something that's been on my mind in the past couple of years. Once the coursework component of my EdD was done people started asking me what I plan to do after I earn my EdD.  I am still at the proposal stage (one of these days I'll write about it), but inching forward, so I guess the end will be near at some point - which makes the question quite salient: what's next? For the purposes of this piece a PhD and an EdD are the same (I've written elsewhere about the artificial distinction).

So, why a doctoral degree in the first place?
Any discussion about post-doctoral work (not PostDoc, but post-graduation employment) would have to start with the original motivation as to why one wants to pursue a doctoral degree in the first place.  It's a very good question! Everyone answering this has a different answer, and I would say that if your answer is "I want to become a professor," then you better have a Plan B!

For me it's the convergence of a few factors:
(1) Many people in my immediate circles saw the number of masters degrees I had earned and asked me (some jokingly, some not) when I'll finally go get a doctorate.  As if a college degree of any sort is something you can get (I'd say it's earned).  Still, I suspect that they saw it as my natural progression.  So one small reason to pursue it was to shush those (well meaning) folks up.  However, there is always another follow up question from the crowds once you read that doctorate: what's next?
(2) I wanted the credential for my own purposes. For better or for worse, a doctoral degree does open up some doors that those without a doctorate can't open.
(3) I wanted to learn from people in my field (and the people at the university I applied to are world renowned for that).
(4) Finally, a tenure-track job was a minor consideration, but factors 2 and 3 were the bigger ones in my decision-making process.  Having started my career in clerical-style work (could earn overtime, but had little autonomy) to holding down various professional jobs (lots of autonomy, no overtime), I thought that a potential jump to the professoriate could be a thing for me.  After all, I did like research, I liked teaching, and from teaching I liked mentoring those who were just entering the instructional design field. So, #4 has a little bit of #2 in it.   This rationale came before I really got entrenched in an academic department.

So, what do I think now?
I guess the questions never end, eh? Aren't you people happy? 😛 The same people who were asking me about when I would go get my doctoral degree are asking me what's next? Are you going to apply for faculty jobs?

The tl;dr answer is: No, I won't be applying for faculty jobs. If something comes my way - fine, maybe, but I won't pursue it.

Why?  Well, I've had time to think about it, and like the article, what I thought the academy was 20 years ago turns out to not be true (I started working at my institution a little over 20 years ago too!). I've basically distilled it to a few key points (from my own views and data gathered over the years).

1) Tenure is its own type of oppression - I know what you are thinking now: AK! What are you smoking?  Professors have a sweet deal!  They only teach (x-many) classes, they hold their own office hours, come and go as they want, and they have the entire summer off!  Jeez man! Who doesn't want that?  -- Well when I was an hourly employee I thought this too.  Even as a salaried employee who didn't have much contact with the ins and outs of tenure I thought so.  But having seen behind the curtain, the path to tenure (or promotion) doesn't seem very rosy.  The way that I would describe the tenure process is as one long probationary period. A probationary period where people should be mentored into the profession, but often seem not to be the case. In addition, there is the famous publish-or-perish aspect, which some institutions prescribe what and where is to be published (and how much), and some just look at the raw count of publications (and it's up to you to figure it all out, and hope that your eventual reviewers will approve of your choices). During this time period there is precarity in the profession, and you are royally screwed if you happen to be hired by a department (or university) with toxic personalities and non-supporting colleagues.  In my professional life I have never had such a protracted probationary period. Furthermore, I have always been paid for my time [faculty often work summers, even though their contracts as September-May]  and (generally) been asked to do things that I know how to do in order to prove my skills. This bring me to point #2:

2) Faculty are not (always) prepared for the work asked of them, and have no clear understanding of the system that they are a part of - This might range from teaching (although I think doctoral programs are getting better at preparing candidates for teaching) to meaningless committee work that doesn't match their skills, but that they nevertheless need in order to make it to tenure (or promotion).  There are many examples of this: from faculty who are placed on marketing and recruitment committees (universities have staff for that!) or chairs and directors who reluctantly do the work because someone has to do it, and it has to be faculty. Now, I do acknowledge that some people have the knack for this sort of work, some have the knowledge, and some have been conscientious enough to attend workshops, get feedback, and be the best [insert management title here] that they can be; and I've been lucky enough to have met and worked with some of those folks.  That said, the modern academy needs professionals in those positions; professionals who are not going to cycle through their term as [management title] and then a whole new group of younglings enter the [management title position] who ask the same questions of staff and need to be trained to do the work.  Yes, we collectively complain of administrative bloat, but we need to realize that we need to have the right hire(s) for the right job(s) and we need to realize that in the modern academy someone who is trained as a doctor in engineering, sociology, linguistics, mathematics, computer science...etc won't necessarily be the best manager, marketer, director, or curriculum specialist. This brings me to point #3

3) The faculty system, as a whole, is classist and the power dynamics are messed up. - There are many examples of this, and when I say system, I do mean system as a whole.  I've met many, many, fabulous faculty members who see staff (clerical, professional, librarian) and adjuncts (lecturers) as colleagues, and want to work together collaboratively for the benefit of the students.  I've also met raging idiots (to put it mildly) who look down upon their colleagues, whether those colleagues are staff members, part time adjuncts, full time lecturers, or just "junior" faculty who have not obtained tenure yet.  To be honest, any organization will have highs and lows, but as a system the tenure system both tacitly encourages such classist attitudes and at the same time provides the space and fertile ground for meaningless ego stroking. One example is  point #2, where faculty are asked to do stuff they have no skills or preparation in doing [simply because they see it as their job], but at the same time some faculty think they are the bees knees at that topic even when what they do is meaningless and/or badly done.

There is also a level of tone-deafness to the faculty system.  For example,  my campus recently had major parking cost issues. The short version goes like this: is that management is supposed to negotiate with unions across campus if they want to raise prices.  The faculty union on our campus broke away from the campus coalition of unions that negotiated this thing jointly in the hopes (?) that they would get a better deal than the rest of us.  At the same time, on another front, the Faculty Council (you know, joint governance and all) issued a statement encouraging faculty [tenured track, that is] to not come to campus on the days that they don't teach since the costs of parking are prohibitive.  However, in this resolution there was clearly no thought of the students (who might need to be here 3-5 days per week) or staff who usually have to be here all week.  Such unintentional or international classism is what I dislike about this whole system.  This brings me to point #4

4) There is more than enough fear to go around! -  Now granted, there will be some idiots is any work environment (as I said above), however I have a sneaking suspicion that much of what motivates faculty is fear. Fear can make us do some pretty bad things, and make us be pretty crappy people. Fear is an awful way to live one's life!   Now, what do I mean by fear?  I've seen countless examples over the last 15 years.   First, fear that if you don't publish enough, or of the type of work that people expect [but don't necessarily communicate to you] you will perish; but at the same time publishing requirements can be either opaque, so you don't know what you're being evaluated on; or they can be super specific and at a high bar making it hard to meet those requirements.  For example, last semester I was conversing with a colleague from the Classics department. Some of the high ranking Classics journals have a 2-year wait time! That's easily half your tenure-trial period!  In my field, one of the big name Open Access Journals has already met their quota for 2019 and they are not accepting any submissions past May 1st (so a month ago).  That is pressure if you are a tenure track faculty member.   Furthermore, lots of publishing guidelines include journals that are high impact and not Open Access.  If your philosophical positioning is that you want to publish OA and create valuable OER, these things won't necessarily count for tenure.  So, there is fear that you won't make tenure if you don't comply.  There is also fear that you won't reach full faculty rank.

So, between pre-tenure, and promotion, that's easily 15 years where you might keep your head down, say yes to whatever service comes your way, and smile and try to not make enemies that might derail your tenure or promotion down the road.  This fakeness and fake politeness is bad for the profession.  When you are on a committee, and the committee's charge is to evaluate courses that are coming up as new offerings, and you as a subject expert detect bad pedagogical design and are afraid or reluctant to say anything because of academic freedom (or a mistaken notion thereof), or are afraid to offer constructive critique because the person receiving your critique might make your life difficult in the future...then my friend there is a problem! Don't get me wrong, working with others can be a challenge at times (this is undisputed), but we should all expect a professional demeanor and expect that we are all working toward the common goal of improved teaching and learning outcomes for our learners.

This leads me to my last point about tenure...

5) Tenure is a trap! - Perhaps I am being a bit dramatic...but maybe not.   Tenure is a trap in my view.  Once you get tenure, or even once you get promoted to full Professor, you don't want to leave - regardless of the on-ground conditions.  You were successful in running the gauntlet.  You got a permanent job at your institution and you're set for life [errmmm...maybe].  After 5 (or 15) years of keeping your nose down you've made it. Now you can do what you really want, right?  Sure!  Or you might be resigned and bitter because of all those years.  But there are three caveats:

a) even tenure isn't a full-proof way of  guaranteeing that you get to keep you job long term.  If your institution folds (like many SLACs have in the New England area over the last two years), your job is on the chopping block.  If your department shuts down or gets absorbed, your job is on the line.  You say well sure AK, that only makes sense, right? True, and you could apply to other institutions for jobs. However, if you go to another institution chances are high that you will have to go through some tenure-track process again (argh!). Even if you do get hired with tenure, you might still not be at the same rank as before.  And, I'd venture to say that most people don't get hired with tenure; unless you're some sort of Chomsky-type and the institution is actively courting you

b) Tenure is like the Hotel California, once you get it at your institution, you can't easily move elsewhere.  Let's say life circumstances change and you need to move to another state for whatever reason - it's not like you can get hired again elsewhere with tenure - again, not unless you're some sort of Chomsky-type and the institution is actively courting you. If you aren't in the power position many people [appear to] treat you as if there is something wrong with you.  What is it?  Why did AK leave his tenured position at ___?  Was it a personality conflict? Was AK a total jerk? Do we want a total jerk at our university? Oh man, what if he's an axe murderer??? - as you can see a total rational decision to move can devolve into something ludicrous due to speculation and how people view the field. It's just beyond the comprehension of many in the field as to why anyone would leave a tenured position! As an hourly or salaried employee I've never had to deal with this type of catch-22.  I've always felt that if the job doesn't suit me anymore, or want to try my hand at something different, I can look for, and apply, for another job without fearing that my good standing at my current job will be twisted into some sort of what's wrong with him?

c) Finally, What if you don't get tenure?  If you leave before you obtain tenure, or are flatly denied tenure (for whatever reason, a real deficiency or just campus politics), I get the sense that you just get a scarlet letter on you and other institutions don't want to take the a risk on you, especially with such an oversupply of doctoral graduates in the market.  Same as part (b) above, but I think worse.

Tenure, as a system, was meant to incentivize honest opinions, feedback, and true academic freedom, but it's become a place where all those things go to die - because of...fear. This fear is perpetuated and amplified when one considers the precarity of adjuncts, not just how poorly pair they are for their academic labor, but also how far they are from actual job security.  The tenure system, as it exists, pits person against person in this academic fight club. This is plainly wrong.

The wrap: Pay & Job Security
So... where does this leave me personally?  Well, I tend to think practically and pragmatically about job decisions. After all, there are bills to pay. At the moment I think I have a fair amount of job security, broadly speaking, because I've done a variety of jobs in the past, and I have the skills to go to a variety of places and fill a variety of positions if need be. I personally don't want to join the tenure track system where there is a loss of nominal job security until you get tenure, and I certainly don't want to join the precarity of adjuncthood.  But...what if there were a monetary incentive to do so? What if they pay was high enough as to defray the costs of such precarity and fear?  That's where I needed some data.  So...I headed to the 2019 AAUP faculty compensation survey which game me some data.

According to the above data, the average pay public university Assistant Professor Salary is $84,062 [tenure track position] while the average pay for a public university Lecturer is $57,079.  Hmmm... The Professor salary may do it... the lecturer definitely does not.  What does the report say about my university specifically? Well, according to the report the average pay for an Assistant Professor at my current university is:  $91,400, while the average pay for a Lecturer is $73,400. These are numbers that made me question reality for a moment. I know that we hired new faculty recently and none of them go anywhere near $91,000, or even $84,000 as assistant professors.  Hmmm...  So, I looked at the faculty union's contract, and lo and behold there are salary floors for the various ranks. The floor for a Lecturer (the starting rank for that position, there are two higher ranks that you can be elevated to through a tenure-like-review) is $52,000.  The floor for Assistant Professor is: $64,000. I know that the people who were hired as new assistant professors got a little better than the $64,000 floor, but there is a big chasm in my mind between the floor and the average reported institutionally in AAUP. I think that the reality is that most new incoming faculty (tenure track) are paid around $70,000 around here. 



Considering that faculty often work unpaid over the summer (if you want to make tenure, you use your summer to research and publish!), and also considering the classist attitudes of the tenure system - i.e., why isn't 1 FTE [lecturer] not the same in terms of pay as 1 FTE [tenure]? They are both 1 FTE and both have terminal degrees! -  My answer is a hard pass on pursuing tenure. Mostly on points 1, 3, and 4 above.  So, from a practical perspective, I'd venture to say that the pay provided does not defray the costs (monetary, mental, emotional, physical) of pursuing the tenure track. I think I would be better paid, and more impactful in student's lives as a staff member (as I am now), and not as a tenure-track faculty member.


Ultimately my big takeaway from the article was this:
I have no answers to these questions, yet. But I know this. I do not want to further the culture of precarity by relocating for a temporary position. I do not want to prop up the current academic publishing model, in which publishers take all of the profit and bear none of the risk. I do not want to teach so many hours that I cannot pursue my intellectual curiosity and creativity: the things that got me here in the first place. I do not want to nurture that nascent competitive twitch over my collaborative sensibilities. And I do not want to sacrifice my work-life balance and, it follows, my mental and physical health.

I couldn't agree more!


What do you think?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Learning and Certification - thoughts inspired by CC Cert


Over the few weeks and interesting discussion has been taking place over the Creative Commons Open Platform mailing list. The Creative Commons group has created, and is now offering, CC certification.  The certification consists of a 10-week online course with a traditional number of students in the cohort (around 20), and there is a cost associated with it ($500). I'll be honest, when I saw the cost I did an eyeroll (at no one in particular).  My initial reaction was that I too shared the sentiment that some people on the mailing list reacted to: I've been in the realm of CC for more than five years.  I have (or think I have) a solid understanding of CC.  Why does this thing cost $500.  The fact that Maha speaks highly of her experiences in the course did serve as a  means to get over my original reaction to it - which got me thinking...and which brought me back to another point that friends, colleagues, and I have discussed for a while:  the difference between learning and certification.

It is true that the price may be a bit prohibitive for some educators that need access to this training, however, as was pointed out in the discussion, the materials for the workshop are all available, for free, under CC (see here). So then, what is the issue? Since the material is free, there is nothing preventing me, or anyone else for that matter, to learn on our own, or form study groups around this particular topic and progress through at our own pace.  This isn't any different compared to how I actually learned about CC to begin with. So why the my eyeroll? I suspect that my own reaction was what Downes articulated in one of his emails, which basically is summarized like this: If there is now an official certificate, does this invalidate my own learning and expertise in the field if I don't have this certificate? Which for me basically boils down to an academic version of FOMO (at least for me, your mileage may vary).

Over the past 20 years of professional work I've come across a number of certifications that I felt like I needed to be taken seriously as a professional. There are many examples of this. When I was working in A/V I was actually a CTS. When I was in management I felt like PMP and Six Sigma certification was needed.  When I was working day-to-day in Instructional Design, I briefly courted the ideas of CPTCPLP, and CMALT.  And over the years I've come across training, similar in nature to the CC Certs, but for other topics.  Over the years I've also kept an eye out on job posting and the requirements for those posted jobs.  With a few exceptions, I didn't see any certifications required.  There were some notable exceptions - for example project management jobs either required or strongly preferred holders of the PMP cert, but by and large certifications were noticeably absent form job requirements.

This leads me to the conclusion that certification, while desirable as an acknowledgment of completion and and acknowledgement from some higher authority that you've mastered the content isn't necessarily required.  That FOMO experienced by not having a certificate is (as most FOMO is) misplaced.

What do you think?