04 August, 2015

A Baboon In An Ivory Tower (Or, The Gig Life, Part 2)

The beginning of August means one thing -- the academic year is about to start. And while I am still persona non grata at KCTCS -- Kentucky Cutthroats, Thieves, Cabbage-heads and Stinkbugs -- I do have some scheduled classes at the larger university down the street.  I'm going to be teaching and maintaining my newspaper gig... I'm happy doing both, like them both.

It's like dating two people except that neither one likes me enough to claim me exclusively.

Getting back in the classroom requires some prep. Each class has a blackboard module I am 
The game is: How the Hell Do I Turn in a Paper?
bound by expectation to use. It does cut down on the number of papers I carry around, since students turn things in online most of the time. It does simplify communications and makes handouts more accessible.  If the interface wasn't so non-intuitive and the overall design wasn't such a hold over from the 1980's movie Wargames,  I probably wouldn't hate it so much.

Some of my more experienced (READ: older) colleagues also hate Blackboard. Like me, they remember when teaching meant walking in with a syllabus and a piece of chalk -- yes, real chalk. We sometimes pine and talk about the days when teaching was as much a community building activity as it was an educational one. We talk about being able to circle up, talk about writing (in my case) and break down the conventional modules of institutional education that we matriculated through.

Then this funny thing happened. The conventional module of institutional education broke down.

From the time I accepted that technology would play some role in my role as teacher, I have looked tried to look at digital space as ... well... space. Students define it as a kind of space. After all a significant portion of their lives are spent in and out of digital space. The executive admins at colleges and universities see it as space, because they try to jam pack it as much as they can.  As a teacher, I have to see this ethereal space as a  kind of space where community occurs and where education can happen. My other option is to close myself off to the educational possibilities, not to mention closing myself out of potential work.

But this acceptance of digital space as educational space comes at a cost. A friend of mine recently told me an online class she is set to teach is capped at 35.*  That cap is brought to by greedy cutthroats, thieves, cabbage-heads and stinkbugs. Not only will that strain my friend, who is an excellent instructor, but it will negatively impact the educational experience of students.

Academic Deans, Provosts, and College/University Presidents who insist upon and create this kind of  institution do not care about the excessive and exploitative work loads they create or about the educational lives of students. They care about dollars. They care about the prestige of their own position. They care about how close they are to retirement so they get out of the education game and wax nostalgic about the days when paddling was an acceptable form of student crowd control.


I'm pretty excited about getting back into the classroom. There's work to be done.



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*Just to give you some background: the optimum class size for a writing class is 18. One teacher for 18 students provides the best teacher-student interaction in and outside of class.

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