Saturday, February 10, 2018

Student Evaluation of Teachers, Revisited

Good article for discussion:

https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2018/02/09/teaching-evaluations-are-often-used-confirm-worst-stereotypes-about-women-faculty?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=8d9385c100-DNU20180111&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-8d9385c100-198482621&mc_cid=8d9385c100&mc_eid=ab27a3f05f

As usual, the comments are as good as the article.

My position is that SETs should have objective questions about teaching behavior and minimize opportunities for students to comment on anything extraneous (like looks or tastes in clothes); should be used as formative assessment primarily (instructor can address concerns in annual evaluations and be expected to improve in specific areas); should never be used as primary evidence in tenure and promotion unless clearly problematic. In the last, if using a 5-point scale and the instructor never gets above 4, that is problematic.  But if an instructor routinely gets 4.3 and the mean  for the institution is 4.4, there should be investigation into why and other sources examined for tenure and promotion.

However, I can understand why an administrator would not tenure someone whose evals are consistently below institutional means.  It is likely that the faculty member will let the whole issue slide after tenure and it would be hard to get improvement out of them.  This is why I think, in general, we need a better system than tenure.  Most faculty I know do not totally relax after tenure, but it does happen. 

Academic Freedom or Just Bad Taste

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/02/09/instructor-suspended-using-n-word-class?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=8d9385c100-DNU20180111&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-8d9385c100-198482621&mc_cid=8d9385c100&mc_eid=ab27a3f05f

Link here is to article about an instructor uttering the "n" word in class because he lets students bring songs to class to play and they sing along and this song had the racial slur.  He is being disciplined.

1.  I would question the policy of letting them bring songs to class to play in the first place.  Is that of value to the class, or just pandering to the students?
2.  An instructor must maintain control in a class.  The students shouldn't be allowed to play songs with objectionable material.
3.  The instructor should not sing along.
4.  As to the word, well, I'm not going there.  I made the error of using that word in my first novel as an example of racism, said by a black person who was making a point.  It was problematic, so it came out in second edition.  I am a free speech advocate but also an advocate of civility, so there's no reason for anyone to use it. 
5.  White faculty should just know better.  I think this instructor showed bad judgment, but should not be fired for it, just told to change his teaching practices.  Where I teach, we don't have carte blanche to do anything in class--we have to actually convey content and assess learning. I guess not every college has gotten that memo.
6.  All that said, we have an egregious lack of due process any more in this country.  Incredible. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Adrian Monk and the Paradox of Mental Illness

My husband likes to watch the reruns of the TV show Monk.  In fact, they are on quite frequently at our house. The Randy Newman theme song is deeply imprinted on my soul.  It was clever and they are a good way to waste an hour after a debilitating day at work.

However, I have a lot of problems with Mr. Monk (or the writers) and you people are going to hear about them.  (to quote Mr. Costanza on Festivus day).

The main issue is the portrayal of his mental illness, which seems to be extreme OCD and anxiety.  First, he is called the "defective detective," which is about as insulting to people with mental illness as you can get. Second, the illness is played for laughs and scorn, not for compassion.  His friends have compassion, most of the time (OCD people can be frustrating) but the audience is given permission to laugh.  Third, his OCD is selective and only shows up when it helps the plot. Fourth, he doesn't take medication, because it changes his personality.  This is not always true and misrepresents medications and how they can help. 

Fifth, and what is most telling, is that he is a jerk with no compassion for anyone else.  Absolutely no empathy or concern, even for the people who care for him the most.  No social filters, just like Jack Nicholson's character in As Good as It Gets.

This pattern in Hollywood of portraying people with mental illness as jerks, and as jerks as people with mental illness, is particularly disturbing for me.  Just like Hollywood writers and producers and directors have proven they are incapable of understanding the psychological pain of sexually abused through their longstanding practice of it, and just like this same group is incapable of understanding many Americans reject their extreme leftist ideologies, Hollywood does not understand mental illness and rarely gets it right. It is a plot device; it is Oscar bait; these "characters" are irredeemable, they are stock; they are tropes, not people.   

On the subject of autism, I suggest this article: https://aeon.co/essays/the-intriguing-history-of-the-autism-diagnosis. 

I have done a good bit of research on autism (my brother and great nephew are on the spectrum, and the child of a colleague) and unless one deals with it in a close family member, one really doesn't "get it."  Yes, they, or should I say, their behaviors, can be incredibly frustrating, and there are many gradations and iterations of the "disorder" if it is such.  But their minds are not defective in the sense of being unable to function or learn.  They are advocating for themselves now, and we are seeing more and more in college (something academia is trying to ignore, trust me.)  I end with this quote from the article linked above:

Is there really an autism paradox? Or is this actually a paradox of human difference, and of what it means to delineate human types while also offering people the best opportunity to thrive. If we are to think creatively about how to identify difference without stigmatising it, it pays to think historically about how autism research got us to this point. Such history offers a rather humbling lesson: that it might very well be impossible to measure, classify and quantify an aspect of human psychology, without also muting attempts to tell the story differently.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Think - Pair - Share - Maybe, Maybe Not

Faculty developer types always encourage faculty to get students engaged with a think-pair-share activity.  I'm ok with that; I've done it, it's a good conversation starter.

But it's overused and not always effective.  The worst teaching technique is the one you do to the exclusion of all others.  Just like all lecture is bad, throwing in a think-pair-share to pretend to get engagement or to take up time is bad.

First, the question/prompt must be good.  Second, there must be a deliverable or accountability.

A version I have used is think-pair-share-square-cube.

1.  Students individually write down some ideas that they are processing about the topic of lecture/unit/etc.
2.  Each share with a partner, usually a seat partner (which is not always great because they may be sharing with the same person all the time);
3. That pair shares with another pair to get more input and perhaps with guided questions or an added tweak.
4.  That quartet engages with another quartet (obviously, the cube only works if there are enough students or it works out mathematically, more of less).

This way they have to take more ideas into account, a real discussion, and are presenting ideas to more people publicly.