Friday, September 11, 2015

Checking In

It has been quite a while since I blogged here.  My life is quite busy, as I am a second tier (my terminology) administrator now, find myself teaching two traditional and one online class, and am helping to create a textbook for basic speech.  This last is in response to receiving a grant.  Open Educational Resources is very big in the University System of Georgia right now, and my colleagues and I won quite a large grant for this project.  It's overwhelming.  I have written two speech textbooks before, one in two editions, but now technology has changed so much that the attempt is quite different.  Perhaps I will write a good long blog post about this experience. 

Being so busy, my academic writing has suffered, and that is disappointing to me right now because one of the reasons I pursued a doctorate at this stage in life (graduating in my late 50s) was to do research and write on student learning, adult learning, and faculty development.

That said, it looks like certain posts continue to be popular--Group Dynamics in Twelve Angry Men, Facilitating Transformational Learning, Educating Rita and Adult Learner, and Self-Directed Learning.   I hope I am getting some citations somewhere!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Second Thoughts on Harper Lee

This title has a double meaning.  I have not read more than the first chapter of To Set a Watchman, and probably won't for a while.  I have about 100 books ahead of it, but I'll read it before I watch the movie, promise. I also have to cowrite an open-resource, no-cost textbook for our basic communication course in the next four or five months, along with preparing to teach three classes, work full time as an administrator, try to market my latest novel, write my next one, and oh, yes, live.

However, back to the point.  In reading various comment boards and social media on the new release (hers, not mine--I would love to even get some negative press on mine, and it's much cheaper than hers!), I have been perplexed by the reactions to the way that Atticus is portrayed--as a segregationist, which is to most synonymous with racist.  I have even read posts that say "I was going to name my son Atticus--so glad I didn't!"  (Are you kidding me?  Would you name your child Huckleberry?)

First, let me remind the reader---Atticus was a fictional character.  Harper Lee had the right to do what she wanted with her characters, and she did.  (That doesn't mean the book is good or bad, or the choice good or bad, just that it's her book, and it was published, so, so be it.)  The disillusionment posters have expressed over a fictional character makes me think they need to get out and meet some real people.  I know, I know, I sound mean, but seriously.  I am more upset Jem is dead in this book than about Atticus' being a segregationist, because there is no surprise there for me. 

The second point is that Atticus, and probably the man it was based on, is a humanly drawn character, and to be a segregationist and still want justice for a falsely accused black man and to still want rule of law are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  Yes, we see them so today, but someone in 1950s Alabama would not.  He still had to grow, as we all do.  This is in no way a defense of segregationists, who were as a whole either pretty clueless or pretty mean, but from the way I think the book is written, Atticus is conflicted, not an ideologue.  He is being faced with a South and an America he has not had to face before, and we are all likely to entrench ourselves when faced with change, especially in old age and especially when it seems to upset social order (as in recent SCOTUS decisions).

Now, none of this bears upon whether H. Lee wanted the book published after all, and how much it was edited (apparently not much, because I think the editors would have messed with Atticus).  I don't know.  I just believe a writer has a right to write.  No one has to like it--don't buy the book, don't read it. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Students, the Truth, Lies, and Excuses

I get a pretty much daily newsletter/email from Faculty Focus, and this link will take you to an article I think every college teacher should read.

This is my take on it:  basically, a student will lie about not getting an assignment in regardless of the "point value" in terms of the final grade.  So it is not a matter of course structure, assignment creation, or instructor treatment of the student, although all those are important.  It has to do with the basic moral and ethical structure of the student.

It's like the old joke about "Would you sleep with someone for a million dollars?"  When the answer is yes, the person is asked, "Would you sleep with someone for a thousand dollars?"  When the person answering the question says, "What are you doing?" the response is, "I already know what you are, now I am just negotiating."

Sorry.  That doesn't go along with the "Christian college instructor" title of this blog, but it does go along with the article linked above.  If a student has no problems with lying about grandma or the power outage, then it doesn't matter if it means a lower grade or not.  He/she is a liar, and changing how important the test is doesn't matter.

What do we expect?  Except for the few who have been raised by engaged, honest parents or had a true conversion experience that altered their world view and motivational system, most of them have been told all their lives that either (a) they are simply a random collection of evolved cells, so it really doesn't matter what they do, or (b) they are the center of the universe, so between selfies, it's ok to lie to a teacher because everyone does it and as long as it gets you what you want, so be it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

My Fifth Novel Published

Bringing Abundance Back, which has nothing to do with politics, religion, or social issues, (like my others!) is now available.  The prices are as low as I could make them, you get a lot of story and bang for the buck, and all proceeds go to World Vision to dig wells in Africa.

Bringing Abundance Back

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Administration vs. Teaching

I am currently serving in an interim administrative position.  I enjoy it very much and appreciate the opportunity.  However, I do not want to hold on to it too tenaciously.  My future in this position is in God's hands.

Due to a past commitment, though, I am also teaching two classes this summer.  Driving home the privilege of teaching occurred to me.  I have been trying to get away from it because I have done it so long, yet am I devaluing it in favor of the supposed power of administration?  How can I devalue something as important as teaching, such an honor, such a joy?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Discretion, Social Media, and Higher Ed Teaching

I am currently fulfilling an administrative role at my college.  It is interim, and I do not know my future other than I will be at that institution for a little while longer.  I enjoy it very much, although the two aspects of teaching I liked the most--the students and my teaching colleagues--are not as large a part of my life right now.

Between finishing my doctorate and stepping into this role, I have to admit to a different self-view and more reticence about what I put on my blogs.  Many things I would like to sound off about I realize it's best not to "go there."  At least while I am "assistant vice president," I will censor myself about
upcoming Supreme Court decisions
the fact that I got a solicitation from the Bill Clinton Foundation today (they want MY money?)
the democratic presidential candidates
The current president
Amtrak accidents
Affordable Care Act
murderers at the Boston marathon

But anyone who reads this can probably figure it out.

All that said, I have been following the brouhaha over the Boston University faculty member (actually, she's not actually there yet, but coming in the fall) who tweeted about white male college students.  Free speech aside, I think college faculty should just put away the tweet machine.  It is just too easy.  The medium is the message, and tweets simple cannot allow anything but potshots that are too easy to take out of context, too quick to go viral, and that lack the nuance of academic discourse. 

I have only gotten in trouble for something I blogged or Facebooked one time, and I learned my lesson.  I was being completely honest at the time and meant no harm, but it seemed so.  This is all so contextless and impersonal!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

One week out from doctoral graduation

Last Friday I graduated from the University of Georgia with my Ed.D.  I was hooded, and have the photos to prove it (although I can't get a transcript yet).  I plan to use it to advance the profession of college teaching by helping individual instructors and hopefully to make more money (why else spend three years of one's life on such a process). 

Flipping the Classroom--Or not

An incident with a student today got me thinking about the "flipping the classroom" trend, or buzzword, or fad, or whatever you feel disposed to call it.  However, as I am now an administrator for an indeterminate amount of time, I can't go into the details of the encounter, so I'll skip to the reflection.  Suffice it to say that the student was complaining that some instructors had gone to a "flipped classroom" approach and it didn't work for this particular student.

So, why did it not work for this student?  One of three reasons:
1.  the student did not do her part to make the learning strategy work
2.  the instructors did it "wrong"
3.  the instructional strategy of flipping is not the perfection it is touted as.

Now, I am being purposefully snarky.  I do not hold to #3.  Flipping is something good teachers have been doing for a long time, but good teachers have not been flipping, too.

What about #1?  Highly possible.  Other instructors who have tried to "flip" have complained that students do not respond well to it because it's more work for them. 

#2?  Also highly possible, because the use of any new instructional strategy is not automatic.  It takes time, just like a course redesign is not complete on the first day of the semester.  By "wrong" I don't mean they were clueless and incompetent, but that the method had not reached its full potential because they had little experience with it.

A colleague says of "flipping"--"what a unique and innovative concept--having the students read the material before coming to class!"  Of course there is more to it, in that the class meeting is supposed to be interactive, practice-oriented, discursive, engaged--just not lecture or content delivery. 

I have written on this blog about the pros and cons of lecture.  Suffice to say, some students learn--or think they do--better through lecture.  Of course, this goes to a deeper question--what is learning, and who judges if learning is accomplished?  If I think I have learned, have I?  In the case of classes, an external measurement says so, and in this student's case, she hadn't.  But why? Because she chose not to take advantage of the new method, or didn't understand it, or it was done insufficiently?

I would love to have some input here. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Mission: Two ways of looking at it

Being mission-driven is a good thing, or so we are told.  Assuming it is, mission can be framed in two ways:  as transforming a system or facilitating individual change.

I based my dissertation on a social constructionist view of organizations rather than a systems view.  I won't get into a defense of that now, but I think people in the organizations for the most part "create" the organization by their discourse and behavior.

Recently a colleague who is, like me, devoted to faculty development, said that she was all about educational transformation.  I would say I am all about helping other professors be better professors.  I think the difference is this:  I want the professors to develop their own gifts, not change to a different person.  I am not sure, but a faculty developer can have a "I'm going to change people for their own good according to my agenda."  That could explain resistance.

I am working on a paper in this regard.  Faculty are resistant to many things, especially being told they are deficient despite spending ten years in college to be an expert in what they do.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The future of higher education

I spend a lot of time thinking about this topic--it's my job to do so, at least until June 30, when my time as an interim administrator is up.  My convictions.

Tenure will go away.  There can be other, better contractual situations for faculty.  Or at least it needs to be restructured. 

Academic freedom is a word that gets thrown around and is meaningless because of so many definitions for it.  If academic freedom is in any way conflated with "lack of accountability," that needs to go away.  Lack of accountability in the college classroom is unsustainable.  I hear faculty say, "I just want to close my door and deal with students."  I understand that; it's why we chose this work.  But why so defensive?  Why not more open and transparent about what goes on in there?  Not to put the burden of proof on hard working faculty, but I have to wonder about a refusal to let others know what and how you teach.  Where else in the economy is such secrecy allowed? (Other than therapy?)

Publish or perish is a strange model.  Why do we have to pay to get journals that were written by people who were not paid for the articles and who did them while on the public dollar? (at least most of the time, either through grants or through being paid for working in public institutions?)  Our system has a wonderful virtual library where almost everything is available, but not everyone has that.  Google Scholar is helpful at time but most of those articles have to be paid for to access. 

Secondly, a great deal of what gets published under the need for publication is not really of much value, but that is my opinion and I would understand arguments to the contrary.  I also am prejudiced against some fields that seem more to be navel-gazing and political screeds than legitimate disciplines (no names, again).

That said, every faculty member needs to be doing research of some kind because research is learning.  How it is disseminated is another issue, but it should be.   And SoTL is not inferior to other research.

Doctoral education is doing a poor job of preparing candidates for real academic jobs.  Leadership is undervalued, as is collegiality and working in groups.  My program was not like that, but I know others are, especially in the humanities. 

On the other hand, state governments need to have their butts kicked about funding.  The state in which I live is suffering from lack of prioritizing higher education.    It is paying the price.

Open Educational Resources

I was privileged yesterday to attend a summit on Open Educational Resources.  I have a lot of thoughts on this initiative. The keynote speaker was Cable Green of Creative Commons, which was a real treat for me as someone concerned with publishing.  He is a very good presenter and passionate about these projects.

OER is fueled by a number of forces:  the almost totally free distribution power of digital media on the Internet, the rising costs of tuition and textbooks, and the research showing that students are not buying textbooks and dropping courses due to the high prices of them.  Prices are outrageous and unsustainable, and I have empathy of students in this regard.

However, I don't think OER is the only answer to the last point.  That is a course design problem too.  If students can pass a class and meet the outcomes (often not the same thing) without access to the textbook, there is something wrong with the course and the teaching of it.  Assigning a book that is not critical to learning success is nonsense.  Therefore, I don't think that OER initiatives will answer all questions about student success, but it's a start.

I am seriously considering using an OER in one of my classes and am working with a colleague on a grant for another, but I am not entirely sure of the biggest piece:  faculty buy-in.  One thing that was not discussed fully yesterday is that adoption of OER really does entail a big effort in course redesign.  As such, it affects academic freedom (the subject of another post).  Short of a mandate, faculty buy-in will be slow, I think.  First, for multi-section core, freshmen-level courses, there must be agreement on the basic texts, or the college has a situation of either
1.  some faculty using free and others not, which will not be fair to students, and
2.  everyone one using free but different resources.

Second, for sophomore courses and up, there will probably be limited open educational texts.  For example, a marketing or business management course. 

The other downside is that the publishers can get ugly about these things.  Also, one textbook I use has excellent ancillaries and the faculty member might be forced to reinvent the wheel.

A better solution long-term, really, is for publishers to get on board and stop charging so much for books, stop making new editions that are not really new editions, and find low-cost alternatives.  The publisher of our speech text (no names here) was willing to work with us and bring costs down--not to free, of course, but to a more reasonable level.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dissertation Defended!

I am now Dr. Barbara G. Tucker, B.S., M.A., M.A., Ed.D.