Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Personal Tenure

There is an interesting "Room For Debate" feature in the New York Times on the topic of tenure in higher education. There are convincing arguments both for and against. But to me the issue is, well... academic1 since I'm in a non-ternured position. As such, I'm fond of saying that I have to keep my job through competence. Some of my colleagues don't find that amusing.

I'm equally fond of saying that I teach for love and consult for money. Some of my colleagues think I'm kidding.

I also explain to those who'll listen that I love being a professor so much that I teach for free 2 but get paid to attend meetings, do committee work, and submit grades. Some of my colleagues don't get that.

Is there a theme here? Some of my colleagues don't see that.

1 Sorry.
2 That's my "Personal Tenure".

Learning From Counterexamples

The show and tell of what to do and why to do it informs much of my class time.
Here's a little theory. Here's a little practice. See how nicely that works? 
I sometimes show and tell my students what not to do.
Let's put the price in the query string unencrypted and send the user to the payment page. What could possibly go wrong?
I was reminded of this and the efficacy of teaching by counterexample when I attended a recent planning meeting at school. One of team members1 served as a spectacular counterexample of constructive participation. Every idea put forth was either rejected or scaled back beyond recognition. At every turn the member resisted brainstorming efforts at creativity. Adding insult to injury, the member left early for "another pressing matter" which turned out to be smoking a cigarette.

After my initial disgust I remembered learning by counterexample. I already knew that was bad behavior, but seeing it instantiated so clearly in the member will help me to remember never to "be that person" myself. (Or at least, I hope, to be able to catch myself in the act and stop it should I find myself being that person.)

I use the term "member" here in the same way that the late Buddy Hackett did.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Guess what I learned from a recent course evaluation?

Every semester ends with students filling out class evaluation forms. These forms vary from college to college, but the gist is always the same. Many faculty dislike them. Not me. I like evaluations from students because I usually learn something when I read them (long after final grades have been processed). I mean, it's not like I cannot improve, I certainly can, and do.

Sometimes I improve by changing a text book that nobody but me seems to like. (Students seems to hate Database Principles, Programming, and Performance by O'Neil & O'Neil, but I think it's one of the best database books ever written.) Other times I've learned about assignments that many thought were too hard. (Note: I am not always sympathetic to that, but it is good to know.) And sometimes the comments are jaw-droppingly absurd.  Here's one of those. 
Labouseur was a hard teacher for me. I learned a lot but he gives written tests that are based off things he talks about. He does not give any notes at all. Expects you to take notes on things he says only. Would have been helpful to know before hand so I was actually taking notes while he talked.
So let me get this straight: This student somehow managed to graduate high school and get into a decent college without knowing that you're supposed to take notes when the teacher is talking? I would not have believed that had I not read it for myself. Amazing.

What did I learn? I learned that I have to put my expectations of note-taking in my course syllabi and cover it at the beginning of every semester.


Greetings and good day. I'm Alan G. Labouseur. I've been teaching part-time since about 1995 and full-time since 2003. I'm currently on the full-time faculty at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY in the USA. I'm also on the adjunct faculty at Vassar College and have taught at Mount Saint Mary College and the State University of New York at Purchase.

While listening to the This Week in Startups podcast as I drove to school a few days ago, the show's host, Jason Calacanis, made a comment about how his persona could be described as "the blunt CEO". Channeling my "inner Jason" I immediately realized that my persona could be described as "the blunt professor". And here we are.