GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

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Report Card

In Lee's Posts on 2012/12/16 at 02:32
Lee Skallerup Bessette, writing from Morehead, Kentucky in the US.

The same day that I read Afshan’s post on taking her 7-year-old daughter out of public school in order to homeschool her, my five-year-old daughter came home with her first report card. Although there were no letter grades, she had clearly done outstanding work, particularly in the “Social Skills/Behavioral” area. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise to us. She taught herself to write her own name when she was only three, prompting her new preschool teacher to declare that she would do well in Kindergarten the next year. Except, she was only three. My daughter did the 4-year-old pre-k curriculum at her preschool twice, and was more than ready for Kindergarten this year. We tried to get her placed directly into the first grade (she continually comes home complaining that everyone in her class thinks she’s six) but for now, we’re sticking with, and stuck in, Kindergarten.

This isn’t much of an issue for the moment; unlike Afshan’s daughter, mine still hasn’t mastered reading (although we’re almost there), but she has mastered all of the other literacy skills. Her math skills are advanced, as she has been asking to do workbook activities and math “games” on my phone since she was two. Mostly, though, she enjoys going to school, hanging out with her friends, and being praised continually by the teachers for doing so well and being so bright. She reminds me a little bit of Lisa Simpson when the teachers went on strike, begging her mom to grade her and praise her. She’s not yet bored, nor has she been targeted negatively by her peers for being smart. Occasionally she comes home upset because the kids didn’t like a picture she drew, but generally she seems to be well-liked and has a good group of friends.

More troubling, for me, were the results of her first standardized tests in literacy and math. On the one hand, I think standardized tests are ridiculous at this age and can’t be taken seriously. On the other, she scored in the 99th percentile, an important piece of the puzzle to get her into enriched programs offered by our school district. I, too, live in a rural area, but the private schools are religious in nature, and not attractive to most of the university parents, so we have fairly rigorous and well-integrated enrichment opportunities in the public schools. I’m hoping that these opportunities come sooner, rather than later, before my daughter gets bored and disillusioned with school.

I see how my students view learning and school, and I have previously written about the moment I dread most – the moment when the light behind both my children’s eyes is extinguished and replaced by the dead-eyed stares I am often met with in my Freshman Writing classes. I read their literacy narratives that pinpoint the exact moment that they gave up on school, on reading, on learning. I also know how hard it is to reignite that spark once it has been out for so many years. Can my husband and I intervene in time to keep that from happening? I also worry about my daughter’s “good girl” personality, insofar as it could evolve into a fear of failure and risk-taking that stifles her potential. How can I create a space where she is at once validated and challenged, fearless and full of curiosity?

I know every parent thinks that their child is gifted and special. I now have (some flawed) empirical evidence that my daughter is, in fact, gifted. As a parent and as an educator, I know that this presents a unique set of challenges, challenges that I currently feel wholly unequipped to meet, at least in any sort of productive way. I can do what comes naturally to me (research, read, and then read and research some more), but at the end of the day, I do (as every parent does) need to do what is best for my child and my family. Maybe it’s homeschooling. Maybe it’s advocacy. Maybe it’s a mix of both. I don’t know yet, but, like Afshan, I find myself in strange and uncharted territory.

Lee Elaine Skallerup has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an edupreneur. You can visit her blog at  College Ready Writing and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

The Boss Who Gets Work Done, and Then Some

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/12/16 at 02:27
Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines

Recently, a supervisor remarked that I am “too Americanized” and lacking in good-old-fashioned sensitivity [pakiramdam] as Division chair. Clearly, my brand of managing has critics. But as I constantly remind myself and my superiors, I only get half semester load credit for my administrative job. To live the other half of my academic life teaching, doing research and publishing,  I have to  follow work practices that will get the admin job done in a University machine that is in “low” gear (read: slow decision-making). To administrators, here are some unsolicited operational tips, guaranteed to get you through:

  • Yahoogroup and Chikka are your friends.

To ensure that announcements get out, vital information disseminated, and work assignments done in real time,  Yahoogroup and Chikka (a free web-based text messaging system) are lifelines.  You don’t check your email; you lose. The old excuse  “I was not on Miagao campus” no longer flies.

As Chair, I find the yahoo platform useful because it gives me a de facto filing system, stored in my mail program, which I can access by a quick word search.  It is also a good discussion platform on academic issues. In Yahoogroup, colleagues can let others know what they are up to or articulate support or discontent, supplementing the paucity of face-to-face encounters found in our split campus situation.

  • Teach your old staff new tricks.

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Rather than complaining that the staff never does enough, I devised a method to keep them busy. First, new tasks. Capitalizing on Sam’s internet-savviness, I taught him to abridge lengthy notices into concise messages for Yahoogroup postings and use the Yahoogroup attachments as “virtual” filing system for letters and reports I send for printing. Bing, the other secretary, writes periodic reports and make silly tables, leaving proofreading to me! Second, I email them daily/weekly notices of tasks to keep track of the things to be done. This makes for easy justification to the human resources office why the staff deserve an excellent performance rating. Third, relay system. I am told when either one is out of office; unfinished work endorsed to the other staff and notice of absence POSTED at the office and in the Yahoogroup.

  • Create a cheering squad by delegating.

You may do things faster and better, but giving work to others spreads a sense of accomplishment and pride. To this end, I tap mostly junior faculty members– assessing transfer/shifting applications, faculty scheduling, creating content for the university newsletter and website, crafting proposals for curricular review, lining up lectures, etc. For socials, I nurture a pool of reliable committee workers committed to team spirit. I am the rah-rah leader, humble in asking favors for unpaid committee work and generous in positive feedback for the job done well.

  • All Division affairs are an open book.

Gossip, that insidious element which foments conflict is easily defeated by prior disclosure of facts. To  minimize the politics of hiring/firing and promotion, I opened the process heretofore reserved for the Division personnel committee for discussion of the concerned disciplinary cluster. Where there is lack of consensus, the entire faculty is brought into the loop to gain legitimacy for a majority position. I am known to post in the Yahoogroup lengthy chronological process accounts and decision briefs for my faculty’s reading pleasure.

  • Put it in writing.

John Nagl, one of the brains behind the US Army Counterinsurgency Manual, says it’s important for any current commander to think about the day when he turns over his job to the next guy. To this end, keeping a thorough record of lessons and insights is critical. It is time consuming to document all agreements, guidelines, decisions and standard-operating procedures, keeping them in paperless version and in a virtual location. It takes an obsessive-compulsive personality to do this; but it’s essential for the “norming” process of the organization.

Administrators in my university are known to crash and burn after their term. As I have no ambition to go further up the administrative ladder, a good management template for other subsequent Chairs to follow is enough of a legacy to leave behind.

Rosalie Arcala Hall is a Professor at the University of the Philippines Visayas and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Who Is This “Admin” You Speak Of?: Some Myths of Alternative Academics

In Guest Blogger on 2012/12/13 at 10:17

The alternative academic career path has recently caught a lot of attention from all angles of academia, in part because of the state of the job market for PhDs and in part because more and more alternative academics are talking about their career paths. However, this does not mean that many in academia know what an alternative academic career entails, especially when oftentimes alternative academics are filed under “staff” or “admin.” These misconceptions open the door for other erroneous views, such as the idea that staff and faculty are on opposite sides of the academic table. We seek to dispel some of those myths in an attempt to bridge the gap between staff and faculty as well as clarify what some alternative academics do.

1. Who are administrators anyway? Many faculty seem to think that anyone who’s not faculty is an administrator. But for example, in Brenda’s Women’s Center, the violence prevention coordinator is not faculty but not an administrator either. Liana’s official title is Program Associate at her school’s writing center. In reality, between the two ends (administrators and faculty) there are a lot of other jobs that provide services to faculty and students. Unfortunately, when conversations about funding in higher ed turn to the financial “bloat” that administrators add, many of these student services get lumped in. Would faculty who complain about said bloat want to eliminate the victim services position (which would not save the university a huge amount of money)? If so, are they willing to fill out orders of protection? Interview young women who’ve been raped, stalked, and sexually assaulted or harassed? If we want to support and retain students who have survived sexual violence, someone has to do this work. If not trained staff, then who? This detail often gets lost in the conversation about bloat.

2. Administrators are evil. Is it true that there are some bad administrators who are self-serving and only out for themselves and don’t care about the institutional good? Yes. But then again, there are faculty and staff who are like that, too. The majority of administrators with whom we interact are well-meaning people. We need to dispel the notion that faculty automatically equates to “good” and “admin” to “evil.” There are faculty who don’t care about students, and there are staff who genuinely try to make the lives of students better…and who get their funding slashed every day. One can disagree and argue about the value of student activities, but the fact is that the people who work there are for the most part genuinely interested in helping students.

3. Administrators don’t know teaching. Faculty members are an important part of the learning process that goes on at universities, but staff members are also part of that process. Many staff members teach; for example, Brenda teaches several courses at her institution. Liana taught before coming to the writing center, and leads workshops on writing on a regular basis. The work they have done in the classroom influences their approach to their work with students outside of the classroom. Moreover, the, the co-curricular work we do is vital for the education of students.

4. Administrators do not engage in research. Plenty of alternative academic folks continue to publish, attend conferences, and conduct research. Although this does not apply to all staff positions, many do or are interested in academic research that influences their work with students. Although faculty may receive more support for their research endeavors, many staff continue to challenge themselves intellectually through research. Our daily jobs can be intellectually stimulating without the pressure of the “publish or perish” culture. We admit, however, that this can easier for staff in non-science fields, as scientific research often requires a lab affiliation.

5. Admin hours are M-F, 8-5. This myth implies that staff jobs are somehow “easy” because we “only” work 40 hours per week (opposed to the 60+ hours some faculty members can put in). While it may be true that one’s schedule is (sometimes) 8 (or 9) to 5, those work hours tend to be jam-packed with meetings, research, appointments with students, workshops, etc. It is also true that many staff jobs require more than 40 hours per week and/or evening and weekend work. In Brenda’s case, for example, evening and weekend events can easily add many hours to the week. And it doesn’t matter if she was at work until midnight for an event — if orientation is at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, she is still expected to be there. Email still needs to be answered and if you spend the majority of your day in meetings, then the email will be answered in the evening or on the weekend. Liana oftentimes has to work evenings and weekends in order to meet the needs of different student populations across three campuses.

Alternative academic positions are a legitimate option post-graduate school but one of the reasons graduate students may feel ambivalent about this alternative track could be related to the idea that staff and faculty are portrayed as being opposed to each other. In reality, it does not have to be an either/or proposition. Libraries, student support services, educational technology all fill in the gaps between opposite ends of the spectrum. Moreover, many alternative academics who are admin or staff turn to these careers because they want to work with students. Eliminating some of the myths around alternative academic positions can help legitimize these careers as well as help faculty, staff, and administrators work together for the good of students.

Co-authored by Liana Silva and Brenda Bethman.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Digital Literacies 101 – What MOOCs Really Teach

In Bonnie's Posts on 2012/12/13 at 08:14
Bonnie Stewart, writing from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in Canada.
In my world, fall means back-to-school.

This fall, across the world, back-to-school means MOOCs. For somewhere close to a million people.

When edX launched its first two courses in October this year they had 100,000 people registered between them. Coursera, which alone reported over a million registrants from their April 2012 launch to the following August, are offering over 100 courses this fall. As of September, they had about 680,000 registered for those. Udacity stood at nearly 740,000 registrations to date as of August 2012, with over 100,000 ‘active’ at the start of back-to-school season. And then there are the smaller, more grassroots MOOC offerings like Current/Future State of Higher Ed, which collect a few thousand people around shared topics of interest.

That’s a lot of people, all told.

Many, of course, won’t finish their courses; the attrition rate in MOOCs is notorious. There’s no filter on the front end – people register for free and thus very literally don’t have to buy in to the program of study.

But the scale of those numbers may still have effects.

Because most of those people start, at least. They get some kind of taste for what the particular platform offers, whether the content engages them, how the learning process is structured. They are engaging with – or at the very least coming face-to-face with – what it means to be a digitally literate learner.

Two years ago at this time, there were 1300 or so people enrolled in Personal Learning Environments and Networked Knowledge 2010 – the PLENK10 MOOC. One of the original connectivist model MOOCs, PLENK10 was the only MOOC going under the name that fall. PLENK10’s 1300 registrants were the only people formally engaged in a so-called MOOC at that particular moment.

Two years makes a helluva difference.

And so, while the march of the MOOCs rolls on from its summer of buzz into autumn with the Battle Hymn of Disruption still trumpeting from various corners, there’s something about those crazy, boggling numbers that has me feeling hopeful.

The idea of nearly a million people engaged – however briefly – in the kind of semi-networked learning experience that even the most rigid, traditionally-structured MOOC courses inevitably offer makes me want to believe that we may eventually get our societal minds around the messy, distributed, traceable, remixable, quantified literacies of the digital age.

And that if we do, we may also get our minds around what to do about education.

Not next week. And not in the guise of MOOCs, I don’t think: anyone who hails them as a one-size-fits-all solution is selling something. But maybe, eventually, mass hands-on participation within networked learning environments – where a peer may play as profound a role as a professor and that’s part of the system – may help us get past the impasse we’re stuck at.

It’s a truism that education is broken. We live in a time when across the increasingly partisan camps of politics, that’s one of the few statements you’ll hear – almost equally vocally – from all sides of the fence.

Of course education is broken, at least as a system. The system in its many forms is still predicated, historically and technologically and ideologically, in economies of scarcity and linearity. And as a society, that’s simply not where we are anymore.

As Will Richardson put it recently: “Every day we have access to more information, more knowledge and more people. In many ways, I can’t imagine there has been a more amazing time to learn.

I also, however, can’t imagine a more challenging time for schools.”

Interestingly, schools have tried to change. Pedagogy has offered alternative frameworks for approaching learning for generations now, and schools – across all levels – are significantly different animals than they were in our parents’ generations.

But the aspects of the traditional educational model that are premised in scarcity have proven deeply resilient and self-replicating. A big part of that is about roles.

Familiar modes of knowledge and behaviour by which we define concepts like “teacher” and “student” – and the parts we expect to play when we walk into those roles – operate on the idea that learning is about scarce content and the linear progression by which a student is initiated into its mysteries.

We get stuck in our roles, even more so as learners than as teachers.

Which is where MOOCs and digital literacies come in.

George Siemens pioneered the first MOOCs, with Stephen Downes. He claims that at their core, MOOCs are the Internet happening to higher education.

The Internet makes it possible for things to scale, and to be copied and remixed indefinitely. It changes our concepts of what counts as knowledge, and what counts as education. No longer can higher ed be the bastion of content, because most of the content it contains is actually available on Google.

Even the biggest, most formalized MOOCs, some of which are built on linear talking-head videos and automated grading, change the game a little. Not in the tools. Simply being online doesn’t develop digital literacies terribly quickly or effectively.

But interacting at scale, even in a large network aimed at having the teacher at the traditional centre, does. Because when there are 30 or even 300 students in a course, the teacher can be expected to be the audience for that student’s engagement.

But in a course of 3,000 or 30,000 or 100,000, that expectation fails. Fast. Maybe even fast enough that the students who only dip into a MOOC long enough to get disoriented and confused about the whole process begin to understand that it’s possible to be a student and still be self-directed, not teacher-directed.

To me, is the most important digital literacy there is. And it is the one that will gradually – maybe – bring change to education.

We’ll see. With a million people dipping their toes in the abundance and decentered knowledge of MOOCs this fall, maybe we’ll see soon.

Bonnie Stewart is a Ph.D. student at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. In higher ed since 1997, Bonnie has lived and taught on all three coasts of Canada and in Eastern Europe and Asia. Her research explores social media identity and its implications for higher education. Published at and winner of the 2011 PEI Literary Award for creative non-fiction, Bonnie blogs ideas at Find her on Twitter at @bonstewart.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Evaluate the Evaluation: Course Evaluations and External Biases

In Anamaria's Posts on 2012/12/02 at 00:08
Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden.

Course evaluations: everyone knows them and uses them, but does everyone know what are they good for? Opinions are very much split on how to evaluate the evaluation. University teachers differ from university administrators, for example, when they assign importance to the results of course evaluations. Whereas faculty are more skeptical, administrators rather confidently believe that the responses to end-of-course assessments represent an accurate description of teacher effectiveness (Morgan, Sneed and Swinney 2003).

The truth of the matter is that we do not know for sure what the impact of these evaluations is. Do they really help improve teaching? Do they help improve learning? And perhaps most interestingly, are course evaluations true? I would like to discuss here this last point, and to rephrase it in a milder form: Do course evaluations deliver the answers expected by teachers and administrators? Or do students respond based on assumptions outside the scope of the course?

Research done in several academic environments points out that the students’ answers cannot be taken as facts, but are raw data in need of interpretation and contextualization. In a study performed at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Kwan (1999) reaches the conclusion that students base their answers on factors external to the course. This is reflected in the following four observations:

1. Humanities courses tend to get better evaluations than science courses, regardless of the variation within the respective curricula;

2. Courses  with fewer students (the borderline is at around 20) get much more positive evaluations than large courses;

3. Courses at the advanced level get slightly better evals than those at the basic level;

4. Optional courses are better appreciated than obligatory ones.

I do not wish to engage here with the possible explanations of these results, even though, of course, it is very interesting to investigate why these phenomena happen,  I concern myself here with the accuracy of course evaluations. If a teacher is assigned a mandatory first-year course with one hundred students, she is very likely to get poorer results on the course evaluations than a colleague teaching a smaller, optional course for the third-year students. And this is regardless of the actual pedagogical skills and competence of the persons in question!

In another very recent study, this time on Swedish students active on a site equivalent to the US “Rate My Professor”, Karlsson and Lundberg (2012) analyze 98 assessments of faculty from across the universities in Sweden. They come to the conclusion that there is a clear gender and age bias in the ratings provided on the site. Younger teachers tend to obtain lower marks in comparison with more senior faculty. Women teachers also consistently receive poorer ratings in comparison with their male counterparts. The effects are worse if the two negative factors are combined: if you are a young female teacher your evaluations are likely to be significantly below those of a senior male teacher at the same institution.

The Swedish study corroborates with the earlier investigation on students at US universities by Sprague and Massoni (2005). They asked almost 300 students the decievingly simple question “who was the best respectively the worst teacher you have ever had?”.  The answers reveal, among other things, the “Ginger Rogers effect”: in order for a women teacher to obtain the same level of recognition they need to invest more energy and emotional commitment in their students in comparison with a male teacher. Or, as one of my colleagues put it, as a women faculty member “one has to do the same dance steps, but in high heels”.

As we have seen, factors extrinsic to the course affect the evaluation results and do not provide an accurate description of the teacher’s effectiveness. Moreover, evaluations need to be properly situated in their cultural and social context, as students who respond to them often share the general prejudices and stereotypes that are the norm in a given society. Before judging teacher performance, tenure assessment committees should certainly evaluate the course evaluation.

Karlsson, Martin och Erik Lundberg. 2012. “I betraktarens ögon – Betydelsen av kön och ålder för studenters läraromdömen.”  Högre utbildning 2:1, 19-32.

Kwan, Kam‐por. 1999. ” How Fair are Student Ratings in Assessing the Teaching Performance of University Teachers?”. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 24:2

Morgan, Donald A., John Sneed and Laura Swinney. 2003. “Are student evaluations a valid measure of teaching effectiveness: perceptions of accounting faculty members and administrators”, Management Research News, 26 (7): 17-32.

Sprague, Joey and Kelley Massoni. 2005. “Student Evaluations And Gendered Expectations: What We Can’t Count Can Hurt Us.” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research 53, 11‐12: 779‐793.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Managing Your Time Effectively

In Janni's Posts on 2012/12/01 at 02:40

Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.

We all have our tricks with time management. Some are effective and others have the appearance of helping you manage your time, but might just make you think that you’re organized. I don’t have any easy answers, but I will share how I manage my time effectively. I first have to thank a colleague for insisting that I establish boundaries for getting work done. About four years ago, Dr. Matt James politely encouraged me to shut my door. Not a week doesn’t go by that I don’t thank him for this simple suggestion for effective time management. It was really hard for me to shut my door and establish this first boundary.

We were both working as Undergraduate Advisors at the time and were chatting about all the time that advising can take. He smiled and said, “I have a suggestion for you–you should shut your door to get work done. Don’t keep your door open when you don’t have office hours.” Now, this wasn’t new advice, but it resonated with me differently given that I was three months in to my first full-time tenure track job. I thought that if the Chair of the Undergraduate Committee was encouraging me to shut my door, then maybe I should. Previously, I’d d had a mostly open door policy, but prior to that I didn’t have the same expectations for advising, teaching, and extensive committee work. My job security increased, but so did the demands for my time.

Related to managing my time effectively, I also keep an excel spreadsheet for all the family members and the respective activities that we are all engaged in Monday through Friday. On Sunday nights we review all our calendars and make sure that we are all in sync, as this saves lots of headaches. Now, back to my work schedule, I have taken to scheduling my lunch and work out times directly in my schedule so that no one can book appointments during this time. Many of my colleagues and those in administration use Outlook, so sure enough people can see when you’re busy and when you’re available. By booking my lunch hour or workout time (even if it’s at 6 am or 6 pm, I’ve made an appointment for and with myself. Yes, this is time for me. I am going on six months of making a concerted effort to not eat at my desk or in my office. I am going outside to eat, to a colleague’s office or even to the larger lunchroom downstairs. This way I am away from a screen and actually enjoy a break away from the computer screens.

I also schedule in writing time or thinking time, too. I do this to protect my time, as otherwise I might not have the time to do so. It also offers me that precious 15-59 minutes to think about the project. As academics there is always something for us to read, review, grade, and write. We have the luxury of flexibility (allegedly), but the job is often with us. That nagging to do list hovers in the backdrop.

How do you manage your time?

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Rules of Action

In Elizabeth's Posts on 2012/11/30 at 10:45

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the US. 

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon rule (again) on so-called affirmative action in higher education. The details vary case to case, but the underlying fear that a person of color stripped a paler would-be pupil of an opportunity remains constant. Programs to guarantee underrepresented minorities presence in the academy make tempers – including mine – flare whether in support or rejection of their aims. I feel particularly prone to pique at this time of year. Accomplished students from privileged families apply for awards to study overseas funded by governments or foundations. They can, and they should. However, they should also remember that the rules apply to them.

Those who complain about affirmative action argue that while they or their offspring played by ‘the rules,’ darker competitors for places circumvented the rules and won the prize. A complex irony emerges from the perception that diversity diminishes academic standards.

My first year as a graduate student adviser, I enjoined a group of African-American women to speak to their faculty mentors early and often.  One of the women told me later, that she and her friends were loathe to go to office hours as undergraduates for fear of appearing less able than their peers.  By contrast, weak students from comparatively wealthy white families consider extra help from faculty their birthright.  A bad grade means a bad teacher on the right side of the tracks.

Students should come to office hours for conversation and consultation.  However, smart students genuinely at sea in new institutions stay away while those whose parents and grandparents gave them roadmaps to collegiate success in the cradle can never get enough.  I have been told that those sufficiently wealthy to have private tax accountants rarely suffer through an audit, but those of lesser means who file themselves frequently find the IRS at their door.  The haves trump the have-nots by not only mastering whatever game they play but also the best way to ‘win’ at whatever cost.

When I see applications carelessly completed by kids who think the rules do not apply to their terribly special selves, I hit the roof.  READ the directions.  No, you can NOT submit five minutes let alone five days late when others gave themselves less time to revise in order to submit on time.   If the application says three letters of recommendation, you may NOT submit four.  If the application stipulates a 1000 word essay, do NOT squeeze in 1100.  If everyone else can suffer through the final stages of editing their well loved words into oblivion, so can you.

I know this belief in rules as guarantors of fair play makes me pathetically bourgeois.  Oligarchs and aristocrats assume their connections and/or breeding will buy them leeway with such mundane trifles as deadlines.  Mitt Romney could extend and extend his tax return until it suited him to share.  Those he despises as dependents probably filed their paperworks punctually for fear of a fine.  When I evaluate applications, I become physically ill when the candidate who worked hard to assemble materials early and correctly loses out to the kid who submits an application five seconds before deadline and suffused in sloppy errors.  The latter’s accomplishment came at the cost of other’s time and effort.  The former cared enough to respect his or her readers.

You might rightly point out that I am the princess of the unfortunate typo.  I have fallen victim here and elsewhere to my fingers fight with my mind.  Homonyms do-si-do, and semi-colons prance where a comma should appear: too true.  This month I committed a far more egregious crime in my own moral framework: I missed my deadline.  My editors here are gracious souls.  I will likely read this piece in print.  However, I trust that it will follow anything submitted on time.  I have enjoyed every advantage the world has to offer.  Please let someone who has not go first.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

UVenus 2012 Edublogs Awards Nominations

In Uncategorized on 2012/11/28 at 01:25
 Our writers have nominated the following blogs, bloggers, learning tools, tweeters, hashtags, etc. for the 2012 Edublogs Awards:
  • Best open PD / unconference / webinar series

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

In Guest Blogger on 2012/11/20 at 22:43

Guest blogger, Monica Miller, writing from Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the US. 

Sometimes, I want to be wrong.

I suspected it would to be tough to return to the grind this fall after the glorious summer I had. Particularly, after a three-week gig teaching Shakespeare to junior high students, I wondered how I could (once again) face a first year composition class at the big university where I’m working on my doctorate.

This summer, I taught “Shakespeareance” at Davidson University for the Duke/TIP program. It’s an incredible program—though my last summer as a Tipster was 1988, I’m still in touch with friends from then. Having the opportunity to be on the teaching side of things was an exciting prospect.

And the kids! I had eighteen students in class for six hours a day, five days a week, and three hours on Saturdays. After dinner, the students returned for an hour of evening study. Over the course of the three weeks, we read Twelfth Night, 1 Henry IV, As You Like It, and Macbeth. I loved watching the students adore Falstaff, argue about Lady Macbeth, and write their own endings to Twelfth Night. To be sure, students who are going to give up three weeks of their summer to spend this many hours studying Shakespeare are going to be extraordinary kids. Still, it was astonishing to ask a question to the class and have eighteen hands shoot up.

Also new to me was feeling such a strong connection to my students. Certainly, I work on fostering a sense of community in all of my classes, but being together for such long periods of time for such concentrated study meant that we quickly became a tight group. Plus, it was nice to have things in common with my students—not just as a nerdy academic who thinks it’s fun to study Shakespeare all day, but culturally, too. These kids worship David Tennant and Ian McKellan, they thought the Frye and Laurie skit about studying Shakespeare that my TA showed was hilarious, and quite a few of them have read Terry Pratchett. They told jokes about Cthulhu and Star Trek which I found funny. It was quite a change from my regular students’ references to football and reality television (which I rarely understand).

Outside of the classroom, I enjoyed a different sense of community with the staff, with whom I shared the top floor of the dorm. The first week of classes, we practiced two hours a night learning choreography for the lip sync contest the first Saturday—the result of which was an incredible sense of community. However, it wasn’t just tripping over each other trying to emulate Justin Timberlake that forged these bonds. About halfway through the term, it occurred to me that, though we lived and ate together, I had yet to hear any real negativity about teaching. Oh, sure, there were complaints—twelve year olds who lack parents telling them to shower every day are at times unpleasant to be around in the summer. But I realized that everyone on the academic staff was there because they wanted to teach; there was none of the “teaching is what we have to do so we can get to our *real* work” attitude which so pervades higher education. The combination of students who want to learn and teachers who want to teach was a singular experience for me.

I began to worry what it was going to be like to return to the land of students who resent having to read and colleagues who resent classroom time. Don’t get me wrong – I am fortunate to have many classmates and faculty who value teaching. This year, in fact, our English Graduate Student Organization is organizing pedagogy groups for teachers to share common interests and concerns. Upon returning, my intention was to try to hold on to the renewed love of teaching I found this summer and use it to inspire me in the classroom this fall. However, the first time a student expressed disdain for having to take English classes, and the first time my students rolled their eyes when I had no idea who [insert famous college football player here] was, I felt the gap.

I’m certainly not the first person to ask how to maintain excitement for teaching, I know. However, I want to know if it’s possible to get anywhere near the kind of engaged community that I had this summer in a class that meets three hours a week. Or with my colleagues without resorting to jazz hands?

Monica Miller is working on a Ph.D. in English and Women’s and Gender Studies at Louisiana State University, after earning an M.A. in English from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2010. Her primary research interests are Southern and Appalachian literature and feminist and gender theory; her current work is focused on the figure of the ugly woman in Southern literature. She blogs about life in graduate school at

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Opting Out

In Afshan's Posts on 2012/11/19 at 11:04
Afshan Jafar, writing from New London, Connecticut in the US.

I am opting out. Not out of my career, but out of the educational system. I have a seven year old who started second-grade this year.  A few weeks into second-grade, we decided to finally act on a decision that’s been a long time coming. We decided we’re going to home-school her – at least for this year.

We live in a rural community, where, besides our public school and one very expensive private school, we don’t have any other options. And although homeschooling seems more common than I had realized, most of the homeschooling families we had heard about in our town are religious families with different motivations than ours (although I would think that there are some important overlapping concerns between religious and secular families when it comes to homeschooling).

I guess it shouldn’t be very surprising that two academics (my husband is also a Sociologist), people who are in the profession of education and the pursuit of knowledge, should come to the decision that our educational system is not serving our children well. For us, our decision to home-school stems in large part from our profession and also from our specific field of inquiry. In our own classrooms, we both emphasize independent thinking, writing and analyzing instead of checking off boxes for the correct answer, and probably most importantly, we emphasize the importance of questioning, of wondering “why?” or “why not?” and trying to figure things out instead of being given answers.

Sadly, very little of this is happening in our public schools. Sure, there are exceptions, but by and large, our public schools are geared towards passing standardized testing, of meeting certain “requirements”, and identifying those kids who do not meet these standards. The kids who already meet the standards or are far beyond them, are the “easy” kids—the kids teachers don’t have to worry about. It is not the teachers’ fault, of course. They are under pressure to perform and to have students pass the state tests, or whatever standardized testing their schools use. But what happens to these kids who are beyond the standards for their grades? Who fosters their curiosity and their love of learning? Who lets them know that it is not only OK to be smart, it is, in fact wonderful? Instead, these kids sit in the classroom day in and day out, for hours on end, going through the motions, not being challenged, not being encouraged, and feeling like misfits for being “smart”.

By the time our daughter started kindergarten, she had already read many books in their entirety, on her own: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and other Roald Dahl books), The Magic Tree House series, and many others. By the time she started second grade this year, she was just finishing up reading the last of the Harry Potter books on her own.  When she started kindergarten we were told that she was ahead of the curriculum, but that she’ll eventually “level-out” and the curriculum will catch up to her. We were told the same thing at the start of first grade, and then again at the start of second grade. To us, these statements were disturbing: why should any school expect or want a bright kid to “level-out”? Shouldn’t schools try to sustain students’ curiosity and love of learning? We think so. Yet, we kept our daughter in school, not fully realizing how slowly the curriculum would grow compared to her curiosity. Now we know that the only way the curriculum will “catch up” is if social pressure to “dumb herself down” catches up to her and she figures out that being smart doesn’t really have any benefits in school.

I have read that currently homeschooling is the fastest growing trend in schooling in the United States. I wouldn’t be surprised at all, if academics made up a growing percentage of homeschooling families in the future. After all, we are in a position to see what the outcome of the deficiencies in our educational system is.  And if there are those among us, who resist standardization, rote learning, and quick and fast answers in our own classrooms and for our own students, how then, can we stand by and watch our own children be put through this kind of education in our schools?

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed