GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘Information’

So it’s Sunday evening and I’m in my office on campus.

In Janine's Posts on 2011/10/24 at 00:09

Janine Utell, writing from Chester, Pennsylvania in the US.

I like being here when it’s unnervingly deserted. It’s a great time to make sure I’m up to speed on everything, and plan for the week ahead. I especially needed this time to regroup and catch up because of the way the previous week ended.

Not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with an obnoxious flurry of emails for which I would like to right now offer a public apology to all my colleagues. They are generous, patient, and I enjoy working with them. I don’t want them to dread seeing me in their inbox.

Why so many emails, you ask? Well, you don’t ask, really, because you know. It’s because I had to schedule meetings. As chair of both a department and a pretty active committee, I have to schedule meetings. I’m really bad at it. When my dean suggests that I have a future in administration (a topic for a later post), part of why I scoff is because someone as bad at scheduling meetings as I am should not be allowed to run anything.

A combination of frustration at my own utter failure to fulfill this most basic of obligations, and a week reading The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters by Benjamin Ginsberg, got me thinking about the ways I am potentially torturing my colleagues with tasks that take them away from what they think they should be doing as teachers and scholars, as well as their own heavy service obligations.

According to Ginsberg, part of the problem with higher ed today is a disconnect between how faculty and administrators perceive their respective missions. For professors, their primary purpose is research and teaching: the creation and dissemination of knowledge essential and enriching to the human endeavor and condition. For administrators, their primary purpose is to create an ever-expanding bureaucracy that encroaches on all areas of university work and life. Again, according to Ginsberg (who seems to have had some unpleasant workplace experiences in the past few years, and strikes me as something of a crank – but not completely incorrect in his assessments), administrators are more concerned with imagining new positions and titles for themselves, then demonstrating their necessity by coming up with retreats, task forces, strategic plans, and meetings, ever more meetings.

If this is what it means to be an administrator, then I’m afraid I’m not interested. (For more on what it means to be an “academic,” see this great U of Venus post by Liana Silva.) Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe in their book Practical Wisdom (which I wrote about for ProfHacker) talk about how meaningful work has to have purpose. For me, my purpose, my mission, is to find new ways of thinking about the human experience, and then find new ways of sharing that work: online forums; articles and books; and good, responsive, exciting teaching. I feel a strong connection with my discipline, and a bond with people at my institution and beyond who share that mission and that connection (even if they are in disciplines other than my own).

So I want to rethink the way I work in my administrative and governance capacities, perhaps thinking of what we’re doing in terms of being a “maker” rather than a “manager,” in Paul Graham’s terms. I started by asking colleagues for a wish list of questions people might ask before they schedule a meeting:

  • What is the point of the meeting? Is the agenda clear and reasonable?
  • Where is the agenda coming from? Do we own the work of the meeting?
  • Is this facilitating either the greater purpose of the department/committee, individual colleagues, or both?
  • Would it be quicker/more efficient/less painful to have a shorter meeting/one-on-one conversation/email exchange?
  • Does the potential for hostility/anger/resentment exist and how can I head it off?

And my favorite, from Twitter colleague Stephen Ross (@GhostProf): “Am I the problem?” Part of why I love this is there are so many ways to answer it; it doesn’t hurt to be mindful of at least a few of them.

None of this is to say we don’t have important work, and sometimes the best way to do it is to get a bunch of smart and focused people in a room to do something productive. I just want to make sure that’s actually what we’re doing.

Related posts at University of Venus:

This post was also published at Inside Higher Ed.

A Course is not a Class is not a Section

In Information Minoration on 2010/11/24 at 12:52

Heather Alderfer, writing from New Haven, Connecticut in the USA

Are classes the same thing as courses and sections?

Simple questions about student data can quickly disintegrate into details too nuanced for most faculty to stomach. I restrain myself from asking too many questions in response: should data be categorized by term, or by year? Should non-degree students and auditors be included? Universities are swimming in data, even if they are siloed in ways that seem to make little sense.

Carefully chosen language can impose a kind of order upon the curriculum; courses persist over the years, classes are a course offered in a specific term, for a specific amount of credit. If more than one class is offered, there are multiple sections; classes have instructors, and classrooms, and meeting times, and exams. (I am sure there are institutions where this terminology is different, and I am very curious about how global institutions use similar words to refer to very different concepts).

Read the rest at Inside Higher Ed (link here)


We launched the University of Venus blog in February 2010 and currently have readers from over 125 countries. In October, 2010 the blog was visited by over 26,000 readers.

In July 2010 we partnered with Inside Higher Ed (a large higher ed media publication in the US) as part of a new initiative to support blogs focused on international and global higher ed.

In June, GlobalHigherEd and The World View launched with IHE. GlobalHigherEd is headed up by Kris Olds (professor at UWisconsin-Madison) and Susan Robertson (professor at UBristol, UK). The World View is a blogging venture coming from Philip Altbach’s team at the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.

Beginning July 12, we started blogging at University of Venus @ Inside Higher Ed. Check out our new home and join the conversation (link here)



Information Diet

In Information Minoration on 2010/02/16 at 09:00
The evolved human cognitive system has an extraordinarily sophisticated capacity for ignoring, filtering, and occasionally purposefully selecting information. (From time to time, some of us stand in awe as we witness multitasking students).

The question of whether or not laptops or WiFi are permitted in classrooms is increasingly passe. A more engaging question is: how are students paying attention and what is the quality of that attention? With a multitude of information channels ever present while they listen to a professor lecture, or while they study in newly-built library information commons, how has “paying attention” changed, and what does it mean for learning?

Taking a step back, what exactly is information? I’m currently studying Information Science, and I can’t quite grasp the enormity of information being created and available on my blackberry and my laptop, waiting for me to tune in to the stream. The average American diet of information was recently reported to be 34 gigabytes per day, the equivalent of 100,000 words. The question is: what is our capacity as humans to absorb information? At some level, this is synonymous with our ability to learn. As educators, we spend a lot of time thinking about how students learn.

Last semester, one of my professors stopped in the middle of a lecture, and asked the students to close their laptops, stop Facebooking, Twittering, and taking Sporcle quizzes. Another professor told us on the first day of class that he doesn’t care if we come to lecture, if we come to lecture and sleep, or if we come to lecture and look at Facebook. His theory is that students today absorb information in a variety of ways, and we know ourselves well enough to pay attention in a way that works for us. While this works for engaged graduate students, would it be the same for undergrads?

Although I am young enough to have brought a laptop with me to college my freshman year, the very nature of learning in the classroom is different today than it was twelve years ago. I no longer have a spiral bound notebook for notes and a folder for handouts for each class. Now I edit papers as they are being written by group members in a shared Google doc, record lectures and take notes in Word documents, and download my PDF readings from course managment systems.

How technology serves academic learning is an endless debate. As Rosalie pointed out in her post, students expect a WiFi-enabled library, feeding them a constant stream of updates and google searching to supplement their academic work. Students enjoy a rich information diet while learning.

Each year in January the resolutions for healthy eating habits spawn advertisements and promotions for gyms and the latest diet craze.  What are we feeding our brains? And what type of information do our brains want to absorb? What is our information diet?