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education – The Salt-Box http://www.jbj.wordherders.net "A man needn't go far to find a subject, if he's ready with his salt-box."--Uncle Pumblechook Thu, 09 May 2013 17:06:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 The first science project http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/06/08/the-first-science-project/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/06/08/the-first-science-project/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2009 02:38:04 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/06/08/the-first-science-project/ Continue reading ]]> The 6-yr-old, answering a question from his principal

Last week, the 6-yr-old’s school–the Holmes School for Science & Technology–had its first science fair. (I know, right?  What were they waiting for?)  Anyway, the boy was *super* excited about it, as you can see in this photoset on Flickr,  and he did a project on whether a solution of sugar, epsom salts, or alum will grow the best crystals as they evaporate at room temperature.  (Alum!)

We were a bit surprised at the fair to discover that the judges were evaluating grades K-3 together, using a rubric that included such items as a “lab report” and “three documented sources.”  Now, we both know enough about the scientific method to know that good experiments take into account existing knowledge, but . . . documented sources?  For kindergarteners?   That sounds age-appropriate.

Instead of doing that, we opted for a project that the boy could do, and for a poster that he could design and make himself.  He likes his participant ribbon just fine, and he and the *one* other kindergartener who participated both felt super-proud of themselves, as well they should have.   (They also worked each other into a panic early on, because the instructions had said that judges would interview you about your poster before making a decision.  That didn’t happen, but it took them a couple of minutes to catch on.  The adults you see him talking to in the photoset are my dept. chair, whose younger daughter attends the same school, and the principal.)

He’s already announced that next year he wants to do a project on Darwin.

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An offer to UConn http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/17/an-offer-to-uconn/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/17/an-offer-to-uconn/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2009 12:54:45 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/17/an-offer-to-uconn/ Continue reading ]]> Readers outside CT may not be aware that there is currently a mini-scandal in the state about retired employees, including faculty members, who keep working and are thus drawing both pension and pay from the state.  Sometimes this is fairly innocuous–some poor soul keeping her hand in by teaching the odd section of composition, but sometimes, well, sometimes it is a little outrageous:

One retired professor, [name snipped, since it’s not really about him, and I’m sure he’s a fine person who doesn’t deserve to be subjected to all this at the end of his career], teaches two introductory accounting classes each semester and is paid $81,650 per year in salary and more than $174,000 in pension, according to public records.

Regarding the salary of more than $81,000, Hogan said, “That’s what the market is” before adding that the market is even higher. UConn, he said, would need to spend $110,000 to hire an accounting professor as a replacement, and that professor would not teach the 800 students that [snip] currently teaches.

So, as I understand it, the offer is $81,000 for 2 intro classes?

As a service to the state, and as a way to get you off the front pages of the Courant,  I will teach two intro classes per year for $81,000.  Why stop at 800 students?  I will teach 1000 students in the two sections.

Now, you will perhaps object, “but you are a Victorianist, not an accounting professor, and can barely keep up with your checkbook and your (fairly simple) taxes,” which is a fair point.  But I have sabbatical coming up in the fall, and I could use that time to re-train.  Plus, let’s be honest: You don’t *really* care about pedagogy, or you wouldn’t  pack 800 kids into two classes.  Give me a few months with an intro to accounting textbook, and some publisher-supplied online/multimedia content, and everything would work out fine. I’m a good teacher: a two-time excellence-in-teaching award finalist, and a semi-finalist another time.  You can trust me!

(Somewhat more seriously, I’m bemused that the UConn union tolerates this: Unions should attend more to pay equity within the university.  When accounting professors earn $81K/yr, while English and history adjuncts earn pennies per hour . . . something’s badly broken.)

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Stanley Fish is irritating, and not in a good way http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/16/stanley-fish-is-irritating-and-not-in-a-good-way/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/16/stanley-fish-is-irritating-and-not-in-a-good-way/#comments Mon, 16 Feb 2009 12:59:07 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/16/stanley-fish-is-irritating-and-not-in-a-good-way/ Continue reading ]]> Today’s Stanley Fish column about academic freedom & fantasies of academic exceptionalism offers a good example of his strengths and his considerable weaknesses as a columnist.

For example, I think this is both true and too-infrequently said:

But this is what many (not all) academics believe, and if pressed they will support their belief by invoking a form of academic exceptionalism, the idea that while colleges and universities may bear some of the marks of places of employment — work-days, promotions, salaries, vacations, meetings, etc. — they are really places in which something much more rarified than a mere job goes on.

As Fish implies, this seems nuts.  I think we can all agree that educational moments are special ones–the delight of seeing someone grasp hold of something in a difficult poem is a precious thing, for instance.  But there’s nothing “special” about the conversion of those moments into credit hours (for the students) and biweekly paychecks with benefits (for the lucky few, the tenure-track faculty).  It doesn’t sully the former to note the latter.

So far, so good.  But then he starts trolling indiscriminately through the case law to disprove the academic exceptionalism thesis, and he does so utterly without reference to the question of the decisions’ validity or merit.  I mean, he cites approvingly  Urofsky v. Gilmore, a 2000 case from Virginia, in which a the court upheld–as applying to professors–“a law requiring state employers to gain permission from a supervisor before accessing sexually explicit materials on state-owned computers.”

The point here is surely not that professors should be allowed randomly to surf porn sites.  The point is that the VA law was bad law: Overbroad and vague in its definitions, it puts up stupid impediments in the way of professorial work, and the work of other state employees, as well:

Virginia Code ¤2.1-804-806 (the Act) bans state employees’ use of state computers to access any “sexually explicit content,” broadly defined to include descriptions or depictions of “sexual excitement” or “sexual conduct” of virtually any sort. There is no requirement that the banned communications lack serious value, be “patently offensive,” or appeal to prurient inte-rests. The Act affects approximately 101,000 state employees, including thousands of professors, librarians, and other researchers at 39 institutions of higher education. It also affects museum curators, physicians and their staffs at the Commonwealth’s two medical colleges and their associated hospitals and clinics, and social service and health workers researching, investigating, and communicating with colleagues and the public about child abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual dysfunction, and sexual crimes. 

In other words, in this case the professors did *not* claim academic exceptionalism–they merely pointed out that the law is an ass.  (Full disclosure: I’m pleased to have been, years ago, the student of one of the professors involved in that case–Terry Meyers–whose interest in Swinburne would lead him, as we’ll see below, continuously afoul of such a law.)

In general, I sort of agree with Fish that academic freedom is a good thing, and we should argue for extending it to all, not ritualistically defend it for ourselves only.  But his argument ends up confusing two pretty different points: the idea that professors should exercise academic freedom with regard to the interests of their institution (a more defensible claim) and that, at least at public universities, they should exercise academic freedom with regard to the interests of the state.  That’s a less defensible claim because, as the Urofsky case suggests, frequently the state and the institution will be at loggerheads. Public higher education is a curious thing–we love it (said the professor at a public university) for providing access, but the expectation that faculty will do research and will teach according to disciplinary norms frequently leads to difficulties. It’s good for William & Mary to have a prominent Swinburne scholar on the faculty, and it’s counterproductive to that interest to make him beg for approval to call up Pre-Raphaelite material on his computer.

Professor Meyers has an entertaining/maddening column on his experiences with the case here.  It’s really unbelievable that Fish cites it:

The law leads to some curious situations. For example, as a state employee, I cannot (without permission) use a public-access computer in the university library to read Swinburne’s “The Leper” (which deals with necrophilia), although it is available from the University of Virginia by way of the Virtual Library of Virginia (VIVA). But without having to seek permission, I can go to the stacks and read the poem in a book owned by the state. And the law does not apply to students, unless they work for a faculty member as state-paid research assistants. Nor does the law apply to members of the public who might want to read Swinburne—or even view virtual child pornography—on the library’s computers.

The whole thing’s worth reading.

(Posted, of course, from my home computer.)

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Should MLA members be experts in electronic environments? http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/15/should-mla-members-be-experts-in-electronic-environments/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/15/should-mla-members-be-experts-in-electronic-environments/#respond Sun, 15 Feb 2009 16:30:02 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/15/should-mla-members-be-experts-in-electronic-environments/ Continue reading ]]> Alex Reid has a typically thoughtful post this morning on the MLA’s recent white paper on the undergraduate major in language and literature.  There is something a bit embarrassing about the MLA’s assertion that competencies in reading and writing translate easily across different media and domains of discourse, and Reid does a good job unpacking this without devolving into snark.

I do think he lets MLA members off too easily, though:

And I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with the fact that MLA members are not experts in electronic environments. MLA members don’t need to have a special interest or facility with electronic environments. That’s not what we hire them for and it’s not what we educate them to do in graduate school. Some might have these interests; obviously I think the study of media networks ought to be a part of English studies; but it ought not to be a requirement of everyone! Nor should every MLA scholar or MLA in general necessarily think that their work needs to meet this goal of networked media literacy.

It is true that it would be overkill for everyone to take media networks as the object of their research.  And it’s also true that, right now, we don’t train people to do this in graduate school.  But I think it would also be fair to say faculty members and graduate students need to be far more adept than they generally are at using networked media as part of their research and teaching.  Jo Guldi’s recent meditations on what a networked scholarly journal might look like are relevant:

In going web 2.0, journals have the ability to mesh their publications with tools that will allow readers to better integrate journal essays with the rest of their research. A scholar using zotero and jstor can download the article pdf and the citation, ready for use in footnote. Web 2.0 journals will go further into this zone: a scholar using zotero, jstor, google scholar, and delicious can instantaneously find other scholars’ opinions of a particular article, the names of the disciplines and sub-disciplines they think it applies to best, and other articles of similar note to that particular scholar.

Think about how far we still have to go to get a critical mass of faculty and graduate students who can read this paragraph.  Zotero and delicious are well beyond the range of reference of most people I talk to, for instance. And yet, I would argue that if one’s not familiar with tools such as these, then it will only get harder to do research–no matter what your area of expertise. It’s not that I think everyone must use *these* tools in particular (maybe you’re all about Diigo), but the process of figuring out what they offer, and whether you can better achieve those goals with something else, seems critical.

Likewise with teaching.  I don’t think every single class *must* have a wiki, blog, and SIMILE-backed timeline–if they did, for instance, I’d have to find a different way to differentiate myself, which would seem like work.  But I do think that faculty should be rejecting these tools, when they do, for reasons other than, “oh, I don’t understand that.”  Or, “that’s not supported in Blackboard.”  Pedagogical literacy anymore demands that faculty have a certain expertise with technology so that they can make informed decisions about how best to organize and run their classes–even when those classes don’t have a technology component.

People are busy, so I’m not really suggesting that faculty members should retrain.  (Although maybe they should!  It’s not hard to learn Zotero, or wikis, or whatever.)  But looking forward, it seems clear that both undergraduate and graduate education need to reflect in a more sophisticated way about the varying kinds of technologies we use (or don’t).

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