Full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members lack a professional identity and a sense of self-worth, according to a new paper in the journal American Behavioral Scientist. The study is based on in-depth interviews with 18 full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members in English departments. “Right now, they have become like serfs – a labor force for tenure-track faculty,” said John S. Levin, who is the Bank of America Professor of Education Leadership at the University of California at Riverside. “That needs to change. Institutions need to take responsibility for these employees.”
In my sophomore literature class, I read a passage aloud from perhaps our best-known slave narrative, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, in which Douglass characterizes the nefarious effects of slavery on his new mistress, Sophia Auld:
The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon.
But then I stopped and asked, "What does the word commenced mean?" Silence. "What about infernal?" Silence. "Accord?" Embarrassed smiles all around.
In the past I would have given my standard lecture about looking up words instead of relying on something my students call "context clues," which I take to mean anything that prevents them from stopping, briefly, to do it the old-fashioned way. They have told me that they learned about "context clues" from previous teachers. I ask them what the word "context" means. Silence.
Douglass intimates that the worst part about slavery isn't the work or the whippings or the cold or the hunger or even the literal shackles. It's neither the blood nor the rapes. No, it's the compulsory ignorance, the full force of a system that understands slavery can only exist by the deprivation of learning, the absence, as it were, of light.
So I asked them: "What’s it like to be slaves?" I wasn't referring to Douglass, and I think some of them knew it.
As a child Douglass overhears his master, Hugh Auld, tell the naively benevolent Sophia to stop teaching him to read: "A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master — to do as he is told to do," Auld tells her. "Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world" and "would forever unfit him to be a slave." This is the moment of enlightenment for Douglass as he discovers through serendipity and keen discernment what he had always pondered: "to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man." He resolves to learn to read, reasoning that compulsory ignorance is the tool that keeps him and his fellow slaves in bondage.
"It is hard to have a southern overseer," Douglass’s contemporary, Henry David Thoreau, wrote in Walden; "it is worse to have a northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave-driver of yourself." Although Thoreau refers to physical labor that fails the test of self-enlightenment, his larger point applies to my students who, too, seem explicitly bent upon achieving their own contemporary version of metaphysical enslavement. Both Douglass and Thoreau would recognize and lament this mentality, and walk away confused by the disheartening juxtaposition of material affluence and imaginative poverty. And then they would use words to write about it.
It bears asking, though, what such students might be enslaved to, or by. Dangerous ideas? Not likely. The latest in chic outerwear for the fall season? Too late. Without sounding overly prejudicial, it is difficult to conceive of much that would fundamentally threaten their defensive sense of self-assurance, which is often no such thing. What I want to say here is that I am not always sure what I would like to free my students from — figurative slavery notwithstanding — since so many of them seem blissfully happy in their formidable selves. It's freedom to I’m concerned with.
Complicating my bewilderment is that I have no transgenerational ax to grind, knowing as I do that the cry of English professors over their students' supposed failings is pretty standard fare for well over a century at least, and anyway, the topic simply isn’t that interesting before the third beer.
So here's what I want, in part: I want my students to become interesting people — that is, more interesting than they already are. I want to be able to talk to them in 10 years about Frederick Douglass, and if they aren’t into Frederick Douglass I would wish that they have a passion about something, as I think many of them will. Most important, my foremost desire is for them to have the tools to express their passion, whatever that passion may be. One of these tools is vocabulary; the more important other is curiosity.
You have an English professor, a text, and a class. You ideally have the formula for some kind of reimagining of the self, the world, the text — even the professor. And a choice gets made not to make that transformation, not out of any inchoate philosophical positioning (echoing Bartleby the Scrivener’s "I would prefer not to"), but, well, just because. I would prefer not to. Or, more reasonably, the students choose not to out of fear, having failed in their previous attempts, or because the words themselves are another in a long list of obstacles familial, cultural, and structural.
But imagine, too, how Douglass's autobiography would look had he made the same choice not to pay attention to the signs around him. It would look like silence, the kind of silence we used to see on walls in New York City in the early and middle years of the AIDS crisis: Silence = death, a morbid equation that would touch Douglass at his very core and about which, I am certain, he and Thoreau would have much to say.
Thus his communicative power — indeed, any communicative power — is tied inextricably to literal and figurative liberation; it is liberation’s proximate and ultimate precondition. Sadly, many of my students miss the nuances of Douglass’s story because its function as literary text shuts down that act of communication. Think of it: an aesthetic and polemical text — no, a book! — a slave narrative that misses its mark because the author, himself an escaped slave with no formal education, uses words too well. The very words that helped to free Douglass are now the mark of another form of enslavement. I try to encourage my students to think of the profundity of a boy, then a man, who was everywhere unrecognized as a boy or man until his escape, and even then he remained of questionable status. His devotion to learning as a slave in fact allowed him to occupy the space of all those who kept him from such learning. He took power.
I want my students to take the same power, even if it seems significantly less is at stake. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe it only appears as if nothing other than a letter grade is on the line. If so, that’s exactly where we as educators have failed. We have to find a way to free them and ourselves. Why keep pretending? Why continue the charade? Slavery, as Douglass tells us, affects everyone, including the masters whose tyrannical assumption of power corrupts even the beneficent Sophia Auld. I want my students to free me, too. They can only do this by assuming and wielding the power I would most readily concede. Take it, I want to tell them. Kill me.
William Major is professor of English at Hillyer College of the University of Hartford.
Apple recently unveiled its digital book-authoring program, iBooks Author, and I’m scared.
The last three years that I have dedicated to pursuing my Ph.D. in instructional design & technology, which centers on interactive digital text, have given me a new perspective on the delicate balance that is necessary for classroom technologies to be productive and fruitful rather than novel and superficial. The seemingly endless hours that I have spent reading journal articles, writing papers, reading book chapters, taking in lectures, reading conference proceedings, and reading some more, have left me feeling as though I have earned some sort of badge that licenses me to make qualified observations about new educational technologies.
But that’s just the problem; you don’t need to be qualified. iBooks Author allows any Apple user to design and develop an interactive, multitouch textbook. No design experience necessary.
I should be ecstatic that a layperson is able to design instructional products with applications that, until recently, required a personal computer programmer to develop. The digital revolution is finally upon us!
Not exactly. I’m concerned that the act of creating a digital book for students will impede the learning benchmarks that are expected of them. Let me put it this way: When was the last time you saw a well-designed, engaging PowerPoint presentation, where the speaker did not read the words directly off of the slide, verbatim? This is my point. We have allowed everyone to become an instructional designer.
This phenomenon is occurring much more broadly. We are encouraging everyone to become an expert on everything. When I feel a swollen lymph node on my 3-year-old daughter’s neck, I don’t immediately call her pediatrician. I consult WebMD. I’m convinced it is a severe case of lymphoma until the pediatrician assures me that her body is just fighting off a cold. He prescribes more vitamin C.
When I hear that the Dow Jones Industrial Average has once again dipped below 10,000, and it is only going to get worse, I jump on to my eTrade account and start selling. I’m not a stock trader. I don’t know anything about the stock market. Nor am I a physician. So why am I acting like one? Because anyone can be an expert, and instructional design is no exception.
I teach at a small university and an even smaller community college in the Southeast. Every semester during my brief five years’ experience, I have been assigned course sections accompanied by a blank Blackboard (or Moodle) shell and told to design a course. Not once have any of my Blackboard (or Moodle) course sites been evaluated, and most have never been viewed by anyone but my students.
The idea that instructors are somehow incapable of violating basic instructional design principles is naive. What percentage of our nationwide faculty has heard of the split-attention effect, redundancy principle, contiguity principle, cognitive flexibility, or even cognitive load? Now, instructors are expected to be subject matter experts and instructional designers. The two are not synonymous, and the results can be detrimental to learning. iBooks Author is giving creative license to everyone, with or without instructional design experience.
For instance, iBooks Author touts the ability to embed multiple-choice quizzes into the text, yet the research on inserting lower-level, recall-type adjunct questions in text has been mostly inconclusive since the 1960s. Its effect on comprehension is minimal at best, but its impact on extraneous cognitive load is more likely. A more desirable widget would be to allow the user to interact with the text generatively, that is, by generating unique paraphrases, summaries or analogies.
Be aware of another thing: if you are going to use iBooks Author to design and develop that bestseller that you have always wanted to write, be prepared to sell it only in the iBookstore. That’s right. By creating your book in the iBooks Author output format, you are entering an exclusive licensing agreement with Apple. Check the fine print.
Let me be clear: I love Apple. I love admire its pursuit of innovations in educational technology. In fact, I composed this rant on an iPad. So, I suppose iBooks Author is not completely negative. It opens the discourse on interactive text in education. But the thought of anyone being able to develop entire textbooks for class use on his or her MacBook worries me. Interactive, customized, and adaptive text should be the next educational technology milestone, but not like this.
We are all going to continue to embrace and applaud Apple’s newest, sleekest application, because Apple is masterful at luring educators to its sexy designs and technology clique. But we should recognize that iBooks author is not an instructional tool that supports proven ID theory. And as a result, we will continue to build an increasingly accessible virtual world where we can act as professional instructional designers, physicians, and stock traders: with no experience necessary.
So I will leave you with something to think about: Technology doesn’t make us experts. Let’s recognize that a teacher is not inherently an instructional designer. Let the designers design, and teachers teach. Besides, teachers don’t get paid enough to do both.
Alan J. Reid is a Ph.D. student in instructional design and teaches English courses at Brunswick Community College and Coastal Carolina University.
Some alumni of the Yale University School of Management fear that it is abandoning its unique qualities in a bid to compete with top business schools, Bloomberg reported. Yale's management school -- which didn't offer an M.B.A. until 1999 -- has historically had much more of a focus on preparing leaders for the nonprofit or government world than has been the place at leading business schools. But Yale is also ranked well below the top business schools. A new dean who intends to challenge the top b-schools has set off the concerns. He is Edward Snyder, who was recruited from the University of Chicago.
Colleges and universities must transform undergraduate education in sciences, math and engineering -- in large part by expanding the reach of "evidence-based teaching approaches" -- if the United States is to meet a goal of producing 1 million more bachelor's and associate degree holders in those fields within a decade, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology said in a report issued Tuesday. The report, released in conjunction with a webcast featuring the presidents of the University of Virginia and Anne Arundel Community College and other higher education leaders, is built around evidence that significant numbers of those who enter college inclined to study math and science abandon those plans within the first two years, often citing uninspiring introductory courses or an environment that is "unwelcoming" to some groups.
To overcome those problems and produce more graduates -- which the report joins previous studies in arguing is essential to stimulate economic innovation and feed the U.S. work force -- the report from President Obama's science advisory council calls for catalyzing "widespread adoption" of empirically proven teaching methods in key science courses, establishing discipline-based federal programs to train graduate students and faculty members in those methods, replacing standard lab courses with "discovery-based research courses" (and using federal programs to help redesign those courses), closing the "mathematics-preparation gap" that leaves so many students unprepared for college-level science and technical courses, and clearing paths for would-be science and math students from K-12 to community colleges and then to four-year institutions.
The White House's agenda and suggestions overlap significantly with other reports and recommendations made in recent years, including an aggressive push announced last fall by the Association of American Universities.