Re: Academy: maps and legends

1

It's hardly a consoling thought when you realize you'll probably lose out on jobs to people who will hate where they're at for the rest of their lives.

Wait, that is sort of consoling, if you hate people.

He's not to be reached...


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 7:36 AM
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Is "professor what-am-I-doing-here" understood as (a) "professor I'm-above-this-place-and-should-be-at-Harvard" or (b) "professor I'm-a-fraud-and-pray-nightly-that-no-one-will-figure-it-out"?


Posted by: phred | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 7:37 AM
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"(9) Professor Uses-Tenure-To-Pursue-Hobbies-Or-Job-On-The-Side-Full-Time"

here's hoping Instapundit Heh, Indeed's your post.


Posted by: Bryan | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 7:47 AM
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I have fond memories of taking classes with junior faculty members Professor I'm-Such-A-Kickass-Teacher-I-Have-No-Prayer-of-Getting-Tenure and Professor I'm-on-the-Cusp-of-a-Career-Breakthrough-and-this-is-the-last-Undergrad-Seminar-I-will-Ever-Teach.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 7:49 AM
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You know, it's not me making that shit up.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 7:51 AM
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Among the senior faculty, there was Professor I-Could-Recite-This-Lecture-in-my-Sleep and Professor I've-Got-A-Nobel-Fucking-Prize-So-I-Can-Talk-About-Whatever-the-Fuck-I-Feel-Like.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 7:53 AM
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On the other hand, some places really do suck to live in.

Don't forget professor doesn't-do-their-own-research and their twenty graduate students.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:01 AM
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What about Indiana Jones? Surely they haven't all been driven out of academia, have they?


Posted by: Mo MacArbie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:05 AM
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I did have a professor whose notes were so old that he had to turn the pages carefully with both hands so they didn't fall apart.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:07 AM
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What about Indiana Jones? Surely they haven't all been driven out of academia, have they?

Alas, it is so.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:08 AM
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Bleah.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:09 AM
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Sure, many people there believe that thinking deep thoughts makes you a faggot, but then again it does.

I just wanted to highlight this as the truest words ever spoken. Ima go teach Pater.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:13 AM
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Number 9 (Professor Uses-Tenure-To-Pursue-Hobbies-Or-Job-On-The-Side-Full-Time) is totally my dad.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:18 AM
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I don't want to teach a 5-5 to hordes of mouth-breathing douchebags

Forget not the psychic satisfaction that comes from flunking the douchebags and thereby getting them taken to the woodshed by Pa and/or ruining their NCAA eligibility.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:19 AM
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I'm guessing one of the fives in 5-5 refers to five days a week, but I don't know what the phrase really means.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:23 AM
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Five classes in the fall, five in the spring.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:23 AM
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So basically five hours a week?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:29 AM
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A 4-4 teaching load is heavy, and generally goes with being a "teaching" institution where faculty aren't expected to (or, generally, able to) get a whole ton of research done. Research institutions generally have a 2-2 or sometimes 2-3 teaching load. Institutions with 3-3 loads are in-betweeny loosey-goosey.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:30 AM
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No, dsquared, each class is usually 3 hours a week in the classroom, plus office hours (and, of course, grading and prep).


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:31 AM
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I ran into Professor Emeritus Used-to-be-Cool-But-Now-Viewed-With-Bemused-Knowing-Looks at a party last year, and damn, he was still cool. Especially after he had a glass of champagne and started fulminating about how his publisher inexplicably pushed that faddish popularizer Jared Diamond over his own book.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:33 AM
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My impression from higher end research universities was that the load was like 1-1, with the occasional 2-1 (graduate seminar) thrown in. Granted, I'm in the sciences, but the few upper div hum courses I took, the course was the only one the professor was teaching.

That's a wagon I'd like to climb onto.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:35 AM
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forgive me for perhaps a little light trolling, but that's like 15 hours. Even with office hours, "grading and prep", this isn't getting near Working Time Directive levels. I spend at least three hours on the phone every day and I still get my research done.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:35 AM
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Both grants and administrative work often come with course release attached.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:36 AM
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I swear that my undergraduate institution's teaching load was 2-2 or even 2-1, but Classics is a strange field. I think that a lot of the graduate teaching was not done in actual seminars but in individual tutorials. Grad students had to take seminars on philology and mastering the field generally. Then, before they wrote their dissertations, they were supposed to study for two specialist fields that they would be competent to teach. I think that most of this instruction was one on one, since an annual graduate student class was probably 3-5 people.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:39 AM
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7: Absolutely, some places do, but the dual claim that a) anywhere that isn't the Dream Job R-1 sucks and b) the students are mouthbreathers (teehee, aren't we just so coastal and cultured) at Red State U and not at Prestigious Pretentious U doth irk.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:40 AM
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Number 9 (Professor Uses-Tenure-To-Pursue-Hobbies-Or-Job-On-The-Side-Full-Time) is totally my dad.

Me too.

What about Professor Only-Person-At-Tiny-College-To-Have-Ever-Published-A-Book-In-A-Printing-Of-More-Than-200? That's him too.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:42 AM
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It would be bad of me to take the d2 bait re 5/5 loads, right?


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:43 AM
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Go on, take the bait. I'll make popcorn.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:44 AM
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Not so common in the humanities, but Professor Exploits-Grad-Students-as-Cheap-Labor-in-his-Consulting-Business is a pretty well-known figure in the sciences/engineering/management faculties.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:44 AM
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Please do! Then I won't.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:45 AM
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I've taken classes from Prof. Classes-Take-5-Hours-A-Week, and graded for him too. The former can be OK, the latter is awful.


Posted by: mano negra | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:49 AM
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The rule of thumb in p/hysics is that for an assistant professor, the three one-hour lectures per week take six hours each of prep the first time you do them, and two hours each, when you teach them again (if you're responsible, and don't trust yourself to have it "all come back.")


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:52 AM
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24: Yeah, that's my field. I think the teaching load at my Ph.D. institution was 2-1-1 (quarters). It was also a place that thought it very important for professors teach most of the undergrad classes -- even first year languages -- so the graduate students really had to fight to get teaching experience.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:53 AM
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Academy: maps and legends

I got an email this weekend from an anthropology professor at SUNY-Plattsburgh asking permission to use this map in an introductory anthropology text he's writing. It's Froz's creation, so I just forwarded it on to him for any decision. But I still thought that was pretty cool.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:53 AM
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,i>forgive me for perhaps a little light trolling

A veiled threat. Soon the gloves come off.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:53 AM
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Conceptual continuity: the professor got his doctorate at UNC.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:54 AM
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I don't have much to say other than:

(a) prepping class (at least on the first or second go-round) takes longer than teaching class;
(b) when you've got five classes, you've got a lot of students x two exams x two papers= a hell of a lot of grading;
(c) administrative stuff;
(d) all the bs that comes up day-to-day-- advising, departmental responsibilities, professional activities besides research, and so on.

People who teach well with a 4/4 or 5/5 are heroic. I wouldn't last a week.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:54 AM
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I will say that the scientists who have carefully structured sequences get off easy on prep, at least in this way: the syllabus is pretty much pre-made. All the courses I've developed have been more or less from the ground up, and that takes time. Time I use to blog, of course, and so my students. just work through a randomly-selected anthology chapter by chapter.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:56 AM
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33: I had the impression your PhD was from "on the Midway," and if so, I'm amazed there were any TA opportunities.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:57 AM
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To add to 37(d): answering student emails. Sucks up a lot of time.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:59 AM
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There is no multiplier in the field of economics quite like the one that relates time spent in contact with students to the non-teaching work this generates.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:59 AM
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38 - but that benefits the (vast majority of?) lit professors who want to find a way to fit random things that fascinate them into the syllabus. Sometimes people try to do that in intro chemistry, intro microbiology, et al., but it's always an enormous waste of time.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:59 AM
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39: Aha. Yes, indeed. My fellowship had TA and teaching gigs built in after the first 3 years. Other folks would have to try to wrestle some HUM core requirements away from Social Thinkers.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:02 AM
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To put 42 another way, if you organize your poetry or philosophy survey course in a totally nonsensical fashion and your discussions are constantly going off-topic because people (or you) would prefer to discuss something else, the class can still be enjoyable and people can feel stimulated. Not so in a science class that isn't well organized.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:02 AM
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That first quote initially annoyed the hell out of me (you get to live the life of the mind, however imperfectly! You get to shape the occasional seeker amidst the boring-ass hordes! You basically get a sinecure! You're pissed nobody was enough able to recognize the genius of your oh-so-important research such that they would give you 25 -- 5! -- hours a week to pursue it? Work longer!) but it would be really inappropriate, and not a little bit trolling, for me to voice my objections, especially since I don't know what I'm talking about. I'll leave that to dsquared. I will simply mention that I'm immmensely glad I'm not basing my career on the capricious whims of the rich benefactors that ultimately control the purse strings in e.g. philosophy. Life is so much easier when somebody thinks you might make them money.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:02 AM
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From the graduate student perspective, I'll add

Full Professor Your-Work-Will-Never-Be-As-Important-As-Mine.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:04 AM
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I teach 4-4. It is a lot of work.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:05 AM
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Junior professors with 2-2 teaching loads (or 2-1 plus a summer course) work as hard as associate lawyers, in my experience.. Most of that is research & writing & revisions & publishing the like but that is an explicit job requirement, not an optional license to live the life of the mind. The idea that each class is 3 hours/week of work is complete bullshit.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:10 AM
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Teaching undergrad tutorials at O/xford is also amusing. Say, 8 - 10 students, in a week. Each doing different essay topics, necessitating preparing different stuff for each of the contact hours.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:11 AM
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One of the worst parts of academic life seems to be that you're never fully "off" the job; any moment might should be spent thinking about or working on something. It seems to take a lot of conscious discipline to keep the job from swallowing your life.

Seems like even thirty years ago, being an academic was a pretty sweet gig for most of the people who did it, but not now.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:13 AM
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There is the occasional Professor Really-Is-A-Genius-You're-Lucky-to-See. I learned a lot from the ones I knew.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:15 AM
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Professor I-Have-Five-Stories-So-Get-Used-To-Hearing-Them-All-The-Time,

It's safe to say this is me. Substitute "Five Tired Jokes" for "stories".


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:16 AM
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Yup, I totally was trolling. Good to know. Sorry, guys! Good luck!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:16 AM
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It is a lot of work, and I'll add that when your university decides that it must be more than just a "teaching" institution, the increased demands for scholarship don't actually result in lower teaching loads, just higher penalties for not meeting the new standards. That's what a massive pool of excess labor will get you.

Wait . . . everything on the internet is anonymous and untraceable, right? {looks over shoulder}


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:17 AM
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Professor My-Jokes-Aren't-Funny-But-They're-All-I-Have: this one is me.

Professor-Complains-About-Working-Conditions: apparently me, but not in front of the students. Except when they blame their tuition increases on professors who are getting their first cost-of-living raise in five years. Oh . . . it is me.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:20 AM
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My undergraduate thesis advisor Ch/arles S/egal was pretty much a genius. His specialty was the interpretation of Greek and Latin poetry and plays; he didn't bother to specialize more than that. He also did some work in comparative literature. He wrote more than 20 books and tons of articles and reviews, and his writing was always clear. At one point he wasn't offered a tenured position, because it was thought that he couldn't possibly have done that much good quality work. One of my other professors told me that he spoke up at the meeting and said, "Just look at a few of his books and articles. Would you grant someone tenure on the basis of that work alone?" He was always open to other people's interpretations. He had a decent sense of his own worth, but he was genuinely humble, generous and unpretentious. I was blessed to have known him.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:22 AM
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Seems like even thirty years ago, being an academic was a pretty sweet gig for most of the people who did it, but not now.

There is some truth here.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:23 AM
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Shit. Would someone mind google proofing Se/gal?


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:24 AM
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You're pissed nobody was enough able to recognize the genius of your oh-so-important research such that they would give you 25 -- 5! -- hours a week to pursue it? Work longer!

5! is 120, Sifu.

And Idp, there were fair number of TA opportunities on the midway when I was there. Or rather, there were a fair number of classes with TAs; I don't know how the opportunities really shook out. But TAing is not teaching, of course. I didn't realize, though, that the ComSocTht monopolized the real courses.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:24 AM
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If you subtract "watches sports" and blend up 4 though 13, you get my Dad. Sad but true.

There's basically nothing in my kitchen except tortillas, Starbursts, and rum.

For a second, I thought Teo was my Dad on that other thread.


Posted by: Penny | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:24 AM
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Are there no irritating associate professors?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:29 AM
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Ah, the post accounts for this.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:30 AM
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25: This is very true; and the sort of bullshit that you hear from ivy idiots more than elsewhere, I'll grant.

On the other hand, the idea that anyone should necessarily feel overjoyed to be offered a job a we-only-care-about-sports State U. in east-asscrack, heartland for 50k/year after ten years of study graduate study and post-doctoral research also irks.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:31 AM
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61: There certainly are, but their irritations haven't really matured yet so they aren't quite as noticeable.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:32 AM
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50k/year

Ka-ching! I do not make this much.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:35 AM
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To think that if I had played my cards right I could have been one of those annoying professors. Trust me, I would not have disappointed. But my moment is past.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:35 AM
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63: The appropriate attitude should be somewhere between fawning and overjoyed and disdainful. Benevolently morose, perhaps.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:37 AM
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On the other hand, I'm on a 9-month contract. Let's hear it for vacation time.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:38 AM
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65: you don't have to work in east-asscrack, hbgb. They pay a little extra for that.

fwiw, i'm one of those (insane) ones who declined a six figure job offer to go to grad school and be broke through 2 degrees, eventually allowing me to maybe one day command one of those vaunted academic salaries we all hear about. If I had a financial advisor, I would drive them to distraction.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:39 AM
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68: point!


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:40 AM
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No, hbgb works in God's Country. And she loves it!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:42 AM
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I am now interested in this one. How many hours a week would someone on this "5-5 load" be looking at working, ignoring time spent doing research?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:43 AM
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50k/year

That's my goal salary for when I reach Full Professor (long, long way to go). However, I think soup biscuit was talking about the sciences, where that would indeed by a low salary. We humanitarians don't know from grants, post-docs, research assistants, or none of that stuff, neither.

TAing actually is teaching, in the humanities. TAs are usually teachers of record, entirely responsible for the whole course. They just don't get the pay or benefits.

True, about the irksomeness of coastal provincialism, but also the irksomeness of not being able to live where one wants.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:45 AM
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I believe Heebie technically works in West Asscrack. (Though it's an asscrack with very pleasant company.)


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:45 AM
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56: Everyone loved him (a rarity for academia). You are lucky to have known him.

59.2: Well, in my department only the first year language sequences generally merited a TA (even though there was never any more than 25 in a class). And, while I don't know that they were the only "real" classes, the ancient sequences in the core were almost never taught by classics students -- only Committee folk.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:46 AM
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5! is 120, Sifu.

I'd think you could get a fair amount done in 120 hours a week.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:47 AM
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The salary thing is even more embittering in the sciences, where the salary gap between PhD-level positions in industry/at a national lab and faculty positions is an absolute yawning chasm.

The whatsits fell from my eyes the day I realized that if I got a holy-grail-level liberal-arts-college job I'd take a pay cut from my postdoc. The only competitive salaries are at high-end private institutions, and I'm not getting one of those.

At the high end of public research universities: recently released salary scales from Berkeley, academic and fiscal years.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:48 AM
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72: The only people I know who work 5-5 are community college professors, and they are truly way overworked. They generally do not have any time for research. I don't know their hours.

I do not have time for research except for summers and vacations. During the school year I spend 45-50 hours/ week at school, and nights and weekends I get the extra grading and course prep finished.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:49 AM
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I believe Heebie technically works in West Asscrack.

I assume Houston is considered to be the hole?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:53 AM
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73: do you think that science professors get paid more on average within a given institution? I don't believe this is true.

Professors in an engineering subdivision, or in the business school, certainly. But I'm betting that at (say) Wesleyan, UCLA, Youngstown State and Harvard, starting faculty are approximately equally compensated across disciplines.

Although now that I think about it, I think I'm talking about 9-month salaries. I suppose science types might have more access to the summer salary through grant money?


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:55 AM
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I have no idea how many of these are around now, but in college in the mid-80s I ran into this one just often enough to register on me as a type: Professor Why-Aren't-You-Hippies, who remembered their student days in the '60s or early '70s with a heavily varnished nostalgia, for whom no current student could ever measure up to those ineffable heights of coolness and supreme humanity.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:55 AM
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I was there thirty years ago, and there are supposed to have been changes in everything, so I only have an expectation.

I was a grad student in English, but knew a fair number of undergrads. I never heard anybody talk about having or being a TA, I mean the kind that actually teaches sections at many schools.

At State U where I got my BA, most classes in the first years were taught by TAs, and sometimes the Professor was a figure on television.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:55 AM
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81: Murray Sperber?


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:57 AM
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[50k/year is] my goal salary for when I reach Full Professor

Is that really all they're paying in academia? Holy shit.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:58 AM
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78: so we're looking at a 4x tooth-to-tail ratio here (assuming 4x3 = 12 hours actual class time)? That strikes me as evidence that a lot of inefficiency has crept into the system. I suspect that it's a scheduling problem if you have lots of odd hours between classes that are time that's basically impossible to use - I get really really nasty with people who set up schedules like that for me. (Where I'm going here is that I write research, and I reckon that I have roughly 10 hours direct face or phone time with clients a week, plus my office hours are basically all the time that I'm not in a meeting. I'm trying to see where the entropy creeps in, because there's clearly a lot of it.)


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:58 AM
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Okay, trollfeeding perhaps, but really, 5-5 would be insane.

Classroom hours: say each course is meeting 3 hours a week. =15 hours
(A graduate seminar might meet for only 2 hours a week, but that means you've got a graduate program in your department, which would mean even more work.)
Prep, at two hours for every classroom hour. =30 hours

We're already up to 45 hours, without grading, office hours, advising, or administrative tasks.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:59 AM
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Although now that I think about it, I think I'm talking about 9-month salaries. I suppose science types might have more access to the summer salary through grant money?

From what I understand (which may not be a lot), grant money is basically the whole game for hard science faculty. University funding provides a relatively miniscule portion of their funding/income.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:59 AM
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How many hours a week would someone on this "5-5 load" be looking at working, ignoring time spent doing research?

d2, anyone publishing scholarship on a 5-5 teaching load is superhuman, and has no personal life. That's a typical teaching load for a community college, or a regional state U that has had its budget cut to the bone. (I'm talking about the U.S. context, which is all I know about). Those teachers are spending around 60 hours a week on teaching when they are new. If they can teach the same courses over and over, they can get it down to 35-40, and do their busywork and committees in the remaining time.

A 4-4 load is typical for a regional state university (not the "flagship" PhD-granting campus, but the ones that give Bachelors and maybe Masters degrees in Nursing, Police Studies, etc.). It takes 30-40 hours a week to do the teaching if you don't have too many newly developed courses. But there are always a few new or re-done courses. There are committees and busywork that take at least 10, and at most infinite hours, depending on whether one can say "no." Then there is all that extra time for research.

I do not doubt that people on 1/1 or 1/2 loads are working hard. As someone said above, the research demands are built in to their schedule.

There are slackers in all professions, such as those who write comments on blogs when they need to be writing responses to paper drafts. We all disdain such people.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:59 AM
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I'm sure that the only reason hbgb can stand it in God's Country is her portable Jammies.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:00 AM
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A lot of inefficiency has crept into the system..... I'm trying to see where the entropy creeps in....

D^2 is a master of understatement.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:02 AM
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a lot of inefficiency has crept into the system

Yeah, face-to-face interaction with students is so inefficient.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:02 AM
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Grading can take a truly enormous amount of time, at least in some disciplines. The unusable chunks of time issue is also real, certainly.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:02 AM
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87: right, but doesn't the university still dictate how much of that grant money you get to take for yourself? I.e., doesn't the university say "your salary is 45k for nine months, so just take 60k out of your grant and call it your twelve-month," and just giggle that they don't have to pay you themselves?


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:03 AM
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80: Yes, typically science types can add 1/3 or more to salary via `summer salary'. I've even hear of 100% soft money salaries. So that might account for some difference.

72: a 5-5 load is insane. It's the sort of thing you might find at a community college doing intro courses only, or a (overworked underpaid) lecturer position. A 4-4 is a big load, and no way you could do research as well unless you were phoning the courses is (and had someone else doing all of your marking)


About the 50k thing. Yes, I was sort of assuming sciences or engineering, I really don't have a feel for humanities. I know people in sciences who've started everywhere between 30/yr to 75/yr, for what it's worth. I will almost certainly take a pay cut if I get a t-t job.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:04 AM
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I'm sure that the only reason hbgb can stand it in God's Country is her portable Jammies.

To be earnest, I feel like the faculty here, who a largely a wonderful, liberal bunch, stand to make a bigger difference than we could on the east coast because we're schoolin' kids who come from God's Country. (It's like taking weight gainer before going on The Biggest Loser.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:06 AM
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Yeah, face-to-face interaction with students is so inefficient.

Baumol's Disease is the term of art.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:07 AM
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93: that sounds right, but I think the amounts of the grants, especially if you're talking about big corporate (pharma, whatever) money, can be quite large. Assuming you're in a field that attracts money, obviously.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:07 AM
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Prep, at two hours for every classroom hour

=what is this? This seems to be clocking in at slightly more than two weeks of 9-to-5 working per 15 week course. I would in general expect to write a 40,000 word research report (as in, not really high level research, but usually done from scratch and not always on a familiar topic) in about one week. So that would put the preparation for each course at roughly the length of a short nonfiction book. This seems like a hell of a lot.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:08 AM
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Wow, soup biscuit is making me think I know nothing about this, and is correspondingly making me feel even more depressed about what this "academia" I hear so much about must be like.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:09 AM
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I do not prep two hours per classroom hour. For classes I've taught a million times, I prep about 20-30 minutes, depending on the day. For classes which I'm less familiar with, it's a 1:1 ratio of prep:classroom time.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:10 AM
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At OHSU, a medical research place, whole labs are government money, and the University takes a cut without paying anything (they do provide support services.)

I was going to say that a downside of teaching for me (a few adjunct courses at Last Chance U, Portland OR) was seeing the pitiful, helpless, lazy students wondering how little work to do and still get a B. Some were in genuinely bad family-financial-health situations and were trying desperately to rescue themselves, and others just seemed lame. A lot of them were repairing serious deficiencies on top of everything. It was very depressing. And God forgive me, the prospect that one of the cuter lady students might adore me beyond the call of duty was one of the few consolations, though nothing ever came of that.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:10 AM
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93: Don't forget overhead, so they giggle all the way to the bank.

Is that really all they're paying in academia? Holy shit.
It's an eye opener, isn't it? I had 3 job offers before graduating undergrad that were higher than this. Within a year, I was making more than what I make now (with 6 more years education and 2 degrees).

Opportunity cost, indeed.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:10 AM
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97: right, but the size of the grant doesn't matter after a certain point. I mean, you get to hire more postdocs and grad students who don't have to TA, and buy cooler lasers, but your personal compensation doesn't change once your grants are big enough to cover the summer salary.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:11 AM
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do you think that science professors get paid more on average within a given institution? I don't believe this is true. . . . I'm betting that at (say) Wesleyan, UCLA, Youngstown State and Harvard, starting faculty are approximately equally compensated across disciplines.

Well, I pulled my numbers out of my . . . preconceptions. So there is a grass-is-greener jealousy factor here. I tend to think everyone in the other colleges makes more than me. (Meanwhile our secretaries make $18K, which should be a scandal). The Chronicle publishes the AAUP salary data. But who wants to do all that work with numbers? I've fooled around enough with numbers. Give me a poem.

My impression is that sciences, and especially legal or medical disciplines, get paid more because of competition from that yawning chasm between U salaries and private industry salaries. The schools do the best they can at making gestures towards trying to compete.

But consider that for most humanities fields, there is no competing industry and an oversupply of labor. The U doesn't even need to try. We fool ourselves that our administrators value what we do . . . I suspect they use the hard, cold calculations of the market exclusively to measure our value.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:13 AM
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My mom just emailed this:

dsquared is just mocking you because he's jealous. it's ok that you're a loafing drag on society. ignore him, honey.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:14 AM
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I had 3 job offers before graduating undergrad that were higher than this.

Me too. But, still being big-eyed and earnest, I'm happy in my career. I'm glad I did not take the job at Microsoft. (Literally).


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:14 AM
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Basically, heebie just has to brush up on the multiplication tables before each class.

And recite "Minus times minus equals plus. The reasons for this we need not discuss".


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:14 AM
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85: (Where I'm going here is that I write research, and I reckon that I have roughly 10 hours direct face or phone time with clients a week, plus my office hours are basically all the time that I'm not in a meeting. I'm trying to see where the entropy creeps in, because there's clearly a lot of it.)

Redfox mentioned grading; I'd also say that there's a lot of difference between teaching a class and 'face or phone time with clients.' I've done both (although teaching only at a secondary school level), and teaching takes a lot more prep -- a one on one interaction can be done off the cuff without much more preparation than knowing what you're talking about. The feedback and responsiveness from the person you're talking to does a lot of the work.

Prepping for teaching a class, on the otherhand, requires making a presentation to a large audience that's comprehensible and valuable without much feedback while it's going on. In non-teaching jobs, presentations like that are commonly treated as a big deal, requiring a whole lot of prep; teachers treat them more offhandedly because they do it so much, but it's still a very prep-intensive process.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:16 AM
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Emerson, tell me about Mailer again?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:16 AM
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106: Oh, absolutely. I'm not saying it's the wrong decision. I'm still here, too.

I'm just saying that the salary expectations in industry and academy are hardly related at all.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:16 AM
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I am now interested in this one. How many hours a week would someone on this "5-5 load" be looking at working, ignoring time spent doing research?

More troll feeding. Anyone on 5-5 (let us pause: jesus christ) gets zero research time on the job. Think about it this way: Research 1 universities are places where a majority of the TT faculty member's workload is research. E.g., 50 percent research, 40 percent teaching, 10 percent service. At such a place, the typical load is 2-2. At some of the swankier places, it's 2-1. Things are a little different (and generally better for faculty) if the school is on quarters rather than semesters.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:17 AM
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Yeah, face-to-face interaction with students is so inefficient

Well maybe or maybe not, but 12 hours of face-to-face interaction with students expanding to 50 hours of work is mental. I spend 10 hours a week with clients, but I work about 55 hours a week (0600 to 1900) and I do a lot of writing and what I consider to be a reasonable amount of admin in that time, plus I do have a life. I'm trying to understand where the missing time goes in the academic world, and I'm currently guessing inefficient scheduling and lots of "odd hours". It always frightens me to hear academic pals talking about putting together academic timetables by hand, done by amateurs working in the department rather than people who have heard of this strange thing called "operations research", and with nary an input from a computer.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:18 AM
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ALso, he stabbed his wife, but without killing her. A lame imitation of William Burroughs, who actually did kill his wife.

The counterculture wasn't all fun and games, kiddies.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:18 AM
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103: `doesn't matter' isn't quite right. Because of overhead, etc. it can make a huge difference on your influence in the department. And on things like travel for international conferences,etc. But it doesn't change your actual salary after a point, true.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:18 AM
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That AAUP data actually doesn't seem that bad. But I guess the assistant prof data is biased by those who've been there six years, and is also weighted by profs in the professional schools. So maybe not so good.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:20 AM
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93: Don't forget overhead, so they giggle all the way to the bank.

Especially since wealthier institutions get paid a bigger overhead cut on a given grant than poorer schools. The rich get richer.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:21 AM
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112: Even with a decent scheduler, etc., you are really, really underestimating the amount of time grading, exam prep, and lecture prep takes. Let alone random admin and office hours, etc.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:21 AM
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Prepping for teaching a class, on the otherhand, requires making a presentation to a large audience that's comprehensible and valuable without much feedback while it's going on

no, this is what I'm talking about in the ten hours; showcase presentations on site with a client, or conference calls. Stuff where I'm doing all the talking. I think Heebie's estimates of preparation time seem more realistic for that.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:22 AM
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the last bit of 108 is exactly correct.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:23 AM
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I don't think that universities make any attempt to make thing nice for the faculty, except for very senior faculty who set their own hours.

5 classes would be 15 class hours a week, plus grading, prep, office hours, and meetings. Two hours of everything else per class hour, not a high number, would come to 45 hours. Three would come to 60.

Simpleminded, but I'm not sure that D^2 is completely clear on the details.

As someone mentioned, students are often needy, scattered people, and they can suck up tremendous amounts of extra time.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:25 AM
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but 12 hours of face-to-face interaction with students expanding to 50 hours of work is mental.

I have five hours of office hours per week. I'm supervising two students doing student-research. I have 13 math majors who're my advisees, who make appointments around registration time. I get signed up for idiotic crap like the reading group thing and being a sponsor for one of the sororities because I want a reputation as someone who should get tenure. I try to make appointments with kids who can't make office hours - even deflecting a lot of them, I still have probably one extra per day. Feel bad for me.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:25 AM
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dsquared has to be right about some of the inefficiency (or dead time, or whatever you want to call it). Five three-hour classes don't take just 15 hours, because that doesn't include the time you need to walk to class and answer questions from stragglers afterwards. You easily add a few hours each week that way.

And grading isn't getting enough attention as a time sink.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:25 AM
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So that would put the preparation for each course at roughly the length of a short nonfiction book. This seems like a hell of a lot.

Yes, it is a hell of a lot. That is my point. You don't think the material covered in a semester-long course is at least as much as in a short nonfiction book? And yes, courses can be recycled. But it takes quite a few years to build up a decent repertoire.

Also, writing a research report is not the same thing as writing an engaging lecture.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:25 AM
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118: well, lecturing (well) ime takes more prep than what you are talking about, but heebies 1:1 seems about right to me, excepting the first time you teach something. And assuming simpler material (a grad seminar is typically going to be much more).

So even then, you are talking 3hr lecture + 3 hr prep + n hours marking + m hours office + test & homework prep, etc. So maybe 10hrs/course.

Anywhere really focused on research needs to give you something like 50% research time.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:26 AM
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118: Hrm. I'd still say that you're underestimating the difference between 'very small audience of people who have specific, focused topics they've asked you to fill them in on' and 'class of students that needs to be led from the ground up on a topic they don't know anything about that you haven't told them', but I don't have a clear enough picture of how you spend your days to actually argue it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:26 AM
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A nice thing about math is that it is cut and dried and doesn't change from year to year, and the basic courses are mostly the same every time and in every school. Seemingly D^2 is also presenting fairly standard material over and over again.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:28 AM
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It's an eye opener, isn't it?

I really had no idea (not that I'd ever given it much though, but still). So after all that schooling, you end up not making enough to pay off the loans you took to get there? Damn. Where is all that skyrocketing tuition money going?


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:28 AM
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In my experience, the first time one teaches a course, it sucks up much closer to 2 hours per hour of classtime in terms of preparation, but the second or third time around, that time drops considerably. Grading, however, eats your life.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:29 AM
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126: that's how you get down to 1:1 ratio.

But this is only true of service courses, really.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:29 AM
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The \leq 1:1 estimate only seems accurate to me for courses I (will have) taught a million times. I can't imagine preparing a lecture (by which I mean, really preparing a physical set of notes and method of delivery, unless I channel Fermi) that I hadn't given before in less than four or five hours.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:30 AM
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random admin

"Random admin" is very certainly going into my calculation as part of the "entropy". Call me Jacques Derrida, but I think the phrase itself is very telling; if there's one thing that shouldn't be random, administration is it.

I'm still worrying away at all these activities that seem to be bundled up into "prep", by the way. "Preparation" is what you're trying to achieve, rather than an activity in itself. Are we talking about doing Powerpoint slides here, or effectively writing a textbook from scratch (I seem to remember Cos/ma S ended up doing this for a sto/chastic pro/cesses course, and while they're really great lecture notes, it's clearly the sort of thing that Frederick Taylor might have had a disapproving cough for).


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:30 AM
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126: Nah, it sounds more like what Buck does a fair bit of: "We need to know about what's been happening in [closely defined market X] over the last year, and your predictions of what that's going to mean for prices or whatever in that market going forward so we know how to spend our money." Not fundamental principles of anything, but analysis of current conditions.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:31 AM
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So after all that schooling, you end up not making enough to pay off the loans you took to get there?

In disciplines where you can expect to make crap, they usually find a way to waive your tuition/get you a living stipend in grad school. TAing, RAing, etc.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:31 AM
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Is it too early to start drinking?


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:32 AM
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I'm sure we can agree on the basic point that doing a crappy job of teaching is one way to handle a 5-5 load. Scan-tron tests for all!


Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:32 AM
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I think my father does 3-3, up from 2-2 because of budget cuts. But he managed to convince them to have two of those classes each semester be "e-learning" classes so "the students can learn how to effectively apply technology" or somesuch. He essentially runs a blog. Where's my tenure, bitches?


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:33 AM
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(We should have more threads where we heap sympathy upon academics. I'm eating this shit up.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:34 AM
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it's clearly the sort of thing that Frederick Taylor might have had a disapproving cough for

snort.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:35 AM
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One suggestion I've seen was just to eliminate the lectures entirely while standardizing the written stuff and posting it on the internet. This would seem doable in a lot of science, math, and tech fields.

One of the inefficiencies of undergrad ed is the fact that the students need tons of things, not just subject-matter education. Especially at Last Chance U. where I worked.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:35 AM
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you end up not making enough to pay off the loans you took to get there? Damn. Where is all that skyrocketing tuition money going?

Ideally, one shouldn't have borrowed money to get a PhD, one should have been admitted with fees and tuition paid, plus a small stipend (in my line, around $12k a year maybe).

As for the tuition money: if we're talking about private universities, it's almost certainly going to build up endowment and compete on physical plant.

If we're talking about public universities, that money is almost certainly going to displace the rapidly dwindling share of public revenue they get -- many are down to below 10 percent public funding. One major public university is constantly rumored to be imminently privatizing, and I've no doubt that at some point soon it will.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:35 AM
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the loans you took to get there

To be fair, a PhD from a decent institution shouldn't have loan issues, except from undergrad, which, if that's what you mean, then yeah, it sucks. The issues they may have will be the emotional ones from living poor for six years, which may or may not be considerable. I mean, I acquired credit card debt, but that was because I didn't live or date within my means, am susceptible to gambling jags, and wanted a car.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:37 AM
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I didn't live or date within my means, am susceptible to gambling jags, and wanted a car.

Sounds like you had fun, at least.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:37 AM
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Heebie is oppressed. We must band together and rescue her from Upper Baboonasshole U! Everyone assume a superhero identity and gather at Lower Baboonasshole tomorrow.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:38 AM
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if there's one thing that shouldn't be random, administration is it.... it's clearly the sort of thing that Frederick Taylor might have had a disapproving cough for

Yup. But in many universities, including e.g. Oxbridge and most major American universities, there's a premium placed on keeping as much administration as possible under faculty governance.

Which is in its nature going to be inefficient, committee-driven stuff fitted in around the regular business of being faculty -- teaching and research. But this inefficiency is thought to be a worthwhile price to pay for keeping the important decisions in the hands of the Citizens of the Republic of Letters.

(Not endorsing, just explaining.)


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:39 AM
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Here in the UK, I found it literally impossible to live on the money I received from my funding body. So I worked a fair number of hours outside the academic world. Then no funding for a year [because, fun, fun, fun, two funding bodies amalgamated and suddenly I was no longer eligible for funding from one of those bodies because, technically, they'd already funded me]. So, big fat credit card debt.

However, professors make a shit load more than 50K (US) a year.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:39 AM
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Everyone assume a superhero identity and gather at Lower Baboonasshole

It's turned a lovely shade of red this time of year.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:40 AM
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Are we talking about doing Powerpoint slides here

This sums up a lot of our talking past each other.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:40 AM
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Is it too early to start drinking?

In the day or in one's career?


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:40 AM
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You don't think the material covered in a semester-long course is at least as much as in a short nonfiction book?

Well, specifically, it's presumably about as much as there is in the textbook. If you need to write another book explaining the textbook, then this is also going into the column marked "entropy".

I'm supervising two students doing student-research. I have 13 math majors who're my advisees, who make appointments around registration time. I get signed up for idiotic crap like the reading group thing and being a sponsor for one of the sororities because I want a reputation as someone who should get tenure.

Right, this makes a bit more sense - as far as I can see these are things which aren't driven directly by the 4-4 course load (as in, you'd still probably have all these claims on your time even if you were on a lower number) and they look like they might account for as much as half the non-face time. I'm beginning to get more of a model here.

Seemingly D^2 is also presenting fairly standard material over and over again

no, not at all, we tried that approach to equity investment and it doesn't work. At the moment, I'm trying to get people up to speed with technical aspects of the credit crunch in the LIBOR market (which they've never had to think about before), plus market an IPO of a brand new company> I've written about 100k words and done something like 50 one-hour shows on these in the last four weeks. Also my presentations and reports do indeed have to be "engaging", because I can't report anyone to the dean for not showing up at them or refusing to take my calls. I really don't think the difference here is in the output - it seems much more likely to me that the difference is that I work for a company that is completely organised around efficiently using my time, rather than one that treats it as a free resource.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:41 AM
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In fairness, some US professors make quite a bit more than USD50k. It varies widely based on field and institution.

Many public schools have their salary scales posted on the web, and if you google for academic salary scale you will find them.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:43 AM
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Sounds like you had fun, at least.

This is true.

Not to scandalize the humanities folk, but the NSF graduate fellowships (which most good science departments peg their stipends to within a couple k) are up to $28k, from the $22k (I think) in 2001. Thus, when science PhDs say "the money thing wasn't that bad, even though I had to TA," they don't necesssarily mean the same thing as an English PhD from the same school.

Anyone have a datum on what humanities grad stipends are at decent schools these days?


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:44 AM
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it seems much more likely to me that the difference is that I work for a company that is completely organised around efficiently using my time, rather than one that treats it as a free resource.

I imagine this does play a part in it.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:44 AM
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I once tried to analyze grad and undergrad college education in terms of who pays for what and why, and who benefits and how, and I believe that that's impossible. There are just too many overlapping agendas and purposes, and too much loose money slopping around, and too much money diverted from its supposed purpose (e.g. researchers who nominally "teach", but not really).

A friend of mine explained that education is a social institution, and one of the defining things about institutions is that you don't ask "Why?" They're what everyone does.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:44 AM
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dsquared, lots of humanities courses don't use a textbook. Has someone written a book on, say, violence in German literature? Sure. But we're not going to use that as a textbook for the course. We're actually going to read the literature.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:44 AM
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One suggestion I've seen was just to eliminate the lectures entirely while standardizing the written stuff and posting it on the internet. This would seem doable in a lot of science, math, and tech fields.

Err... You do realize that college-level mathematics is mostly proof-based (or at least really should be), right? It would be very difficult to standardize given the number of different ways to approach a proof and the infinite ways to produce counterexamples.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:44 AM
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the difference is that I work for a company that is completely organised around efficiently using my time, rather than one that treats it as a free resource.

Not knowing anything about academia or your industry, I would surmise that this is true. Also, that there may be a greater agreement on what constitutes "efficient" in your field. Do you make your own travel arrangements?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:45 AM
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And tenured researchers who nominally "do research" but not really.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:48 AM
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One suggestion I've seen was just to eliminate the lectures entirely while standardizing the written stuff and posting it on the internet. This would seem doable in a lot of science, math, and tech fields.

Uh, that's what a textbook is. Also, there are plenty of math lectures already up on the web.

The problem is that it's extremely hard for undergrads to read math. The teacher's job is make their learning experience as efficient as possible. Which means, spell it out for them and help them grasp it and supervise while they make mistakes so that you can nudge them back on course.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:49 AM
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I suppose in principle one could give the students one textbook and lecture by reading from a different textbook, but I feel this would be unlikely to get one tenure.


Posted by: xyzzy | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:50 AM
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I had good undergrad courses at Reed College, and none were textbook courses. That is, economics was from Samuelson, but we read twice as much non-Samuelson from diverse sources as we did Samuelson. And that was probably the closest to a textbook course that I took.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:50 AM
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dsquared: if we could reliably just point students at a textbook (and a very few, you can) and say `just read this', we would. You end up writing a lot of material for each lecture, but it is not the same as a textbook approach. One thing you have to realize also is that while introductory, `service' type courses are in some ways the easiest to prepare for, you also have a lot of students who just don't know how to learn effectively. So your lecture notes are a way of handholding through the material. The first time you do the course, this eats a lot of time. On succesive passes, your prep time goes down, but you still have to refine and improve. You also don't want to fall into a rut (also bad) so you mix up courses a bit.

As far as random admin, perhaps a bad label, but I was using it as a catch all. Some of this stuff is done badly at universities, but some of it is just unavoidable. You'll have students coming for reference letters or drop/add forms or medical excuses. Others who miss your office hours and show up randomly (somewhat avoidable). Grading and reporting grades (not avoidable). Meetings about exams, etc. if you have a multi-section course. Meetings about the curriculum across courses, etc. There is some slack in there, but it's not terrible.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:51 AM
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dsquared, lots of humanities courses don't use a textbook.

Well yes, lots of people in lots of industries don't bother with mass-production or Taylorised methods and if you're trying to answer the question "where does the entropy creep in?" then the answer in these cases is "there".

Has someone written a book on, say, violence in German literature? Sure. But we're not going to use that as a textbook for the course. We're actually going to read the literature.

Or specifically, you're going to read the literature, then you're going to write a very specific textbook on the literature, and your students are going to read that, plus bits of the literature which you have also selected as part of the process of writing that very specific textbook you wrote.

And then next year you're going to write another very specific textbook on something else. And none of these textbooks are going to get published, and "recycling" them is unusual enough that you have a special word for it. And presumably this practice (which appears to me as an outsider to be an absolutely flat out crazy way of producing undergraduate education) is considered normal by, and required by, the people whose job it is to deliver the education that the students pay for. I think I now understand the answer to my question "where the entropy creeps in".


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:51 AM
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"Random admin" is very certainly going into my calculation as part of the "entropy". Call me Jacques Derrida, but I think the phrase itself is very telling; if there's one thing that shouldn't be random, administration is it.

consider how much your employer pays you, how much an academic's employer pays them, and then consider who is more likely to make large investments in the productivity of their employees.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:52 AM
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I'm surprised nobody has yet mentioned that d^2's clients actually have a direct, personal fiduciary interest in listening to what he has to say.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:53 AM
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And as a follow-up, he probably won't lose his job and/or never get promoted again if the people he's paid to explain things to decide not to listen to him.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:53 AM
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which appears to me as an outsider to be an absolutely flat out crazy way of producing undergraduate education

Not a business. Not a product.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:54 AM
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whups, completely pwned by the man himself.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:57 AM
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165: wouldn't you think it'd be the opposite? i'd imagine a banker who's clients all jump ship for some other bank is not long for his job.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:58 AM
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161: hang on though, how can "preparation" ahead of time help you deal with students' inability to learn, or their need to be walked through the material? Surely that's the definition of something that needs to be done as and when it arises. I can see how that accounts for more time spent outside of the classes, but is this the same thing as "Preparation"?

Grading and reporting grades (not avoidable).

I would bet that anyone who really tried could reduce the time spent on this by at least 50%, because that's the normal reduction that a good consultant can get from use analysis of an internal reporting process.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:58 AM
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D2 has a point. There's a lot of undergraduate humanities education that would really benefit from decent single volume standard textbooks.

It's bloody crazy that there aren't more of them [or, in fact, any at all]. I can't think of many* textbooks in philosophy remotely analogous to the sorts of textbooks we had when I studied psychology.

* one or two, in quite narrow areas, maybe.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:00 AM
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hang on though, how can "preparation" ahead of time help you deal with students' inability to learn, or their need to be walked through the material?

This really is the bulk of it. To prepare for a lecture, I sit there and try to think from the perspective of someone who has never seen the material before, and how they need the items presented so that it doesn't get overwhelming.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:00 AM
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161: hang on though, how can "preparation" ahead of time help you deal with students' inability to learn, or their need to be walked through the material? Surely that's the definition of something that needs to be done as and when it arises. I can see how that accounts for more time spent outside of the classes, but is this the same thing as "Preparation"?

Contemplating and constructing different ways of presenting the information, concocting just the right exercises for them to do, revising the way you did it last time, consulting others to turn up new and perhaps more successful ways of presenting the material, and so on. This is called "pedagogy."


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:00 AM
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I think that in theory the inefficiency of "writing a textbook week by week" is closely linked to the research function of the U. If you look at Brad DeLong's syllabuses that he posts on the net, obviously he changes them every year, and he's always trying to think about how to get ideas across and which readings work. And this is linked to his own intellectual development as a researcher.

On the other hand, the faculty at Last Chance U weren't doing that.

One angle: just as D^2 is working for a company that values his time, he's presenting material to clients who want the material (and who will not accept it if they don't like it). Undergrad ed involves a tremendous amount of motivating, babysitting, hand-holding, counseling, persuading, etc, for people who aren't usually sure that they want to know the material. And you get back to the questions about who pays and who benefits, and no one really knows. Are the students the principals in undergrad education? Only to a degree (Ha! "To a degree" in the sense of "in part").

The U of Phoenix is trying to efficientize undergrad ed, but they only do tech and business courses. To a certain extent the humanities, whatever they are, aren't efficientizable.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:02 AM
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I would bet that anyone who really tried could reduce the time spent on this by at least 50%, because that's the normal reduction that a good consultant can get from use analysis of an internal reporting process.

Why would I pay a consultant to tell me to stop commenting on Unfogged?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:02 AM
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Grading can be miserable busywork or miserable focused work, with the rewards of celerity being neither financial nor moral, and is very very vulnerable to procrastination and distraction. Imagine cleaning the windows of your office with a toothbrush every week, and getting complaints about it from underlings.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:03 AM
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Why would I pay a consultant to tell me to stop commenting on Unfogged?

Because I'm worth it, Heebie, and you're making that phat teaching money. Now get back to work.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:04 AM
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And presumably this practice (which appears to me as an outsider to be an absolutely flat out crazy way of producing undergraduate education) is considered normal by, and required by, the people whose job it is to deliver the education that the students pay for. I think I now understand the answer to my question "where the entropy creeps in".

Sadly, entropy is everywhere and I'm sure you don't mean to imply that the private sector is not home to all manner of time- and money-wasting practices irrelevant to real productivity, such as producing pointless reports, having needless meetings, hiring worthless consultants and generally photocopying one's ass. Indeed, most of the research on the sociology of organizations over the last thirty years has been about how firms convince themselves that all kinds of ritual nonsense is rationally required for the economic success of the firm (hello Mr Chief Information Officer), actual absence of measurable effects on profitability notwithstanding.

Of course being more productive and well-administered would be a good thing, but some problems have to do with individuals wasting time, some with local management practices, and some with the constitution of the whole organizational field and what it thinks it needs to be successful.

Those issues are separate from the question of whether it's possible to have a research program on a 5-5 load and crappy salary, which I think we've established is "No."


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:04 AM
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efficientize

Is there a term for a verb that demonstrates the perils performing the action it describes?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:05 AM
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Certainly in intro and tech fields grading could be mechanized. Don't know about essay-question fields, though, especially in areas where verbal skills will be part of the expected skills from graduates.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:06 AM
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Is there a term for a verb that demonstrates the perils performing the action it describes?

"deep-throating"?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:07 AM
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Not a business. Not a product.

Oh pleeeease tell me you're joking. Call it something else if you're hung up on the words "business", "output", "production" etc, but this is an activity in which time is spent on doing something, with the intention of producing a favourable result. It is therefore susceptible to scientific analysis of the manner in which it can be organised so as to maximise the favourable result and/or minimise the amount of time spent on it.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:08 AM
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dsquared, we're arguing at cross purposes. Writing a lecture or preparing for a seminar discussion is not writing a textbook. We're not just talking about transferral of information. If that were the case-- well yeah, just let the little fuckers check out the book themselves.

On preview: what Counterfly says in 166.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:08 AM
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Which your 181 does not satisfactorily refute.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:10 AM
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I am actually beginning to think d^2 and the rest of the thread could both be right. There hasn't been the same attention paid to maximizing employee (in this case faculty) efficiency in academia that there has in other businesses because the labor pool is so flooded. I'd think everybody could find something to like about that statement?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:10 AM
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184 does not mean that academic courses have to be run in the same manner as market analysis firms, but that until you've actually looked hard at the workflows and done the quantitative analysis you don't know if there are efficiencies, even if you're an expert in the ways in which time currently gets spent.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:12 AM
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D^2, I've explained already that the prferred result is not known, nor is the person it's preferred by. A lot od students just want to collect their grants, party, and wait for the BA to fall from the sky.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:12 AM
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I kind of agree with Sifu in 184, but I get knee-jerk tense whenever I hear "increase faculty efficiency" because it seems to be an administrative euphemism for "increase your workload without compensation".


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:13 AM
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Even in cases where there is a textbook, or I've developed a course packet that functions as one, or designed the syllabus around a particularly good anthology, I still have to prepare for lecture. They're not the same type of thing, any more than a client presentation is the same thing as researching the client presentation.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:14 AM
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I am actually beginning to think d^2 and the rest of the thread could both be right.

Right. It would be silly for the academics to be baited into defending the position that academia isn't inefficient. Haha. The fact is that there are lots of inefficiencies, but teaching five classes a semester is a hell of a lot of work even if you make the job much more efficient.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:14 AM
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Contemplating and constructing different ways of presenting the information, concocting just the right exercises for them to do, revising the way you did it last time, consulting others to turn up new and perhaps more successful ways of presenting the material, and so on. This is called "pedagogy."

well yes, and sitting at home next to a fireplace with a spinning wheel, threading wool onto a wooden frame and cutting your cloth yourself used to be called "clothesmaking", but it turned out that there was quite a lot of duplication of effort that could be taken out.

I'm really not trying to patronise the academics here but a lot of the problem really does seem to me to be that wildly inefficient practices are going ahead in a completely unanalysed way, because everyone's assuming without checking that universities are utterly unique and that there is literally nothing that they have to learn from anyone else in the economy. And I suspect that 144 is right that the root of the problem is that at the top of the tree are a load of people who want to hang on to the admin for reasons of internal politics, despite being crap at it.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:14 AM
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181: first of all, not all activities that one spends time on desiring a favorable result are susceptible to scientific analyses of how to more efficiently perform them. The whole practice of the arts and the sciences, for one.

I agree that everyone could learn to manage their time better, and there's definitely interesting things going on in the field of education research studying how people can be better teachers, and thus more efficient persons, but your statement at face value seems very much the stereotype of the businessman hired by the bean-counting admins of the scholarly community to tell them how to do things the way it's done in the business world, because of some misguided notion of education as the bunsen-burner-and-flask of Operations Research.



Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:16 AM
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It would be silly for the academics to be baited into defending the position that academia isn't inefficient.

Right, and when someone pointed out that the inefficiencies might themselves reflect virtues valued more highly than efficiency, the troll ignored it.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:17 AM
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Say it is information transfer. I always found it much more efficient as an undergrad to attend a well-prepared lecture than to read a textbook. If 2 hours of one professor's preparation helps 65 students learn & retain the same material in one hour of lecture instead of 3 hours of reading, which only 35 of them would actually do, is it inefficient? The idea that preparation doesn't help with explaining it to students seems transparently, obviously wrong & crazy to me. This is why people hate consultants, I guess.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:18 AM
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I, for one, intend to "borrow" most of my notes from older professors at other universities and my grad/postdoc labs so I don't have to prepare all my new-assistant-prof teaching lectures ab initio. Go, efficient me!


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:18 AM
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Even in cases where there is a textbook, or I've developed a course packet that functions as one, or designed the syllabus around a particularly good anthology, I still have to prepare for lecture.

I'm sure, but two weeks full-time per fifteen week course?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:19 AM
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184-5 are certainly good points. There are some attempts to maximize efficiency. The teaching center on my campus, for example, has a program training teachers to be more consistent and efficient in their grading of written work. Which, as many commenters have mentioned above, can be a black hole of a time suck.

That said, a lot of what d2 is suggesting isn't about making things more efficient, it's about changing the very nature of what is valued in my discipline.

On preview, again pwned by Counterfly.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:19 AM
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but your statement at face value seems very much the stereotype of the businessman hired by the bean-counting admins of the scholarly community to tell them how to do things the way it's done in the business world,

And omfg, they are knocking at the door. We're getting all this bullshit about "Document Your Learning Outcomes" and "How Do You Evidence That Your Students Are Learning What You Claim They're Learning?" and "Closing The Feedback Loop" and for god's sake, let's talk about creating ineffiecient time-sucks.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:20 AM
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187: well, sure. Similarly, when a worker in a sweatshop hears that the sweatshop is going to try and be more efficient they grimace. The problem is that Universities are saying "how can we get more out of this plentiful resource while spending less?" rather than "how can we maximize our ability to get productive work out of this scarce resource?"

When you hear people starting to mutter about increasing efficiency at a software company, it generally means more hours, yes, but also lots more compensation, couches, foosball tables, and general ass-kissing.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:20 AM
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195: That works out to what, five hours a week, for five three-hour classes, on our original model? Sounds pretty close to average.

197: People scoff at that in the business world, too. Let Us Now Discuss How We Exceed Expectations and Listen to Some Chet Talk About Global Best Practice When It's Obvious He Has No Idea What That Means.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:25 AM
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Re 187, my mom is a primary ed teacher, and she seethes at the consultant-induced changes because they always mean more work for teachers. She says that in her district there's an hour of paperwork per hour of classtime, leaving precious little time for preparation. If this is what education consultants call for in the name of efficiency, maybe that's why higher ed, being run by the same people who will have to implement the consultants' recommendations, doesn't like them so much.


Posted by: mano negra | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:27 AM
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People scoff at that in the business world, too. Let Us Now Discuss How We Exceed Expectations and Listen to Some Chet Talk About Global Best Practice When It's Obvious He Has No Idea What That Means.

Yeah but executives pay through the nose for it. Hellooo entropy.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:28 AM
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Right, and when someone pointed out that the inefficiencies might themselves reflect virtues valued more highly than efficiency, the troll ignored it.

Ever wondered why consultants hate people? Basically it's because of bullshit excuses like that. If you honestly believe that an undergraduate education can't be provided to a satisfactory standard without spending 90 working hours per course on preparation, then say so and that's fair enough. But that would be a sensible, straightforward argument, which would be amenable to a response in terms of looking at how those 90 hours of preparation might be reduced to 85 by increasing the amount of "recycling" (to use that weird pejorative description), or some such. Much easier to defend the entirety of the status quo by saying that it serves higher, quasi-religious ends which mere beancounters[1] can never understand. At the (presumably small) price of looking a bit like a caricature.

Say it is information transfer. I always found it much more efficient as an undergrad to attend a well-prepared lecture than to read a textbook. If 2 hours of one professor's preparation helps 65 students learn & retain the same material in one hour of lecture instead of 3 hours of reading, which only 35 of them would actually do, is it inefficient?

Depends. If the lecture can't be produced to that standard without the 2 hours of preparation, then it's efficient. If the lecture could actually have been "recycled" from another course with 20 minutes of preparation, then it's inefficient. This is the concept of opportunity cost.

[1] Incredibly useful and undervalued servants of the community, vital to every process in which you care about how many beans you have, which is more or less everything in one way or another.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:28 AM
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196: That said, a lot of what d2 is suggesting isn't about making things more efficient, it's about changing the very nature of what is valued in my discipline.

But then aren't you in the somewhat uncomfortable position of having the things that you value about your discipline feeding your inability to actually work productively on research within that discipline? I mean, it's easy to say that schools simply shouldn't require this kind of load, but they are clearly dealing with both (weird (e.g. USNews)) market pressures and a pretty well embedded status quo of senior people (who have no particular interest in changing a system that works to ameliorate their absurd workload), so it seems like if you want to actually get real research work done you would have every interest in figuring out how to efficiently do more in the same amount of time.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:28 AM
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Ever wondered why consultants hate people?

Truly, never have I wondered about this, or really anything at all about the inner lives of consultants.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:29 AM
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If you honestly believe that an undergraduate education can't be provided to a satisfactory standard without spending 90 working hours per course on preparation, then say so and that's fair enough.

What if I say so, and then say that it would be better if two or three professors were engaged in doing all the work to create this course instead of just one professor?

In my years as a student, every one of my upper-level and graduate science classes has been taught by at least two people, and often five or six.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:30 AM
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200:

A bad consultant doesnt mean that there are not inefficiencies to be removed from a system.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:30 AM
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199: no, the assumption I was questioning was "two hours prep per hour face", so that would be thirty hours a week for five three hour classes.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:31 AM
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Ever wondered why consultants hate people? Basically it's because of bullshit excuses like that.

Consultants hate people because not everyone values efficiency above all else?


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:32 AM
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A bad consultant doesnt mean that there are not inefficiencies to be removed from a system.

This is true, and a problem that needs to be addressed. Perhaps a review committee or working group should be formed.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:33 AM
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Also we academics LOVE our autonomy, and whoever studies and assesses and efficientizes us threatens that autonomy.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:33 AM
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207:

But, the prep time is going to be totally dependent on the skills of the person.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:33 AM
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I would love for universities to hire consultants and buckets of additional support staff to make things along the following lines quicker and more efficient:

- Tracking and submitting grades
- Purchasing and reimbursement
- Recruiting participants for human subject research
- Locating and applying for suitable grant funding
- Putting books on reserve, ordering books from bookstore, etc.
- Smothering administrators who insist on assigning students to their first-year classes by hand.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:34 AM
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This is true, and a problem that needs to be addressed. Perhaps a review committee or working group should be formed.

I volunteer to sit on the committee to select the committee to review the working group's preliminary report.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:35 AM
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OK, let's put it this way. Suppose you had a national pool of students who wanted to learn some body of material (say intro calculus, which nationwide would be hundreds of thousands of students). And you had a group of teachers competing to teach that material to the students as efficiently as possible (that is, either as quickly or as cheaply as possible). What would be the best way for the teachers to organize the teaching to make the students happy? Would it be the way things are being done now?

D^2's point looks pretty good from that point of view.

On the other hand, in actuality the students and the teachers are linked by a horrible mess of intermediaries, as I've said. The students seldom pay for the classes themselves, and the actual teachers (teaching assistants, adjuncts) get very little of the money that's paid, and they often also have little choice as to how they do the work.

So that's where the entropy comes from, and D^2 still looks good. Teaching undergrads is not the primary job of most universities, and the students as individuals seldom control the money that is spent on their education (which mostly comes from parents, donors and endowments, and loans controlled by the schools).

I am sympathetic as to the difficulties in humanities teaching, because I think that it's clear what a calculus student gets from a calculus class, I don't think it's clear wha an English studnet gets from an English class. The step after figuring out how to teach humanities more efficiently is probably the question, "Why teach humanities at all?" Because the humanities are intrinsically inefficient.

An interesting mixed case is foreign language teaching. There are now two kinds of FL teaching, one practical and one literary. The best universities mix both methods, but there are excellent completely non-literary language teaching methods.



Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:35 AM
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213: Not so fast, we haven't decided who is eligible to volunteer yet. We'll have a white paper on that shortly.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:36 AM
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buckets of additional support staff

One of the problems is that, as I understand it, this is the very face of (what is considered) inefficiency.


Posted by: mano negra | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:36 AM
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What if I say so, and then say that it would be better if two or three professors were engaged in doing all the work to create this course instead of just one professor?

Potentially making sense (although AFAICS unless I am missing something, the aggregate amount of work won't change unless you actually change the process, so you're either reducing hours/course at the expense of increasing courses/prof or smuggling an assumption of extra resource[1] into the system). But I don't understand how it can be OK to suggest that this might be a better way of organising things, but suggesting that one professor do all the prep properly and four or five other professors use his preparation (rather than reinventing the wheel every time) is just trollish management consultant speak.

[1]By "resource" I mean professors, who are obviously a commodity who can be bought and sold in bulk like coal.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:36 AM
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199: Like several have said, that seems high once the course is designed and has been taught once.

209: My university requires yearly dissertation reports, not made to one's advisor, or committee, but to the university administration, and a yearly research plan, which is so ill-suited to philosophy that I have toyed with writing it in the following manner: "June: freak out about job market. July: come up with brilliant idea while showering. Turn into APA talk." "August: fuck around for a month. &c."


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:37 AM
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one professor do all the prep properly and four or five other professors use his preparation

Lawyers can do this by using legal research places or, in house, by developing better knowledge management systems. Billing for it is still the trick.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:39 AM
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Mano negra makes a very good point:

One of the problems is that, as I understand it, this is the very face of (what is considered) inefficiency.

In the nonprofit field, the USNews-type pressures come from funders, who have IME a pathological fear of paying for "administrative" costs. You can talk until you're blue in the face about why it is absurd for an executive director to make her own travel arrangements, but it's still labeled "inefficient".


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:39 AM
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212 has perhaps discovered ways in which efficiency might be made to work for you!

Some other ideas: more efficient document management. Better electronic access to other Professor's class resources when preparing material. Centralized, standardized electronic distribution of course material. Centralized, optimized class scheduling, designed to maximize contiguous research time for faculty. Obviously some of these things are happening already, but it just seems weird to me that academics would naturally assume that any attempt to achieve greater efficiency would end up biting them in the ass.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:40 AM
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so it seems like if you want to actually get real research work done you would have every interest in figuring out how to efficiently do more in the same amount of time.

This is certainly the case. And believe me, assistant professors are certainly invested in using their time efficiently. (And for the record, I wasn't using 'recycle' pejoratively, as d2 suggests.)

But then aren't you in the somewhat uncomfortable position of having the things that you value about your discipline feeding your inability to actually work productively on research within that discipline?

Given what is expected of assistant professors nowadays: yes.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:40 AM
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The incentive structure of the academic system is set up to reward this inefficiency, at least at an institutional level. The institutions that most indulge the fantasy that every undergraduate is a special unique snowflake tend also to be the most prestigious on various dimensions. Small class sizes! One on one interaction! Undergraduate research! Probably the most efficient universities in the US are the various online-only/MBA-while-you-work degree factories, but neither consumers nor educators take them seriously.

I don't think the most important players in this process (upper-class parents who write tuition checks) value efficiency in any sense. Thus university administration does not, either.


Posted by: xyzzy | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:41 AM
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217: Perhaps we're talking at cross purposes, or using 'prep' in different ways. My first solo course was someone else's syllabus, which I re-tooled to get rid of the areas I disliked and/or didn't want to bother with. But that didn't change the preparation all that much, because even though the basic structure was planned, I was still going to be the one up there running the lecture and answering questions. So I had to do the preparation on my own, including writing my own lecture notes.

It's not as though we re-invent the wheel every time. But that doesn't eliminate prep.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:43 AM
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it just seems weird to me that academics would naturally assume that any attempt to achieve greater efficiency would end up biting them

I think heebie mentioned some reasons upthread.

Also, I think we can't underestimate fear and specifically fear of lawsuits. In all the fields I know, there is a lot of "this is the way we've always done it" inertia. To change, you have to have political cover. Often that cover comes in the form of consultants, who can be anywhere from genuinely helpful to stunningly awful.

People create more layers of paperwork and process when they're afraid of the consequences of having their decisions second-guessed.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:43 AM
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that one professor do all the prep properly and four or five other professors use his preparation

There are two parts of this, I think:

The selection of content - one professor could do for many; and

Rehearsing the lecture and predicting where students may go astray - has to be done by each professor, for each class.

I don't know that you'll find your efficiency gains there.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:44 AM
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Small class sizes! One on one interaction! Undergraduate research!

Perhaps hypocritically, these are all things I really value and respond positively to, speaking as an undergrad. On the other hand, I'm like, useful with respect to research. And free! Boss, right?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:44 AM
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212: Not sure about items 3 and 4 on your list (which look more like they're about research than teaching), but "hire a load of support staff" isn't actually the way to think about 1,2 and 5. An efficient expenses management system doesn't cost more to run than an inefficient one, a proper scheduling system is laughably cheap, and the correct way to reduce the burden of tracking grades would almost certainly be to track less grades (the big gains in data use analysis are always from report elimination, not report management).

I think John is absolutely right in 214. Why on earth is undergraduate education linked to research? Why do they even happen in the same building, let alone having the research reputation of a university determine the prestige of its undergraduate education? Answer: because that's how it used to work in Europe in the 15th century, when the professors were all priests and the undergraduates children of noblemen. I wasn't joking when I pointed out that weaving has changed quite a lot in the intervening period.

Imagine if textiles had gone in the same way as education; we'd all be bitching about how Giorgio Armani wasn't spending his fair share of time at the spinning wheel, while you lot would all be complaining that it was difficult to embroider your tapestries properly during the sheep-shearing season.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:45 AM
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that one professor do all the prep properly and four or five other professors use his preparation

What? It's inefficient to have five professors teaching the same material! One should be able to handle them all.


Posted by: mano negra | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:45 AM
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I'm really talking through my hat here, neither being an academic or knowing much about academia, but isn't part of the issue a distinction between two types of courses: a lower level course with a well defined, standard subject matter, in which the professor is packaging up well-defined material for students who haven't been exposed to it yet, and higher level courses where the professor is supposed to be providing the students access to the professor's individual scholarly approach to the material. In the latter class of courses, part of what's going on is that you, as the professor, wouldn't uncritically use another person's syllabus or set of lecture notes because you believed they were in important part wrong, either literally in matters of fact, or at least in emphasis.

Rationalizing the first class seems plausible, but the second class much less so.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:48 AM
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Why on earth is undergraduate education linked to research? Why do they even happen in the same building, let alone having the research reputation of a university determine the prestige of its undergraduate education?

Because if not for that connection, it would be impossible to sustain the fiction that people in a majority of the disciplines taught at a University would ever be able to do research in their chosen field, and therefore the quality of the next generation of disaffected, semi-failed faculty would decline?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:49 AM
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Imagine if textiles had gone in the same way as education; we'd all be bitching about how Giorgio Armani wasn't spending his fair share of time at the spinning wheel, while you lot would all be complaining that it was difficult to embroider your tapestries properly during the sheep-shearing season.

This is why sociologists say that universities are the only medieval institution that has been successful in the modern period -- and, in fact, spectacularly successful. Here's the abstract of a nice paper by David Frank and John Meyer:

For centuries, the processes of social differentiation associated with Modernity have often been thought to intensify the need for site-specific forms of role training and knowledge production, threatening the university's survival either through fragmentation or through failure to adapt. Other lines of argument emphasize the extent to which the Modern system creates and relies on an integrated knowledge system, but most of the literature stresses functional differentiation and putative threats to the university. And yet over this period the university has flourished. In our view, this seeming paradox is explained by the fact that modern society rests as much on universalistic cosmological bases as it does on differentiation. The university expands over recent centuries because - as it has from its religious origins - it casts cultural and human materials in universalistic terms. Our view helps explain empirical phenomena that confound standard accounts: the university's extraordinary expansion and global diffusion, its curricular and structural isomorphism, and its relatively unified structure. All of this holds increasingly true after World War II, as national state societies made up of citizens are increasingly embedded in a world society constituted of empowered individuals. The redefinition of society in global and individual terms reduces nationally bounded models of nature and culture, extends the pool of university beneficiaries and investigators, and empowers the human persons who are understood to root it all. The changes intensify universalization and the university's rate of worldwide growth. For the university's knowledge and "knowers," and for the pedagogy that joins them together, the implications are many. The emerging societal context intensifies longstanding processes of cultural rationalization and ontological elaboration, yielding great expansions in what can and should be known, and in who can and should know. These changes in turn alter the menu of approved techniques for joining knowledge and knower as one. The "knowledge society" that results is distinguished by the extraordinary degree to which the university is linked to society. But it is also distinguished by the degree to which society is organized around the university's abstracted and universalized understandings of the world and its degree-certified graduates.

Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:50 AM
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That crossed with 228, but touches on the same idea. If you're talking about how to efficiently convey a fixed, well-defined body of knowledge to undergrads, something much more like secondary education seems reasonable. But part of what universities do is ease those students for whom it's appropriate into an understanding of and participation in research and scholarship, and that seems hard to do efficiently.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:51 AM
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224: I'm sure you can't eliminate preparation, but people seem to be totally unwilling to believe it's possible to get it down below two hours per hour.

"Predicting where students will go wrong" looks to me like an example of an activity the usefulness of which ought to be seriously challenged. Either this is something which can be done systematically, in which case there are production efficiencies to be gained, or there is absolutely no pattern at all to the mistakes students make, in which case there is no point preparing for them. I am not at all sure that the middle ground between these two is the sort of thing that should eat up two hours per one hour class, and it would take actual research (which is apparently not allowed because hey, bunsen burners maaaan) to convince me otherwise.

Probably the most efficient universities in the US are the various online-only/MBA-while-you-work degree factories, but neither consumers nor educators take them seriously.

Basically all business schools are "MBA-while-you-work degree factories", and people do take them seriously. They also do, as far as I can see, take a much more aggressive approach to not wasting people's time. And although they have the advantage of dealing with motivated adults, I don't think that the level of motivation or maturity of undergraduates ought to be taken for granted either.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:53 AM
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Why on earth is undergraduate education linked to research?

I loved, loved, loved my classes when I went to a teaching institution after a research institution. I'm a strong advocate of separating those, at least for undergrads.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:53 AM
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Wait, is this thread a secret lesson in being obtuse?


Posted by: orangatan | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:54 AM
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I worked for The State for 23 years, and every time there was a budget crunch or a Repulican administration that have a cost-cutting campaign, and this would mean a.) reducing the janitorial staff and b.) switching from 100 watt to 60 watt bulbs so the dust wouldn't show.

That was a natural caricature (like a natural experiment): sure, it's hyperbole, but it actually happened in 1980 in the Portland Public Schools where I worked.

Cuts are all made from the bottom. Systemic inefficiencies were not addressed, and high-level people were only hurt if they'd made enemies over the course of the years.

So anyway, the slushy drive-train of intermediaries would soak up all the power, just like always.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:54 AM
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232: Can you post or send me a link to that?


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:54 AM
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Or, to put it another way, people inside universities decry the threat of the commodification and taylorization of education all the time, and yet it is their product -- degree-certified graduates -- that capitalist firms and other organizations believe they must hire in order to be competitive. The market isn't colonizing the university; it's the other way around.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:54 AM
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230: That's true, and we do recycle or steal other people's syllabi for the lower-level courses. It may not be formalized within the institution, but if someone were to ask me to teach introductory history of early modern philosophy, I know what text I'd use (the one I used as an undergrad and taught in grad school), and know what syllabus I'd use (would steal my advisor's.) And even there, I'd adapt it to fit my own strengths (aka There Is A Limit To The Amount of Leibniz.)

An upper-level course is often supposed to be about the state of the discipline in that area, sort of, and some of the best courses I've had were about 'here's a book that came out last month, let's read it and see how it's wrong.' That's a lot harder to standardize.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:55 AM
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Here's the PDF. It's David John Frank and John W. Meyer (2007), "University expansion and the knowledge society" Theory and Society 36: 287-311.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:56 AM
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Basically all business schools are "MBA-while-you-work degree factories", and people do take them seriously.

In the business world, sure. But we're talking about academe, here. Or?


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:58 AM
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isn't part of the issue a distinction between two types of courses: a lower level course with a well defined, standard subject matter, in which the professor is packaging up well-defined material for students who haven't been exposed to it yet, and higher level courses where the professor is supposed to be providing the students access to the professor's individual scholarly approach to the material

seems to me that the entire issue is the failure to make this distinction; that the majority of undergraduates are getting a massively over-engineered (or more precisely, hand-crafted) product which they can't really appreciate and is not enough fun to produce to be worth the effort.

But part of what universities do is ease those students for whom it's appropriate into an understanding of and participation in research and scholarship, and that seems hard to do efficiently.

If something's hard to do efficiently, then it might be a good idea to minimise the extent to which it has to be done, not to design the entire process around it if it's only going to be valuable in a few cases. Bespoke tailoring is really useful for people with odd-shaped asses, but it's not the best way to clothe your army.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:58 AM
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The top business schools are not while-you-work. They are two academic years for $150k, and at a point in your life (28-29 y.o.) when you have acquired a spouse, perhaps a child, and responsibility. They also are much more transparently about the network you acquire by going there and the earning power of the graduates rather than the actual skillsets gained. It's an entirely different concept than undergraduate education.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:00 PM
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Bespoke tailoring is really useful for people with odd-shaped asses, but it's not the best way to clothe your army.

What an army, though! A thousand well-toned asses in pleasingly snug trousers sashaying glamorously over the ridge into withering enemy fire! Glorious!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:01 PM
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Getting back to: If you don't know why you're doing something, it's institutional.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:01 PM
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234: no, it might be impossible, it might not. I think that if you repeatedly teach the same class, it might well be. It's also possible to work off other professor's work, but there are decent odds in a given institution that the other professor who taught the class recentlyjust didn't do a very good job (& I doubt that collegiality is so high that other universities freely share their lecture notes), or that it's a new class for the university. What is annoying me is a certainty, based on not much, that it MUST be a waste of time to spend more time preparing for a lecture than giving it. In general, writing takes longer than reading, & performance requires rehearsal. People do work from existing syllabi & textbooks & they tell you it still takes more time to prepare for a lecture than to give it, & you tell them they're wrong based on...what, exactly?

Academics certainly don't take business schools seriously on the imparting-information front.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:02 PM
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"Predicting where students will go wrong" looks to me like an example of an activity the usefulness of which ought to be seriously challenged. Either this is something which can be done systematically

I started writing a comment objecting to this, but came around as I typed. Seems to me that professors are subject-matter experts, learning pedagogy on the job, first by observation, then by trial and error. Having each incoming class of professors spend their first semester being taught to teach might do wonders for their later productivity.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:02 PM
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But we're talking about academe, here

I really don't understand what the word "academe" here means. I suspect it might be a kind of holy oil that is poured over graduates in order to impart some special qualities over and above those which might be provided simply by teaching them things. If someone's got a degree from London Business School, it means something. Specifically, that they've learned X, Y and Z, they understand it to a sufficient level and they can solve problems in business administration. Do they have "academe"? Did Rich/ard Por/tes lose his academe when he moved from LSE to LBS, and then get it back again?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:02 PM
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I have the impression that the state of the art in teaching people to teach is, in general, not very high. Perhaps I am wrong.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:04 PM
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,i>I really don't understand what the word "academe" here means.

I don't think anyone does. One recent study defined the US middle class as anyone with a bachelor's degree or above. Thi only loosely maps onto income. The poorest poor seldom have degrees, but lots of BA-BSs don't make much money, and a fair number of non-college people do well.

It's like a semi-meritocratic gentlemanhood. Without a BA you're no gentleman.

OT but not really: Faraday was not a gentleman and formally a personal retainer of Davys, and at one point he had to serve as Davys' valet when the previous valet left. Steve Shapiro has written great stuff on class and science, though most of his examples were pre-XIXc.



Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:09 PM
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244: no, I went to London Business School (yes we're all very proud) and it was in the evenings while I was working (there was a full time option, but they didn't get a different degree) and it was not "all about networking". If it's "an entirely different concept" from undergraduate education, then it's one which works better, and therefore one from which undergraduate educators might be able to take some lessons.

are decent odds in a given institution that the other professor who taught the class recentlyjust didn't do a very good job (& I doubt that collegiality is so high that other universities freely share their lecture notes), or that it's a new class for the university.

1. If there is a lot of variability between how well professors do the job, why is that an argument against standardisation?
2. If universities don't share notes between institutions, is this something that should just be taken as a fact of nature, or should it perhaps be the subject of looking at whether it can be changed.
3. Isn't the frequency at which new courses are introduced also part of the planning process?

It's a long thread, but I gave my reason above for thinking that the 2:1 ratio was excessive - it implies that each 15-week course requires roughly as much time and effort as it would take to write an 80,000 word document. This is practically equivalent to writing the course from scratch every time. I think most of the academics are now agreeing that 2:1 would be for teaching a new course (or that it would include things like extra office hours and admin which aren't really "preparation), so the question's moved on to how much improvement we can get out of the status quo.

Academics certainly don't take business schools seriously on the imparting-information front.

Not true as far as I'm aware, and in any case if it were true, this would be an indictment of academics, not business schools.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:10 PM
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Basically all business schools are "MBA-while-you-work degree factories", and people do take them seriously.

Maybe this is a cross-ocean misunderstanding. Harvard MBAs are not spending 50 hours/week working for some bank, then taking classes at night. Harvard MBAs are taken seriously. Robert Morris University MBAs spend 50 hours/week working for some bank, then take classes at night. They are not taken seriously, although many no doubt benefit from the very efficient efforts that are made for them.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:13 PM
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190: Seriously, d^2, why do you assume that nobody has done this. Universities are large institutions with a lot of momentum, true. But it's not like people haven't looked at this at all.

Due to economic pressure, a lot of institions, particularly large state schools, and the like, actually are implementing many of the sorts of ideas you are vaguely talking about. On the whole, they seem to be more efficiently delivering a lower quality education. There is a real problem in applying many optimization approaches (even when done by people who understand optimization as well as anyone, anywhere) in that we don't have good metrics. The things that are easy to measure are only weaking coupled to the results you really want to have. It's a difficult problem.

Here is one unambigous built in inefficiency. The (textbook) publishing industry. It is, I believe (and hope), collapsing under its own weight, but this is a slow process.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:13 PM
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Ok, I haven't gotten very far in the thread, but I can't resist D2's troll (and he's probably gone home already).

This is my first semester at a 5/5 institution. By their account system, I'm actually teaching 6 courses this semester. It is a fucking lot of work, and frankly, I am not up to speed yet. Anyone who says this isn't a lot of work can fucking fuck themselves, the fuckers.

The main problem is that every single good teaching method is labor intensive. Lets start with this "prep a lecture" stuff. A good teacher doesn't just lecture. You've got to plan activities for your students that will make them work.

...

oh fuck it, I shouldn't waste time responding to obvious trolls.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:13 PM
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Academics certainly don't take business schools seriously on the imparting-information front.

Well, maybe they should. There are top economists and sociologists teaching in business schools while producing lots of research. Some of it has changed how finance and business are done.

I have the impression that the state of the art in teaching people to teach is, in general, not very high.

I think this is actually more true in universities than in elementary schools. There's a lot of research on how students learn, and a lot more measurement of whether students do actually learn going on in public schools. I bet average practice is significantly better.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:13 PM
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Sure, b-school professors count. A pal of mine is a prof in game/voting/decision theory at a top 5 b-school and he's as academe as it gets. The students, on the other hand, are mostly about building the network and landing the McKinsey gig.

I don't think the bottleneck in teaching 'efficiency' is from actual delivery technique, which comes from practice. It's in individual personal limitations on how long it takes to prepare a good lecture. If d^2 in 243 advocates deliberately producing shittier lectures for service courses, because the students don't know the difference and it's easier that way anyway, I suspect he's not acquainted with the personalities of many academics. Namely the sense of personal pride, and the desire to duplicate the amazing experiences many of them had as undergrads, even when they (secretly) know that most of the students in the service courses aren't (and will never be) them.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:13 PM
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Back to calculus: it seems to me that there could be four to six intro calculus courses nationwide, with standardized tests on the internet.

Four to six: for humanities people, engineers, physicists, mathematicians, and two groups to be named later.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:13 PM
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248,250: This is one area in which the professors in my department are very resistant. Students are apparently supposed to just catch knowledge off of us, like a communicable disease, and there's a very strong belief that good teachers are born, not made. Some sensible professors point out that it's not about the naturals, but about the researchers that aren't good at teaching and could be made passable at it by learning techniques, but the hard part of this argument is that as a department, we keep pwning the teaching awards, so it's hard to convince anyone that this is a good area for formal development.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:14 PM
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BTW, Heebie said way the fuck back at comment 100 that her prep:facetime ratio was more like 1:1 for established courses, and no one disagreed. So I think that what's sticking in D^2's craw is, essentially, non-existent.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:14 PM
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Predicting where students will go wrong

This is situational (or at least locational) too. A room full of first-generation college-goers is going to go wrong in (some) different ways than a room full of legacy students at an Ivy League school.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:15 PM
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253: Harvard MBA's are taking seriously, but more by business, less so as an academic degree. The main benefit of Harvard vs. Nooname is networking. This is also true in general of MBA's, but lower profile programs have less of that upside.

However, that doesn't mean there is anything wrong with MBA's, they are meeting their purpose just fine.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:16 PM
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202. I was actually referring to inefficient customs like the Oxford tutorial, the advising of US undergraduates writing theses, and leaving administration of the curriculum to faculty. I believe delivery of these products could be Taylorized but only at significant cost to their basic character. Bespoke isn't only about the oddly shaped ass.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:17 PM
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service courses

What's a service course?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:18 PM
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The main benefit of Harvard vs. Nooname is networking.

Or, you know, learning from Nobel winners and the people who invented game theory (this would be at GSIA, when my dad was there in the 60s, not Harvard). Let's not pretend that all business schools offer the same material in the same way.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:19 PM
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258 - Unless one of the things that people need to learn is to have complicated things explained in a small group. Like storytelling, on the veldt.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:19 PM
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258: Friends and I have talked about creating materials for such a course, actually.

One of the real problems with Calculus is that freshmen come into with highly variable backgrounds, and some of them are woefully underprepared. Automating such things (internet based curriculum) will give deans and admin powerful incentives to cut costs by hiring underqualified lecturers to follow along by rote. This is exactly the wrong thing to do from a pedagogical standpoint.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:19 PM
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In Taiwan English teaching was market-driven, and it tended to be done by standardized methods. Some individual teachers felt to be effective also became superstars, but rarely.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:19 PM
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I assumed that we're all operating from an initial trollish implication that a 5:5 teaching load was completely doable while maintaining quality standards and a personal life.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:20 PM
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265: No, of course they don't, and I didn't suggest they did. However, this is not the main benefit of the top few business schools.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:20 PM
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From way upthread: I have no idea how many of these are around now, but in college in the mid-80s I ran into this one just often enough to register on me as a type: Professor Why-Aren't-You-Hippies, who remembered their student days in the '60s or early '70s with a heavily varnished nostalgia, for whom no current student could ever measure up to those ineffable heights of coolness and supreme humanity.

Been meaning to mention for a while that we discovered in our first days of classes that well over half the faculty had spent the summer hanging with the people who make the actual giant puppets.


Posted by: Penny | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:21 PM
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264: A service course is one that is offered to large numbers of non-majors, typically in the lower division.

Like, for example: freshman/sophomore physics for hard scientists and engineers (with an advanced section for prospective physics majors). Freshman/sophomore physics for pre-meds. Freshman/sophomore physics for people who will balk at the quadratic formula.

Humanities equivalents being freshman composition, that sort of thing.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:23 PM
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264: A service course is a course taught by one department primarily for other departments. Introductory Calculus, as taught most places is a good example. It is primarily of use to non-math majors, but necessary for sciences and engineering. They tend to have large enrollment, often indifferent students, and a fairly fixed syllabus (often because they are prerequisite for many other courses).


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:24 PM
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freshmen come into with highly variable backgrounds, and some of them are woefully underprepared. Automating such things (internet based curriculum) will give deans and admin powerful incentives to cut costs by hiring underqualified lecturers to follow along by rote. This is exactly the wrong thing to do from a pedagogical standpoint.

But isn't this one of the fundamental points of disagreement? Some people think that the job of a university is to present standardized material to students, who will absorb it and succeed, or not absorb it and fail.

Others think that the job of a university is to remedy students' deficiencies so that they are all at least capable of succeeding, even if some do not.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:24 PM
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On calculus, Last Chance U offered precalculus for those with weak preparation. A more-advanced studnet might take, for example, physics calculus instead of engineering calculus, or something like that.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:26 PM
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(Thanks to Counterfly and soup.) I knew it couldn't have anything to do with service learning.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:26 PM
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Also, ogged tried to reinforce it way upthread, but no one noticed - if you're grading written work (and giving useful feedback), grading for a single smallish (15-20) course can easily take 6 hours each time there's an assignment. The only way to make that more efficient is to give less feedback or fewer writing assignments - not pedagogically optimal.

If you're teaching 5 classes over 15 weeks, and each class has just 3 writing assigments, that's 6 hours every week taken up doing the grading for just one of your five courses.

Teaching an arts class? Spend time every goddam week loading up a stupid slide carousel. Efficient? No. Alternatives include buying your own damn carousels and duplicating slides out of your own pocket, or scanning 500 slides your own self. The university isn't going to assist any of those activities - because, as someone pointed out, universities don't (have to) value the time of their employees.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:27 PM
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I think it's obvious that a 5/5 course load is hard work. The question is why it's such hard work and whether it is absolutely intrinsic to the process of education that any load above 3/3 is unbearable.

I suspect he's not acquainted with the personalities of many academics. Namely the sense of personal pride, and the desire to duplicate the amazing experiences many of them had as undergrads, even when they (secretly) know that most of the students in the service courses aren't (and will never be) them

This really looks like another constraint that shouldn't be a constraint. If someone's expected to teach four courses and do research too, then if his or her personality is forcing him or her into attempting to produce magical custom-made experiences for 50 undergraduates, then this isn't consistent with the world. So either a) it is not possible to teach four courses b) people teaching undergraduates shouldn't do research or c) the undergraduate experience needs to be re-tooled.[1]. A) would be nice but depends on adding resources which it can't be assumed will be made available, so the choice is between b) give up on research or c) have a look at the way the undergrad syllabus is produced.

This is one of the things that they teach you at business school; the world is a constraint on what you want. If you try to do things the other way round and have personalities, what people take seriously, our scholarly values, be a constraint on the world, you're going to end up in hell. The prevalence of these 5/5 course loads suggests that "end up in hell" is a practical as well as theoretical possibility.

[1] I don't accept "made shittier". The whole point here is that there are efficiency gains to be made, not that there is a tradeoff between quality and arduousness. If the lecturers are spending blood and tears on producing fascinating insights that the undergraduates don't appreciate, then it might be possible to redirect 50% of this effort into improving the parts of the course that the undergraduates do use, diverting 25% into research and saving 25% for improving the teacher's quality of life.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:27 PM
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Actually my prep ratio is not 1:1 by a long shot. For a new course, for material I don't already know, it takes much more than that. Even when I've done stuff before, I have to review and edit.

For example, this morning I taught for 90 minutes on moral luck. I had notes from a few years ago, and the Nagel piece is pretty straightforward. The Williams essay is not, though, and rereading that took about 45 minutes. I then had to type up some more thoughts about Gauguin, and, while thinking about what the hell Williams means about the way someone can be unjustified, I had to look back over "Internal and external reasons" because I think there's a link between the two papers that's underappreciated. Now we're over the 1:1 mark for something that I'd already taught and had notes on.

Rob H-C said earlier that most good and effective teaching practices are very labor-intensive. True!

And what slol and Goneril said.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:27 PM
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275: StudNet is a highly advanced artifical intelligence program, with advanced calculus routines pre-programmed to maximize the output of the MakeSexyTime() function.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:27 PM
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Well, maybe they should. There are top economists and sociologists teaching in business schools while producing lots of research. Some of it has changed how finance and business are done.

If there was any reason to believe this is more true of business schools than other schools, well, people would notice. There isn't. There are top people teaching at reasearch institutions in every field, while producing lots of research. Some of which changed their respective fields. This is. after all, what universities do.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:28 PM
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274: Thing is, most universities are asked to play both of these contradictory roles.

Interestingly, the higher the status of the university, the more likely it is to play the gatekeeper role. Here in community college land, we can have no illusions about our job being anything other than remedying deficiencies. As a result, the places that are most interested in actually teaching are least likely to have the resources to do it well.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:29 PM
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278: In practice, `made shittier' is what has been happening, even if in theory some gains are possible (there is no reason to start off with an a-priori assumption that these gains will be huge, that I can see). A lot of this has to do with metrics, I'm sure.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:31 PM
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282: Yeah, and this is kind of crazy.

I think d^2 is actually looking at this at the wrong level. The largest systemic gains would probably be made by offloading all of the service teaching to community colleges, and giving them the resources to do it well.

However, this is a massive sytemic change, and a change in the way of thinking about these things.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:34 PM
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Yeah, I just don't get the assumption that a prep ratio over 1:1 is intrinsically inefficient.

Or, for that matter, the assumption that it's possible to write a short nonfiction book in two fulltime weeks.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:34 PM
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For institutional reasons I've stated, any improvements in university teaching efficiency will be at the cost of the people doing the actual teaching. The fact that they're actually teaching is in itself evidence that they're low on the pecking order. Even at teaching instirutions (Last Chance U.) a clique of high-seniority faculty succeeds in dumping the shitwork on adjuncts, the not-yet-tenured, and junior faculty.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:34 PM
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The single largest chunk of my time is spent providing feedback on student's written work. These days, I don't even get much fun prep work like rereading Williams on moral luck. (right now, I should be grading bioethics papers)

I have been working hard on finding ways to streamline paper grading. I use rubrics, macros in word, peer response. Each innovation I use has lead to students getting more complete feedback and fair grades, but it has not diminished the amount of time I spend grading.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:35 PM
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284: it does seem to be one that California is trying to implement, to my benefit at least. I'm still not sure how that would help people get research jobs. It would just mean more CC jobs with no time for research, no?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:35 PM
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Automating such things (internet based curriculum) will give deans and admin powerful incentives to cut costs by hiring underqualified lecturers to follow along by rote. This is exactly the wrong thing to do from a pedagogical standpoint

Kitting out your army in off-the-peg fatigues is exactly the wrong thing to do from a sartorial standpoint, but nevertheless may be the best thing to do all told. Rote-learning works well in a lot of contexts.

Freshman/sophomore physics for people who will balk at the quadratic formula.

Classic example of a course that might benefit from a Gordian approach to simplification. I mean please, apologies and all, but if anyone is spending six hours a week preparing for these lectures, then you have to ask who is benefiting? Particularly as the majority of undergraduates on these courses actively don't want to learn the material. Maybe once in fifty years someone will have their eyes opened and be inspired to become ... well, basically a middle manager who reads a lot of pop science books, let's be realistic here, but I mean really.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:36 PM
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I think d^2 is actually looking at this at the wrong level. The largest systemic gains would probably be made by offloading all of the service teaching to community colleges, and giving them the resources to do it well.

This is what is happening in Ohio right now. The majority of students in Ohio state institutions take their lower division courses at community colleges. The amount of money community colleges receive has been stagnant, but that may change.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:38 PM
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Maybe once in fifty years someone will have their eyes opened and be inspired to become ... well, basically a middle manager who reads a lot of pop science books, let's be realistic here, but I mean really.

The cost of having a scientifically illiterate citizenry is very high. Here in the US, we are reminded of this every day.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:40 PM
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Rote-learning works well in a lot of contexts.

d^2, this is already happening to some degree, and the results are not encouraging.


rob in 290: To really make this work, the community colleges need more resources too.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:40 PM
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Soup: Feel free to send us some.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:42 PM
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I mean please, apologies and all, but if anyone is spending six hours a week preparing for these lectures, then you have to ask who is benefiting?

If you're a sap, it's that you reach the occasional individual and open their eyes a bit, and that benefits society and you and them.

If you're half a sap, it's that if you make your lecture shittier, that students's one impression for the rest of their life of what you hold most intellectually dear is shitty as well, and that's a sad thing.

If you're not a sap at all, it's that that middle manager who took Physics for Accountants might be responsible for some degree of your teaching or research budget one day, so it's incumbent on you to not fuck up.

Not-sap-dependent: if you have students who believe the world is 4000 years old, well, if you fuck up, they teach their children the same thing, and if you do it right, maybe there's a small chance they won't.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:42 PM
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This is really off topic, but not only do I think that community colleges should do intro classes, but I also think that every 16-year old who's able to should be able to take these CC classes free. A lot of kids would opt for that, and the HS environement really is mostly a bad one.

I'd make special deals for HS kids who wanted to do extracurricular HS stuff while in CC, or mix HS and CC college classes. HS teachig is much more inefficient than college teaching: students sit inclass 25 hours a week and learn less.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:43 PM
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either this is something which can be done systematically, in which case there are production efficiencies to be gained, or there is absolutely no pattern at all to the mistakes students make

I'd just like to point out that this is absolutely false, and that d2, being a smart person, should know that it is absolutely false, and that therefore we should conclude he's shitting us.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:43 PM
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Seriously, though, doesn't this community college strategy privilege those who already have permanent positions at teaching universities (and who will now presumably have more time for research), over the job-hunting postdocs who will now have even the opportunity to daydream about doing research taken from them? Unless, that is, there is some advancement path from the CC level to the University level for faculty, which I don't see anybody suggesting.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:44 PM
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Amen to 295.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:48 PM
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Wait, D-squared has a business degree? I always thought he was some sort of sociologist.

I guess I know longer have to wonder why I've always found him irritating.


Posted by: orangatan | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:49 PM
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297: I really believe that that battle is already lost.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:50 PM
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either this is something which can be done systematically, in which case there are production efficiencies to be gained, or there is absolutely no pattern at all to the mistakes students make

I'd just like to point out that this is absolutely false

Not so. If there are certain difficult points which cause many misunderstandings among students, a good standardized curriculum guide for teachers should note them and give suggested alternative explanations or expositions that have helped students with similar misunderstandings in the past. Voila, some production efficiencies.

Of course, as with everything else in the world, mistakes will not be totally predictable, only somewhat. So there are limited efficiencies to be gained, and most likely there is more random variation in this than in most processes that consultants try to shape up, but I think there is a lot of low-hanging fruit at the lower course level, as many have already brought up.

And, even though these may be the courses that academics enjoy the least and focus on the least (or else I don't think as many people would be saying "but what about the grad seminars?!"), I can almost guarantee that they are the vast majority of courses taught to undergrads in the US.

Also, grading will continue to be a bitch no matter what. This I do not deny.

Finally, please don't talk about MBAs, people.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:51 PM
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orangatan clearly did not get the memo about the new unfogged. On the other hand, he's acting like a total stereotype, and has a fairly embarrassing typo in his last comment, and is thus largely being ignored.

The system works!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:51 PM
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One of the worst parts of academic life seems to be that you're never fully "off" the job; any moment might should be spent thinking about or working on something. It seems to take a lot of conscious discipline to keep the job from swallowing your life.

Right, and the worst part of the heavy teaching load is that--screw the research--it doesn't leave you the time for reading/free thinking to *come up with new courses*.

In answer to D2's question (which has surely already been answered), I would think a 5/5 load would really be about a 40-50 hour/week job. That's excluding research. You're probably going to have grading pretty much every week, with that many classes. And the bureaucracy is enormous: student advising, annual reports, doing all your own xeroxing/overheads, faculty meetings, committee crap, proposing new courses (every proposal must address the teaching objectives! and be approved by the committee, the chair, the associate dean, the advising office, and the academic vp's office!), all the goddamn recommendation letters for years abroad/scholarships/acceptance to the major/graduate school, testing arrangements with the office for students with disabilities, etc.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:52 PM
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Point of fact: the most simplifiable and easy physics course to teach is not the (actually very difficult to teach) physics-for-humanities, but the physics for pre-meds, not because it's easy or hard, but because they so transparently don't care about the material, excusing you from caring about them, the syllabus (unless you're crazy) is totally motivated and dictated by the physics portion of the MCAT, and the students are wildly competitive enough with each other that you know they'll do the work.

Research into where physics students go wrong is quite common. A certain Nobelist just left his Boulder position because another school promised to double his funding for novel physics teaching methods which use dork-ass buzzers to track what students are following, an approach which I find distasteful but apparently shows some results. He also hated that the rape-tolerant football coach made millions, but that's another kettle of fish.

It's a decent use of bunsen-burner approach, but the motivation was certainly not to improve faculty time-efficiency.

300: I thought it was the other DD, too, for a long time. Not true!



Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:52 PM
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Actually I meant 299! Special for orangutan!


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:55 PM
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In terms of the number of courses needing to be taught, what is the justification for the standard 4 year undergrad degree in America? Over 'ere the standard is 3, and it doesn't seem to produce notably worse graduates.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:55 PM
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302: My teaching load is weigh too high to keep up with memos.

Spelling error just for you.


Posted by: orangatan | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:57 PM
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Each innovation I use has lead to students getting more complete feedback and fair grades, but it has not diminished the amount of time I spend grading.

This reminds me very much of teh best thing I've ever read about bike riding: It never gets easier - you just get faster.

Thus, teaching never takes less time - you just get better (and the students learn more). The only way the time gained from increased efficiency can go to the prof and not the students is if the prof's initial teaching quality is adequate. I would imagine that, after 10 years, a prof could teach at the same level she did in Year One in a lot less time. Is this supposed to be a preferred outcome?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:58 PM
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306: It's institutional. No other reason is required.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:59 PM
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297: That ship left years ago.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 12:59 PM
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Re: undergrad 4 year. Institutional inertia.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:00 PM
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311 pwned.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:00 PM
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310: so what is the person who wrote the first quote in the post complaining about? Surely they should have known they'd never (to a first approximation) get to do research in their chosen field, or teach motivated, high level students.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:01 PM
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I thought it was the other DD, too, for a long time. Not true!

Which other DD?


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:02 PM
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A more diverse variety of courses ('general education') is required in American colleges, I believe, certainly amounting to an extra year's worth of study.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:02 PM
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Finally, please don't talk about MBAs, people.

Seriously, why? I know a bunch of them. It's another aspect of post-undergrad pedagogy that is done quite differently than many fields, so it's interesting from that point of view for starters.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:02 PM
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in 316, I somehow dropped this thought: `..know a bunch of them, and we've talked about this stuff productively'


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:03 PM
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I, as a non-academic, would appreciate any non-facetious answers to 306.

My guess (see previous qualifier) is that it has a fair amount to do with most students not declaring majors for at least 1 and often 2 years. But in previous discussions here, the consensus seemed to be that most students have pretty close to 30 required courses to get to a bachelor's - the only way to do that in 3 years would be without electives, which would be miserable.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:04 PM
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Tailoring is so wildly different from teaching that I don't understand why dsquared keeps using it as an analogy. The way the clothes business works is, you go into a store and walk out 15 minutes later with a new pair of pants. You don't need to know the pantsmaker, all he or she needs to know about you is your size, you can get a very good idea of the style and quality of the pants before you buy them, you can start using them immediately, you can keep using them for years depending on their wear and tear but nowhere near your whole life or career, and when you want another pair, just go to the store again. The only major change since the Middle Ages is that mass production and distribution allows pantsmakers to make a whole lot of various sizes and count on them eventually finding someone they fit.

Teaching, on the other hand, takes hours of someone's times under pretty much any pedagogical (sp?) method. The effectiveness of those methods vary widely depending on the personality of the teacher, the personality of the student, and the educational history of the student. The student gets no benefit from the education for years, and never gets a direct, material product from it at all. Often, they aren't even paying for it themselves. It's hard to determine the value of education, especially in advance.

Teaching is nothing like tailoring. So while there are always some improvements that could be made, why do you think anywhere near as much wasted time could be cut from teaching as was cut from tailoring?

Or, to put it another way, from 243:
Bespoke tailoring is really useful for people with odd-shaped asses, but it's not the best way to clothe your army.

But everybody has an odd-shaped brain.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:04 PM
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D/rezner!


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:04 PM
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288: Yes, this would make explicit what is already implicit. There simply are not enough research jobs for all the people who would like them.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:05 PM
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Another time-suck, alluded to by B:

If you're teaching 5/5, or even 4/4, it's pretty much a guarantee that one course a year - if not one per semester - is brand-new. Let's say one all-new course, which everyone agrees takes enormous time (2-3:1 prep time plus actually writing the course in the first place), and one overhauled course, every single year. It doesn't matter if your other 8(!) courses run as smoothly as a Dodge Slant-6; you've got one course absorbing 10+ hours/week plus the writing, and that's all your time.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:09 PM
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318: my answer wasn't facetious. A 3-year curriculum could easily be designed for hard-working students who know what they want, but it just doesn't happen.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:09 PM
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318: Part of it is inertia. Part of it is time to address some of the wildly variable background high school students have. Part of it is broadness requirements, and others depth. I think the premise that you can't tell the difference between graduates from a 3 year and a 4 year is just incorrect. But you could add a 5th year, and they would be noticeable. 4 isn't a magick number.

I think I took 42 undergrad courses, but that fulfilled honours requirements for two departments. I think the requirements for general undergrad and for entry to grad school can be made usefully different. Perhaps a 3 year and a bridge year, or 3 year general vs. 4 yeawr honours, that sort of thing.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:10 PM
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323: There is also a maturity problem. If I was designing a 3 year intensive program, I'd love to be able to restrict it to students who have been out of high school a couple of years.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:12 PM
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Part of it is time to address some of the wildly variable background high school students have.

That would justify a 3 year program for advanced students.

It's institutional if you don't know what the reasons are, or if the reasons don't make sense.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:16 PM
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As a result, the places [community colleges] that are most interested in actually teaching are least likely to have the resources to do it well.

This point was made at feature story length in the Washington Monthly two months ago. Well worth reading.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:16 PM
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John in 295: That is basically the way things work at my CC. We serve a huge number of HS students. Also, not surprisingly, they tend to be the best students we get. A super-motivated 16 or 17 year old responds a lot better to college material than middle aged moms who haven't had much school before, burnouts who couldn't get into state U, and the other sorts of people we serve.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:16 PM
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And I keep meaning to mention this: the scheduling thing. Most schools are short on classrooms. So why on earth is it plausible that efficient schedules can be made for hundreds of classes in dozens of rooms, with students from various majors needing to be able to have options among classes? Or rather, why is it plausible that optimizing professors' time will be the ruling variable?

This is like claiming that properly timed traffic signals will eliminate congestion. The best you can hope for is less congestion - fewer profs with classes scheduled for 8 am, 1 pm, and 4 pm. But for anyone teaching 5/5, there will be inevitable, massive inefficiencies.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:17 PM
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This year my wife is teaching a 5-3 schedule this year and the 5 thing is a real bitch. She is only able to do it because of a little redundancy in the classes (one is six hours of lecture on a number of Saturdays in place of the regular 3 hours a week class.) I figure that on the whole she is working something like 50 hours a week.

Now this is one of those, "you can do anything for a semester" situations where she is taking one for the team. They are paying her more for the double overload but really that only comes to about $7k and really is not worth it. For the record she goes up for tenure in two years so one also wants to be collegial and all that jazz.


Posted by: ukko | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:18 PM
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328: One of my son's friends graduated at 17 and did very well. If he'd graduated at 16 he would have done well too.

For a lot of kids, the HS happy fun time is no damn fun. They'd be better off in CC, if capable of it.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:19 PM
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306: The UK specializes much earlier than the US in education. While UK students are doing 4 A-levels, effectively focusing entirely on sciences, maths, or some area of the humanities by their last couple years of secondary, US students are still expected to be studying all of the subject areas (some maths, some science, some english, some history/social science, perhaps some foreign language). So UK students tend to enter university with deeper knowledge of their chosen subject area, and certainly much more standardized knowledge since there are no standard US secondary school curricula.

Then the US universities tend to require another year to two years of "general education" courses during an undergrad degree, which is why the profs here are talking about physics courses for english majors. UK students just take courses in their subject. The end result is greater depth in less time from the UK system, while US students supposedly have greater breadth.

In all honesty, I'd say the true benefit of the US system is that it gives people more time to choose what they want to do and it allows double majors, which sound like great fun.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:21 PM
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It seems to me that motivated students who could graduate in just 6 semesters generally want to do more in school, not just get out ASAP. I knew a double major (Bio & Chem, I think) who finished in 7 semesters, including Semester at Sea - obviously she could have been done in 6 (hell, maybe 5), but she was more ambitious.

Of course, there are huge potential cost savings to offering 3 year degrees, but I'd question students who had that as a major motivation (some, not all, obv) - it would tend to overwhelm interest in learning.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:21 PM
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I'd love to be able to restrict it to students who have been out of high school a couple of years.

I'm actually very interested in the UK concept of the "gap year". I think a year or three between hs and college can be extremely useful (not least as a way of helping some people figure out that there IS life without going to college).

Also, as someone mentioned upthread, are UK secondary schools as wildly variable as US? The differences here are absolutely breathtaking, and I say that as someone who one of these years is going to stop being surprised.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:22 PM
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333: Generally, maybe yes, but there easily could be routine provision for a 3 year major, and there isn't.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:25 PM
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could we just get back to making up rude names for profs we hated?

i liked that part.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:28 PM
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I don't know why schools couldn't spread an advanced degree curriculum over four or more years, without the elective crap, and let students work a part-time (or full-time) job more easily.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:28 PM
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redfoxtailshrub at 212: I would also love it if I did not have to reinvent the wheel every day. Dsquared is right on in regards to travel arrangements, purchasing, textbook ordering, room assignments, and all kinds of stuff that professors (who should be specialized to teach and research) have to do with clay tablets and cunieform wedges, because our time is not valuable enough to hire a large enough support staff. Our support staff is great, but there are only a few of them.

I think IT is the only area where we DO have a great and (just) large enough support staff, and that's because the professors cannot fix their own computers, but they can (grumblingly) do all their own paperwork and record-keeping. IT came along in recent decades, so it's not run by the rules of ancient hermetic traditions.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:29 PM
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Professor I-know-about-the-finer-things-in-life, Chair of the Let-me-tell-you-about-my-wine-collection department.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:29 PM
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By "advanced degree" I mean the sort of curriculum that's apparently used in UK undergraduate education.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:29 PM
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337: what do you mean by an advanced degree curriculem with elective crap? (this doesnt' match with anything I know of)


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:31 PM
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339--
if this were jeopardy, that would be 'who is bain/bridge?'


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:33 PM
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and by the way, why did someone way up above google-proof 'p/hysics"? because it's always surfing around looking for complimentary references to itself?


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:34 PM
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340: oh, ok. I would call an advanced degree one you do after an undergraduate degree (BA, Bsc, whatever)

You have a couple of problems.

The idea of lots electives in less constrained programs is a good one. They aren't extraneous, but rather a way to let you tailor your degree. For the most part, they improve your education notably.

Also, a lot of technical programs are pretty squashed anyway. Like I noted, I took 42 or so classes in undergrad, but only 2 of them were actually `elective', and I had another 3 pseudo-electives (like `one 4th year class from dept X').


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:35 PM
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Professor Laughs-at-his-own-jokes.

Professor Tells-you-every-day-how-many-years-he-is-away-from-retirement.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:36 PM
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343: a discussion about academic politics, and you're pointing out paranoia? Really?


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:36 PM
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The university of Phoenix has apparently has a lot of problems. Things like a 16% graduation rate:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/11/education/11phoenix.html?ex=1328850000&en=5c8473cd6fe4bffe&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

For companies,a reputation for efficiency has value even above the efficiency gains. It is possible that the opposite is true for schools.

A lot of the value of a degree comes from the status of the school. Things like teaching philosophy out of a textbook may be more efficient but they have the risk of harming the status of the school or the program in some way.

For law schools, lower tier schools teach to the bar exam and higher tier schools tend to ignore the bar exam and use highly inefficient teaching methods like the "socratic method".



Posted by: Lemmy Caution | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:36 PM
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John Emerson at 214: The step after figuring out how to teach humanities more efficiently is probably the question, "Why teach humanities at all?" Because the humanities are intrinsically inefficient.

Indeed. I think the only answer to this is "what happens when no one ever gets any humanities education? What if everything were the U of Phoenix?" I know some engineers and salesmen who would answer "nothing," but I think in fact that the consequences would be bad.

Hard to prove, though. Hard to demonstrate we have met our Student Learning Objectives.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:37 PM
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addendum to 344:

Working while you do an undergraduate degree is something that you can do, but it isn't really a good idea. Full time students are generally in a better space to learn. I'd rather do something about the exhorbitant cost, than facilitate people working more during the degree.

Some people do very well working at the same time, but these people are typically more motivated than average.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:37 PM
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Oops. That was me of the not-memorable-by-design handle.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:37 PM
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346--
i assumed it was paranoia; i just wasn't sure what possible threat it could be countering.
but look--i'm obsessive about my own secrecy, so i'm not going to rib you about wanting to maintain your own.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:38 PM
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Oh, and it's nowhere near proven that there exists an adequate textbook for every - or even most - courses. My structures prof told us, as he handed out the syllabus, that our textbook wasn't very good, and that he'd never seen a structures textbook he considered good. Not boding well for his efficiency, I would think.

BTW, if you add up my 260, 277, 308, 322, 329, and this one into a single, unified, and (of course) well-crafted comment, it would constitute such a definitive refutation of D^2's trolling that he wouldn't come back for a month except to occasionally drop in to call us "cunts."


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:43 PM
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Oh and soup, about the MBA comment, I was just a little annoyed with your 262 and 270. Although, to be fair, I'd probably say the same things about Harvard's MBA.

The typical MBA pretty much is a piece of paper that says you've slept through some classes in accounting, marketing and operations. That's not too wrong. Just as law degrees, MDs, and any other professional degrees will mostly be taught to average students who want nothing more than simple, spelled-out algorithms to take them through the nuts and bolts of the everyday job they're training for. MBAs are perhaps somewhat distinctive for the emphasis on their career placement services, but I would be surprised if top medical and law schools did not have similar services.

But an important distinction needs to be made for some of the top academic institutions, where the degrees become more analogous to undergrad degrees from top research institutions that encourage undergrad research. While most students still go through with the bare minimum and seek mostly contacts for their next set of job applications, a non-negligable portion of the student body is there to get some advantages of the PhD program without the time commitment. My business school allows us to take the first- and second-year PhD courses. Most of the top finance professors are in touch with several past MBA students who are working on similar research in private industry (quantitative models and research into derivatives and accounting are almost certainly at a higher level in private business than in academics). Professors often pull the latest research into their electives courses, which are over half our curriculum.

More or less, it's a much-defamed degree. And I think that Unfogged, in particular, is the sort of place that would have the worst impressions of it (lots of academics, but not in business school areas. lots of professionals who would encounter MBAs, but not in the financial areas where the rigor-seeking MBA students would tend to bunch).


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:47 PM
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319: it is possible to walk into a tailor's and just tell them what size you are precisely because it is an industry that's changed vastly as a result of mass production. I use it as an example, because it's the standard historical example of an industry that changed beyond recognition in the nineteenth century, and because I wanted to keep the epithet "Luddites" in reserve.

the worst part of the heavy teaching load is that--screw the research--it doesn't leave you the time for reading/free thinking to *come up with new courses*.

(and also 322): again, this is an administrative decision that somebody is making - that there should be loads and loads of new courses. It looks like another big source of entropy in the system - line proliferation is always a problem in multi-product companies and it's often built into the management culture.

#338: professors (who should be specialized to teach and research)

this is like saying "why am I doing my own photocopying? I'm a trained professional, I ought to be spending my time doing what I'm trained to do - web design and underwater welding!" The problem is much deeper-set than that.

In all honesty, I'd say the true benefit of the US system is that it gives people more time to choose what they want to do and it allows double majors, which sound like great fun.

Yeah, but it is apparently economically unsustainable on any other basis than requiring lots of 5/5 teaching schedules, which sound like a) no fun at all and b) more or less bound to lead to long term recruitment problems.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:49 PM
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352: If D^2 were really as into efficiency as he says, he would have written a script that automatically calls us cunts every week or so, leaving him free to do the high end trolling like the stuff he's doing now.

Actually, I bet he has written that script.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:53 PM
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it is apparently economically unsustainable

Here, I get stuck on the fact that somehow it didn't used to be. Which means that it's not 'economically unsustainable' in some broad a priori sense; it's economically unsustainable, now, given the decisions some other actors in the system have made. I don't know enough about it to know what's driving the current unsustainability of a model that used to work okay, but it seems possible that there are changes that could be made to make it sustainable again without changing the model fundamentally.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:54 PM
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I'd rather do something about the exhorbitant cost, than facilitate people working more during the degree.

That sounds right. I worry about degree inflation, too, though. That may not be a problem in engineering and so on, where students need a basic technical preparation just to do their jobs competently.

But your communications and history majors are increasingly worthless. I think most universities shouldn't even be in that business. Liberal arts grads from top-tier schools can get still good jobs by virtue of their degrees, but that's because there's an ersatz IQ test at work.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:55 PM
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353: Right. Well I was reacting to the use of the Harvard MBA earlier in thread, and believe what I said (as you note) about it's merits relative to other MBAs *as a particular program* to be correct. I wasn't trying to generalize (apologies if it came across that way). I believe that programs such as you describe certainly exist, but also that they don't represent the average program. So I think we actuall don't disagree about anything as stated.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:56 PM
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Dsquared, business schools here in the US function exactly the same as schools of arts and sciences. The teaching loads are lower (4/4 is the max), but the big structure is the same. This is not because business school professors are not acutely aware of the importance of efficiency.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 1:57 PM
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This is my fault for using Harvard MBA as my example, even though I suspected it of being exactly what soup says it is. I figured Tepper School of Business - which is what GSIA became, and is maybe the best research-oriented MBA in the country - would have little resonance among those who didn't play on its summer grad student softball team (as a kind of anti-ringer, I might add).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:01 PM
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356--
"it didn't used to be"

depending on which 'back in the old days' you have in mind, some of the differences might include:
1) a vastly smaller percentage of the populace attending post-high-school education
2) entering classes from more functional secondary schools with better basic skill-sets
3) schools spending less money competing for status in useless news and world distort's ratings game. this does account for some of the rise in tuition, going into plush accommodations, high-end athletic facilities, etc. students now expect, and get, a very ritzy environment.

4) fewer miles walked in the snow, uphill both ways.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:01 PM
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One point that sorta kinda been made: there are many kinds of college education, from community college courses all the way up to the elite universities, and the students' (and parents') expectation differ at each one. At a lot of colleges, the students aren't there only to have information X planted into their heads, but to have a particular kind of intellectual experience, which includes discussion, debate, critique, etc. Providing that experience requires that the teachers have a pretty goddamm vast store of knowledge in their heads and ready to deploy in response to some unanticipated question. Teachers who can't do this are bad, and students, particularly at the better schools, notice.

As for the paper Gonerill linked, and his gloss that the university has colonized the market, well, hmmm, that works if we define universities as "institutions that grant degrees," but not so much if we define them as "institutions that provide a particular kind of education."


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:06 PM
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Rob Helpy-chalk at 255 brings up a good point. Most of what I teach is not done by lecture. One universally required service course is Freshman English, which is (almost always) about writing. Writing is an activity you coach people through, not a body of knowledge you deliver. You can't bundle that service into larger, more efficient packets. If you have a plan for doing so, I invite you to take a class and try. I think I've wrung every bit of efficiency I can out my teaching process. My wasted time is not in teaching; it's all about committee work, bouts of abject despair, or writing to you good folks.

Imagine if every student in the university were required to be on the track team. If you didn't break them up into small classes with many coaches, you couldn't watch how each runner performed and improve each runner's technique. You could gain efficiency, but only by not coaching.

This goes back to the "Baumol's cost disease" link. We aren't delivering a textbook-equivalent, we are unfolding a training process over time.

Where I got my degree in Rhetoric, Taylor's name was hissed; his was a legacy of dehumanization and class warfare (because making schools work like factories is training students to be factory workers); he was considered to haunt public education as a malevolent spirit. I'm not saying D2 doesn't have some points, just noting the vast cultural gulf we are trying to bridge here.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:07 PM
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354.4: Although I suppose the additional year of education imposes some burden in the number of classes needing to be taught, it isn't that harsh. Those introductory courses that are a greater part of the teaching load in the US system are the ones most amenable to large sections, standardized syllabi and simplistic grading.

My response to 306 was also mostly about my own experience, which has not been at institutions anywhere close to 5/5 teaching loads. More like 2/0/0 teaching loads.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:08 PM
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which appears to me as an outsider to be an absolutely flat out crazy way of producing undergraduate education

166: Not a business. Not a product.

Exactly. Repeat and apply as needed to countries, families, communities, and every other non-business idiots claim should be run "like a business."

(dsquared, not saying you sign onto all of that.)


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:09 PM
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363--
this is a great line:
"I think I've wrung every bit of efficiency I can out my teaching process."

especially in the context of teaching writing.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:11 PM
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356: the big variables here are; more people in university education, more choices for them, more research publications required of tenured faculty. I think 3) looks the most changeable, but that's no guarantee; it might be totally inexorable.

The teaching loads are lower (4/4 is the max), but the big structure is the same

sure of that? Dick Brealey is a very rich man because of the fact that "Principles of Corporate Finance" (and its Study Guide) is utterly ubiquitous on MBA finance courses. I can walk into any boardroom in the world, refer to "Brealey & Myers" and the people there will know which of their jokes I'm referring to. I can't really speak for marketing or some of the other MBA tracks, but finance is very Taylorised indeed. (and the CFA qualification, which is probably replacing MBA in its relevant sphere, is just totally Taylorised worldwide).


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:13 PM
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Y'know, I do get the sense that a lot of academics here are saying "as a business type, how could you hope to understand what makes higher education work in the way it does?" but I is it necessarily the case that said academics understand the way that businesses actually think about managing their operations well enough to understand what's being proposed? I mean, obviously these are two different worlds, but is mutual ignorance breeding mutual disgust, or are people steeped in the business world simply the idiots because of their blind, unthinking loyalty to the profit motive?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:17 PM
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I think that Unfogged, in particular, is the sort of place that would have the worst impressions of [an MBA degree]

Including some of us who have one.


Posted by: Sir Kraab, M.B.A. | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:18 PM
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I think that most of the humanities are not responsive to D^D's criticism beyond the most intro level.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:20 PM
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366--
"mutual ignorance breeding mutual disgust"

which is such an unsatisfactory outcome, when extensive, well-informed interaction can lead to the same result.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:22 PM
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I think that most of the humanities are not responsive to D^D's criticism beyond the most intro level.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:23 PM
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363: One universally required service course is Freshman English

yep, and you spot the problem with that by your track team analogy. If everyone were required to be on the track team, and it meant that all of the coaches had no time for swimming or football or whatever, then the men from McKinsey would not come in and say "here are a dozen brand new technologies for improving and standardising your track coaching", they would say "it is not sensible to require everyone to be on the track team, half of the people do not want to be on the track team, nobody can give me a particularly good explanation of why everyone has to be on the track team other than a load of airy rhetoric about the aesthetic value of running and/or everyone's always been on the track team, I realise that 'this is not a business' as you all keep telling me but nevertheless, this is daft". I'm seeing a lot of entropy here which results from people doing their best to deliver courses which are basically undeliverable.

365: Business or not, can't you see that it's crazy for someone who's weighed down with a 5/5 course load (which clearly means at minimum 15 hours actual teaching, 10 hours unavoidable entropy, 10 hours background admin, 10 hours grading and even at the 20min/1hour ratio, 5 hours preparation, which is a 48 hour week) to be "coming up with new courses" that have to be prepared from scratch and which add another 10 hours? And therefore it's crazy for things to be organised so that this person is rewarded for doing this crazy thing and/or penalised for not doing it? In fact, the structural tendency of organisations to underestimate the costs and overestimate the benefits of change is one of the points of analogy with business that really looks like it works.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:23 PM
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370--
wait a second.
d^d is probably more than d^2, if d>2.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:24 PM
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This refers to a bit of conversation from awhile back, but ...

Regarding TA stipends for PhD programs, in my particular humanities/fine arts field (no conceivable employment prospects following the PhD other than academia), the top 10 schools or so range in their compensation from tuition + $7k annually up to about $14k annually, with a couple of happy outliers (Ivies) that are able to fund students at more like $20-22k. Health insurance, crappy though it be, is usually thrown in there too.

Also highly variable is what you have to do for your stipend. Most places require teaching during every single funded semester, which may range from 8 to 20 hours a week of total TA time. (During my MA program, I taught 20 hours a week for about $13k per year.) The aforementioned Ivies generally don't require teaching at all for maybe three out of your five years, which pays off enormously in terms of what they can expect their students to accomplish during coursework years and so on. But it obviously costs them a ton of money.

I can tell you, furthermore, that a biology (e.g.) PhD student of my acquaintance at my university is getting in the mid-$30k per year for his stipend, to our low-$20s. The reasons for this are presumably obvious and not worth any real indignation about.


Posted by: Brodysattva | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:24 PM
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Also D^D is much greater than D^2.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:24 PM
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D^D's criticism

1.11120068 × 10^16 isn't in this thread, John.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:25 PM
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Kid bitzers pwnage of sifu is greater than my pwnage of sifu but less than than kid's pwnage of me.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:27 PM
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373a. But 'being on the track team' is, in this case, learning how to write literately, which you need to be able to do almost anything you'd want to have a college degree for. If you're arguing that universities should admit far fewer students, so as not to have the trouble of teaching them, that's one thing. But I can't see how you could graduate students you haven't taught to write.

373b. can't you see that it's crazy for someone who's weighed down with a 5/5 course load... to be "coming up with new courses" that have to be prepared from scratch and which add another 10 hours?

I think all the academics are agreeing with you that it's crazy. They're just saying that the 5/5 load is the crazy bit, not the development of new courses.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:29 PM
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OK, OK. D=2.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:30 PM
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I was interested to hear a little while ago about somebody's plan to scale tuition fees for different programs based on the cost of providing them. I can't remember which schools were considering it.

I think that most of the humanities are not responsive to D^D's criticism beyond the most intro level.

Yet another reason for scrapping them, as I see.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:31 PM
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learning how to write literately, which you need to be able to do almost anything you'd want to have a college degree for

?? you can't get into university if you can't write, can you? I didn't think this was a remedial course we're talking about here.

It's also clear to me that the problem is both; bitchphd was implying that the problem with 5/5 was that it made it impossible to come up with new courses - ie that if the 5/5 was reduced to 3/3, the academics in question would push the workload back out again by proliferating new courses. The world really doesn't need that many new courses.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:32 PM
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381 - scrapping D'D's criticisms or the humanities?

(Oh, the humanities!)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:32 PM
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FWIW, the 5/5 load is pretty much exclusive to community colleges, where developing new courses is not much of a priority. Here at LCCC we can't develop much that is very novel anyway, since any new course has to be transferable to the 23 four year institutions in Ohio.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:33 PM
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382: you can't get into university if you can't write, can you?

Sadly, yes. For that matter, you can get out barely knowing how to write.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:33 PM
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397.2: Plus the thing is, you can't really *teach* a course if you haven't, you know, thought it through and prepared it. Good teachers need time to learn new things and keep themselves fresh, etc.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:33 PM
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?? you can't get into university if you can't write, can you?

Have you spent any time in American universities?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:34 PM
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?? you can't get into university if you can't write, can you? I didn't think this was a remedial course we're talking about here.

There's a difference between proficient writing at the high school level and proficient writing at the college level. Your writing did not improve in college?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:34 PM
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But 'being on the track team' is, in this case, learning how to write literately, which you need to be able to do almost anything you'd want to have a college degree for.

No undergraduate in the UK apart from english majors takes an english course in university. No intro to writing course, no literature requirement, nothing. Yet we seem to muddle along just fine. The level that most people need in writing can and should be taught at the secondary level.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:35 PM
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384: So D^2's reforms are in place, but the actual teachers are still fucked.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:35 PM
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Wait, is D2 advocating making universities more business-like? Because if so, that's the first time I've ever seen him saying anything that's just demonstrably stupid.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:36 PM
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you can't get into university if you can't write, can you?

Sigh. Define "can write." Do you mean being able to form a sentence, being able to write a 5-paragraph essay, being able to think critically, being able to structure a complex argument, having a "voice", or what?

389: Yes. The British and American systems are different. Britain and America are different. There are things that your system does well that we could do better, and vice-versa.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:39 PM
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389: One inefficiency of US colleges is the need for more remedial teaching.

BTW, I suspect that Sifu is not really a stoner tech nerd like he says, because he's nearly literate. I suspect that he's an English major trying to infiltrate us for some sinister organization (probably the Knights of Malta.)


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:39 PM
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I was interested to hear a little while ago about somebody's plan to scale tuition fees for different programs based on the cost of providing them.

The UK does this for non-EEC students (EEC students pay the home student rate, which is capped at a super-low level by the government). My tuition for a math degree was around 7,000 pounds a year (same as all the humanities subjects), versus 10,000 for a medical or vet student. The other main category of tuition was lab sciences, which I believe ran around 8,500 to 9,000 pounds a year.

It seemed sensible enough to me.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:40 PM
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Plus the thing is, you can't really *teach* a course if you haven't, you know, thought it through and prepared it. Good teachers need time to learn new things and keep themselves fresh, etc

I have a feeling that the asterisks around "teach" are doing a lot of work here, because taken as a sentence it is not true. Both my parents used to pride themselves on their ability to get 18-19 year olds through an A-level syllabus in sciences more or less from first reading. (A-level is the year below university in UK, but my dad taught at a community college in the US when he did an exchange year, so I'm guessing it's equivalent to the first year of undergraduatedom in America, when one does these "Nietzsche for Beekeepers" things.)


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:40 PM
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391: he's advocating making a given courseload more efficient (in terms of effort) for the faculty, B. So I guess it depends on your definition of businesslike.

You haven't read any of this thread, have you?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:40 PM
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392: Yes, including "Cannot form a sentence".

The British may be quaint and folkish, but they learn to write better than we do.

Writing is quaint and folkish, come to think about it.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:41 PM
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Define "can write." Do you mean being able to form a sentence, being able to write a 5-paragraph essay, being able to think critically, being able to structure a complex argument, having a "voice", or what?

same as in the comment I was responding to - able to write sufficiently coherently to get your job after university. Which is to say, the kind of appallingly low standard that people do graduate with, and these introductory courses to be honest don't look like they make a hell of a lot of difference.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:42 PM
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One inefficiency of US colleges is the need for more remedial teaching.

No and yes. In part because of collapsing industrial jobs here, and in part because of the lack of things like nationalized health care, etc., a college degree is a "requirement" for economic security in ways that it isn't in the UK. That, plus the history of an entrenched racialized underclass here, which is less of a problem in the UK. So we want college to be accessible to everyone in ways that (imho) the UK is more comfortable not messing with.

This doesn't *necessarily* mean "remedialism"--e.g., I've taught students who no, couldn't write a sentence in standard
English, but yes, were much better than their 5-par essay drilled middle class peers at actual critical thinking.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:43 PM
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Both my parents used to pride themselves on their ability to get 18-19 year olds through an A-level syllabus in sciences more or less from first reading.

This leads me to believe we have wildly different notions of how teaching functions and what it tries to achieve.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:43 PM
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368: Again the assumption that nobody has actually tried this. There are experiments going on all over the place, and while some have financially been quite successful I don't know of any that are touted as pedagogical successes.

This is very much related to the high school level issue of teaching to a standardized test.

I'm not arguing that it is inherent that such approaches fail, but it is obtuse to pretend that this is new.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:45 PM
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5-par essay drilled middle class peers

Goofy examples of growing up privileged -- I'd never heard of a 5-paragraph essay until long after college. We just got told to write something persuasive.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:47 PM
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I went to a fancy suburban high school and I still don't know what the hell 5-par essay means. Intro, conclusion, point, point, point?

Maybe I did those, come to think of it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:48 PM
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these introductory courses to be honest don't look like they make a hell of a lot of difference.

When I taught one of these introductory courses, I often felt an almost maternal pride reading the research papers at the end of the semester, feeling like the kids had really come a long way. It would be interesting to dig up some of those papers now and see if I still felt good about what they'd achieved. It strikes me as entirely posible that I simply warmed to the writing as I'd warmed to the writers. I'm pretty sure it was mostly that I was a brilliant teacher, though.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:48 PM
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403: I understand it's intro, example X 3, conclusion.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:49 PM
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I think the five-paragraph essay is somewhat generational. Heaven knows it seems to be harped on more these days, anyway.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:49 PM
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396: I've skimmed, admittedly.

The British may be quaint and folkish, but they learn to write better than we do.

Interestingly, I typed up a lot of papers for my British friends who were finishing their degrees, and no, in a lot of ways, they don't.

able to write sufficiently coherently to get your job after university.

Ah, but see, the difference is that in the US we postpone the moment of choosing what one is to "do" with one's life much longer than you do.

these introductory courses to be honest don't look like they make a hell of a lot of difference.

On the contrary. I didn't take writing in college, because I figured I could already write, which was true. Once I started *teaching* writing, though, I wished I had taken a writing course, because some of the stuff I'd learned about writing in ten years of practice was stuff I'd have learned much faster and more easily in a good comp class.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:49 PM
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401: assuming within the context of this thread. In any case I'm not really sure what "this" would be; I'm not talking about some "results-oriented" malarkey, I'm talking about process and workflow optimization. Which, sure, maybe that has happened, but I still wonder about all the talking-past.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:49 PM
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In the US we fuck off in HS and the first 2 years in college, D^2.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:51 PM
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405: I was inexactly convolving, sorry. I meant what you said.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:51 PM
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Both my parents used to pride themselves on their ability to get 18-19 year olds through an A-level syllabus in sciences more or less from first reading.

Am I to understand this to mean that your parents would walk into a school, be handed a textbook and associated syllabus, and start teaching the course the next day?

And, again - sciences. No writing, no feedback except "wrong answer, see page 213." It's the UK, so everyone in the room does math better than 20% of their American counterparts. Not. The. Same.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:51 PM
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When I was a grad student, I only taught precalculus, and assumed all the kids flailed and fell apart in calculus. Now that I have the same kids over a stretch of several semesters, it's delightful and mind-boggling to witness that they're actually learning and become meaningfully better at mathematical reasoning over time.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:52 PM
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I went to a fancy suburban high school and I still don't know what the hell 5-par essay means.

That's because you went to a fancy high school. In non-fancy schools, everything gets taught as a formula (and it's not generational, I don't think, because I got it and the kids I taught at university got it as well, and yes, they knew what I meant when I said "this isn't a 5-paragraph essay, people").

I'm currently reading Tested, which does an excellent job of explicating the difference between standards-based teaching/testing--in which inevitably everything becomes a formula--and the kind of teaching that emphasizes creativity and critical thinking. Which is a lot harder to quantify, and a lot harder to define, and a lot harder to reproduce. And the thing is, for a lot of students and teachers the standards are really helpful and effective. But.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:53 PM
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Wait, is D2 advocating making universities more business-like?

I actually think the business piece is a red herring here. What he's arguing is a bit more like the argument around hospitals and doctors - too many people get crappy care with the amount of discretion that doctors currently have. Less discretion and more disciplined focus on outcomes will lead to better outcomes with less expenditure/effort.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:54 PM
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sciences. No writing, no feedback except "wrong answer, see page 213."

See, this is part of the problem. This isn't necessarily the best way to teach science. Or, for that matter, math (Heebie, wanna help me out on this?).


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:55 PM
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408: the problem of optimization comes down to a problem of measurement. You can not optimize what you can not measure. Some workflow issues are there (but note point about physical plant etc. often being the weak link), and definitely universities have the usual sort of scaling issues. However, on the particular issue of standardizing texts, syllabus, testing. Yes, things have been tried. For the most part, from what I can see allow underfunded state schools to process more kids for less money without a notably huge drop in quality. All of the ones I'm aware of are not pedagogically doing as well (as far as anyone can tell) as the more tailored approach they replaced. They are much cheaper though, partially because it encourages less qualified lecturers which is probably a net loss.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:56 PM
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D^2, I am more sure of that than you can possibly imagine (imagine I'm saying this in the spooky Obi Wan Kenobi voice from the end of Star Wars). Finance is as Taylorized as finance professors can possibly make it, and yet it's still more like the school of arts and sciences than it is like an investment bank. Finance textbooks are marginally more standardized than textbooks in arts and sciences. (The humanities are the outlier here.) A best-selling calculus textbook will make you a millionaire. Mankiw got a million dollar advance for his intro econ book.

Imagine teaching is like being in a play. Here, the actual content is as Taylorized as possible. The text of Hamlet was standardized centuries ago. And yet the whole cast insists on rehearsing the play, over and over. Now there's some inefficiency.

Schools invent new courses because students expect them. (In the humanities, it also probably allows you to pay less, since it makes teaching more interesting than reading Moby Dick every year for a hundred years.) Ten years ago, business schools all put together courses on entrepreneurship, since students expected them. Academics know fuck-all about entrepreneurship, but eventually they were able to evolve standardized courses out of it. But now, students all want to take courses in private equity. If you're an academic and you know something about private equity, you're probably not going to be an academic for long. By the time there's a standardized course there, students will be demanding courses in Interplanetary Trade or Making Money in the Great Depression II or something.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:56 PM
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400: patronising, much? You're talking about my dear departed pa here. He taught the kids, they passed the exams, they learned how to do physics and off they went, often to Oxford & Cambridge, to study with people who never knew that they hadn't been through the "real" educational experience. Is there a special bottle of "pedagogy" magic oil, stocked next to the "academe", that you have to sprinkle in order to have "achieved" the "function" of teaching, over and above actually getting someone to be able to do the stuff?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:57 PM
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sciences. No writing, no feedback except "wrong answer, see page 213."

Wrong answer, see comment 158.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:58 PM
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Schools also invent new courses because of that whole "knowledge advancing and changing" thing.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:58 PM
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414: Problematic analogy. (Also, spaz is banned.)
There is no value in medical treatment for its own sake. The end result is the only thing that matters. Not the case for learnin'.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 2:59 PM
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Hey, I've never banned anybody before! Am I a real Unfogger now?


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:00 PM
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418: Dear D2, your anecdote proves nothing. Perhaps your father was a naturally gifted teacher, and surely there are many of those in the world. That doesn't mean that teaching isn't, itself, something that can be taught, or that (in a democratic society), thinking about different kinds of learning and different kinds of learners isn't something that can improve even the best natural teachers.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:00 PM
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Bitch, I really doubt that the UK is different in ways that would cause introductory writing to be necessary in college here while it isn't there. Both countries have similar enrollment rates at universities, so the intrinsic ability of enrolled students should be similar. They're both developed countries with fairly similar cultural histories (no "Confucian system!" cop-out).

The major difference is probably that the UK has a standardized secondary school curriculum in writing to make sure that students reach a given point that will satisfactorily prepare them for university studies, and that they are willing to fund schools at a national level so there isn't as horrendous of a have-nots group. Neither of those is beyond the US's abilities. Some breadth courses I will defend, intro to writing will never be among them.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:01 PM
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patronising, much?

Why yes please!

You're talking about my dear departed pa here.

Part of the problem was that you invoked someone with an emotional attachment, so it makes it personal if I try to argue about his teaching methods.

But I actually suspect your pa was just fine at his job, because of this:

He taught the kids, they passed the exams, they learned how to do physics and off they went, often to Oxford & Cambridge,

So I interpret that to mean that he taught kids who had already been culled and would not have much trouble with the material. Therefore he could read the text once and present it, and in a pinch they could read the material themselves and do fine.

If you have kids who are incapable of understanding the material by themselves, then I do not think any teacher can read new material once and teach it well to them.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:03 PM
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418: Jesus Christ. This reminds me of crackpot autodidacts flinging about the 'academia as merely some holy oil' bit. Your parents might very well have been exceedingly talented teachers. Or they might have been good teachers who knew exactly how the A-levels or whatever worked. And what do you mean by "first reading": does that mean a month-long course? A week?


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:04 PM
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424: No, I think the difference is (partly, at least) that students in the UK pick which fields they're going into when they enter university, more or less, and some of those fields won't involve a lot of writing.

I've taught freshman comp. I think it's an excellent, excellent course, and I really don't have any problem with it being mandatory. Because the point is it isn't just about standard grammar; it's about critical thinking, structuring arguments (which is necessary in pretty much all fields, you know), communicating one's ideas, thinking about what one reads, and being able to revise/revisit one's own ideas. I can't imagine a field of study, or a version of adulthood, in which being able to do those kinds of things isn't useful.

Part of it is class based, absolutely. You can do a lot with *basic* literacy, basic math, and basic writing. But as more and more of that kind of work gets outsourced, the sort of reading, math, and writing that people need to use in professional/management-type jobs becomes a lot more important for people who are going to be getting jobs in the professional/management economies.

That pluls a good comp teacher will make you really allergic to jargon, which is clearly an unmitigated good.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:08 PM
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Ah...the parents reading. Whoops.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:09 PM
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The text of Hamlet was standardized centuries ago. And yet the whole cast insists on rehearsing the play, over and over. Now there's some inefficiency.

And now we'll ask the cast to know the characters so thoroughly that they can spontaneously add on a sixth act...

I don't wish to argue that the academy is efficient, but the emphasis on reducing class preparation time by having all introductory courses taught to standardized syllabuses seems a little crazy. First, this is pretty close to the state of the instruction in the hard sciences, and it hasn't reduced teaching loads. It's like fixating on the bandaging of a paper cut when the patient is bleeding out.

Second, part of the problem with a heavy teaching load is that the end product will be a couple classes that are standardized with the professor either going crazy, or going through the motions. Increasing efficiency in the ways described won't actually lead to better quality classes, because if one were to take the hypothesized extra time and use it to create a course, one would undermine the very mechanism by which it became more efficient.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:09 PM
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Schools invent new courses because students expect them

god help us, more of these conventions and assumptions treated as if they were facts about the world.

419: please try to keep up. The point I was making is it just isn't true to say that you can't really teach a course unless you've invented it yourself, unless there's some sort of magical *teaching* (note asterisks) which exists over and above actually getting the information across.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:09 PM
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Is it that people in the UK actually cannot imagine that the public school system in the US is as inequitable as it truly is?


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:09 PM
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I don't wish to argue that the academy is efficient

Indeed; I actually wish to argue not only that it isn't, but that it shouldn't be.

it just isn't true to say that you can't really teach a course unless you've invented it yourself

Well, obviously; we've all taught courses that existed before we started teaching them. But we also usually have to familiarize ourselves with the texts (if those are standardized) and/or figure out how we'll approach the material, what our own assignments will be, what we'll put on the exam, etc. That stuff takes time and means that, in a sense, even pre-existing courses are going to be "reinvented" every time someone teaches them for the first time.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:12 PM
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415: It really, really isn't the best way to teach math.

I've taught service calculus in a couple of large programs. Large being, say 1500+ students a semester. So there are issues of how many sections, who teaches, how many standardized curriculums, etc.

Let's imagine that the exact same course is taught. On paper, it often is --- calc one hasn't changed much since the 50s. In practice, it really really isnt'.

Typically if you want optimize cost/head now, you'll do this. Big sections (up to 500 people) with lots of powerpoint (problematic, but with 500 what do you do) and add on sheet. Everyone has exactly the same syllabus. Automated, multiple choice exams and quizzes generated from a test bank. Lots of online resources. Undergraduates available for tutorial. A recitation section with (hopefully) graduate students running it. Tons and tons of on line help, etc.

From an prof's point of view, this is minimal effort. You don't do *any* of your own marking. The syllabus is fixed, and once you have notes (or power point slides) made, you are set. This is what also encourages deans to think that they might as well just hire anyone with a masters to do that course, at a few thousand a term, rather than use real faculty (similar to the adjunct game in humanities). So what's the problem? In this sort of system, students often have bad fundamentals coming in, and they learn much of what they are `mastering' by pattern matching. If the instructor and TA's aren't on the ball, or if the student just gets lost in 500+ faces, nobody ever figures this out. Test banks go for uniformity, kids get hold of lots of versions, deans push for higher minimal grades ... all this adds up to students scraping through with a C in a course like this and no real mastery whatesoever of the material. In huge sections like that, it's hard for `knows how to take mutliple choice tests' and `struggels with learning the material' not to overlap. There is economic pressure not to fail the ones who really ought to fail. There is economic pressure to set low standards at exactly the sorts of places that are being pushed into implementing these systems.

Compare this to a typical top tier program with the same 1500 students. Classes are big, but small enough to hear you in a room (100 people, max). All teaching is done by faculty or at least ph.d's (or very nearly done)... people who have actually mastered all of the underlying material. Lectures are done on the board, because you can adjust to questions thes particular students are having. All exams are set by hand, based on where the class is. All exams are marked by hand, by people who know the material well. There are still all the online help etc., and lots of tutorial time.

End result: the students understand the material better. Confounding variable: they probably came into the program better prepared.

So from an efficiency point of view, how do you proceed. Particularly considering that end of term exam marks are only loosely coupled to actual mastery, and you'd proably need to do a multi-year, multi-discipline, entire program analysis to figure out what your numbers mean if you want to try mixing thes approaches, for example.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:12 PM
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I admit I'd be more supportive of freshman composition if more students actually came out of it able to write to my standards. It seems, in my limited experience, that it has turned into such a hoop-jumping exercise that it's very easy to do well in it while writing awfully.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:14 PM
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I want 432 to be shoved down the throat of every legislator, governor, and school board in this country.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:16 PM
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Dsquared, what business do you imagine universities to be in? You think business schools can survive not teaching the classes that the future MBAs are willing to pay to take?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:17 PM
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unless there's some sort of magical *teaching* (note asterisks) which exists over and above actually getting the information across

What Heebie said in 400. Any patronizing tone intended.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:17 PM
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The major difference is probably that the UK has a standardized secondary school curriculum in writing to make sure that students reach a given point that will satisfactorily prepare them for university studies

Thank you, yes. (Specifically, it prepares them for the three-year degree, so it basically overlaps with the first year of an American university). And the point about these courses is:

a) they can be taught by educated non-specialists without lots of preparation
b) they can be taught by people who specialise in teaching them, and make a decent middle-class living from doing so, in an environment where one prospers by becoming good at achieving this realistic goal, rather than as a bitterly resented sideline of people who want to be doing research.

as a result of this (and of the greater degree of specialisation), people teaching in British universities are not spending loads of their time teaching pointless "introduction to" courses, and the sky has not fallen in. This would seem to at least in principle be something which could help to provide a model for re-engineering some of the more crazy-looking aspects of American university education.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:19 PM
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437: since 400 was a content free sneer, I don't think you can possibly mean that.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:20 PM
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Because the point is it isn't just about standard grammar; it's about critical thinking, structuring arguments, communicating one's ideas, thinking about what one reads, and being able to revise/revisit one's own ideas. I can't imagine a field of study, or a version of adulthood, in which being able to do those kinds of things isn't useful.

And I can't imagine a field of study that doesn't already teach you how to do those things at an advanced level in that subject. What do you think university mathematics is? University physics? University philosophy? The basics of how to think about an argument in its most general form, of how to put yourself in the reader's position, of how to structure a line of thought in print for the easiest reading, those should and can be presented in secondary school. University courses are there for learning the facts and (more importantly) the methods associated with a given area of thought.

Yes, the US system's freedom to choose courses from a number of different subject areas is peachy, and I like that people have the freedom to decide what their degree will be later than in the UK. But that doesn't justify requiring people to take courses outside any of the subjects they might end up majoring in. I think the only course requirements in university should be those necessary in a given subject to obtain a major or minor.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:21 PM
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Please pretend the second question in 436 is written in English, or (in a pinch) Welsh.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:21 PM
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Saying that we seem to be working with different definitions of "teaching" does not seem to me to be content free.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:22 PM
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Indeed; I actually wish to argue not only that it isn't, but that it shouldn't be.

It could and should be a lot more efficient than it is, though, I think.

434: Freshman composition is rarely enough to turn awful writers into non-awful writers. (It does make them somewhat less awful writers, however, and generally more capable of reading and comprehending college-level writing assignments.)


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:22 PM
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434: We're talking a one-semester course, right? They're not going to be excellent writers at that point, any more than they're going to be philosophers after taking intro to philosophy.

438: Well look, most intro courses in the US aren't taught by full professors, either; they're taught by junior profs with the help of TAs, or they're taught by graduate students. I think you are *woefully* underestimating the effect of specialization.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:22 PM
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400 was sneer-y, but it was not content-free.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:23 PM
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Yeah, I know. It's not the fault of freshman comp instructors, but I get a lot of 'But I got an A in comp so obviously this grade you gave me is too low' crap that makes me wonder what's going on over there.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:24 PM
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438: But now you're not talking about changing US colleges, you're talking about changing the secondary schools which make it necessary for the colleges to be the way they are. Which is fine from my perspective -- US secondary schools largely suck, and I say this as someone who went to an excellent one that still kind of sucked -- but it's not the sort of thing where the hideboundness of people working in academia is what's getting in the way.

Generally, I've lost track of what's being argued, beyond D^2 saying "Surely these classes could be taught more efficiently" and all all the academics saying "Not as much as you'd think, no."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:24 PM
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So from an efficiency point of view, how do you proceed.

same way as with the 1500 man track team. Are there really 1500 people who both need to learn calculus and didn't learn it at school?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:26 PM
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I get a lot of 'But I got an A in comp so obviously this grade you gave me is too low' crap that makes me wonder what's going on over there.

Lies, possibly.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:26 PM
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I can't imagine a field of study that doesn't already teach you how to do those things at an advanced level in that subject. What do you think university mathematics is? University physics? University philosophy?

Huh. I took a fair bit of science as an undergraduate, and was never asked to write a thing or *communicate* arguments. I memorized proofs and was asked to *understand* the critical thinking that had preceeded me, but unless I'm gravely mistaken, in most universities students don't really get to the point of being asked to think originally in math and science until they're pretty damn advanced already.

The basics of how to think about an argument in its most general form, of how to put yourself in the reader's position, of how to structure a line of thought in print for the easiest reading, those should and can be presented in secondary school.

I agree; they should and can be. That doesn't mean that students shouldn't and can't also be asked to move on to grappling with less general arguments and more sophisticated analysis in university.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:27 PM
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440: I'm going to be a little snarky, but if all university is supposed to be is a job-training program, vo-tech is cheaper and we should kill the humanities. If it's supposed to be something more than that, there are good arguments for making sure that engineers and the like have read a book.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:27 PM
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Also there's a huge amount of blurring in this conversation between research universities with 1-2 teaching loads, faculty members who want to be doing their work, and intro courses that are largely covered by lecturers/adjuncts/grad students, and teaching institutions where PhD's are not expected to generate as much research, have smaller classes and larger teaching loads.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:27 PM
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I get a lot of 'But I got an A in comp so obviously this grade you gave me is too low' crap that makes me wonder what's going on over there.

What's going on isn't "over there." It's going on in the entitled, spoiled brat student's head. Don't blame us, dude.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:28 PM
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I am surprised that more people are not arguing for the separation of the teaching and research functions.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:29 PM
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Are there really 1500 people who both need to learn calculus and didn't learn it at school?

D^2 you jerkity-dumb-butt-asaurus, yes. I did not take calculus in high school. There's a huge range of reasons that kids do not take calculus in high school.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:29 PM
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The basics of how to think about an argument in its most general form, of how to put yourself in the reader's position, of how to structure a line of thought in print for the easiest reading, those should and can be presented in secondary school.

This just doesn't hold water. Mainly because it is a lot harder to do well than you seem to think (and I am familiar with students coming out of UK, US, Canada, France, Germany, etc.). Undergraduate education in every country is largely about teaching students how to think critically, how to structure arguments, how to organize information, how to present it. How to learn. How to study and read effectively. How to attack an argument and how to build it up. You should also master some breadth in a discipline, at least the stuff that is solidly laid out and not too technical. You should learn the basic techniques. But that isn't what undergraduate studies are about.

If there is any secondary system in the world doing a really good job of this, I haven't run into students coming out of it.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:30 PM
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449: That's true. Or they've internalized the five-paragraph form too well, and it's not one that always works well in philosophy. It's usually cleared up by the second paper but, gah.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:30 PM
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456 is worded too strongly. Of course these things should be presented in secondary school. It's laughable to think you are done with them, though.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:31 PM
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Anecdote: my friend who works in finance majored in political science, took a lot of composition, and got her job because unlike people with degrees in business and economics, she was a good writer.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:32 PM
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447: it appears to me that the academics are trying to argue (indeed, BitchPhd specifically did argue) that any serious attempt to reorganise the way the courses are taught would undermine their very nature as education. I'm also trying to establish that there are a whole load of jobs bundled in the job description "Professor" which clearly have nothing to do with each other, and should probably be unbundled. This is because unbundling and specialising is the central insight of the production line, and in general it works, although everywhere it has been introduced, there have always been people claiming that it undermined the true craftsmanship and so forth and so on. Plus this proliferation of new courses, which just seems crazy to me.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:32 PM
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What proliferation of new courses seems crazy? Give an example.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:33 PM
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455:

more importantly, high school calculus is woefully inadequite.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:34 PM
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Like the proliferation of nose-guns.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:34 PM
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448 misses the point

a) yes there are 1500 people who need this, and even if secondary calculus was brought up to the point that they didn't, they would need something. (actually, we'd be better off dropping calculus from high school entirely, and getting better basics)

so accepting that you have the 1500 students
b) you have no really reliable measurement. Nothing that can hold a candle to the judgement of a well qualified instructor, anyway. So how, exactly do you go about `optimizing' this system in an abstract way without falling into the trap of the camp a? Remember, they are doing worse than they were in the less efficient system.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:40 PM
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460: I don't deny that, but the one you seem most interested in unbundling is teaching (not, say, administrative work or grading), which is where the academics are saying isn't the area where they think they have the most problems. (This may be why we're skeptical of consultants.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:40 PM
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Also there's a huge amount of blurring in this conversation between research universities with 1-2 teaching loads, faculty members who want to be doing their work, and intro courses that are largely covered by lecturers/adjuncts/grad students, and teaching institutions where PhD's are not expected to generate as much research, have smaller classes and larger teaching loads.

well that's because there's a significant amount of blurring between them in real life, isn't there? If twelve hours of teaching (which doesn't look like a massive workload) can balloon into 55 hours of work, not counting research time, then there's a problem there. The solution is going to involve either "slough off more of the teaching to people who will never be expected to produce research and have a fundamentally different career track", or "find some way of reducing the ratio of tail to tooth with respect to the teaching". As far as I can see, both solutions are going to involve something that looks a lot like Taylorisation and not a lot like this idealised vision of pedagogy which people keep refusing to explain to me (pedagogical note for the expert teachers out there; are you sure that simply saying "you don't understand what I mean" with a patronising expression is really the state of the art?).

The only other question I was interested in was "Isn't two hours of preparation per one hour of teaching a hell of a lot?", for which I now think I have the answer "Not if you're not very bright[1]"

[1] My official policy on insults; give one, get one, and the one you get will usually be more personal than the one you gave. Subject to entirely capricious enforcement.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:42 PM
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doesn't france have the same 'everyone can go to community college free but more prestigious schools cost money and are hard to get into' sort of setup? it's not clear that this produces any better results for society at large than the us model of 'produce vast oversupply of qualified academics to the detriment of them but the benefit of everyone else and then engage in grossly labor-intensive instructional techniques'.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:42 PM
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This thread is making me realize what a dreamworld I and my professors have been living in teachingwise. A 1-2 load at a research university? 50% of your time spent teaching at a research 1 uni, as I believe some said way above?

My PI as an undergrad, who was a newly minted assistant when I joined his lab, taught one 1 quarter upper division course a year to about 30 students. The rest of the time was for research, modulo misc service items. I kind of figured this was the standard load at a research university. Perhaps this is a life sciences thing.

Grad school is a special case because we are all biomedical grad and professional. This means my current PI gives teaches three lectures and one paper discussion for the grad program core course per year, and spends maybe an afternoon or two teaching dental students about EKGs or something like that. Every third year he also teaches for 2-3 weeks in one of the "advanced" grad courses (each week consists of a lecture and a paper discussion).

The lack of undergrads means that as a grad student my "teaching experience" has been and will only be the 5 days I spent going to dental school lectures on cellular neuroscience and leading discussion sections on the Nernst equation.

All this is heightening my shame that I haven't published yet in grad school. Maybe this shame will inspire me to be more productive.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:43 PM
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Huh. I took a fair bit of science as an undergraduate, and was never asked to write a thing or *communicate* arguments.

Were you a science major? If so, you got hosed in undergrad. If not, then of course you wouldn't reach the level where the professors are working hard to instill the higher-level field-specific thought processes. Yet even at the lower-level courses: all those proofs you were reproducing, and all the previous critical thinking you were exposed to? Those provide some raw inputs to procede with more study, but more importantly, they provide a great mental model for how research and thought proceeds in a given field.

Now, for most learners, this will not suffice to prepare them for true research-level work. But that sort of advanced training is incredibly time-consuming and wasted on the uninterested, and should only be occurring in the high-level courses taken by majors in the subject.


That doesn't mean that students shouldn't and can't also be asked to move on to grappling with less general arguments and more sophisticated analysis in university.

They do. They move on to grappling with arguments more specific to their chosen subjects, using more sophisticated analysis methods also somewhat specific to their chosen subjects. Freshman comp won't help very much unless it's just instilling the absolute basics of rational thought and communication that should be taught in secondary school (probably with a standardized curriculum on a budget provided uniformly across the country).


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:45 PM
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460: I'm arguing that some such reorganizing *has been tried* and from a pedagogical point of view, it is doing a worse job. Just not catastrophically worse. And at some savings to the university (if not the students)

It is very, very difficult to tease apart why it is doing a worse job from all the confounding factors though.

Really though, your thesis is wrongheaded. The question of whether or not the universities could be doing exactly what they are doing now, but more efficiently is probably true, but only in a limited fashion, and worse ... much of it is inimiciable to optimization. This is a much, much harder problem than the comparisons you've offered. However, from a system wide view, the interesting question is should the universities be doing the job at all? And what is that job? And if not universities, who?

These questions have become terribly conflated (at least in north america) over the last few decades.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:46 PM
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I apologize for calling you a jerkity-dumb-butt-asaurus.

well that's because there's a significant amount of blurring between them in real life, isn't there? If twelve hours of teaching (which doesn't look like a massive workload) can balloon into 55 hours of work, not counting research time, then there's a problem there.

You're doing the blurring right here! The twelve-hours of classroom teaching people - like me - do not have research expectations.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:47 PM
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(not much research expectations, anyway.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:49 PM
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460: that's because it's a "No Silver Bullets" type of problem, after Fred Brooks' essay of the same name. Once more, this is the sort of problem identification that you are taught about in business school. If someone's got 55 hours work a week for 12 hours of teaching, then realistically you are not going to get that down to a manageable level by playing around with the edges. A more efficient grading system or some help with the photocopying is not going to solve this problem. You need to either a) start cutting away at the big things and actually have this individual doing less or b) give up and tell them to sink or swim, they'll either burn out or pass their burden onto some other bugger in five years' time. People are *most* sceptical of the *best* consultants, because unlike a bad consultant, a good consultant will tell you when the problem you've set can't be solved and something more fundamental needs to change. A bad consultant will always give you a solution to the question you asked, changing only the things that you said needed changing, and then not be around when the wheels fall off.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:49 PM
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can't imagine a field of study that doesn't already teach you how to do those things at an advanced level in that subject. What do you think university mathematics is? University physics? University philosophy

My experience with intro level science courses is that they distinctly do *not* teach critical thinking or, for that matter, the scientific method. As I said just recently, intro level courses in the sciences tend to be taught by people who are in love with the gate keeping function of the course and couldn't give a damn about the people who don't make it through their gate. The goal of an intro level biology course is to identify really smart people to recruit as biology majors (and secondarily placate the ambitious pre med students). If humanities majors come away with a incorrect perception of the sciences, who cares?

Being in love with the gatekeeping function of the course means that you emphasize the things that scare off bad students, like memorizing a large batch of facts.

A physicist once said to me "what's all this stuff about the scientific method? Why do I have to teach the scientific method? You know the scientific method, you find a problem and you solve it! That's it!"


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:51 PM
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473: Of course it's a `no silver bullets' sort of problem. Look, d^2, half the problem I'm having with your approach to this thread is that you jumped in with the assumption that nobody has though about this. A lot of what you are talking about is pretty elementary, so you are better off to ask why don't I see the result, since someone obviously already thought of this? (the other half is that you are sloppily bouncing around different levels of this issue)

The reason you don't see what you seem to expect is complicated, and it interacts at a lot of levels. Some of it is institutional, some legislative/funding, and some more fundamental (for example, mostly you cannot take face time out of education without negative effect)

The basic assumption that you can plausibly Taylorize pedagogy and end up with the same thing but more efficient is, like in most areas, flawed. The less precise your measurements are, the more this is flawed. In education, all these measurements are pretty sloppy.

So instead, you can ask the question if the result of a more cost efficient system (with a different output) a good alternative, but it's a different question. And it has huge social implications, and effects most people indirectly or directly.

So I'm not saying there is no there, there. I'm saying slow down, you're late to the party, and it's a very hard problem.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 3:59 PM
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456: Soup, you and I agree that undergraduate studies are "largely about teaching students how to think critically, how to structure arguments, how to organize information, how to present it. How to learn. How to study and read effectively. How to attack an argument and how to build it up."

I am just saying that much of that knowledge is more subject-specific than we give it credit for. Much of my time in mathematics undergrad was spent learning exactly what you said, but learning it in a way fairly specific to mathematics. Now, these methods and structures are very useful in much of the hard sciences and in the econ/finance fields where I'm currently working and studying, and they certainly are applicable in certain hardcore areas of philosophy, but they would not have been taught in a standard intro to composition class because comparable knowledge structures don't particularly exist in the humanities (real life and social life are much messier than the idealized worlds of my undergrad).

If knowledge is so non-subject dependent that it should be required of all students capable of going to college (which is a huge percentage these days, with over a third of students going on to university), then it can and should be taught in high school.

Basically, if anyone is arguing with my premise, they should be able to say why the UK can go without an intro to composition without any problems while the US could not (apart from the funding differences that I already mentioned, which the central tragic limitation of US public education).


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:00 PM
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The solution is going to involve either "slough off more of the teaching to people who will never be expected to produce research and have a fundamentally different career track", or "find some way of reducing the ratio of tail to tooth with respect to the teaching".

There's no question that the former is the preferred solution of university and college administrators.

A few figures, to help further blur the boundaries:

The AAUP reports that

Today, 48 percent of all faculty serve in part-time appointments, and non-tenure-track positions of all types account for 68 percent of all faculty appointments in American higher education. Both part- and full-time non-tenure-track appointments are continuing to increase.

The American Federation of Teachers reports that

No trend has changed the face of higher education more than the shift away from a corps of full-time, tenure-track faculty to a contingent instructional workforce. That work force includes part-time/adjunct faculty, full-time, nontenure track faculty, and graduate employees. Together these employees now make up an amazing 70 percent of the 1.3 million employee instructional workforce in higher education.


Posted by: Invisible Adjunct | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:01 PM
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If knowledge is so non-subject dependent that it should be required of all students capable of going to college (which is a huge percentage these days, with over a third of students going on to university), then it can and should be taught in high school.

I believe that the first two years of many colleges in the US (maybe not Ivies) serves as the last two years of a quality high school education.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:03 PM
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I didn't learn anything about how to think critically, structure arguments, organize information, present information, attack an argument, or build it up as an undergraduate.

I did learn a bunch of facts and was able to remember them at the time that I was taking tests. And I wrote some papers, but I usually didn't get any comments on them that were intended to let me know how the paper might have been written better - just comments indicating that the professor thought I did or did not understand what I was writing about properly.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:04 PM
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I also believe that all undergraduate institutions should offer 2-year associates degrees, as that would benefit many students without burdening them with so much debt.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:04 PM
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479: should be, Ned, should be.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:11 PM
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473: My dad is in consulting. I was for a short while. I understand how it works, and I understand sometimes the best answer is to say 'scrap the whole fucking thing.'

What I'm disputing is that reducing classroom prep time is the best place to go chasing down efficiency. A more efficient grading system (as opposed to a more efficient grading-entry system) would save more time and free up more resources than handing out standardized syllabi, especially given that as in soup biscuit's example, there's also a significant tradeoff in quality. In other words, I am seeing your standardized solution as a nibble-around-the-edges solution and that's part of the reason why I'm rejecting it.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:11 PM
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I believe that the first two years of many colleges in the US serves as the last two years of a quality high school education.

Geez, no kidding. This discussion has given me yet another reason to support state-wide magnet high schools: it'll provide a number of potential university slaves with actual interesting teaching opportunities. We had PhDs teaching most of our history, science and math courses (and english, to a lesser extent). They got to design their own courses, work with better students than they'd find at anywhere but the top couple universities, and weren't expected to be anything but good teachers.

All in all a sweet gig. Y'all should support this dream of mine if only for selfish reasons.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:19 PM
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483: Err... "couple" should be "several", or some similar term that doesn't bite off more than it can chew.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:20 PM
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I find it a bit odd that Po-Po's argument seems to be "why teach critical thinking first year when they'll just learn it in third year?"

Especially since the discipline-specific critical thinking that you seem to consider the ideal is, IME, pretty sub-optimal. As an architect, I find discussions with most engineers hair-pulling experiences, because their critical thinking skills begin and end at the limits of their expertise. The thought that people in technical disciplines should critically engage less with the outside world makes me shudder.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:22 PM
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Also, I'm a bit shocked at Ned's 479. His description of undergrad is precisely my description of HS.

Although my experience taking a couple intro-type courses at Pitt didn't exactly inspire me with the intellectual rigor going on over there, so perhaps I should just adjust my understandings of the levels achieved by most students at Big U.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:27 PM
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Good Lord, sorry Po-Mo. "Po-Po" was not intentional, I assure you.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:27 PM
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I did learn a lot, but there was never any focus at all on actually showing us any learning or thinking or reasoning skills. In fact, I don't know what a class teaching those things would be like.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:28 PM
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But from now on if I call you Po-Po Polypath, it probably is intentional.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:30 PM
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"Po-Po" is a perfectly fine nickname for someone whose name consists of two words that both begin with "Po".


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:30 PM
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showing us any learning or thinking or reasoning skills. In fact, I don't know what a class teaching those things would be like.

Like a poetry class, where you read poems, and offer a little presentation for open discussion, and everyone talks about whether or not your interpretation makes sense? And then you write a paper, and the teacher's comments respond to whether or not your thinking is sound?

Is this really so out there?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:32 PM
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Oy vey. You learn these things as, say, a physics major by *learning physics and doing physics problems and working with other physics majors*. It's not spelled out, like, "this week, we learn critical thinking and argument assessment! Next week, gravity! Oh, and hypothesis comes before experiment, that will be on the quiz." It's process-driven, but nevertheless present.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:33 PM
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Po-Po is little kid talk for 'butt' in German.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:36 PM
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492: hell, that's most of what a physics degree (undergraduate) actually is. Most of the physics you learn is outdated, or oversimplified, and so you do it again the next year in a more general way.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:38 PM
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Once more, this is the sort of problem identification that you are taught about in business school.

This must be in fancy English business schools, with maybe Wharton and Stanford thrown in. Earlier this year, in a discussion in my office which included two recent graduates of the Carlson School of Management, it was determined that London must be a country. Now, you may say, "that's just ignorance, it doesn't necessarily reflect poorly on their problem-solving skills", but actually, their problem-solving skills are, if anything, much much worse.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:41 PM
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I don't know what "critical thinking" means, but I'll take your word for it that I was learning it.

Mainly what I was expecting at some point, but never received, was some kind of feedback on a paper that would have helped me write a better paper in the future. All my hard classes were ones where writing papers was not part of the trade, the grade was based on taking tests and sometimes take-home tests, which are definitely not papers. All my classes that required papers to be written were impossible to do badly in as long as I could write coherent sentences and actually handed in assignments when they were due. I never had to write a paper and actually look at it and edit it before handing it in, or ever look at the paper again after it had been handed back to me.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:45 PM
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Look, d^2, half the problem I'm having with your approach to this thread is that you jumped in with the assumption that nobody has though about this.

Factually untrue; I started off asking questions, and then progressed to undermining the nature of pedagogy, because deep down where it counts, you guys are just basically a lorry load of cabbages.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:47 PM
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Sigh.

By "undermin(ed) the nature of pedagogy," you mean "pointed out that your parents were able to teach physics out of a book/syllabus that they had never seen before, resulting in many A-levels being passed," with the attendant implication that this has some relation to the bizarre fact that proper preparation for modern university courses across disciplines requires more than 1:1 prep time. Ye gods and little fishies.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:54 PM
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you guys are just basically a lorry load of cabbages.

Awesome. Donkey-butt.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:59 PM
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500.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 4:59 PM
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501!


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 5:01 PM
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I didn't learn anything about how to think critically, structure arguments, organize information, present information, attack an argument, or build it up as an undergraduate.

Well, yeah. We've realized this.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 5:02 PM
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To be fair to D2, I don't require any prep time whatsoever.

But that's because I'm a genius.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 5:03 PM
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Me neither. I speak German and my students don't, so I just go talk to them and they absorb it.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 5:04 PM
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All my classes that required papers to be written were impossible to do badly in as long as I could write coherent sentences and actually handed in assignments when they were due. I never had to write a paper and actually look at it and edit it before handing it in, or ever look at the paper again after it had been handed back to me.


Aaaaand this is why freshman comp is a Good Thing.

(502 was in the spirit of shit-giving camaraderie, just in case that wasn't totally obvious.)


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 5:05 PM
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D^2: oh, I thought you weren't only trolling. Never mind then.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 5:08 PM
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I wasn't, but as the percentage of people who weren't patronising me tended toward zero, I rather jumped off the bandwagon. In your case in particular, you can get as frustrated as you like because you've seen this one example in the USA, but there are actually all sorts of other models, many of which I had in fact tried to discuss and you ignored them, so basically wear it.

498: Sigh

I take it that the sigh is the essence of pedagogy. In related news, you contributed less than fuck-all, so bite me.

500, 501, 505: I'm clearly in danger of being bitten to death here.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 5:37 PM
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Chomp chomp.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 5:45 PM
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507: Ok, taking that in good faith: I'm not aware of a single model anywhere that involves Taylorization, as you put it and has improved (pedagogical) results. Only decreased costs and not dreadfully decreased results. This includes the UK, where I have many friends and acquaintances in academia, although have spent little (but not zero) time there to obvserve. Over all, the UK system is shorter, but in some ways weaker. Big surprise.

What I meant about your questions was that you jumped in with as if you were trying to analyse a situation you know little about on not enough input. Which comes across rather like `stupid academics, what do you know about your own system, I can fix it in 5 minutes'. More useful questions would have been: what along these lines has been tried, and how did it work? Assuming nobody has thought along these lines at all would be inane, so I was surprised that this is where you seemed to be going.

I thought I responded (again in good faith) to some of the problems that have empirically occured by following a path along the lines you suggest, but you didn't respond to that directly at all (or I missed it). Which was what 506 was about.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 5:45 PM
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377

"D^D's criticism

1.11120068 × 10^16 isn't in this thread, John."

Actual that's E^E, D^D=3.028... x 10^14.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 5:50 PM
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510: math is hard. Let's learn critical thinking!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 6:00 PM
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Dsquared is surely being very half-hearted indeed in his critique. My position is that if University assessment is at all reasonable, universities themselves are just about dispensable. If the final exams, say, do in fact distinguish the people who are worthy to be graduates from those who aren't then they should be able to cope with people wandering in off the street and paying the invigilation fee, giving them or not giving them the parchment scroll depending on whether they pass or not. The whole university experience is an attempt to handwave through this logical crux - having people behave in certain ways as a proxy for being able to tell whether they've changed in highly uncertain ways.

And if you could get the info necessary to get that pass either by turning up in class, or by doing the reading outside on your own, or by accumulating a large BBC DVD collection, or whatever, then efficiencies would accumulate by evolution.

And aren't we also making a disguised assumption in much of this debate that 'good teaching' (the kind that makes up for all these inefficiencies; what it's all about) actually as a general rule happens? A high proportion of university instruction is surely - is surely unarguably - pretty crappy, however many hours went in to it; less good, under any conceivable metric or even any conceivable vague impression, than (say) listening to some (BBC/ABC/NPR) documentaries. I'm prepared to believe that the people chipping in here are almost flawless in their pedagogy, but what would they say, even so, was the experience of the people attending the lectures of those of their colleagues they most dislike? And where's the mean?


Posted by: Chris | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 6:30 PM
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Tangential, and this has been alluded to upthread, but being interested and good at a subject is a different thing altogether than being able to teach that subject well, or for that matter being able to usefully access (via tests, or papers, or whatever) whether the students learned anything. And generally training to be a PhD doesn't involve any formal training in how to teach or how to test well.

Some of my most frustrating experiences as a student have been with teachers who obviously knew and were enthusiastic about their subject, but were very bad at imparting that knowledge and enthusiasm, and/or used a method of assessment that didn't track at all well with what was taught or should have been learned in the class.

And I usually felt that some instruction in pedagogical methods and assessment strategies would not only have made the class more useful to the students, but probably more importantly would have improved the instructor's experience of teaching and grading, turning these into things the teacher didn't dread and procrastinate over so much and become a bitter student-hating bastard about.

Pedagogy is something I'm really interested in and pay a lot of attention to, so I would often write these very detailed but sympathetic anonymous letters with specific examples of things I thought they could do better in teaching and/or testing. But I don't know if those were helpful or just annoying to the profs in question (because I sure as hell wasn't going to take any of their classes again, they were bad teachers).


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 7:28 PM
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Dammit. "access" s/b "assess"


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 7:32 PM
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Worked either way, M/tch. Full credit!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 7:33 PM
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Well, this was a productive day.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 7:42 PM
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No kidding, Counterfly. On the plus side, I now know that either it will take me no more than 2 1/2 hours to figure out these eight pages of Aristotle, or I'm stupid. Either way, I've learned something--and quickly!


Posted by: Merganser | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:04 PM
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Good Lord, sorry Po-Mo. "Po-Po" was not intentional, I assure you.

But from now on if I call you Po-Po Polypath, it probably is intentional.

Po-Po is little kid talk for 'butt' in German.

You're strange flickering lights on my monitor, yet you know me so well. It also sounds a lot like the double-adjective nicknames given to all the mainland Chinese I know when they were little kids, so I should look into that for possible flattering interpretations.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:37 PM
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518: it also is Oakland vernacular for "police," not sure how that weighs.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 8:38 PM
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people keep refusing to explain to me D2, you are beginning to exhibit the linguistic markers of late-stage troll frustration syndrome. This thread is not long for this world.

I'm biting my tongue, hard, to keep from saying everything I could about Freshman Comp, because doing so would reproduce my whole professional life right here in the thread. Lemme just tellya the highlights:



Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:03 PM
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519, I've heard that too. From, er, people from rural Wyoming County, PA.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:04 PM
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Next week, gravity! Oh, and hypothesis comes before experiment, that will be on the quiz."

I swear to you, the nation would be a better place, in fact, the world would be a better place, if more freshman level science courses emphasized stuff like "the hypothesis comes before the experiment" and "all models simplify" and "a successful theory must make predictions its competitors don't."

If more students walked out of intro level science courses understanding method, we wouldn't be looking at a 5 degree rise in mean surface temperature by the year 2100, nor would there be this asinine "museum" outside of Cincinnati devoted to "Creation science"

Some other things you need to mention in any intro level science class: Theory is always underdetermined by data. All theories swim in a sea of anomolies. Certainty is not a virtue in science.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:15 PM
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Speaking of which, this is on Nova tomorrow.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 9:20 PM
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522: Not to mention: Models are wrong, the trick is to figure out where, and how much.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:06 PM
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50k/year is] my goal salary for when I reach Full Professor

Is that really all they're paying in academia? Holy shit.

Someone has probably already pointed this out above, but full professors at the top couple of hundred universities in the U.S. generally make six figure incomes. For full profs in top 50 professional schools (law, medicine, business), typical salaries are getting up to $200,000 +.


Posted by: marcus | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:26 PM
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whoops should have italicized

Is that really all they're paying in academia? Holy shit.

That's what I was responding to.


Posted by: marcus | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:26 PM
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up to $200,000 +

As much as that, eh?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:27 PM
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525: That's consistent with what I know of (full professors) but in the sciences, math, engineering. I really don't know if humanities salaries are consistent with that. I know often engineering departments will pay more than sciences, because they can't keep people otherwise.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:29 PM
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527: I'm talking the typical salaries for full profs in higher end professional schools. Max can be $300-$500,000. Plus if you consult you can add quite a bit on to that. Some of these salaries are for nine months a year too.

Really, it's not a bad life if you're disciplined, organized, and sharp enough to reach the top of it.


Posted by: marcus | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:33 PM
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I was just being pedantic about your syntax. The actual number doesn't surprise me.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:35 PM
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I have no more syntax. Work has totally fried me. I'm too wound up to sleep, but I'll have to wake up at 6 AM or so anyway. But I'm free again tomorrow afternoon.


Posted by: marcus | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:41 PM
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forget the money (academia is an absolutely looney way to go after money), there are some very sweet jobs in academia. And some not so sweet. It usually takes significant luck and connections as well as disciplined hard work to get there, but there are some nearly perfect jobs. And some of the hellish ones described above.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 10:47 PM
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Marcus, I think in humanities there is a thin layer of top people at top schools that probably get to 150K, 200K at the end of their careers, unless they move up into admin.

I think around 90K or 100L is an end-of-career salary at a good R1 (Ph.D.-granting).

At the more numerous regional, BA/MA schools, 70K or so is the top salary in a field like English, foreign languages, philosophy, etc. I think I'll get up to 50K about the time I can qualify for Full. I think I'll end my career around 60ish or 70ish.

Schools in places with a high cost of living might pay more, but then, it's not worth as much in Boston or California.

As Invisible Adjunct pointed out, most of the college teaching force will never see even those numbers, because they are permanently marginalized adjuncts.

I am not very moved by appeals to what the best, most disciplined, most successful elite can do. In a reversal of Sturgeon's Law, it's the condition of the vast majority that determines the quality of the profession.

It's a good job even with the pay. I have flexibility, autonomy, a lack of soul-killing-ness, and a chance for intrinsic reward. I can't afford not to teach in the summer, though, or even not to take extra work wherever I can get it, so . . . the intrinsic rewards AND good pay would be nice.

But I am chastened by living in a place where $40,000 is considered a really, really high income. I can't complain too much around here without sounding like a total jerk.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-12-07 11:06 PM
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unless there's some sort of magical *teaching* (note asterisks) which exists over and above actually getting the information across

Well, yes, there's *a lot* of teaching that exists over and above actually getting the information across. And none of it magical either. Information transfer is just the bottom rung of Bloom's taxonomy, and no university class, not even the service classes, should have only the bottom rung as the goal. At the very least, the goal should be comprehension.

When you're just aiming for information transfer, a textbook and a sufficiently motivated student are all you need; no lectures, grading, prep, or admin work--perfect efficiency. But every successive rung up Bloom's Taxonomy requires an exponential amount of investment into the student. This involves customized lectures and syllabus, feedback mechanisms (i.e. grading and office hours), etc.--all of it inefficient. So if the two metrics we're working with here are 1) Student's progression up Bloom's Taxonomy (measuring pedagogical effectiveness) and 2) hours of the professor's time spent on the class (measuring efficiency), then it looks to me that we've got a direct squared relationship. And the only really way to get efficiency gains are to lower your goals for the students.

The good news is that lowering just one step saves you lots of time. The bad news is that we're typically (at least for the service classes) only shooting for the second rung anyway, maybe the third, and dropping to the first rung is pretty much unacceptable.

D^2, do I understand you correctly that you think we should just lower our expectations for the efficiency gains? Obviously there is a limit to how low we should lower our expectations. I would argue that information transfer is too low.


Posted by: wink ;) | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 3:34 AM
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Yes, the US system's freedom to choose courses from a number of different subject areas is peachy, and I like that people have the freedom to decide what their degree will be later than in the UK. But that doesn't justify requiring people to take courses outside any of the subjects they might end up majoring in. I think the only course requirements in university should be those necessary in a given subject to obtain a major or minor.

Brown University's system is exactly like that.


Posted by: wink ;) | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 3:35 AM
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Everyone needs, or at least can use, the intro to college-level academic discourse provided in a decent Freshman Comp class, because as someone said, college writing isn't high school writing.

See, more of this - "needs" is bumping up against "can use", while "makes sense for a university to provide" has slipped out of consideration and "is there a good reason why the people who teach this course need to be the same people who are teaching graduate courses and doing research" is nowhere to be seen.

But every successive rung up Bloom's Taxonomy requires an exponential amount of investment into the student

"exponential" here is a quite specific empirical claim and I'd be interested in seeing the research which supports it if that claim was intentional. If you just mean "a lot more" then the entire question is how much more.

And once more, please could people stop just asserting that "customised lectures" are absolutely necessary for "pedagogical progress"? I understand all sorts of things that I learned from your actual electronic teaching packages. There is lots and lots of teaching that goes on outside universities (we calls it "training"), and it is proper learning. Similarly, the TEFL schools use a lot of standardised material (they are Taylorised as hell), and the people who go to them end up speaking English.

Information transfer is just the bottom rung of Bloom's taxonomy, and no university class, not even the service classes, should have only the bottom rung as the goal. At the very least, the goal should be comprehension

I am not a fan of this vague language when consultants use it, but assuming that after five minutes Google that I've picked up the jargon meaning of "comprehension" here, forget it. It seems pretty much accepted that the majority of students on these introductory courses do not, in fact, end up with any degree of understanding of the subject, so the status quo can't simply say that the current practices, while unsustainable economically, work in their own terms.

Setting a goal which is systematically not achieved makes no sense. Either the goal has to be changed, something needs to be done differently, or the whole project has to be scrapped. I am in favour of option 3. These low-level courses look like they take as much or more work to prepare as higher-level ones and they add much less value. They also require much less investment by the people taking them, and so are themselves taken less seriously.

If there is an urgent need to free up resources (and there is), then these are the ones that need to be scrapped. As far as can see, the entire system appears to be set up so as to facilitate two years of carefree dillettantism for the majority of students, but with them taking courses that have been designed and built to Rolls-Royce standard. This would be fine if the customers were prepared to pay for the resources used in producing this educational experience, but it looks like they aren't (any system based on people working 55 hour weeks is broken).


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 4:30 AM
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If more students walked out of intro level science courses understanding method, we wouldn't be looking at a 5 degree rise in mean surface temperature by the year 2100, nor would there be this asinine "museum" outside of Cincinnati devoted to "Creation science"

I don't think this is true. Having students walking out of science courses understanding method isn't going to make them less religious and it isn't going to change the near-term economics of burning hydrocarbons. These things are fundamentally about what people want. Unless you're going to define "understanding scientific method" in such a way as to make "not believing in Creation" follow tautologously, which is defensible as a definition, but at considerable cost to the realisticness of the objective.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 4:37 AM
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These low-level courses look like they take as much or more work to prepare as higher-level ones and they add much less value. They also require much less investment by the people taking them, and so are themselves taken less seriously.

This seems obviously right. A lot of undergraduate teaching, especially in the first two years, is ripe for a much more standardised approach and the point that the people taking them take them less seriously is an important one.

That said, it does vary a lot, though. My undergraduate degree at Glasgow was much better organised and much more efficiently run, I think, than the comparable courses here at Oxford. That's not to knock some aspects of the system at Oxford -- which definitely benefits the high-achievers -- but the more structured stuff I was initially taught with works much better for the 'masses' who may only be taking philosophy, or english lit for one or two years and who aren't intending to specialise in it.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 4:40 AM
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Dsquared is mostly in "fat stockbroker with reactionary views" mode at the moment, but I would point out a couple of things; for a start, nothing is more inefficient than academic administration. Here we have people who spend hours in committee meetings deciding which font to print exam papers in, then send out papers to the colleges of the University of London on paper for actual academics to retype by hand, and they get snotty when you point out that computers are not actually expensive typewriters.

On the other hand, D2 is simply handwaving away the time required to a) read the pile of scrawl, b) mark it consistently, c) provide constructive comments which may run to the length of the work itself. It's like editing in that IT TAKES TIME AND EFFORT, and nonjournos always assume that it's unnecessary or easy.

Also, I'm sure good results might be achieved with D2-class remuneration; I know PhDs who are on £13k and can't pay their pension contributions, and a docteur d'etat who spent years at King's College London as a permanent "visiting lecturer" without benefits. No-one exploits quite like academia.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 5:02 AM
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On the other hand, D2 is simply handwaving away the time required to a) read the pile of scrawl, b) mark it consistently, c) provide constructive comments which may run to the length of the work itself

I'm not - I think it was Cala above who suggested that a more efficient marking scheme would be the big win and I don't think it would be. I'm not sure that there are any big gains[1] from "doing things better" (other than more recycling and a moratorium on new courses praeter necessitatem, which I think are big problems). The entropy is mainly a result of overloading the resources, and so the savings have to come from doing less.

[1] Although even small gains, obviously, are worth making. I suspect that the root of the problem with the failure to use sensible modern methods in so many areas is that the admin is done badly because there's no time allocated to doing it properly, because everyone is spending their time firefighting. If the courses alone deliver 55 hours a week, then it's not surprising that process improvements don't get made; there's no time to invest in making them.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 5:22 AM
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I haven't read every comment here, but the general thrust of the discussion seems to rest on a categorical error of some sort. dsquared seems to be proposing that there exists a set of "knowledge workers" (for lack of a better comprehensive term) who perform very similar operations in their respective positions, and who thus could have their functions rationalized in roughly the same ways if it were politically feasible.

I have a hard time seeing it that way. At my job in the financial industry, where, like with dsquared, there is an interested and puissant hierarchy devoted to maximizing my productive time so as to maximize my work output, things are structured so that, with a few weeks cross-training, I could jump to another area in my department, another department, or a completely different section of the organization. This simply doesn't hold for academia. Someone with a PhD. in mathematics isn't going to be effective if they read Shakespeare for a few weeks and then start teaching English Lit.

This isn't to say that there aren't plenty of areas in which most colleges and universities could stand some reorganization and rationalization. But I don't think it's quite as simple as just applying organizational models and information technology learned from the business world onto the academic template, which seems to be one side of this argument.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 5:29 AM
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This simply doesn't hold for academia. Someone with a PhD. in mathematics isn't going to be effective if they read Shakespeare for a few weeks and then start teaching English Lit

do try to keep up 007. We're talking about undergraduate "service courses" (proliferation of) here, for the most part. A lot of undergraduates do make the sort of switches you're talking about here, and it's not obvious (to me at least) that at the end of these painstakingly designed and prepared customised service courses, they understand the subject better than a financial employee at the end of three weeks cramming on a standardised course.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 5:37 AM
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re: 541

Actually, I'll bet I could rock up and teach a 1st year level course in pretty much any of the arts, humanities and/or social sciences with a few weeks prep. I'll bet that holds true for lots of people.

Would I do it as well as someone who has spent years studying the subject? No. Would I absolutely suck at it? Probably not.

That isn't meant in an egotistical way at all. I'm more pointing at the fact that the 'transferable skills' a lot of people possess in academia are going to enable them to do exactly that.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 6:16 AM
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careful ttaM, this is where they get offended and you get accused of trolling. I think you're right myself, but the argument as I understand it (not very far) is that there is a reason why it is important to deliver a much, much higher standard of first year course than the one you and I are imagining. This reason doesn't as far as I can tell have much to do with what the students want.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 6:39 AM
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a much, much higher standard of first year course than the one you and I are imagining.

Well, I'm pretty sure that a more heavily standardised set of first and second year courses*, perhaps supplemented with more free-flowing seminars or discussion groups, would be better courses than a lot of what is out there.

* in philosophy, say, which is the subject I am most familiar with teaching.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 6:45 AM
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I'll bet I could rock up and teach a 1st year level course in pretty much any of the arts, humanities and/or social sciences with a few weeks prep.

clearly you despise students. Or perhaps you've never encountered ones who ask questions that transcend your few weeks' knowledge of (insert subject here). Or perhaps think it's easier to bullshit in philosophy.

a more heavily standardised set of first and second year courses

quis custos?

(Troll on.)


Posted by: jayann | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 6:59 AM
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ttaM despises students!

I'm pretty sure that a more heavily standardised set of first and second year courses*, perhaps supplemented with more free-flowing seminars or discussion groups, would be better courses than a lot of what is out there.

No doubt. I would love to have a bunch of that stuff offered as an online course supplemented by discussion groups and seminars.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 7:10 AM
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clearly you despise students.

horseshit, and insulting horseshit at that given that you are actually addressing someone who teaches students. It is also a bit rich to say "troll on" after making such an extremely serious and totally unsupported accusation. But, I think revealing of what it is that's in the magic oil called "pedagogy". It actually came to me while I was ordering my sandwich.

It's a parental instinct isn't it? What I think is going on here is that academics are being trained to believe that their job is to impart to the students, on every single course, that same subjective experience that they have with respect to their subject. And that if the students don't get this, they must work harder to ensure that they do. And that if the students don't want it, because they aren't actually that interested in the subject, then the academics need to work harder and harder and be more and more creative, in order to persuade and entice them into really engaging with the subject and dealing with it in the same manner as someone who had chosen to make the study of it into their whole career. This, I think, is the additional aspect that's in "pedagogy, with asterisks, the sort that I clearly don't understand"[1], and isn't in the perfectly serviceable courses that took me through basic securities law or the one that ttaM reckons he could burn out if he had to.

In which case I say "bollocks". This isn't me being reactionary - it's this whole academia thing having ignored the last five centuries. From the top:

1. It clearly places inhuman demands on the workforce, because it encourages them to never make sensible tradeoffs or substitute capital for labour

2. It visibly fails in its own terms, because in general the task set (of achieving this educational satori for all or most of the class) is impossible.

3. It is at the root of the oversupply of labour, because, as far as I can see, half of the people in horrible unproductive teaching jobs are there because of a "gifted" substitute parent-figure from some university in the past. And they don't leave their jobs when they get unhappy because they feel irrational guilt about doing so.

4. And to test the theory with a prediction; this theory would predict that it would be ludicrously difficult to organise academics into labour unions. Check.

So in other words, the problem appears to be that large numbers of people are working themselves to the bone, producing a product that's largely unappreciated by most of its consumers, because they work in a social system that's set up around a model which applies to less than a quarter of those consumers (in other words, one that fails in its own terms 75% of the time) and which therefore will structurally place demands on the time and energy of its workforce which are only limited by their physical health. And the basic reason for it is that this is the way Socrates did it and so ...

Right, I wash my hands of this problem. If engendering that spark of "learning" in ten per cent of the student body is important enough to you all to spend 55 hours a week on it, then that's your choice and there is no way at all to make your lives more bearable, any more than there is to make having a new baby less exhausting, and for the same reason. I am pretty much satisfied that there is a lot that could be done to make the system more productive without degenerating the quality of the output in any objectively measurable way, but that's not what you're in it for, and any such savings made would immediately be poured back into more and more concentrated wasted effort in trying to (paternalistically) make people have a subjective experience that they don't want but you think is valuable for them.

[1] note that I taught this to myself.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 7:21 AM
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Comity!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 7:25 AM
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(I should have seen this a lot earlier - it ought to have been a red flag that a profession which spends huge amounts of its time and effort in testing, examining and marking, was nevertheless insisting that its output couldn't be measured. People massively misunderstand James McKinsey's slogan that "Everything can be measured and what gets measured gets managed". If you're claiming that something can't be measured, you're claiming that it doesn't make a difference whether you do it or not. It's really quite rare to find an action that makes literally no observable difference to the world. He knew a thing or two did old Gilbert Ryle).


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 7:29 AM
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I think most of this is knowing full well that in practice:
--separating research from teaching leads to fewer research positions, & to people in teaching positions getting treated like even more crap because there's even fewer desirable jobs.
--if consultants come up with a list of ways that teachers can reduce the time they need to spend on a class (some of which may be possible w/o reduced quality, some not), the result will be an expectation to teach more classes.
--the areas where there is the most sheer inefficiency are driven by power trips by folks high up & can't be changed.
--tenure, the brass ring that a lot of people are chasing in academia, probably does not pass an "efficiency" test & probably could be eliminated entirely in favor of more adjuncts


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 7:32 AM
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(I mean, "the areas where there is the most sheer inefficiency are driven by power trips by folks high up & won't be changed.")


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 7:35 AM
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543. I'll bet I could rock up and teach a 1st year level course in pretty much any of the arts, humanities and/or social sciences with a few weeks prep.

Damn that's brave. OK then:

"Religion and Secular Law in Athenian Drama: contexts and development". 6 - 8 classes.

Required reading for detailed analysis: Aeschylus, Eumenides; Sophocles, Antigone; Euripides, Electra. Further reading to be specified by yourself - as much or as little as you feel appropriate.

You have three weeks, starting now. At the end of that time, send your student notes and lecture notes to three volunteers from this site agreed by the commentariat for assessment (and to me for a giggle). If they reckon they'd hire you to give the course I'll give twenty quid to the charity of your choice.

Obviously, any better proposal for a course supersedes this one.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 7:51 AM
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553: this would just mean that you'd get a load of plagiarised material, as I doubt that ttaM's plan was to try and write a course from scratch (without wanting to reopen that hornet's nest again).


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 8:17 AM
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D^2 or ttam - unfortunately I've got to run right after asking this question, but I'm genuinely curious so I'll check back for your answers.

What general qualities/skills do you think all college graduate should posess, to distinguish them from high school graduates? And in one or two disciplines that you know well enough, what should majors in that discipline be able to achieve?

I swear I'm not trolling. I'm specifically curious as to how you will parse those qualities which will be "body of knowledge" category and which will be "able to analyze X/argue Y/etc" type qualities.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 8:17 AM
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To be fair, that sounds more like a course for majors. Better would be "Intro to Athenian drama."

Anyway, it's probably true that a philosophy professor could probably get away with teaching a freshman humanities course at a lower-tier school, with results strongly dependent on personal erudition and skill. It's probably true that I could hack together a freshman calc, chem, geo, or astro course at a lower-tier school, with results strongly dependent on my own personal erudition and skill.

That's probably pushing it, though, and I really wouldn't want to. The holy oil only goes so far.


Posted by: Counterfly | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 8:17 AM
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So I was looking for some resources on dealing with outsiders who barge into a system and think they can "reform" everything and make it more "efficient", and I found this page, which I think responds to a lot of D^2's points.

First of all, the author of that page emphasizes that "there is no such thing as a general purpose expert" which should dissuade anyone from thinking that they can read a book once and teach a course on it.

More importantly, the author of that page realizes that if something has been done a certain way for a very long time, it is generally for a reason, and while it may look to an outside like you can quickly move everything around to make it more efficient, you are really only likely to cause harm.

"In general, things are how they are for a reason. Not necessarily the best of reasons, but always for reasons, and people who don't understand those reasons are engaged in exactly the kind of activity that the Hippocratic Oath was meant to prevent; a regrettable tendency of mankind called "fucking around with things you don't understand."

You should really check out that link DD.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 8:30 AM
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548 is very perceptive.


Posted by: Invisible Adjunct | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 8:32 AM
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D2 & others, I don't want to get drawn into this debate, but it should be noted that at many institutions the institutional evaluation of teaching overvalues certain not-very-useful but time-consuming exercises. Even if individual academics don't think certain grading or content-disseminating processes are valuable, their evaluators often do, for reasons lost in the sands of time.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 8:35 AM
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I don't think that there are any general qualities which separate people with a university degree from people who haven't[1]. People who've gone to university have learned a lot about one thing. If it's an undergraduate degree then they've learned a lot of specific facts, and a few generic solutions which are judged to be useful in the specific domain. If they're bright they will be able to generalise from this and develop their own problem-solving methods, but lots of people aren't all that bright and that isn't the university's fault (nor is it worth working 55 hours a week trying to make them bright unless they really, really want to learn). Ideally, for some higher degrees you'd hope that the majority of people came out with some sort of interactional expertise in Harry Collins' sense (the ability to carry on an intelligent conversation with a genuine expert), but this doesn't always happen.

On the other hand, while some might say that a basic level of factual knowledge isn't aiming high enough, I'd say that maybe basic factual knowledge isn't a very high standard, but it's better than we've got now. Observably, the actual universities we've got produce lots and lots of graduates who don't meet this standard and very few who meet any higher standard. If the plan for raising everyone to the much higher standard just involves introducing lots more courses and the tutors putting more heart and soul into it, then I'm telling you that isn't going to work. A passion to make the world a better place isn't any more of a plan to manage undergraduate education than it's a plan to conquer Iraq.

[1] I don't have much time for "intelligence in general" or "analytical skills in general".


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 8:37 AM
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To expand on 559, I think that a good number of people follow this path:

1. get tenure
2. find research tiresome or too hard or something
3. feel the need to fill the hours with work
4. take on pedagogical standards that aren't necessarily better for students but do fill the hours
5. advocate that others take on these standards as well

And when they become administrators-- as people who are sort of throwing in the towel on research are prone to do-- you see the problem.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 8:38 AM
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557: gosh, I thought I had tinnitus for a second there, but it was just the sound of you zinging.

Let me introduce your Mr Gotcha to Mr Labs:

it should be noted that at many institutions the institutional evaluation of teaching overvalues certain not-very-useful but time-consuming exercises. Even if individual academics don't think certain grading or content-disseminating processes are valuable, their evaluators often do, for reasons lost in the sands of time

Furthermore, there's a little bit further down that essay which points out that you don't have to be a jet pilot to know when one's crashed. As I keep saying, any system which is based on people working 55 hour weeks is broken. You might also notice that while I'm sure it feels to you as if I have jumped into the higher education system and started changing everything, actually I'm just discussing things on a blog. If I tell you one thing and your boss says something else, then do what he says because for the moment I am not yet in charge.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 8:45 AM
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But you should know that when the time comes your boss is going to be the first against the wall.


Posted by: mano negra | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 8:48 AM
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dsquared isn't crazy here, just not asking the right questions, and being a bit snarky to boot. Most of the changes he's talking about have been tried without a big win, or would have very little gain. That's mostly due to ignorance of the problem domain, but that's ok (the snark and patronizing tone is laughable, but that's a different issue).

Given the ability to totally rework the system, my modifications would probably be a lot larger than d^2 (at least what he's discussed here). The main problem with the approaches suggested on standardization are reflected well in the `calculus 101' experience. This is probably the most standardized curriculum in all of the usual freshman courses, and even better, students have in theory already `learned it'. Something equivalent to what D2 is suggesting has actually been tried here, in many different institutions. So what are the empirical results? When you actually do throw them through a standardized course (i sketched one earlier) what you find is for many/most of them a) no, they didn't learn much in high school calculus and b) their fundamentals simply aren't up to the course. The latter is a killer. The only way to maintain reasonable passing grades is to drop expectations or curve like hell. End result? Students on average are more poorly prepared at the end of the Taylorized course.

Why? Mainly because the assumptions you make about their abilities coming into the course are badly flawed. Regardless of the nominal inefficiencies of a `classical' version of the course, one thing the usual approach is much, much better at is catching these problems, and adjusting for them. At this point dsquared may well be saying `well, that doesn't change anything, we just need to implement this further down the line'. This is getting closer to intelligent questions about optimizing education delivery (and of course, we're hardly the first to go down this road).

Now we can argue about the canonical placement of this course in stream of many majors. We can argue about the emphasis students have had, pre calculus. We can argue about the right way to seperate theory/practice in technical major. We can argue about a lot of things. I suspect can all agree some things are badly broken (e.g. textbooks)

But if all we're talking about it streamlining calc 101 the way it is now, we already know the answer. You save a bit of money, and you get worse results. There is no reason to expect this won't be the case in the majority of institutions (those whose incoming freshmen aren't unusual in some way). Mostly the kids recover from all this by teaching themselves later, or they don't (but how do you know? And is this really `delivering education' in the best possible way)


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 8:48 AM
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557 is very perceptive indeed.

I especially refer to the bit about "Everyone secretly likes the smell of their own farts", which appears to have much relevance to D2's Grand Centralised Scheme for Standardised Education.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 8:48 AM
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Frex:

It can't but be noticed that most of their progressive schemes involve nothing so simple as the handing out of chunks of cash (which I am in general in favour of, so long as the taxation isn't too ruinous), but rather all sorts of little schemes aimed at controlling people's behaviour - either direct restrictions on liberty, or the million and one little incentives and means-tests that they love to slip in there in order to nudge people in the "right" direction.

....

The trouble with this hypertrophied concern for order is that the progressive always underestimates the extent to which he is providing the infrastructure for repression.

Indeed. One reason why these ideas will hit opposition is that the ordinary man has the operational heuristic that anything proposed to make him more efficient involves his pension disappearing.

Progress does, in fact, happen. It in general happens because even the dullest man working on a job for forty years will come up with a way to do it better, if only out of a desire to reduce the onerousness of the task. Institutions get better over time, or they collapse entirely and are replaced by better ones.

Universities have been about since Byzantium; in the West since the year 1100.

They are so bumptious. As I mentioned above, the progressives are people who think they know best.

Comment is superfluous.

Get a job as a councillor or something and stick to the nuts and bolts of getting things done, in your specific area of competence, and spend more of your time on protecting your constituents from the daily attacks made on them by the political system, than in trying to dragoon them into projects of your own devising.

Cor, this Dsquared guy is brilliant. I wonder if ours is related?


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 8:59 AM
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D2's Grand Centralised Scheme for Standardised Education.

oh fuck off Alex. Why don't you and Rob sit down together in a room plotting about how you're going to overthrow my centralised planning regime, and then when you've had a cup of tea you can come out into the open air and realise that there's a difference between writing on a blog and changing the world?

In any case, I've made precisely one concrete suggestion which involved stopping a particular practice (the proliferation of customised undergraduate introduction courses) which is very new and which seems to have been itself imposed on college staff by administrators who aren't involved in the process. That's not a grand centralised scheme in the first place. I've made general remarks about the desirability of Taylorisation where possible, and defended the view that there isn't anything magical about education which makes it impossible to get big improvements there, but this hasn't yet resulted in an actual program. I do in fact think that universities could learn a lot from professional training firms, but I haven't yet said exactly what or how, because that would involve a lot more work.

Universities have been about since Byzantium; in the West since the year 1100.

And if they're dependent on people working 55 hour weeks, they're on the brink of serious collapse. Lots of people within humanities education believe that the crisis is already here.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:16 AM
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(the proliferation of customised undergraduate introduction courses)

Does this exist? I was figuring that new courses were mostly new advanced courses, not new service or introductory courses.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:22 AM
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or, expanding on 548, I've specifically washed my hands of trying to solve this problem, because I don't think that the people working in the field want anything that could count as a practical solution to it; they want to go on panning for golden nuggets amid the dross of undergraduates and the only way in which anything will change is if there's finally such a severe erosion of living standards that we get a missing generation of academics. Specifically, in so many words, I said that I had a number of views about how the academic profession could be reorganised to deliver my desired output with less inputs, but that my desired output wasn't what the people within the system wanted, so it wasn't a program for reform because no reform is possible. If you think I'm wrong, say so, but this specific "gotcha" is aimed wrongly.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:25 AM
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567: Several people have noted that a class which is customized or at least in the professor's area is much easier to teach, in terms of hours required for preparation, than one outside of the professor's specialty, and that syllabus design is the least time-consuming part of it.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:30 AM
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(the proliferation of customised undergraduate introduction courses)

Does this exist? I was figuring that new courses were mostly new advanced courses, not new service or introductory courses.

I've seen it happen at some schools, but I wouldn't call it a systemic problem.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:30 AM
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(This comment is a trifle behind now...)

I don't think dsquared is crazy; I just get the impression that he is willing to scrap the whole university system and redesign from scratch. If you're willing to do that, you can forget about the constraints you guys keep mentioning.

I think he'd agree that tweaking the university system won't get far, but he's thinking about the broader question of how to educate the young-adult populace. (To some unclear standard which we can't yet compare to the result of a university education.)

Now I'm wondering if this isn't a result of changed knowledge demands. High school just isn't enough to be an end degree. But college has notions of creating potential scholars, which is more than lots of people need. Maybe dsquared is talking about how to teach people in the middle realm, more literacy and numeracy and critical thinking than high school. But not the personalized teaching you need if you are ardent about a subject. Creating a system to teach that could look like lots of different things, but doesn't necessarily depend on extraordinary labor by the professors.



Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:33 AM
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564: my consistent response to this is that if something can't be done properly with the resources provided in the current system and can't be done properly with the resources provided in any other system, then it can't be done. Specifically in the case of this pre-calculus course, either a better third method has to be found, or more resources have to be put in (and if they have to be put in, they will have to be taken from somewhere else), or that institution has to stop trying to teach 1500 people calculus every year in some way.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:33 AM
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To be precise, of the five institutions I have worked at, it was a problem at one of them, the small liberal arts college in upstate NY. There I think customized intro level courses was a direct response to the limited opportunity to teach custom upper division courses. Basically, some profs desperately wanted to teach their hobby horses, and tried to come up with dumbed down ways to do it for Freshmen. It didn't work pedagogically.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:35 AM
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568: Not in my experience. In philosophy, the introductory courses are logic, early modern, ancient philosophy and ethics. The syllabi for these pretty much do not change from year to year. There are several other non-prerequisite service courses designed for the non-major, and these are usually pretty standardized to the extent that the professor teaching it hasn't changed his syllabus in several years. To the extent that there is more variety it's due to someone new (a visiting lecturer, a new junior hire) offering one of these courses. At the upper level, seminars fall into one of two categories: classic ones the instructors teach periodically, and seminars based on their own work.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:38 AM
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553 is clearly not a standard introductory 1st year course. Something like 555 and 556 is more what I had in mind.

Could someone, anyone, with a good general education in the arts/humanities/social sciences area teach a not-especially original, not super-brilliant course at the introductory level in another one of those subjects by combining their existing knowledge, an ability to read and summarize existing material that's out there and by heavily reusing existing education resources? Of course they could. Could they do it as well as an expert? No.

It's hardly an overreachingly ambitious statement to make.

I'll bet you could run your 'bet' the opposite way too and ask a classicist to teach a 1st year level philosophy course, and you know what, I bet they'd do just fine and would produce a perfectly adequate intro course.

FWIW, I'm completely down with the idea that more advanced courses require genuine specialists and that advanced undergraduate or graduate level education is about a lot more than imparting core subject knowledge.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:40 AM
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My undergraduate institution, however, had as a degree requirement that everyone take two philosophy courses, so there was a massive explosion of 200-level service courses. The professors seemed to enjoy it (again, they usually reliably taught one or two service courses), and the students would have enjoyed it far more than a requirement to take one of eight identical sections of logic.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:43 AM
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574, 575: Yeah, and I'm thinking that the opportunity (including a sufficiently low workload so that doing so isn't unworkably onerous) for at least some chance to design courses in which you teach your hobby-horses is a hiring constraint, or at least a very large part of non-monetary compensation. You could get people who would be willing to just teach Taylorized classes, but they would either be lacking in the intellectual qualities one wants to teach at this level, or they'd want a lot more money.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:44 AM
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573: And you are consistently avoiding the larger picture (and most of the content of 564, for that matter)

Yes, it cannot be done. In general universities are being asked to do contradictory things, and as well the resources aren't there.

To properly address even only the issues of a freshmen level calculus course though, you really need to go back into middle school at least. My claim (which you haven't responded too that I've seen, but I could have missed it, it's a big thread) is that your approach, besides being a bit muddle headed, is far too narrow. When I say muddle headed, I mean that while you have correctly identified the increase of lecturing positions and 5-5 loads etc. as a symptom of a system in distress, you then jump to `let's tread the symptom'. That's nonsense. If you want to analyse the system, the correct approach at that point is to look for what caused that symptom (and it really is just a symptom). You're talking about bandaids, and that's never very useful.

There are additional issues (again, not taken up that I've seen) that, to use a business trope: you can't manage what you can't measure. In some of these areas, measurement is a very difficult thing. Another: politics often plays havoc. There are many confounding issues, which is why this is actually one of the really hard problems, much harder than most faced by industry attempting a similar analysis.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:50 AM
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572: Actually, that's more what I was talking about (and dsquared wasn't unless I missed it). That addressing this at the level of freshman courses, say, is far too narrow.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:51 AM
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dsquared: As you pointed out, weaving was successfully Taylorized a long time ago, while universities have not. It could be simply academic intransigence, but universities have certainly changed a lot in the last century. Perhaps universities are not more centralized for basically Hayekian reasons -- academics have local knowledge that does not lend itself to writing down and mailing in to the planning office. The college landscape (at least here in the US) is pretty competitive, and people manage to start new ones. Perhaps the reason a college education hasn't been Taylorized yet is that it can't be.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:52 AM
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I tend to agree with Megan's assessment. Really, I'd like for our society to rearrange itself so that secondary education was more effective, and also to make it more possible to get a middle-class job without a college degree. Another possible way to get at this would be Heebie's idea about making two-year degrees much more widely available (and, again, less stigmatized).

I also am broadly attracted to plans for reducing or eliminating "core" requirements -- this would go especially well with the changes I imagine in the prior paragraph -- because I think that students really do get a great deal more out of courses that they take by choice. Those courses are incidentally much more pleasant to teach. You could combine this with a strong culture encouraging students to feel that they really ought to learn a little something about statistics, writing lucidly, history, foreign languages, and other niceties of being "educated," if you like.

I'm fantasizing, you understand, and also realize that in this system I would be even less likely to get a job in academia than I am right now.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:52 AM
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574: I can see this being a problem.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:53 AM
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In philosophy, the introductory courses are logic, early modern, ancient philosophy and ethics. The syllabi for these pretty much do not change from year to year.

Well, everyone I've ever met seems to teach early modern [the one I've most personal experience with] differently. Perhaps this is an artefact of working in a more tutorially driven system and where that aspect of the system is touted as a feature rather than a bug. But, when I've taught revision classes for finalists I've usually found that in a group of say 6 students, all of them will have been taught the subject differently and will have read different texts and will have had different topics or issues within those texts emphasised.

Obviously, that doesn't really say much about US colleges, with which I am entirely non-familiar and which aren't run on similar lines.

Also, I haven't taught anything for about a year.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:55 AM
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582: The biggest problem is that no small department wants to eliminate itself by eliminating a requirement that includes its courses.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:55 AM
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But not the personalized teaching you need if you are ardent about a subject

exactly. As far as I can see, the university is currently designed around a small group of consumers, who might have been as much as 75% of the total before the Second World War, but who are now less than 10%. That's the reason why it ends up sucking in so much time and effort.

My original question was "how does a seemingly small course load turn into an incredibly arduous job?". The answers appear to be:

1. Combining the roles of research and teaching. As I say, this is basically like insisting that all web designers have a solid grounding in underwater welding, but people don't want to change it for the reasons given in 551.

2. Lack of sensible investment in making the operational/ancillary aspects work well, like photocopying, etc. This could in principle be addressed, but it won't be because a) academics want to stay in charge of it themselves and b) academics don't have time to devote to this because they are working too hard on teaching and research.

3. Lots and lots of personal investment in the courses and students. I think there's far too much of this and the vast majority of it goes unappreciated (or is even actively resented) by the consumers. But there's a really strong commitment to maintaining or even increasing it - see how ttaM got accused of "despising students" when he suggested it wasn't necessary.

I think 3) is the real reason why academics are overworked, and that more or less nothing is going to make them less overworked while it's still there; it is a bottomless pit that will suck up spare capacity released by any other efficiency gains.

The only way to get rid of 3) would be to radically lower the number of courses/students per teacher. But this isn't really wanted either, because due to 1), adding a lot of teachers also adds a lot of competitors for a fixed number of research jobs.

So it looks insoluble. It would help if a lot fewer people went to university (and that those people were the right type who wanted the kind of education described in 3), but the only way in which this could be done would be if someone a) invented an alternative to university and b) overhauled the entire conventions whereby universities provide the entry certificate to the educated class. And that can't be done either.

This is an example, by the way, of negativism; the analysis of the faults of a system without advancing alternatives. I wrote quite a good essay on that once, if anyone could be kind enough to link to it.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:57 AM
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584: At my university, both professors use the same book. One emphasizes in lecture more of the rationalists, and one has it out for Kant, but the content is otherwise pretty close to the same, in terms of what the students read.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:57 AM
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582: I also am broadly attracted to plans for reducing or eliminating "core" requirements

When I was at O/b/e/r/l/i/n (things have since changed), there were no requirements outside your major other than an intro comp class (which you could test out of via AP tests). There were distribution guidelines (basically, take at least 2 classes in hard science, social science, and humanities). Even though they were only guidelines, the vast majority of students fulfilled them. (I'm tempted to say it was 80% or more, but I don't really remember.) As a result, people were in classes they wanted to be in. Much more pleasant all around, as rfts says.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 9:59 AM
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585: Indeed, required courses justify the existence of all kinds of things that make people want to keep them around. I did my undergrad at Brown, which someone already mentioned has no required courses, thanks to the institution of the "New Curriculum" in 1969. This makes me much more inclined than most people, I suspect, to fondly fantasize that other schools might do the same thing.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:02 AM
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I don't think academics personally want to do photocopying. A lot, a lot of jobs skimp on administrative help for budgetary reasons even though it's not actually efficient.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:02 AM
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When I was at O/b/e/r/l/i/n

This strikes me as wildly overcautious google-proofing.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:05 AM
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I think some of what dsquared has to say about being personally invested in producing the same educational experiences for our students that we had ourselves is right. It's certainly a feeling I recognise in myself. It's really thrilling to see someone being excited and enthused about your subject.

Some of the more labour intensive, 'bespoke' elements of university teaching really benefit the best students and I think they often really appreciate them. But some of those elements, I think, reap little in the way of returns for the vast bulk of students who may not wish to specialise in that subject and sometimes they can be actively unhelpful.

re: 587

Yeah, here, there's a reading list that the tutors can work from, but the list is far longer than any one student can use, so everyone picks and chooses from that list. There are undergraduate lecture courses, too, obviously, but, in my experience, students often don't attend them, so the tutorial is the primary vehicle for teaching.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:06 AM
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a small group of consumers, who might have been as much as 75% of the total before the Second World War, but who are now less than 10%

Strikes me that the profs and dsquared might also have different models of the student. When you design your new system, you should make that model explicit early on.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:07 AM
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579, 580: I think Rob and Alex have helpfully outlined the reasons why I'm not inclined to get into massive changes to the entire education system either. What's wrong with just concluding that the problem doesn't have a solution?

academics have local knowledge that does not lend itself to writing down

Worst Application Of Hayek Ever. I mean, c'mon, really.

Perhaps the reason a college education hasn't been Taylorized yet is that it can't be

But yes it has. Loads and loads of areas of education which used to be regarded as part of a university have been converted into standardised courses. Chartered accountants' qualifications used to be taught in universities, but now they aren't. Similarly with loads and loads of technical qualifications. I used to share a desk with a guy who didn't go to university but had qualified as a ACCA accountant and taken the CFA qualification. He'd never as an adult taken a course that wasn't thoroughly standardised. Had he not had an education? Certainly didn't seem that way. Training is a massive industry these days.

Obviously a) one would presume that the easiest targets were selected first, and b) there is a genuine duty of pastoral care in universities which can't be standardised. But I don't think that the historical evidence does support the hypothesis that education can't be Taylorised at all, rather that the university as a social institution has maintained its identity by chucking out ballast.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:10 AM
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When I was at O/b/e/r/l/i/n

This strikes me as wildly overcautious google-proofing.

It was really an aesthetic choice.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:11 AM
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592: The question then seems to be first whether changing the system by standardizing courses would better serve that vast bulk of students more than they are now, and whether doing so would eliminate the chance of encouraging specialists in the subject. I suspect the answers are no and yes.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:11 AM
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re: 593

At least in the UK the student population has hugely [and I mean hugely] expanded since the Second World War. In Scotland, now, for example, over 50% of the population enter higher education. So it's perfectly understandable that, say, an education model that has largely remained the same for decades might be designed around a model of the student that increasingly fails to reflect the needs and wants of the student body.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:12 AM
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597: In the US too, in no small part thanks to the G. I. Bill.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:13 AM
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There's an incentive to teaching the one talented student in the last three years rather than the rest. That student will, soon enough, sit on committees or study sections, and be in a position to select a reliable senior person for whatever. The fallacy is that the unmotivated crowd also contains kids that will do well, though outside the discipline. Sheila Tobias writes about teaching to these kids.
It seems hard to model students: they are underprepared and unmotivated coming in in the US, and what they are like upon graduating depends partly on curriculum and teacher enthusiasm.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:16 AM
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re: 596

My intuitions would be almost entirely the opposite way. I was taught under an undergraduate system that was quite a bit more standardised than the one under which I myself have taught. I'm 99% sure the former system did serve the vast bulk of students better in some ways, and that while it didn't do quite as much to encourage the very best students, it didn't actively discourage them in ways that would concern me either.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:17 AM
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I learned my unlikely-use-of-Hayek strategies from you.

How do you explain that teaching corporate finance resembles teaching calculus more than it resembles technical training? How do you explain the fact that while there has been a large increase in technical training for computer programmers (Java certification, for example), at the same time programming jobs that don't require a college degree have almost entirely disappeared?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:19 AM
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large increase in technical training for computer programmers
Manager ineptitude and kickbacks from the trainers. Useless^2.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:21 AM
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Given the existence of things like this, it seems foolish or at least a bit counterproductive to tailor higher education to those who are going to continue along an academic track. But clearly these are the students professors are going to identify most with, so...


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:22 AM
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600: Yes, but the UK's system is very strange compared to the U.S.'s system. To me the recommendations (I used the term loosely) offered here seem to fall into the problems soup biscuit mentioned, and push universities in the same direction as American high schools. Which is not good.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:27 AM
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How do you explain that teaching corporate finance resembles teaching calculus more than it resembles technical training?

Because the majority of people learning corporate finance really shouldn't be learning it because they don't have the mathematical background, in the same way in which a lot of undergraduates on sb's 1500-man course probably shouldn't be learning calculus. However, *unlike undergraduates*, the lawyers and middle managers on the corporate finance course are prepared to pay money and invest effort into learning corporate finance, rather than demanding that all the effort be poured in by the tutors.

How do you explain the fact that while there has been a large increase in technical training for computer programmers (Java certification, for example), at the same time programming jobs that don't require a college degree have almost entirely disappeared?

Because jobs that don't require a college degree have become many fewer in number. Also, I think "programming jobs" there is actually redrawing a boundary; there are plenty of IT jobs which would have required a degree not so long ago but now don't, although it's hard to disentangle this from the changes in IT itself.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:29 AM
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602: bait and switch. "All those good jobs require training, like a college degree. You don't have the time or money for a college degree, but you still want a good job. Our training will help you get that job, much like a college degree."


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:33 AM
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re: 604

Yeah, that's true. Also, the more standardised system I was taught under may be comparably standardised to the US system [awkward sentence construction but you know what I mean]. I'm not in a position to say. I'd only say that of the systems I am familiar with, I suspect the more standardised one benefits the core of the student body without having an unacceptably high cost for those high-achieving students who perhaps would get more out of a more tailored system.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:44 AM
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So why haven't finance professors, chock-full of the kind of knowledge that you learn in an MBA program, instituted the kinds of reforms you have in mind? Clearly, the current system is Pareto optimal. Here, let me write down a model...


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:44 AM
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So why haven't finance professors, chock-full of the kind of knowledge that you learn in an MBA program, instituted the kinds of reforms you have in mind? Clearly, the current system is Pareto optimal. Here, let me write down a model...


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:49 AM
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As I say, this is basically like insisting that all web designers have a solid grounding in underwater welding, but people don't want to change it for the reasons given in 551

This is really off, I'll attempt a fix (sorry ogged). It's like insisting that all web designers have a solid grounding in both the graphic arts and computer science. This would be expected to globally improve the quality of web pages, but the obvious question is by how much, and for what cost.

this response is a bit late, but I'll make it anyway:

There is something to 3, and this relates to the conflicting goals I allude to before. It's foolish to assume that universities, in all the centuries they have been operating, have not been trimming their pedagogical sails. It's just that the student they are optimized for aren't the average student today (as has been mentioned upthread, and you point out in the beginning of 586).

From an academic departments point of view, one of the real issues is how do you adjust things for the new average student, withough screwing up the process for the minority that still fit the previous mold?

I had more in mind, but have a meeting.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:53 AM
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It's just that the student they are optimized for aren't the average student today (as has been mentioned upthread, and you point out in the beginning of 586).

From an academic departments point of view, one of the real issues is how do you adjust things for the new average student, withough screwing up the process for the minority that still fit the previous mold?

This is a good summary of the current state of affairs, I think.,


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:56 AM
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593: They are two different models, and they are both incorrect when tested against the average incoming student. Hence my encouraging a re-analysis above.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:56 AM
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So why haven't finance professors, chock-full of the kind of knowledge that you learn in an MBA program, instituted the kinds of reforms you have in mind?

Well as I say, I think they have - it's called the CFA qualification. That's standardised and Taylorised all to hell, and it works (in terms of turning out people who know a good deal of finance theory and are capable of doing the job; they also publish a rather good members' theoretical journal so I disagree that this program turns off the knowledge-seekers). The secret advantage, of course, is having a student base who are motivated to do the work.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 11:20 AM
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586: My original question was "how does a seemingly small course load turn into an incredibly arduous job?". The answers appear to be:

This and a lot of other stuff makes me think that D^2 is working from a lot of misconceptions. (No offense intended; he seems to be arguing with a dozen different American academics, each relying mostly on their personal experience, and he's neither American nor a professional academic.) I don't have the time to find the numbers of all this, so people can clarify or correct me if necessary.

The American university system does not depend on people working 55-hour weeks. That week seems to be a likely consequence of a bad workload at a bad college. While almost three hours per class hour may seem high at first glance, it's not an ironclad rule but it's entirely possible sometimes. (I don't think people have been using "preparation" consistently, either. Some people seem to mean just getting ready for a lecture, some people seem to think it's all class-related work that's not spent in front of a group of students.) Professors teaching those 5-5 classes aren't doing research as well, but they'd like to be (or are expected to). Why are teachers expected to be researchers? At introductory levels, it doesn't make much sense (and it often isn't the case at all), but in advanced and specialized classes, learning from experts is good.

Why don't colleges use textbooks and standardized curricula more? As has been pointed out, many do, especially in the sciences, but it's much harder at high-level courses, especially with new courses being developed, and in the humanities in general.

OK, so why do colleges teach introductory courses like freshman composition at all? There's debate about which of them actually need to be universal, but reliance on them could definitely be reduced, yes. But the quality and type of secondary education is so horrible in some places, and isn't standardized at all, that colleges need to make sure all students are on the same page. The college can't do much about that.

So, to answer 136:
1. People with a heavy courseload aren't doing research.
2. This would indeed be appreciated and would help a lot, but is not the main cause of 55-hour weeks.
3. Simply put, I disagree. Let's say a professor is only teaching four courses a week. Each one is three hours of class time. Each hour of classtime takes an average of, say, half an hour of prep for that hour -- maybe less if the teacher is familiar with it, maybe a lot more if they're not. Let's say grading takes an average of an hour and a half per week. Maybe that's high, but then again, in the humanities, if a professor is giving giving feedback on the work of 15 students once a week, (or monthly to a class of 50, or once a semester to a class of 100) even if they're brief assignments, maybe that's low. (And, again, many do have help with this.) The professor has at least two or three office hours if he's not a total asshole. While in theory he or she has a lot of that time to himself, in practice they are getting bothered unpredictably and can't leave their office, so they're not very productive.

That's 38 hours right there, if my quick mental math is correct, and I rounded down from what people seem to be saying. And then add in committees, departmental paperwork, professional development...


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 12:12 PM
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"exponential" here is a quite specific empirical claim and I'd be interested in seeing the research which supports it if that claim was intentional. If you just mean "a lot more" then the entire question is how much more.

I do just mean "a lot more". I figured you wouldn't mind my exaggerating since the more I exaggerate there, the easier it is to make your point (after all, the farther things get from a 1:1 linear relationship, the more inefficient the system is).

a small group of consumers, who might have been as much as 75% of the total before the Second World War, but who are now less than 10%

As far as I can tell, this is the real problem. Universities were designed around prepared and motivated students. They may be inefficient, but I believe that is the only way to get up the rungs of Bloom's Taxonomy (I use BT here since it is one of the few widely recognized metrics for pedagogy--substitute your preferred metric here). But that was OK, because it achieved its goals, and did so without becoming economic failures.

But now we are awash in students, many/most of whom are unprepared, unmotivated, or both. University was not designed for this at all. With more and more students not achieving comprehension or better, the profs have to work harder and harder to (attempt to) get them there.

D^2 has compared all of the customization of classes to delivering a Rolls Royce education to people who don't appreciate it. In my experience, teaching is less like delivering a crafted product so much as it is pushing a boulder up a hill. The mass of unmotivated students translates into a more massive boulder. "Push smarter not harder" only works insofar as pushing smarter results in a greater force being imparted. Soup's comments consistently indicate that pushing smarter means pushing less, but getting less force in the end too. Getting that bigger boulder up the hill requires either 1) more overall force, or 2) a smaller boulder. If there were any way to make it happen, I'd be all for option 2. Getting unmotivated, unprepared students out of the classroom helps everyone else tremendously. The profs would probably not work a whole much less, but their efforts would get students much higher on Bloom's Taxonomy, since we'd effectively be back in the situation that Universities were designed for.

613: That's standardized and Taylorised all to hell, and it works

I'll agree that it works, but I think you know why: The secret advantage, of course, is having a student base who are motivated to do the work. I'm guessing that it's not just an advantage, it's the whole ballgame. I think these courses succeed despite the Taylorization (soup, back me up here), because of the student's motivation. I.e. efficiency is not the reason for these courses success.


Posted by: wink ;) | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 1:48 PM
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We're agreeing on the fact that the college-going population is a much, much bigger chunk of the whole population than it used to be.

Is D^2 saying that that is a bad thing? I'll concede the problems of having more unmotivated students, and of having more under-prepared students, and of credential creep (a diploma used to be enough; then it was a BA; now it's an MA for unclear reasons, in some fields). Even still, I think the expansion of access to college is a good thing, for many reasons that I could get into if I wanted to make this looooooonngg. I bet most of you do too.

My entire discipline -- English Composition -- basically came about as a way of adapting to the needs of the wider demographic of students. We know there are contradictions in the system. Most of them would be solved by giving equal resources to schools in poor and rich neighborhoods. (For those not in the U.S.: schools in poor districts do not take it for granted that they will have books to teach with. In rural districts near me, it's a recent innovation that all the teachers will have completed college themselves).

We think it's worth doing anyway, and rightly or wrongly (and I really mean that; I'm not certain), we spit upon the name of Taylor.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 4:51 PM
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Which is not to pretend I'm right, just to say.

To be more conciliatory: I do wish some students who don't know why they are in college would go work full-time until they are 25, then come back.

And in fact, that path is becoming more and more normal.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 5:01 PM
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And there's always the Japanese university system.
I was talking to one ex-history major who'd done well by buying not one but two copies of the professor's textbook (which was the only book set for the course; and the library was kept in the professor's office, because why would the students ever want to look at it?). He went through one whiting out every name and every date. When he could fill them all in without having to refer to the clean copy he was ready for the exams.
I'm not making any claims at all for the Japanese system other than it is possible to run an advanced modern society on that basis - but that's quite a large claim.


Posted by: Chris | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 6:33 PM
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Interesting thread, but it would have been much more interesting with more reading what dsquared actually wrote and less Repel the Barbarian Invasion. I don't think he'd have gotten that reaction if the starting point had been a question about why universities are badly managed rather than a question about why the ratio of prep time to teaching time is what it is, which everyone seemed to want to take as criticism of their personal work styles.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:17 PM
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I think these courses succeed despite the Taylorization (soup, back me up here), because of the student's motivation

This is actually a huge issue. It's extremely difficult (impossible?) to construct really meaningful metrics on some of this stuff.


619: I agree --- it's a interesting topic. I would (and did) lay the blame for it falling apart for sloppiness on d^2 part, but that's a separate issue.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:23 PM
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You say sloppiness, I say dsquared being dsquared, practically instant comity.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-13-07 10:32 PM
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Is D^2 saying that that is a bad thing?

Not intrinsically, but when it interacts with a system that's not designed for it, then it's likely to create a whole set of problems that need to be solved. Rather like, say, third world development. I'd love it if everyone in India were rich enough to afford an SUV, but we have to be aware that if 1bn people did in fact choose to buy an SUV each, there would be significant knock-on effects.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 11-14-07 12:37 AM
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Even still, I think the expansion of access to college is a good thing ... I bet most of you do too.

I don't. I'm not saying that in a troll-ish way. I think the expansion of post-secondary education is generally a good thing, but the consolidation of all post-secondary education around the 3 or 4 year university degree, generally acquired between the ages of 18 and 21, is not. For the motivation/resources reasons already outlined by many people above.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 11-14-07 12:49 AM
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I agree. I'm engaged in a program designed to award two-time losers some sort of post secondary education. Many of them don't want it, and why should they? Literary theory doesn't pay for itself does it? The only class I have that attracts any moneyed folk is chem, and they're all premeds, the fucks. Knowledge qua knowledge gets you: nothing.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 11-14-07 1:07 AM
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the problems of having more unmotivated students, and of having more under-prepared students, and of credential creep (a diploma used to be enough; then it was a BA; now it's an MA for unclear reasons, in some fields).

Add to those underemployment, worker dissatisfaction, and reduced productivity.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 11-14-07 1:27 AM
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Is this thread still alive?

I think that d^d (d=2)'s error (maybe I should just call him "4") is in thinking that the educational system is rational at any point. The teacher and the students in the classroom are visible part of two enormous social icebergs. They all have their various reasons for being there. In the rare case, the teacher and the majority of the students want to teach and learn. It actually can be quite nice, though probably expensive and inefficient. In another common case, the professor doesn't teach at all, the TAs don't want to teach at all, and the students don't want to learn anything. (The test would be: if the class were cancelled and everyone got their credits and checks, would anyone be unhappy? In many cases the answer is "no", and this is not an imaginary case -- it's actually happened).

Undergrad teaching is the public face of the university, but it's not really very important in most cases, except perhaps as a cash cow and justification for grants.

And then you have the dead hand of the foundations, the literally dead people who left money, and eternal government programs.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-14-07 5:06 AM
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