Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cross-listing courses and Interdisciplinarity, part 1

Cross-listing Courses and Interdisciplinarity, part 1

This is actually one of those few times where I'm posting about something of particular relevance to something happening at SLAC, even though I'm sure that y'all have all dealt with such things before. One of the reasons I'm posting is because I told a colleague I would, and would share with hir the comments that are left. So zie is sworn to silence about this blog. And cannot share it with anybody else. Otherwise, I might not be able to continue blogging, if a ton of my colleagues start reading this. And that would be a shame, since I'm up to judge the Cliopatria Awards this year. Dunno which category yet, but watch this space for more on that.

Anyhoo ... cross-listing. Last week, a colleague asked me whether zie could cross-list a course as a history course. As department chair, it's my call. This ended up opening up a few cans of worms, not the least of which is a conversation about interdisciplinarity. One of the other cans was how different my own ideas about cross-listing seem to conflict with what seems to have been the norm at SLAC. The feeling I've got from speaking to more senior colleagues is that cross-listing has often been treated as a sort of unofficial barter system based on the way FTEs have been counted: a faculty member wants to teach a course in a special topic, but the course won't make unless it's cross-listed with another department, because students don't have a lot of electives to spare. So the course gets cross-listed, the faculty member gets to teach the cool class because there are enough students, and the department that allows the cross-listing gets credit for additional FTEs that accrue into the departmental total.

To be honest, I've never seen anything like this before, but then, most of my teaching experience is at state schools. My response to the request was in line with what I've seen done elsewhere -- I asked for a syllabus and typical assignments, and said that, in order for a course to be listed in my discipline, it needed to clearly address and fulfill my department's outcomes and assess them in ways consistent with what my departmental colleagues and I have agreed are acceptable for courses at that level, and are consistent with what we actually do. My initial rationale for this was pretty basic -- our accreditors require that we show that we do the things we say we do, so if a course is listed as history, it has to do those things, and I have to be able to work the assessment data into my annual assessment report, which means comparing apples to apples. Period.

There are other ramifications that have come to light here that I want to talk about, because they touch on things like gatekeeping, interdisciplinarity, and our own definitions of our fields. And my own personal pet peeve, which I sort of worry plays into it: the idea that anybody can teach history. But before I go there, I'd like to put out a call for input especially on how your campus goes about cross-listing courses. If you could comment below, I'd really appreciate it. I checked with the institution where I taught for the longest time pre-SLAC, and it was even more complicated than I remembered. First, a faculty member would approach the cross-listing department or program with a syllabus in hand. That syllabus would have to reflect the outcomes of the cross-listing department and assessments for those outcomes. Next, once verbal agreement was reached, the faculty member would fill out a course proposal form and get sign-off from both department chairs and the dean. Then, the proposal would go through the regular curriculum committee process, which could take up to several months, and the course would be approved for the next academic year.

Now, one problem with this particular approach at SLAC is that, if in a case like mine, it's a special topics course being cross-listed as a special topics course, then that would mean that all courses taught in both departments under the special topics numbers would be forever linked. That's just a bad idea. But we have a rule that we can't add new courses permanently until they've been taught twice successfully as special topics. Be that as it may, my own impression is that most institutions handle cross-listing more as former college does. Or am I wrong? How does it work at your place?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How can I say this?

How can I say this?

Hello, readers. I'm looking for a gender-neutral way of getting across the sentiments incorporated in the phrase, "to man up." You see, I really like those sentiments, but I don't like the phrase, because it's anything but gender-neutral. Actually, I don't really like the sentiment that is embodied in the "this is a manly quality, even when applied to women," part of it. Um ... does that make sense?


Monday, September 14, 2009

Working harder, working smarter

working harder, working smarter

Disclaimer: I'm not talking about the whole 'working smarter' thing in this post, because at the moment, I need to be working a little harder in order to even contemplate working smarter. I'm behind on writing, but am incredibly happy that it looks like the K'zoo panel I'm chairing is going to rock in a serious way. Still haven't made the right contacts for Leeds, and don't have a topic for a paper. Anybody need a respondent or chair? Part of this is sort of deliberate -- Superdean wants me to focus on getting some of my stuff that I've already given into the publishing queue, rather than giving new papers I don't have time to turn into articles. And the book is way behind schedule. But I hope to go to Leeds either way.

Anyway ...

This semester, I am already suffering from serious student ass-kicking. That is, my students are kicking my ass. I'm starting to think there are two sorts of teaching-tired. There's the, "OMG, these people are not doing their work and I am just terribly drained from having to carry this class!" tired. And then there's the, "Oh Noes! The students are doing the work and liking it and making me think!" tired.

With the former, part of the exhaustion comes from the emotional drain of having to keep up energy levels, and having a bunch of people waiting to suck you dry. I had a couple of vampire classes like this last year. Exhausting. But mentally, not all that much work, because at some point, I found myself moving from my usual discussion/active learning classroom mode to content delivery. Content delivery takes so much less work. It takes less prep, especially when you know that the most students are going to ask for is a clarification of spelling. But honestly, I find it soul-destroying.

On the other hand, when classes are doing all the work, and asking good questions, I find myself scrambling, especially when it's after a bad semester. I find myself wanting to live up to the students' expectations, to be worthy of standing in front of them every day. I also feel like beating myself up if I'm not as prepped as I'd like, because dammit, they did the reading! They're participating! I need them to like my class and come back! I need them to become History majors and never stop taking my classes! Um ... I am sounding like a vampire myself, aren't I? Except that, when I have good classes, I feel rejuvenated, or at least tired in a good way, when I'm done. Speaking of which, I've got some marking to do.

Still, if I'm going to have students kicking my ass, I know which way I'd like it to happen.

In the meantime, is anybody else having hir ass kicked (yeah, I'm liking that phrase too much this evening) so far this semester?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Roommates for Haskins

Roommates for Haskins

Is anybody going to Haskins? 'Cos I'm thinking I want to go ...

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Assessment by stealth is a different animal

Assessment by stealth is a different animal

I know I defended Outcomes and Assessments in my last substantive post. But since then, I've run across a huge exception to that.

Actually, it's not an exception. I think OA is great in theory and can be done well, in a way that enhances our teaching. For that, it has to be faculty driven.

This is different. I am currently in the position of having to change my syllabi to say that I teach things that I find entirely inappropriate to my courses. Because I believe the syllabus is a sort of contract, I will therefore teach those things. Why? because if I don't, our secondary ed students will have to add another mandatory course to their already very heavy load. The alternative? The Ed. School loses accreditation.

So basically, NCLB and the state K-12 wonks are able to drive what is taught in the universities. And that is wrong. THAT is a case of non-experts telling us what we can and can't do. And one of the best parts? they are getting the curriculum in part from outdated textbooks, which makes it almost impossible for us to correct many of the things that current research rejects, i.e., we are forced to perpetuate bad history, just so we can teach students that the people we taught to teach them in K-12 were wrong.

How screwed up is that?

Huzzah! Carnivalesque is up!

Huzzah!! Carnivalesque is up!

As you might remember, the August Carnivalesque was pre-empted by a break-in and the theft of a brand new Macbook. But Carin Ruff at Ruff Notes has put together a wonderful back to school edition, packed with good reading and excellent advice for students and professors alike!

Read and enjoy, and pass the word ...