Monday, August 10, 2009

Blog reconstruction

I just recreated my old blog under a new address. I did things a little differently though. Since there was a logical progression to the posts I posted them in reverse chronological order. I know that goes against everything in the blog universe, but it made more sense to me.

From this point on things will be in the normal order, so read on!


First post (January 21, 2008)

Well, I'm supposed to be prepping a new course. Or maybe I should say yet another new course. I seem to have a lot of those. In Fall 2004 I completely revised a web site development and deployment course. In Fall 2005 I developed a new database course. In Fall 2007 I taught a new CS/CIS graduate technology seminar. And this semester I'm teaching a new interactive web development class. I've taught 10 different courses since coming to ISU in 1999. Holy cow!

I often wonder if students know how much work is involved in being a college professor. First off, there are three components that make up our jobs: service, research, and teaching. Students only see the teaching part, and assume that if we aren't in our offices waiting to field questions that we're slackers. (I know that was my opinion when I was a student!) However, we are required to meet certain standards in all three areas.

A discussion of service (my least favorite requirement) and research expectations will be covered in future posts.

Most students are familiar with the teaching part of our job, but have you ever thought about what is involved? And were you aware of the service and research requirements? I'll talk about those topics some more in future posts. For now I have to get back to my class prep. Yippee!

A little about teaching (February 4, 2008)

Teaching is the most visible part of a college professor's job. Students see that aspect all the time. As I noted in my initial post however, teaching makes up only a third of our academic responsibilities. We are also responsible for conducting research and publishing academic papers, and we are expected to perform various types of service for our profession, for the university and college, and for the community. So when you stop by our offices and we don't answer your knock, don't assume we're lounging around at home watching Leave it to Beaver reruns on TVLand! I've been on campus the past seven or eight Saturday mornings (excluding a weekend or two around Christmas) for service activities.

What is involved in teaching? Keep in mind that I am talking about the things that are involved if you want to do an excellent job. I do. Want to, that is. Whether I succeed or not seems to vary from semester to semester.

When I talk about teaching I'm talking about how I teach, not necessarily how everyone else teaches. I put a LOT of time into my job, and I'm fairly highly organized, so my approach may differ from the norm.

Think about some of the things that you, the student, take for granted. Hmm, we go to class, we lecture, we give you quizzes or tests over the class lectures and the text book, we assign homework, we grade it, record it, and pass it back, we have office hours, we answer questions about assignments, we advise you on what classes to take, we advise you on the job market, we write letters of recommendation, etc. What a cushy job! Not so fast....

First, who decides on what textbook is used in class? Well, that can be a lengthy process. Depending on the representative for the textbook companies it can vary in difficulty. In the past you had a sales rep who periodically visited professors' offices and got to know what classes they taught and the kind of text that they preferred, and would suggest or send them evaluation copies. Nowadays in many cases the professor has to go to a publisher's web site, review all the books that their search engine is able to locate, and then request one or more evaluation copies, filling out lengthy forms for each. Once the evaluation copies from all the publishers arrive we have to find time to take them somewhere quiet and go through them, trying to determine how well they match the content that we intend to teach (the determination of which is another time consuming process) and also how readable they are. I'm not talking about two or three books. I'm talking between 10 and 30 books. Not a trivial task! You don't want a text with a lot of errors in it (believe me-they're out there) or one that is going to put the student to sleep as soon as they start reading it. You also want one that might be usable in follow-up courses (like an advanced programming course) but at the same time isn't 2000 pages long and overwhelming to the students. Oh, and let's not forget price. Text prices have gotten so outrageous that many professors (like me) try to find a text that students can actually afford. Once I select a text I also go online and try to find a few sites that might offer an even lower price so I can share that info with my students. Once we pick a text we then have to match up the content with our lectures so we can recommend what chapters the students should be reading at certain points throughout the semester. Well, that turned out to be a lot more work than you expected, huh?

I mentioned determining the course content. Again, who handles that? Well, that is generally your professor. At times it may be a committee decision as to what the course will cover in general, but it is usually up to the individual professor to make the final determination. What do we go on? Well, if it has been taught before and the previous professor did a decent job, you can use their content selection as a starting point. That doesn't always work that well because most professors have different ideas of what needs to be emphasized. And what if the course has never been taught before? Okay, some professors base their course on the chapters in a textbook. (I forgot to mention above that some professors take the easy way out when it comes to selecting a book and simply adopt what the book reps convince them is the most popular text. If 1000 other professors adopt a book then it MUST be good, right? Well, I've never bought into that approach.) Back to course content. As I said, some professors just parrot what is in the text. I worry about professors like that. I base my course content on professional experience, on my awareness of what is happening in the industry, on the needs of employers, and on what I know from experience to be critical content. But even after selecting the topics that you want to cover you have to fit those topics into the schedule that you have to work with--x number of lectures, etc. It can be a planning nightmare, because you have coordinate class content with exams, quizzes, assignments, etc. I generally determine course content PRIOR to selecting a text so that I have a basis for that selection. You also have to decide on a teaching approach. For example, in programming classes you have to decide on whether you want to teach object-first, objects-early, or objects-late. In database you have to decide on what type of E-R diagram to teach (Chen, Crows Foot, etc.) or whether you should be teaching REA or UML instead of E-R diagrams. Again, we have to know what industry is going to need--not now, but when the students graduate in a year or two.

How about those course lectures? You know from experience that lectures can vary greatly from professor to professor, even in the same class. I'll talk more about what is involved in lecture preparation in my next post. Why wait? Well, because I need to go prepare a lecture!


Done, but not forgotten (June 20, 2008)

Well, the semester is over and another new class is in the books. I know that in my last post I promised to talk more about how lectures are developed, but that is going to have to wait. I got distracted working on my new course and waited too long to write the post.

Speaking of the new course, the new Interactive Web Development class went pretty well, but already I've decided on revisions for next semester. I received a great deal of valuable student feedback, and based on student recommendations will reorganize the class to spend more time on web development before getting into the use of JavaScript. The assumption that "all students know how to create a web page these days" turned out to be incorrect. We'll have to spend more time on html, css, and xml before we worry about the "interactive" part of the web pages.

So now you know how I've been spending my summer. More later....

All about service... (June 20, 2008)

In my first post I mentioned that professor’s job responsibilities include teaching, research, and service. My second post discussed the complexities of teaching. Here I’ll talk about service.

Service can be performed at the college level, the university level, the professional level, or community level. At the college and university level it generally involves serving on a variety of time-consuming committees that sometimes seem to get little accomplished. They serve an important purpose, I suppose, but often serve in an advisory capacity only. Furthermore, getting a bunch of academics in a room and expecting to reach a consensus can be an exercise in futility.

Here is a partial list of committees belonging to just the College of Business:

  • Executive Committee
  • Executive-in-Residence Committee
  • Faculty Support Committee
  • Governmental Accounting Seminar Committee
  • MBA Administrative Committee
  • MBA Academic Committee
  • Promotion and Tenure Committee
  • Student Recruitment Committee
  • Tax Institute Planning Committee
  • Technology Committee
  • Undergraduate Curriculum Committee

Here is a partial list of university committees:

  • Academic Standards Council
  • Advising Coordinators Committee
  • Affirmative Action Grievance Committee
  • Affirmative Action Policy Committee
  • Alumni Board
  • Athletic Advisory Board
  • BAT and BUS Committees
  • Campus Planning Council
  • Campus Safety Committee
  • Communication Board
  • Computer Services Advisory Council
  • Council for Teaching and Learning
  • Curriculum Council
  • Distinguished Public Service Award Selection Committee
  • Diversity Committee
  • Environmental Science & Management Council
  • ERP Communication Advisory Committee
  • Faculty Professional Policies Council
  • Faculty Senate
  • Financial Aids and Scholarship Committee
  • First Year Seminar Committee
  • General Education Requirements Committee
  • GIS Oversight Committee
  • Graduate Council
  • Honors Committee
  • Idaho Conference on Health Care Committee
  • Judicial Council
  • Library Committee
  • National Girls and Women in Sports Day Committee
  • Readmission Committee
  • Records Management Advisory Committee
  • Research Coordinating Council
  • o Faculty Research Committee
  • o Graduate Student Research and Scholarship Committee
  • o Undergraduate Research Committee
  • o University Research Committee
  • Retention Committee
  • Student Affairs Judicial Board
  • Student Organizations Committee
  • Student Outcomes Assessment Committee
  • Technology Innovation Center
  • Technology Review and Information Group
  • Web Services Council

Some of these committees have subcommittees or task forces. In addition, there are search committees that must be formed whenever a new professor needs to be hired. And don’t forget that at least on faculty member must serve as an advisor for each student group, such as those listed below:

  • Alpha Kappa Psi
  • Beta Alpha Psi
  • COB Fellows
  • Finance Association
  • Marketing Association
  • MBA Association

At the professional level professors are often asked to review professional manuscripts for journals or conferences as well as review new textbooks. Some professors also write new textbooks. Other professional service activities also serve as journal editors as well as conference track chairs. We also serve on promotion and tenure committees for professors at our university or at other universities. We are also recruited to act as program evaluators for the academic programs at other universities. We may also serve on graduate committees for students working on their PhD dissertation or Master's thesis. This includes students at ISU as well as other universities

At the community level professors participate in organizations like United Way, Rotary, etc. We may also serve on various boards in the community.

In 2007 I reviewed 11 papers for journals and conferences, served as editor for a professional journal, served as IT track chair for a professional conference, was on three graduate committees, served on at least four college/university committees (and their subcommittees), served as a United Way coordinator, etc. Not bad for someone who doesn't work and play well with others!

Research? (June 21, 2008)

In my first post I mentioned that professor’s job responsibilities include teaching, research, and service. My second post discussed the complexities of teaching and the last post discussed service.

As far as research goes, the requirements differ from university to university. Most universities require faculty to conduct research and publish their findings in academic journals or conference proceedings. These papers must be peer reviewed, meaning that three to six faculty members at other universities review your work and find no significant flaws. Trust me, it's harder than it sounds. Some faculty reject your work if it differs from their work, others set the bar either too high or too low, and still others don't seem even to read a paper before critiquing it.

Furthermore, there are other ways of gauging research. Some universities require you to publish in your field only, others place more weight on single author papers or on being first author on multi author papers, others prefer publications in only the most highly regarded journals and actually have a journal ranking system, and still others prefer large numbers of publications regardless of the outlet. And proceedings count less than journal pubs. And there are levels of proceedings as well. Generally international proceedings are preferred over national proceedings, which are preferred over regional proceedings. And of course some conferences are more prestigious than others, and are often rated by their "acceptance rate", with those that accept a smaller percentage of submitted papers deemed to be more selective and therefore "better." And then there are grants, in which you secure funding for you research projects. Bringing money into a university is always a good thing.

Not all universities require the same level of research productivity. Some universities are considered teaching universities, some are research universities, and some are a combination. Research universities generally require a a greater number of publications in "A" journals in order for a professor to receive tenure, but professors at those unis only teach two courses. Professors at teaching institutions have reduced research expectations (or in some cases no research requirements whatsoever) but they are expected to teach four or five classes. ISU is a combination teaching and research institution, and professors generally teach three classes and have fairly reasonable research expectations. More later...

Teaching Load (March 27, 2009)

The teaching load for university professors varies widely. I probably shouldn't limit the discussion to university professors, because I'll mention community college instructors as well. That is because teaching loads are often tied to the type of school. The load ranges from 1-1 to 4-4. A 1-1 load means that a professor teaches one course per semester (assuming a semester system). There might be some colleges or universities that have a 5-5 load, but I've never encountered any.

How are course load requirements determined? It often is dictated by how much research is expected from the teacher. If the school is considered to be a research institution the professor's load may be 1-1. This generally means that the university places more emphasis on research than on teaching. Teaching only one class per semester minimizes class prep time and student contact, freeing up more time to conduct research Professors at such institutions often teach only graduate level classes and graduate teaching assistants teach the "lowly" undergraduate classes. At the opposite end of the scale are community colleges or junior colleges at which the instructors generally are not expected to do any research whatsoever. Such institutions are by nature teaching oriented, since there is no research expectation.

In the middle of the spectrum are the bulk of the universities. The teaching load at these universities is again governed by research expectations. Loads range from 2-2, to 2-3, to 3-3. Generally the universities with a 3-3 load place greater emphasis on teaching, although there is still a considerable research expectation. Idaho State has a 3-3 load in the College of Business, at least in most departments. Idaho State refers to itself as a teahcing institution, meaning that students are our highest priority. If I remember correctly, professors at the University of Idaho have a 2-2 load.

This discussion applies to the academic faculty, not adjuncts or instructors.

Note also that teaching load is not always consistent across colleges or schools within a university, and sometimes not even between departments in the same college or school. Unequal expectations for professors, especially within the same college, is a recipe for discontent among faculty.

Any questions on that? I have no idea how quarter systems work, as none of the schools that I have attended or taught at have been on the quarter system.