Thursday, July 24, 2008


from the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Main Entry: tor·por
Pronunciation: \ˈtȯr-pər\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin, from torpēre
Date: 13th century

1 a: a state of mental and motor inactivity with partial or total insensibility b: a state of lowered physiological activity typically characterized by reduced metabolism, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature that occurs in varying degrees especially in hibernating and estivating animals2: apathy, dullness
synonyms see lethargy

I believe that describes me perfectly.

Mental and motor inactivity? Check
Partial or total insensibility? Check
Lethargy? Dullness? Apathy? Check x 3

I can't blame just the heat, though it is HOT AS HELL here.

I can't say I have nothing to do, because there is PLENTY to do. Two major projects loom undone. Orientations are right around the corner. A bigass report is due more-or-less soon.

I will just say I can see Fall on the horizon and I don't want summer to end. Sigh.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More of...the Perils of Facebook

Every so often, someone writes in the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed about the Perils of Facebook (cue the music of dread)... How becoming "facebook friends" eliminates the carefully crafted wall between student and professor; how students' drunken pics will haunt them later when they are trying to find jobs; how professors and administrators share a little TMI; the threats of how the information we may inadvertently share gets used by the companies that are behind Facebook and the attached applications...

Sure, there are some blog entries and articles that trumpet the utility of Facebook for recruiting and keeping up with alumni. But mainly people bitch about it. I really like Facebook, and I use it often. Yet, I want to add my 2-cents, raising another issue that I haven't read so far--the meaning and importance of the facebook status update.

I am one of those users who forgets to update my status for days at a time. I honestly forget it is there. And perhaps I don't really want people to see what I am doing or feeling all the time.

My students, on the other hand, change their status constantly! And the status update is a site for creativity, just like the rest of their page. Sometimes the students quote songs or TV shows. This can be very confusing for those of us who don't know the referent. For example, one of my students wrote that he was "all dark and twisty inside." For those in the know, it is a Grey's Anatomy quote. For the rest of us, it read like he was having a really bad day. My instant reaction, upon reading it, was to write a facebook version of an email (not on the wall) asking if he was okay. He wrote back, laughing, and let me know about the source of the quote, which he thought was cool.

My teenage nieces and nephews also are on Facebook, and they have had to explain to the gf and me that people's status updates can be a little overstated in terms of emotional intensity. It is nothing to see status updates that say things like "Carter wants to kill his parents," "Christina is totally sad and ready to call it done," and "Cooper is totally fucked." Ten minutes later, they read "Carter is hurray!!!!," "Christina wonders if orzo is really pasta," and "Cooper asks "Was I outta my head, was I outta my mind. How could I have ever been so blind?". (Yeah, even I knew that last one was a song.) Simply put, they told us that no one should really take a status update all that seriously. They are a way to spout off, to be funny, engaging, and outrageous.

So, I am trying to not react too quickly to status updates. I do follow them over time, however. For the niece and nephew, three or more pitiful status updates will probably spur a note. I wait longer for the students I advise--but I may be a little more likely to connect with a student the next time I see him or her if the status update notes that s/he "misses home and all my friends."

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Ah, yes. Anyone else out there the techno-freak for their families--and yet, not really so qualified to do it?

At work, there are wonderful IT staff who answer questions, fix my laptop when it gets hinky, and generally address all my tecgno problems. At home, it is another story. As I am the one with the patience and a penchant for "figuring things out," as might be fitting for an academic, I am the one who handles any technical task. I install software programs, DVD players, new hardware, etc. Most of the time it works out okay, but every once in a while, it becomes a huge task. This weekend is one of those burdensome times.

I just switched our internet service provider from cable to DSL. No big deal, right? Wrong. Not only did the new modem not work with my wireless router, but once I got that fixed--after VERY LONG calls to the internet provider and the maker of the wireless device--we now cannot send any emails from Outlook. I am sure it is just a setting issue, but what a complete pain in the ass. And then, of course, there is the plaintive, painful sighing of the gf who just wants to use her fucking email, which was working fine before I made the changes.

I did what I always do--look online for answers while the internet service provider sleeps. All the fixes I found online don't work. Something else is going on. So, it sounds like another freakin' phone call with the service provider's IT folks--somewhere in a foreign country, I believe. (The last connection I had sounded like it was actually overseas--hard to hear.)

If that doesn't work, it is a call to the geek squad folks... you KNOW they are making out like bandits with all of us who have technology we don't understand, but that we just want to WORK! Grr.

There are days that I wish I could just be the helpless girl, spouting something like, "I'm just so helpless with technology," while fluttering my eyelashes, turning the page of my romance novel, and sipping an iced tea. This self-sufficient woman thing sometimes really sucks.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hiring and legal issues

I was intrigued by the discussion about hiring committees and legal issues going on at Dean Dad's blog, Confessions of a Community College Dean. I am especially bothered by the comments about (1) restricting the ability of the committee to gather information and (2) monitoring or guiding their deliberations throughout the process.

I am adamantly opposed to outsiders (i.e., people from HR, EEO, or legal counsel) making decisions about how candidates should be evaluated. The job of HR or EEO staff is to advise on the rules of the process, which are fairly straightforward: have a documented process that you actually follow, no jobs just handed out without a true evaluation of all applicants, no ignoring an application because you have a bias against a person's identity characteristics, and no illegal questions (marital status, race, age, etc.). That is the real extent of what we HAVE to do. The rest of the strictures are legalistic bullshit--good from the perspective of legal counsel, but not necessary or important for the sake of legality or good practice from an HR perspective. Our last HR training (preparing for the next search) really helped me understand this.

For example, the committee does have to ask each candidate the same general questions in a telephone or in-person interview. However, the committee can ask clarifying or follow-up questions of the candidates to better understand who they are. Acting like an interview guide lists the only things a committee can actually say out loud to the candidate is just silly. No one in HR believes this; but life is just easier for legal counsel if we keep everything exactly the same. But if you press legal counsel, they would acknowledge the silliness of the stricture--and quite likely admit that they don't follow it themselves in hiring.

It is also important to recognize that we have many different agendas shaping the hiring process. At our R1s, we tend to need new assistant professors who can (a) teach in one or more of our preferred areas; (b) demonstrate teaching competence; (c) demonstrate research competence and potential for funding; (d) show that they care about the students; (e) have the required degree in hand or will get it before hire; and (f) demonstrate that they can write and publish. We also have some other expectations related to the discipline... Now, not everyone has everything they do listed clearly, nor do they all have every base covered. So, there is a good deal of judgement here. Where do we draw the line? What if they have a grant but no pubs? What if they are a master researcher, but have no teaching experience at all? It is about nuance, folks.

Plus, we need to consider how each will contribute differently to the program--Do we have too many people working on "complexification studies" (to borrow a phrase from Profgrrrrl), or can we build a disciplinary strength by hiring another person who specializes in that area? Someone from the outside cannot deal with these issues.

In our first pass through applications at most schools where I have worked, we usually create a template for scoring apps, based on our job ad and basic interests noted above. We then compare scores and identify who makes it through to the interview level. This has a feeling of being more objective, and thus pleases HR and legal counsel alike, but a closer look will see that (a) some people miss important info on resumes that may result in a lower than deserved score; (b) some people just can't read all the files, so everyone is not scored by all committee members; and (c) some candidates may score lower but still be impressive enough that people want to include them in the interview pool. Nonetheless, it has worked well for us, and we usually have come to consensus as a group.

Another question raised in the DD post was whether one can include outside information (other than from the interview) in candidate deliberations. I think the best answer for this is to include in your documented hiring process a step that gathers information about a candidate from all relevent sources. If we consider experiences we have had with an internal candidate, we also consider experiences others have had with another external candidate. (I would also say that we treat these with a grain of salt. Just because Jane Professor felt disrespected by Candidate A doesn't mean A is dismissed immediately; nor does Juan Professor's great research experience with Candidate B mean that B is on our short list.)

Put simply, I want to follow the law when it comes to hiring, but I don't want to be a slave to concerns of legal counsel that are not legal requirements. I do not serve on the hiring committee to make legal counsel's job easier. I serve on the committee to help my department find and hire the best candidates we can.

Assessing student learning for curriculum revision

I am currently working on a project where we are gathering data assessing student learning from a number of sources: graduating seniors, alumni, and current students' internship supervisors. There are many challenging aspects of collecting these data--self-report satisfaction data is suspect (i.e., happiness doesn't equal learning), retrospective data collection can be problematic due to the passage of time between experiences and recall, and supervisors' assessment can be very uneven, with some being hard graders and others grading too easily. Further, open and closed-ended questions in a survey instrument allows us to ask our major questions, but it does not allow for more nuanced feedback or unexpected findings.

That said, we hope that the combination of methods helps to counteract the problems of each of the individual methods. Current students can tell us what they think about the courses when they are fresh in their minds, while alumni have more perspective on what they got and what was missing. Supervisors can provide a more objective evaluation of the students' capacity, strengths, and weaknesses.

I am energized and yet somewhat frustrated by the process. My energy comes from learning from the data. It is especially exciting to me when we start to see patterns across the different data. For example, criticisms of one aspect of the curriculum expressed by current students are shared by supervisors and alumni. These critiques provide a basis and an outline for curriculum and pedagogical revisions--which is a lot better than just relying on my own gut instincts, consensus among faculty on the curriculum committee, and/or anecdotal reports from a few complaining students.

The data become even more important when they highlight an issue we had never considered a problem--and even suggest a solution.

There is a part of me that looks forward to meeting with the curriculum committee in the Fall and sharing the data. Some of the issues I have noted in the past are now supported by the data. I hope these findings will lead to some real changes. (I am reminded of a button I used to have that read, "We have charts and graphs to back us up, so fuck off!") Yet, perhaps because I am a qualitative researcher at heart, the survey method is still a little unsatisfying.

With that in mind, I would send readers to look at the interview method used by Michael Arnzen from Pedablog. He asks a series of set open-ended questions to graduates, asking them to evaluate their learning and the teaching processes they experienced in their classes. Even better, the answers get posted to a blog, where other students, alumni, and faculty can comment. The student who answered the initial questions can also respond to the comments, allowing for an interactive feedback loop that allows the respondent to clarify their responses or change them upon reflection, and moves the conversation forward.

Perhaps some blending of the two methods--surveys and focus groups or interviews--would really offer the best insights into what the curriculum does well and where it falls short.

Okay, so I acknowledge that this makes me an academic geek. I readily admit it. Hopefully, it helps our program grow and improve.