Archive for February, 2012

In graduate school, my policy on Facebook friend requests from students was that I would only accept them as friends after the semester was over. Since the likelihood of them having another class with me was very low I didn’t worry about them seeing ridiculous pictures of me and subsequently losing all respect for my authority in the classroom. When I started teaching at my current position, where the likelihood of interacting with the same students in multiple semesters is much greater, I changed my policy to reflect this by telling students that I would only accept their friend requests after they graduate.

Recent efforts to keep track of alumni, combined with Facebook’s movement of group management to a more convenient location (thanks Google+!), have led me to change my policy again. It turns out that students are more likely to send friend requests when they are in your classes than when they are not. This makes trying to build an online community of departmental alumni difficult after the fact. My new policy is to accept current students as friends while placing severe restrictions on the parts of my profile they can access. Students don’t see the pictures from my night at the bar with grad school friends, but they can see my status update about a recent sociologically-relevant headline.

Since I have only recently changed my policy and I am not advertising this change to students, I can’t evaluate the success of this change yet. The potential downside is that students may not control what their professors can and cannot see, so I’ll have to be careful to keep their photos of drunken nights and their ability to write and participate in class separate when grading.

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Overthinking it all around!

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Nathan Palmer at the Sociology Source (which still shows up in my RSS reader as the much less definitively titled “Blog”) posted an interesting video the other day that can be used to review for an Intro to Sociology exam because it is full of sociological ideas. Was it a review of sociological theories? A treatise on race? An examination of the wage gap? Of course not, it was about teenagers reacting to clips from the TV show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and its legion of adoring male fans! I like his idea of using it as a tool for review, though I would also be tempted to use it in a standard discussion of gender norms (one could also easily branch off into a discussion of gender in children’s toys and clothing). The video is below:

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Last semester was possibly my most frustrating as an instructor, given that two of my courses had lower-than-normal levels of class participation. Having finally received my student evaluations from the fall, it appears that my frustration was felt by at least a few of my students. Numerically, my evaluations were similar to other semesters. Qualitatively, though, it appears that a higher number of students who would have normally left the comments section blank were compelled to complain. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Very negative attitude towards teaching. Often made rude comments to students for no reason… Terrible class, terrible professor.”

“Dr. Smith tends to be rude and misunderstanding towards his students. It would be appreciated that he shows his students the respect he demands as a professor. He doesn’t relate well to college life and all that it entails.”

“he is a good teacher but he is kind of mean sometimes & comes off indifferent to helping.”

“When talking to students in class or when commenting on a student’s answer to a question, it would be nice not to receive a smartass answer/comment in response.”

“Snide comments were made to multiple students and I was offended by his ego. He acts as though he is better than us simply because he has a PhD. My suggestion would be to tone down the sarcasm.”

If one looked only at the comments above, I would seem to be a terrible professor. I understand that not all students appreciate sarcasm, and that my responses were likely harsher last semester than most. Thankfully, there were also a few students who seemed to enjoy my courses. When compiling evaluations for review by others, I always follow a negative evaluation with a positive one that contradicts it. Toward this end:

“You were a great professor. You were able to relate to us but keep respect.”

“Dr. Smith needs to be less enthusiastic with his teaching and try to be more boring and even more unpredictable with grading and pop-quizzes. His energy level is far too high for someone like me and it amazes me how someone like that can become a professor (just kidding, Dr. Smith is awesome).”

“Great professor. Very knowledgeable and always willing to help.”

Thankfully for both my students and me, this semester has been much less frustrating than last.

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On one end of the “purity” spectrum we have the Purity Bear, who pops up at the end of a date to save some young people from the dangers of kissing (see Drek’s dissection, and also note that since the bear is black it may be a magical negro):

At the other end of the spectrum we have the Walk of Shame Shuttle, which seems to be part joke and part real:

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Although I said after I received a job that I never wanted to go on the job market again, I applied for one job in the years since beginning in my current position. The job was at a higher-ranked and better-funded school near my current institution. Since the job was in my teaching area but not my research area, I assumed that I would not have much of a chance (the fact that I didn’t get an interview suggests I was correct) but it was the type of job that I would have regretted not applying for. Despite my lack of success, applying for another job actually helped me put my current position in perspective.

The first thing that I noticed was related to my confidence level. As an ABD graduate student on the job market, each job application had raised insecurities about whether my interests aligned with the school’s desires, whether my teaching was good enough, whether I had published enough, and whether liberal arts schools would take my application seriously since I hadn’t attended one myself. As an early-career assistant professor there were still insecurities about some of those things but they were greatly reduced by the fact that I already had a good job. If I hadn’t published enough for the school I was applying to, for example, it didn’t matter because I already had a good job. I could also talk in my application about the job that I currently held and the fact that I had been successfully teaching at a liberal arts school since finishing my Ph.D. Rather than groveling for a position, I felt like a peer exploring my options.

In addition to feeling like a peer, the application process also forced me to consider what I want out of an ideal job and how close to that I can get at my current institution. For example, if more time for research is a reason I would consider changing jobs, how can I find more time for research in my current schedule? There are also aspects of my current institution, such as travel funding and opportunities for research with students, that compare favorably to other schools. In the end, although I’m happy at my current institution, keeping an eye on job openings is a good way to consider what my work life could, and should, be like.

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“Romantic” vs. “Practical” depictions of love from Ann Swidler’s research via Sociological Images.

And my typical Valentine’s Day shopping experience via xkcd:

Of course, Easter candy and a jar of hammers is still probably better than $182.

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The video above, in which a parent reads a letter his daughter had posted on Facebook, criticizes her, and then shoots her laptop nine times, reinforces my previous statement that while public information on the internet is not private, private information is not necessarily private, either. The video has gone viral, receiving over 18 million views in the past five days, with over 92% of the people who submitted an opinion about it “liking” it. Among my Facebook friends, many of whom are parents themselves, it has received an overwhelmingly positive response, with comments that indicate they would like their own children to receive this sort of treatment.

Apparently, the birth of a child is enough to make us forget what it is like to be a teenager.

The friend who posted the video on Facebook, for example, had some rocky times with his own parents and even had the nerve to occasionally complain to his friends about them. The main difference between him and Hannah, the unseen daughter in the video, is that he shared his complaints in person while she displayed them for her friends on Facebook. Hannah, like many who grow up with these things, was aware of Facebook’s privacy settings and had hidden the post from her parents. Unfortunately for her, she probably also told Facebook to keep her signed in so that her father was able to view her full page when updating her computer.

Although I haven’t seen any responses from Hannah (her computer has been destroyed, after all), I fear the ramifications of losing the comfort of a backstage due to technology. How would my friend’s teenage years have been different if he couldn’t complain about his parents to me without them finding out? How would his life be different now if he could never come home and complain about his boss or go out with his friends and complain about his wife or children? Venting about minor problems likely prevents major explosions, but those who like this father’s tactics don’t seem to understand that that’s what Hannah was doing. I’ve read articles speculating that in the future drunken pictures won’t be a reason not to hire somebody (or elect them president) because we will be desensitized to people’s backstage activities. We’re clearly not there yet.

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Following my recent manifesto about relationships, I noticed an article by Casey Johnston at Ars Technica focused on online dating. Dating websites are apparently now the second most common way for couples to meet (behind, I assume, the meet cute), more than doubling in the past ten years. The authors of the meta analysis Johnston discusses note that this makes meeting people less intimidating but can also cause us problems because we don’t know what we really want:

According to the surveyed studies, users can list things they like to see in a potential date’s online profile, but often a completely different set of preferences emerge in real-life encounters. When users selected dates, the degree to which a person’s profile “matched their ideals” did not predict their romantic interest after a meatspace encounter. People can go on and on about what they like, but they have a less-than-perfect idea of what they will be attracted to.

The authors also found that it was better to meet in person after a short time (I unscientifically agree – context-free texts seem like a terrible way to get to know somebody).

Coincidentally (or not, given that Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching), a friend of mine also posted a few articles about love on her blog (this is the same friend who initially asked for the manifesto, bringing things full circle). The third post that she links to demonstrates the way that our digital communications can provide a (potentially devastating) record of our past relationships. The first post she links to, by Jonathan Franzen, echoes my call for honesty (I’m choosing to ignore Franzen’s love affair with birds):

The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. Sooner or later, for example, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person. Something realer than likability has come out in you, and suddenly you’re having an actual life.

Suddenly there’s a real choice to be made, not a fake consumer choice between a BlackBerry and an iPhone, but a question: Do I love this person? And, for the other person, does this person love me?

There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of. And this is why love is such an existential threat to the techno-consumerist order: it exposes the lie.

Unlike Crazy, Stupid, Love, this is an approach to relationships that I can support.

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Over the past few years I’ve had a variety of experiences with discussion-based courses. In a few cases, students have come to class prepared and I was fairly successful at engaging most of them in class discussions. In a number of recent courses, however, students have either not done the reading , not engaged with the reading on a level deep enough to answer questions about it, or not willing to answer whatever questions I’ve prepared about the reading in class. In one course this semester I have implemented two changes in an effort to combat these problems: distributing discussion questions before class and (gasp!) requiring students to write answers to these questions that they bring with them to class.

I’ve used discussion questions in several previous courses, including last year’s version of this semester’s discussion-based course, but it was often evident that students weren’t actually thinking about the questions beforehand. Since my goal is to encourage students to take more responsibility for their learning outside of class, my implementation was clearly missing the mark. Reading quizzes also failed to prepare students for class discussion. This semester I decided to hold my students accountable by requiring them to answer the discussion questions outside of class, which I have been collecting periodically. I also told them that, since they are required to answer the questions outside of class, I will sometimes call on them to participate in class when they have not volunteered to do so. So far, at least, that has not been necessary since students have done a good job of coming to class prepared to participate. I’ve also had participation from a larger number of students than in previous semesters. I recognize that I need to work hard to keep the participation distributed evenly around the classroom, but at this point I am cautiously optimistic.

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