Archive for October, 2012

On Facebook I recently came across a game called “Spent” that lets you spend a month in the life of a person who makes just above minimum wage (don’t worry, you don’t need a Facebook account to play it). The game is made by a group called Urban Ministries of Durham in North Carolina and progresses day by day as you deal with various situations (what do you buy at the grocery store? Do you deal with your health problems or put them off?) that people in poverty may face. As you make decisions the game provides information (the sources and information that they provide is summarized here). Essentially, it is like Life except you don’t get to choose a station wagon and there don’t seem to be any happy endings.

It seems like this might be a good game to have students play before a class discussion or assignment on poverty in order to help them contextualize the sorts of choices that people in poverty have to make on a daily basis.

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If you know anybody on the East coast, there is a good chance that your Facebook page has been flooded (or will be flooded…) with links to songs that contain the name Sandy. The one that I’ve seen most frequently is “Sandy” from the Grease soundtrack, even though that is more of a post-Sandy song (especially the spoken-word section where John Travolta says, “Sandy my darlin’, you hurt me real bad. You know it’s true”). Fortunately, there is a better option! May I propose “Hey Sandy” by Polaris from the soundtrack for the Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete and Pete. The best line for this point in the hurricane-waiting process: “Have you picked your target yet?”

As Brad Koch would say, this song gives a great opportunity to talk about hurricanes named Sandy, shows that were on Nickelodeon in the ’90s, things that make me think of autumn, and sexism (don’t talk back!).

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One of the advantages of working at a small school is that things are not set in stone months in advance. Sometimes, though, this is a disadvantage. This comes into play every semester when it is time for advising. I typically get the schedule for the next semester via e-mail about two weeks before registration starts. Because I work a small school and students are required to meet with me personally before they can register this gives me two weeks to post a sign-up sheet outside my office, contact students telling them to sign up on said sheet, and meet with roughly 60 students to discuss their past, present, and future courses. I received the registration dates and course schedule for the spring semester yesterday.

There goes my hope for accomplishing anything next week!

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Like most professors, I am aware of some of the common stereotypes that exist about us – tweed jackets, elbow patches, and bow ties come to mind – but I was still interested to see what the readers of the auto enthusiast site Jalopnik thought we drove. Some of the answers were more surprising than others. Their list of the ten perfect professors’ cars (click on the link for pictures and brief descriptions if you are a stereotypical professor who doesn’t care about cars):

10. Chevy Volt

9. MG Roadsters

8. DeLorean DMC-12

7. Subaru Outback

6. Rover P6

5. Audi R8

4. Volkswagen TDi Wagon

3. Audi A4 Avant

2. Volvo Wagon

1. Nissan Leaf


I do not currently know any professors who drive a car on the list, though if the Prius had been included that would have changed things quite a bit. When I was an undergrad, though, my mentor did show up to our lunch meeting one day driving a new Volvo station wagon. Shortly after that he got married and had a child, so it is hard to nail down the independent variable there…

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In line with my post the other day about my decision to require students to meet with me, and suffering for that decision, Bradley Koch at Soc’ing Out Loud has a recent post about student reactions after receiving a grade that was lower than they expected. He discusses four ideal types of students: those who do nothing, those who drop the course, those who get angry, and those who seek advice during office hours. I’ve also encountered these general reactions (and I’m similarly frustrated by those who drop a course after receiving a single poor grade on an assignment) but I think that he misses an important group of students in his discussion of those who do nothing. He writes:

Most students do nothing. They show up as if nothing has changed. I suspect that these are the students who have done well on their assignments and those who are too lazy to actually open the email attachment that includes comments and their score.

In addition to those who have done well and those who are lazy are those who are intimidated by the thought of meeting with professors. While he notes that many students at his institution are from privileged backgrounds, lots of sociological research tells us that many students who are raised in working class and poor homes are much less likely to approach a professor and ask for help. Even if they do approach their professors for help, they are also more likely to be uncomfortable about meeting with us.

I don’t know what to do about this problem, but it is definitely something to take into consideration when reflecting on student reactions.


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This semester I have been attempting to find out how many meetings a single professor can have with students before going insane. Whenever students are responsible for large assignments on topics of their own choosing I like to meet with them to make sure that they don’t go astray. For example, students in research methods have met with me and stated that they are interested in studying cancer. Not the social effects but cancer itself. How it can be prevented, how it is diagnosed, and how it is treated. Clearly, this is not a sociological topic! (Actually, I should allow students to use this. I would like to see how they propose to study these things using sociological methods.)

So meeting with students is good, but this semester I ended up assigning this sort of project in all three of my courses, leading to nearly 80 meetings and a serious reconsideration of my usual practice. On top of that, I offered students in one class an extra two points on their exam if they met with me to discuss what went right and (mostly) what went wrong in their preparation. I go back and forth on offering extra credit for an activity that I wish students would do anyway, but this does allow me to check in with them and let them know that I’m on their side as long as they’re willing to do the necessary work. Of course, only about half of the students who actually met with me did poorly on their exams…

I somehow survived all of these meetings over the course of about a month. I’m not sure whether it made me insane. Next up: meeting with my 50 advisees about their spring schedules!

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The internet has made it easier than ever for students to turn in work that is not their own. Fortunately, the internet also allows professors to use services like Turnitin.com in an attempt to ensure that the work students are turning in hasn’t been turned in before. Of course, that doesn’t mean that students always write the work they turn in themselves, as this Chronicle article from a few years ago highlights. The problem (for lazy students) has always been that they had to do the other things that go along with being a student. Annoying things like taking notes and studying.

Now, for online courses at least, their problems have been solved. As noted on Inside Higher Ed:

Prices for a “tutor” vary. Boostmygrades.com advertises a $695 rate for graduate classes, $495 for an algebra class, or $95 for an essay. When Inside Higher Ed, posing as a potential customer, asked for a quote for an introductory microeconomics class offered by Penn State World Campus, noneedtostudy.com offered to complete the entire course for $900, with payment upon completion, and onlineclasshelpers.com asked for $775, paid up front. Most sites promise at least a B in the course.

I typically like to save money and do things for myself, which makes me a bad candidate for this type of service, but as online classes increase in frequency, the fact that we never see our students in person will surely bring up a new set of problems for faculty members. Less money, more problems? Great.

*Don’t forget the soundtrack

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I recently learned that one of my former students has passed away, which is strange. This is actually the second time this has happened, following the student who found out that her cancer had come back near the end of my first semester of teaching. Unlike that student, this student was not particularly engaged in class. In fact, he was my student twice because he failed my intro course the first time he took it and enrolled in my course again over the summer, where he failed again.

When a student fails my course once, I wonder what else the student could have done. When this student failed my course twice, I wondered what else I could have done. The odds were against his academic success. He grew up in a poor area and went to a poor school. He was not prepared for college but was able to attend on an athletic scholarship. In addition to the demanding practice schedule he was frequently distracted from his school work by trips home to visit an ailing relative.

The way that students enter our lives, spend 16 weeks with us, and then leave our lives is strange to me. This was especially true when I was teaching in graduate school, since I often taught the same course and repeat students were rare. Still, I sometimes wonder what happened to them. The student who had cancer. The student who was suffering from depression. The only student to have failed one of my courses twice. Regardless of their in-class performance, I always hope that things will work out for them and it is always sad when they don’t.

This student died of an apparent medical condition, not the fact that he failed Introduction to Sociology twice, so it is unlikely that I could have had an effect on his life if I had been more involved in his education. But still, I wonder.

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Any college professor who has received a call from a parent concerned about his or her child’s grade has experienced the wonder of helicopter parenting. While Lareau has demonstrated the involvement that many middle-class parents have in their children’s daily lives, this involvement can also extend past the teenage years (as documented by Arnett in Emerging Adulthood). As Nelson argues in Parenting Out of Control, technological advances are one of the primary factors driving this change. This recent commercial from Google shows us how:

I don’t mean to imply that the increased connections made possible by cell phones, texting, Facebook, and video chatting are necessarily bad (especially when a child’s mother has passed away!), but we are in a period of rapid change when it comes to relationships between parents and their college-age children. It wasn’t that long ago that I started college in a dorm room with one landline phone (and no answering machine) that was shared between five roommates who had to use calling cards to make long-distance calls home!

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