Archive for the ‘Student Life’ Category

-Longer days

-Warmer temperatures

-Decreased class attendance

-Increased difficulty of obtaining a quorum at faculty meetings

Signs of spring are apparently shared between my current and former institutions.

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In addition to being the time of the semester when students suddenly realize that they have been slacking off for 15 weeks and hope that they can make up for it with an extra credit assignment, it also appears to be the time of the semester when their computers are most likely to self destruct. In the past two days, one student’s laptop screen stopped working while another student’s computer refused to boot. And the epidemic is not limited to students in my courses. Across campus students are experiencing rampant computer failure. This is most frequently combined with a complete lack of ever having backed anything up.

Despite the tone of my comments, I have real sympathy for students in these situations. The only possible solution that I can think of is for students to frequently use their computers for coursework throughout the semester so that the computers are not caught off guard by the sudden need to function 24/7 in the last few weeks.

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At new faculty orientation this summer an administrator was talking about sustaining excellence on campus in difficult economic times. One example of excellence was the high number of recent graduates who were either employed or enrolled in graduate or professional programs. This accounting method is not unique to my new institution, but as graduate degrees in many fields become less likely to lead to employment in academia, I couldn’t help but feel that the administration was passing the buck on our graduates by making their future unemployment somebody else’s problem.

This is not an all-or-nothing proposition. It would be easy to report the percentage of recent graduates who are employed, the number in graduate schools, and the number in professional schools. In fact, these numbers are available if you dig around on the school website (at least as basic “employed” vs. “grad school” stats). For the past several years, about a quarter of recent graduates have gone to grad school. I suppose, though, that focusing on those who go to graduate school is similar to pointing out a flat tire on a car with no engine since the category of “employed” itself is not defined in any way that lets readers know if these graduates have full-time jobs related to their degrees or are working part-time at a local coffee shop.

On the other hand, my previous institution provides no data about graduate outcomes other than the fact that roughly 1/5 of graduates apply to graduate programs. I guess that some data are better than no data, even if those data are vague.

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Harry Brighouse at Crooked Timber has a nice discussion of Paying for the Party by Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton:

The authors lived for a year in a “party” dorm in a large midwestern flagship public university (not mine) and kept up with the women in the dorm till after they had graduated college. The thesis of the book is that the university essentially facilitates (seemingly knowingly, and in some aspects strategically) a party pathway through college, which works reasonably well for students who come from very privileged backgrounds. The facilitatory methods include: reasonably scrupulous enforcement of alcohol bans in the dorms (thus enhancing the capacity of the fraternities to monopolize control of illegal drinking and, incidentally, forcing women to drink in environments where they are more vulnerable to sexual assault); providing easy majors which affluent students can take which won’t interfere with their partying, and which will lead to jobs for them, because they have connections in the media or the leisure industries that will enable them to get jobs without good credentials; and assigning students to dorms based on choice (my students confirm that dorms have reputations as party, or nerdy, or whatever, dorms that ensure that they retain their character over time, despite 100% turnover in residents every year).

The problem is that other students (all their subjects are women), who do not have the resources to get jobs in the industries to which the easy majors orient them, and who lack the wealth to keep up with the party scene, and who simply cannot afford to have the low gpas that would be barriers to their future employment, but which are fine for affluent women, get caught up in the scene. They are, in addition, more vulnerable to sexual assault, and less insulated (because they lack family money) against the serious risks associated with really screwing up. The authors tell stories of students seeking upward social mobility switching their majors from sensible professional majors to easy majors that lead to jobs available only through family contacts, not through credentials. Nobody is alerting these students to the risks they are taking. So the class inequalities at entry are exacerbated by the process. Furthermore, the non-party women on the party floor are, although reasonably numerous, individually isolated—they feel like losers, not being able to keep up with the heavy demands of the party scene. The authors document that the working class students who thrive are those who transfer to regional colleges near their birth homes.

I wonder how these processes work at smaller schools that emphasize the one-on-one advising of students. Is providing warning about majors enough, or is it likely to be seen by students as not supportive of their career goals?

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Todd Beer at Sociology Toolbox highlights a new tool from the New York Times allowing users to create a budget based on the minimum wage (watch as your money flies away!). As Beer notes, this is a great tool for students because it allows them to see how difficult many of their lifestyles would be on the minimum wage. It also works well with classroom discussions about who works for the minimum wage, as this infographic demonstrates:

Minimum Wage Workers

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The fact that semesters are ending at colleges and universities all around the country makes it a perfect time for this message:

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For the last few months, an anonymous professor (named “professor-anonymous” – I would have preferred a generic pseudonym!) has been posting animated gifs on Tumblr. It is not clear if this person creates the gifs him or herself, but I assume that he or she finds them on the internet (Tumblr is overrun with gifs) and then appends professor-centric titles to them. Check it out. It may help you recover from grading.

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Once in a while for the past few years, I have received “An Invitation to Connect on LinkedIn,” typically from a former student. These invitations arrived in my inbox despite the fact that I did not actually have a LinkedIn account. Recently, however, I started receiving invitations from former students and decided that LinkedIn might actually be a better way to keep track of what sorts of professional lives my former students are leading than Facebook. The obvious benefit is that I can keep track of these professional lives without being inundated by information about the associated private lives. Since joining, I’ve made over 20 “connections,” some of which are with former students while others are with friends and former colleagues.

So far, it has worked well for keeping track of occupations, etc., but I was shocked by how intrusive LinkedIn is. (I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised since I received such a large number of requests before I even had an account.) Most surprising was the fact that LinkedIn wants very badly to access my e-mail accounts so that it can suggest possible connections. In fact, it reminds me of this every time I log in. Although I understand that the site is designed to keep track of professional contacts, LinkedIn’s “Endorsements” in a wide variety of things seems unnecessary to me. I don’t care if somebody has endorsed me for higher education!

In all, I hope that LinkedIn will be useful but I would appreciate if it did so without being so annoying.

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I see letters of recommendation as a necessary evil, meaning that I recognize them as an important part of my job but often feel unsure when I am writing them about whether I am actually helping my students or not. Upon obtaining my job I was not given the code, so I wouldn’t mind abolishing them. As long as they are around (and students can help me out a bit), though, I guess I will need to keep semi-arbitrarily ranking students in terms of their writing skills, leadership ability, maturity, and any number of other things.

Recently, though, I came across a recommendation form that strained the limits of my ability for judgment. A student of mine was applying for a position at a nonprofit organization with a Christian orientation. Apparently, when applying for a job at a Christian organization no topic is off limits. Among other things, the evaluation form asked me about the student’s reputation on campus, personal appearance, sense of humor, drinking habits, spiritual focus, servitude to Christ, and whether he or she is a “serving-type person” and exemplifies a Christian life. What the hell is a “serving-type person”?

Some of these questions allowed me to respond with “I don’t know,” but others did not. In my written comments I tried to elucidate the candidate’s academic strengths and weaknesses but I’m not sure how my non-answers will be seen by the hiring committee. Maybe they only want students who talk about their servitude to Christ in every class. Since this student was thankfully not that type of person, I guess that I had no choice but to leave the judgment to God.

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In any given class, I have some combination of first-generation college students, students whose parents have professional degrees, lower class, middle class, and upper class students, students who are engaged, students who are not, students who can learn on their own, and students who cannot. One of the most difficult parts of my job is teaching in a way that works for as many of these students as possible. I recently wrote about my belief that massive open online courses (MOOCs) are not a good match for my institution. Yesterday’s editorial in the New York Times makes the point that MOOCs are also unlikely to be a good match for many of my students.

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