Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Teaching Tricks’ Category

I recently came across a clear case of plagiarism, which should be simple enough to deal with. Except that situations such as this, as well as giving failing grades, also bring fear about how students will respond. A combination of the sense of entitlement that many students at my current institution have as a result of their social class backgrounds and news reports of horrible events occurring regularly on college campuses always give me pause about doing what is right in these situations for fear of violent repercussions.

This has not dissuaded me so far, but a former colleague of mine reported a situation in which he caught a student plagiarizing and his house was vandalized shortly afterward. There was no definitive proof that the student was to blame, but he had been even more cautious about reporting students in the years since.

Ultimately, I do not think that faculty members are trained well (or at all) in dealing with students who may see the difference between a D- and an F as the sole factor in the potential disruption of their future plans. I fear that this training will be increasingly necessary in the future.


“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links about cheerful topics like this via your news feed.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Continuing on the topic of student conceptions of research, another issue I have encountered as students conduct literature reviews is the belief that Jstor is the first and last place to look for academic research. This belief seems to be less prevalent at my current institution than my previous one, but many of my past students never even considered looking for sources outside of Jstor due to the convenience of full-text articles.

One problem with this is the fact that Jstor only provides results from the journals in its own collection, artificially limiting the resources that students have available to them to whatever Jstor has been able to negotiate for. (I wonder if students would be equally willing to limit their movie viewing to those that are available for streaming on Netflix, which has similar convenience and limitations.) The second problem is that even when Jstor does include a particular journal, access to that journal is often limited by a “moving wall” of three to five years. There are many topics for which recent publications contain important insights that were overlooked in the past but that students using Jstor would not have access to for several years (I was once accused of not knowing the literature in a particular area because I had not cited an article published a month or so before I submitted a paper to a journal!).

These issues can cause problems but are not lethal to a student’s chances of doing well. A much worse (though much less frequent) problem I’ve had when students use Jstor is that they think of Jstor as the source of the articles they are using. In the minds of some students, they are reading articles from Jstor rather than from The American Review of Criminal Awkwardness because that is where they got their articles. These rare students don’t realize that Jstor is like a shelf holding specific issues of specific journals rather than a publisher of academic information.

As professors, we can begin to address these issues with our students but the ASA citation guidelines can also help by not instructing students to include web addresses for PDFs that they downloaded from online databases. It is time to recognize that the database through which you access a source is not nearly as important as the original source of the source! (A source is a source, of course, of course…)


“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via Jstor your news feed.

Read Full Post »

When discussing research methods, there are a number of barriers to overcome in the ways that my students think about research. One is the frequent use of the word “experiment” as a generic term for “study.” Although that is annoying, and some students still do it after a semester of methods training, I’ve found that it is even more difficult to reconcile students’ various uses of the term “research.”

In high school and some college departments, a research paper is one in which you combine information from several sources into a single paper. In this context, “research” consists of the gathering of sources, likely from Jstor and other electronic databases. Within sociology, I think that these papers are better conceptualized as literature reviews or review papers. In contrast to my students, I think of research as the collection and analysis of data, though even this is complicated by the fact that many sociologists who use existing surveys will never collect their own data.

Due to this terminological confusion, there must be at least a few students who enroll in research methods courses wondering how many ways there are to search Jstor and why they have to spend an entire semester learning to do so. Discovering that they will spend a semester discussing ways to collect and analyze data must be a shock!


“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links about sociological research via your news feed.

 

Read Full Post »

In 2015, three teachers in Atlanta were convicted of changing student answers on standardized tests and sentenced to seven three years in prison, Volkswagen admitted to programming engines to run differently during emissions tests than in daily use and set aside billions of dollars to deal with the situation, and countless students across the country cheated on exams. Although the scope and consequences of these actions vary widely, James Lang’s 2013 book Cheating Lessons suggests that they have similar origins. On page 35, Lang lists the “four features of a learning or competing environment that may pressure individuals into cheating,” including:

  1. An emphasis on performance
  2. High stakes riding on the outcome
  3. An extrinsic motivation for success
  4. A low expectation of success

In Volkswagen’s case, their diesel engines since 2009 have emitted between 10 and 40 times the nitrous oxide allowed by law when being used normally. These cheats date back to 2007, when VW’s CEO set the goal of surpassing Toyota as the world’s largest automaker, pressuring employees to produce the larger, more powerful cars that Americans like while also increasing fuel economy to meet more stringent standards. VW has also maintained that executives did not know about the cheating, blaming it on the individual actions (however unlikely) of engineers.

For college students, Lang distinguishes between “mastery” and “performance” orientations. In VW’s case, there was intense pressure to meet the CEO’s goals (compared, perhaps, to improving engine technology for its own sake). This pressure also involved high stakes. Engineers who could not produce the products promised by the CEO may have found their jobs in danger. This was also an extrinsic motivation that must have, in the eyes of the engineers, seemed impossible to achieve (better fuel economy is typically associated with smaller, less powerful cars, which is why European countries with higher gas prices are often offered a wider range of lower-powered engines than Americans can choose from when shopping for a car). The same factors were at play in Atlanta, where an emphasis on performance (increasing test scores) combined with high stakes (job loss and/or school restructuring), extrinsic motivation, and a low expectation of success that led educators to change test answers. (Michelle Rhee’s time as Chancellor of Washington D.C.’s schools is similarly associated with extremely high stakes and accusations of cheating.)

Most college professors cannot do anything about VW or high school cheating scandals (even if we would like to reduce the reliance on standardized tests!) but we can work to prevent these factors from prevailing in our classrooms. James argues that by emphasizing mastery rather than performance, providing a wide range of exams and assignments rather than just a few heavily-weighted course requirements, reducing external pressure on students from parents, and communicating our belief that students can succeed we can create environments that will reduce cheating more than simply offering multiple exam forms or using assigned seating arrangements.

Some of these are easier than others, but I think that the examination of the context in which college learning and assessment takes place is really important in discussions of academic dishonesty.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive posts (there are literally no stakes for me on this blog so they probably won’t be plagiarized!) and links via your news feed.

Read Full Post »

During my second-to-last class period of the semester, I was standing at the front of the classroom talking, as I often do during class, and the light above me went out. The power had not gone out. Nobody had inadvertently hit a light switch. Just one light, directly above my head, that decided it had had enough.

A few days later, when I arrived for my final class in the same course, the clock had stopped working. Its hands resting on the numbers indicating that class would start in ten minutes. The clock couldn’t stand the thought of even one more minute of class.

When I arrived for the final exam period this afternoon I began handing back an assignment from earlier in the semester when a student took a chair from the back of the classroom up to her usual spot. Looking around, I noticed that about eight chairs had decided to abandon their posts and wander off into a nearby alcove.

Professors often make jokes about students, but I appreciate the fact that despite our classroom’s insistence that the semester had ended, my students did not give in.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links in your news feed, assuming your news feed doesn’t abandon you.

Read Full Post »

Jessica at Scatterplot recently posted some good advice about imaginary “perfect” jobs. She writes:

There’s a tenure-track academic job I hear students talk about – one with work-life balance and a forty-hour work week and at least two weeks (but hopefully an entire summer) of carefree, completely unplugged vacation; one where you have all the autonomy and prestige of a professor, along with job security and a professional level paycheck, but there aren’t external pressures on your time except for those that you select because they’re consistent with your values and life goals…that job – that does not exist. And, even if it did, you would not increase your chances of landing such a job by eschewing the professional advice of faculty or colleagues because they are seen as somehow biased toward a different kind of job, one that just doesn’t fit you or your life goals.

As I said above, I think this is good advice but the “do what senior scholars tell you to do in order to be successful” line of reasoning falls apart when so many senior scholars don’t understand other types of jobs or have outdated ideas of what various types of jobs entail (or even what is required to get jobs like theirs). If you want to work at a SLAC, for example, especially a high-ranking SLAC, publications are essential, so advice that a student will fade to obscurity in one of those jobs is ridiculous. Too many advisors still want to see their students replicate their careers, acting as if other types of careers are beneath them.

One could argue that Eric Grollman’s success in getting an excellent liberal arts job after initially aiming for an R1 is a strong example in favor of the idea that there is only one track, but the pressures that he reports facing from his committee members about even interviewing at liberal arts jobs show that this system still has flaws. I was fortunate not to receive these sorts of messages from my committee members, but a current colleague reports that her dissertation advisor neglected to provide her with any advice on negotiating her job offer from our institution because the advisor hoped that a “real” job offer would come along. That some students know early on what type of job they would like to pursue but still receive these sorts of messages undermines the value of advice in other areas.

In some ways, I could be seen as an example of the type of grad student that Jessica mentions in the comments, where she says, “This is about the students who don’t aspire to a life like the faculty in their grad programs – people who they (erroneously) believe work 80 hours a week all year long and have no life outside of work.” I started grad school around the time that a large number of junior faculty members were hired and watched them go through a grueling tenure process that included the very real threat of being denied tenure unless they could publish in ASR or AJS. I knew that I did not want that kind of experience, but this doesn’t mean that I didn’t think I would have to work to get a job or afterward or that I didn’t seek a strong grounding in theory and methods, as I took more than the required number of courses in each.

Just as Jessica provides advice for students, I would like to provide some advice for faculty who deal with graduate students: listen to them. Consider their career goals and give them advice that will maximize the chances that they will realize those goals while necessarily keeping an eye on their general marketability given that few of them will end up at the types of institutions they seek. If you start your mentoring by assuming that they want to emulate your career, though, and criticizing any desire to do otherwise, be aware that you are discrediting any future advice you will give.

Oh, and one more thing: When your graduate students are on the job market, get your damn letters of recommendation done early and often. There is no excuse for mentoring somebody throughout the entire academic process only to hang them out to dry by not fulfilling your duty as an advisor.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive angry rants about what professors should do via your news feed.

Read Full Post »

Reading the September “ASA News and Notes” e-mail, I noticed that TRAILS, the ASA’s online database of teaching materials, will finally be free to members, as it always should have been. As stated in the e-mail:

At its meeting in August, ASA Council approved a proposal to make full access to the TRAILS online database of teaching resources a new benefit of ASA membership for 2016. Pending the launch of the 2016 application and renewal system on October 15, paid member subscriptions have been discontinued in advance of the transition to free access. However, any member may sign up now for free access through October 15 using a special promotion code. Active your free subscription today!

This will hopefully encourage faculty members who can’t (or don’t want to) pay extra to access teaching resources when preparing syllabi, assignments, and class exercises. Better late than never!

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links about teaching via your news feed.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »