Sunday, October 25, 2009

A little debate

There's been a debate going on in the comments section of the "Glorious Five Year Plan" post about the theoretical vs. practical aspects of our course, and how its being taught. I had an epiphany last night.

Several of our professors have admitted that they have no experience teaching classes of the current size, and I think therein lies the problem with the teaching styles that we've been seeing. Reading off slides, speaking entirely in jargon...these are the actions not of incompetent professors, because talking with them one-on-one they know their stuff, but rather of workman trying to make due with substandard tools.

Most of these people are used to lecturing small groups of students, engaging them in direct discourse, and being able to explain the things they say. They are used to discussing examples, talking about theory, expanding on ideas. But how do you do that with 270 students? You can't. You have to use something that everyone can see, and make it as elementary as possible.

I think we scare them. On some basic, academic, primal level, we scare them. To use a kitchen example, its like staring down the gullet of a 250 person rush in a restaurant that normally never tops 70 covers a night. Full house, two or three sitting, night of full-bore crazy. And that's us.

The administration brought in more students than it could handle and shackled these professors down to classes bigger than many of my first year lectures. What do the professors do? They try to find some way to cope. Unfortunately, I get the impression that most of them aren't good group lecturers. They don't lecture crowds well without prepared speeches. They're used to a graduate level of teaching, wherein lecture is a two way street, and the students are looking to understand the information rather than simply absorb it as rote fact. They had to set up a course so that it could reach the lowest common denominator, because they couldn't afford to take the personal time to work with their students, resulting in days which are essentially first year pablum, whereas others are high theory that is actually applicable all around. You can really tell the content from the filler.

Simple fact of the matter is that none of our courses have exams. We don't need to absorb all of this rote information for future course use. Much of what we're learning is basic history as a filler for the professors not being able to instead fill the time the way it should be filled: in dialogue with the class.

We can see this in the INF100X series, where TAs, and sometimes profs, run up and down the aisles with microphones like we're on the set of Jerry Springer. That's no way to hold a dialogue with students. They cut off attempts at dialogue because the class is so big and everyone has to have a chance to ask their question. Asking questions of the Dean was like trying to ask a question in the White House press room: Everybody wanted to speak, only a few were allowed to.

That's the problem. The course size has sabotaged the professors as much as it has us. And I think we'd get many many times more out of the educational experience with smaller class sizes.

This doesn't make all the professors blameless. There are a few who, without a doubt, had a say in how this new program design came about. They confuse me greatly. But I have a hard time imagining that certain members of the faculty would have backed a plan for class sizes and teaching styles that seems so at odds with their own.

It feels sometimes like the Faculty itself is schizophrenic. It is inconsistent. It has little nagging voices in its head and pushes forwards with an irrational and illogical course of action because of them. It is internally conflicted, liable to just sit down in the gutter and argue with itself for hours while the student body watches on helplessly, trying to figure out what's going on. It cannot decide what it wants to be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The professors that had a hand in the new curriculum and program design, even if it doesn't suit their lecture style, didn't care if it was at odds with their lecture style. They cared about the potential grants, press, grants, attention, grants, and $$$ that comes with the 'glorious five year plan' and its alleged increase in prestige for the faculty. Plain and simple. The majority of the arguments about the direction of the program have more to do with money, on more than just this level, than with educational experience. Sad but true.

Thankfully, as has been noted throughout the comments on these posts, there are still professors with a great interest in their field, work experience in it, and a true passion for librarianship and archives that can meld a true, well-delivered lecture with practical, hands-on knowledge as well. Search them out in your second semester and electives and your enjoyment of the program will increase.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But how inept is our Student Council to go along with this chicanery!? They're in deep, and they have the nerve to try and coopt our movement (read the Erica comment for starters). We honestly need leaders who can say enough is enough! We need you Derek.


10:21 AM  
Blogger Derek the Bard said...

Sorry guys, but I really am not up to being a leader in student politics here. I'm a journalist at best. I barely have time for all the stuff I'm doing now, let alone joining comitees. I'll be at the meetings, I'll help formulate stuff, but there are other people who are better candidates for that role.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a second year student and I think you need to understand how this new program came about. It was entirely done by the professors, not the Dean. The Dean did not come in until January. I had a class with Phillips (a 50 person class, which was the maximum class size at that time). He was one of the leaders of the new curriculum. He brought forth his ideas to us and we told him it was awful, that we already had enough theory and more theory classes was a very bad idea. He basically said it was already in motion and that they needed to push it through that month (December) before the Dean got there. Basically they had been working for years on this, and if they didn't push it through in December last year then the Dean had the chance of shooting it down. So, while I am no fan of the new Dean, this was directly the profs decision, not his. We told them at that time 250 person classes were ridiculous, as was more theory courses. They didn't listen then, I have no idea what is leading anyone to believe they will listen now. We are just dollar figures to them, a fact which has been admitted many times.

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Derek...just an FYI. Apparently the professors are now reading this blog. I was apparently quoted angrily by a professor in class. I'm sorry your blog has become ground zero spying on students...

3:46 PM  
Blogger Viva said...

I'm interested to see how this will all pan out in the town hall. Apparently they aren't telling 2nd year students about it.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Derek the Bard said...

Thanks, Anon. Good to know.

...not that it's a big issue to me. This blog is public, as can be seen by the fact that you're all able to write here anonymously without handles.

If its public, and its on the internet, inevitably it will be found. A blog is just another aspect of a surveillance culture...its a voluntary interaction with/immigration into the surveillance society of the internet. A blog exists to be viewed and read, and its contents used, if desired. Especially on easily accessible mediums like Blogger and LiveJournal.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps a blog, (or the Facebook group) is not the place to be voicing all these problems. You've put this online, no one from the faculty is spying by looking at this, and possibly identifying professors by name could constitute defamation of character. We all have to graduate from this program & I do not want my degree to be rendered useless, or lose value because of people want to announce "Look at me, look at what I can do!" I don't mean to be a jerk, but we all have to very careful of the media tactics we use. Responsible journalists do not write opinion pieces in situ like you did Derek; they allow time for reflection. After all we are future information professionals & yet we are ignoring the the potential damaging ramifications of telling the world the problems with the program (and our problems are by no way unique to our faculty). I don't want to passed over for a future job because my program is a laughing stock. Believe me, I have been in committees reviewing applications & you can bet we very thoroughly researched final candidates. Whether that is ethically right, it is occurring. I'm not saying some or maybe many of our complaints aren't valid (though there are a good deal that are not) but we should keep them inside the school like in today's planned Town Hall meeting. I ask everyone to carefully consider & review everything you put out on the Internet.

12:56 PM  

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