Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I went to an orientation for new instructors recently. The purpose of the orientation was to acquaint us new instructors with the various policies, regulations, technological innovations, FAQs, BS, etc. The weird thing about this new instructor orientation is that I have had this job for a full year.

Among the things I learned was that "clickers" are so awesome that our bookstore sold a huge, ungodly number of them last spring alone. I did not learn what clickers are, what they do, or why I should consider adding them to my classroom repertoire. Luckily, my chair is a big fan of technology, and so I already knew quite a lot about clickers.

I also learned that my school is very proud of its association with Blackboard. I did not learn what Blackboard does, why it is better than a regular class webpage, or why I should use it. Luckily I am an online teaching veteran, and so I know a lot about Blackboard, how it is used, and how it is incredibly unreliable and super shitty.

I also learned that I should call one of two people named "Jennifer" in the event of any discrimination or harassment. Who would be harassing whom? What constitutes harassment? Should I be worried? I don't know.

I also learned that I should be engaged in student-centered teaching. What is student-centered teaching? I don't know. However, I was asked to free write about my feelings concerning student-centered teaching before any attempt was made to explain what student-centered teaching is supposed to be. Wonderful.

Now, I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is small potatoes. I know that if I ever get a tenure-track job, I will be in so many bullshit meetings that time will cease to exist and I will long for death. I know that in 5 billion years the sun will explode and vaporize all life before swallowing the earth in a ball of fire. I know this. But come on, orientation people. If you're going to get me out of bed for some stupid meeting, the least you can do is do it less than a year after I was hired and manage to convey any information whatsoever.

--Mr. Zero


Dr. Killjoy said...

Come on now, Mr. Zero. We all know that university-level academia, including our noble profession, holds teaching in highest esteem, even going so far as to expect, nay demand, that applicants fresh from grad school have well-defined pedagogical positions.

What baffles me is that you appear to be claiming that grad students (and everyone else for that matter) receive little to no formal instruction in pedagogy, and what little help that they may be offered rings hollow if not absurd.

But this would then mean either that the profession of philosophy's commitment to instruction is all but cosmetic and perniciously hypocritical or that our profession largely comprises folks with radically false beliefs about the wholesale triviality of formal pedagogical training with respect to teaching effectiveness in the discipline of philosophy.

How dare you, Mr. Zero! Don't you know that even though a teaching degree and official certification are required to instruct those in primary and secondary school, so radically and fundamentally different is the university experience, that merely possessing an advanced research background in a field magically transforms one into a qualified instructor for that field (perhaps even loosely related fields as well).

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must get back to reading a bunch of bullshit on student-centered learning made-up by job applicants in order to fill out their utterly pointless though dossier-required teaching statement.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, teaching orientations generally suck. I don't know why.

Well, actually I do. It's because, ultimately, few schools care much about the quality of teaching, even "teaching schools" which are a class defined in the negative: they don't expect much or any research from faculty. If colleges cared about teaching, they'd restructure the reward system AND the cost structure of the institution.

So what I don't know why is: why schools don't care about teaching. Well, I guess I know that too, when it gets right down to it. Inertia, and the structure of administrations and the standards for recruiting administrators. There are things that could be done to fix the problem, and they don't do it.

So the options are: be a faculty member who bitches about why things don't work right, and focus on things you can affect (like your classroom and your research) or become a (good) administrator and fight the power. Both are viable alternatives for PhDs, and both are painful paths to follow.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Zero,

Zombies infect all humans in due time. We welcome you as one of us.

No one is sure what the precise means of transmission is. Is it the free-writing exercises? Is it the various representatives' unflagging praise classroom technology? The administrators' explanations of services that sound as important as they appear vague? All of these combined? While a leading theory among the recently infected contends that one can remain human if such a meeting lacks the free-writing component, a renegade tenured economist at my university managed to dodge every Blackboard orientation for five years. He thought he was in the clear, but then his department voted him in as chair. It was all over for him.

"Student-centered" teaching will give way to, what is it now? "Naked" teaching, at least according to the CHE? Or is Argument Mapping? Whatever it is, someone at your Teaching Center is already on it. There will be a powerpoint presentation soon. There must always be a meeting. Always.

You got through an entire year undetected! You're quite the survivor. You still may have a few precious days of summer. The sun is still shining, and remaining human for just a little while longer may take everything you've got.

Have PhD, will travel said...

An important early lesson to be learned: anything an organization requires you to attend is a requirement to pass legal liability from that organization to you. No matter how hollow the presentations, the organization can now claim to have informed you of all aspects of teaching because they had an orientation.


Student legal representative: "My client was assaulted by Professor Zero with the clicker, which is in clear violation of the university ethics code!"

University representative: "Well, our records right here show that Zero attended our informative orientation, which contained all of the information Johnson needed to know about how to use clickers... and how not to use them. Isn't that right, Jennifer?"

Jennifer: "That's right! I explicitly informed the audience of the orientation, of which Zero was a member, that they could call me anytime - ANY FREAKIN' TIME! - if they had any - ANY!!! - questions about harassment, including inappropriate use of clickers. I made damn sure that Zero knew that. I remember his smug little face in the audience... undressing me with those eyes!"

Student Legal representative: "It will be okay, Jennifer... here's my card."

University representative: "As you can see, this is clearly not something we have any responsibility for. All issues involving clickers and harassment were covered in Zero's orientation."

Student legal representative: "By golly, you're right! We've got to find Zero, who obviously and egregiously - and blatantly - ignored what sounds like a beautifully orchestrated and completely informative orientation."

Jennifer: "Let's kill the bastard!"


Anonymous said...

The definitive introduction to 'student centered teaching' is in the 'schoolmaster' episode of the British show 'People Like Us'. It's genius.

Anonymous said...

You tease, not all of us know what a clicker is!

Maybe instead of this kind of thing, they should show you a series of videos of competent teachers in your field (I'm guessing these things are for the whole school, not just your department). We all know that powerpoint and blackboard don't make a good teacher (maybe a clicker does, I can't say of course), and whatever student-centered teaching comes down to would be transmitted better by showing you some teachers actually doing it.

Lee said...

"I need a run-down of your client list by 5:00."

Anonymous said...

Clickers are devices used in the training of dogs and horses, are they not?

That's what I know about them, anyway. I'm glad that people are using these devices with students now, as they are often even harder to train than dogs or horses.

Anonymous said...

The best part of going through orientation today as a newly hired part timer was that I didn't have to sit through that pesky extra hour and a half part talking about benefits.

Thanks world.

CTS said...

Jeesh. What a terrible orientation program.

I'm going to share with the folks in charge of ours; they need to know how badly it can be done.

Soldier on!