Thursday, November 12, 2015
Ask the Administrator: How to Stay Current with a 15 Credit Load?
I have been pondering the role of research in higher education and what role it plays in opportunity for students.
In graduate school, we train people in research. When hiring to teach higher ed, we (generally) expect people to have PhDs or a similar terminal degree in a discipline because then they should ostensibly be somewhat knowledgeable about not only the history of the discipline, but the current trends, and how new knowledge in that field is constructed (I realize that there are fields that are exceptions to this). And when we take them out of the field of study, that is take them away from research, do we not take them away from this endeavor? That is to say, are we not doing the students that they train a disservice to not have faculty remain current in research? Part of my joy is sharing my research (or heck, other people's research as I come across interesting papers) with my students, even my non-majors. How does this translate to a community college professor teaching 5 classes, multiple preps, not doing research, and (I assume? Perhaps I am incorrect?) largely unable to keep up with current literature? What about students who want the chance to actually try the field on (i.e., see what research in a given discipline really is)? Does it matter that early?
I feel like knowledge keeps progressing, techniques change, and I wonder how CC profs are able to keep up, because I really don't know. Sure, Socrates and the first law of thermodynamics aren't going to change, but what we have learned in the past few years has. I suppose the question could equally apply to the increasing reliance on adjuncts at other places as well as lecturers who have no research program; I understand the cost tradeoffs here (and that some people even prefer this path), but my same question applies. I am curious what your wise and worldly readers have to say about this, as well.
Please understand, my goal here is not to make judgements but simply to ask how research informs teaching and whether it factors in at the community college level (and to educate myself). I also understand that at research-intensive schools, there are plenty of faculty who do research yet don't give a rat's behind about integrating it in the classroom...or really the classroom at all. For what it's worth, I am largely in the SLAC world, and in the sciences, which both color my views.
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.
I once helped TRAIN students to do research. None of them were freshmen. A few were juniors or seniors. Most were graduate students.
Now I EDUCATE students. All of them are freshmen and sophomores. A few are in high school. We want them to be able to think and solve problems. If they can do that, the rest is downhill and anyone can train them. Like most intro physics classes, most of them intend to be engineers but we get our share of physics majors. Some of each are in summer research programs at university or national labs each year,which compensates for the lack of research experiences for sophomores on our campus. I know several former students who are in graduate school or have completed graduate school, mostly in engineering, but the ones I am proudest of are doing post-graduate work on things like autonomous vehicles or some other next big thing that is as challenging as anything that ends up in a physics journal.
I can't recall a time when I or anyone I know actually "kept up with" all of the literature in physics, but it isn't hard to keep up with the real advances. (Thank you Physics Today.) It is easier to keep up with what students want to talk about when you are not on that research treadmill, gringing out that next least publishable unit. And, to be honest, not much is all that new. Seriously high Tc superconductivity, now that is new.
The research that informs teaching is mostly about teaching, not research. How do you find time to read the science education literature while reading the exponentially growing research literature and also adding your own part to it? Or time to do innovative things in the classroom, like design inquiry-based labs or develop active-learning activities? That is how we spend our creative time, and it is extremely rewarding.
Staying current in my discipline is really hard, but not because of my teaching load. First, I'm not willing to put in more than 40-hour weeks at this job, so that puts me at a 20-hour/week disadvantage compared to my colleagues who stayed in research. Second, my discipline has become very broad. My doctoral work was on fruit fly genetics, but I've had to branch out into microbiology and human anatomy because those are the high-enrollment classes. I've also discovered that reading educational psychology makes me way better at my work. So now I have to keep up with four fields, which would be impossible even if I cared enough to work post-doc hours. Third, there's no incentive for me to spend more time reading in my discipline. No one who evaluates me has the knowledge base to determine if I've learned anything since graduate school. My students are too inexperienced. My peers suffer from the same limitations I do. My dean is clever and surprisingly knowledgeable but she also has to be responsible for the entire STEM division. Honestly, even the six hours I spend on keeping current each week are wasted from the standpoint of career advancement. The only thing that keeps me doing it is my personal sense of professionalism.
Not to suggest that time management is the answer, but it's another tool in the overall response to trying to get a handle on a really tough situation. Good luck!
1) Service. I find that the more service I do (and I like to serve my college), the less time I have for reading (and, imagine this, writing). This is additionally complicated by the fact that I teach all my classes face-to-face, unlike most of my colleagues, who teach at least 2 of their 5 online. There just isn't that much time in the day.
2) Exhaustion from teaching. Teaching five face-to-face classes in a semester is exhausting. On MWF, for example, when I get back to my office after teaching the same thing for three hours straight, my brain is mush, and it's just hard to focus on difficult reading.
3) Nobody cares. Nobody cares about research here. Well, not *nobody*, but hardly anyone cares. Being in this kind of environment does not inspire or motivate you to keep up.
4) Having kids. Well, if you have kids, you know.
I do not like the feeling of not feeling like a scholar anymore. I am starting to feel stale and unworthy of being called "Doctor" by my students. This is 99% my fault, but it would be nice if the ethos here were *just a little bit* different.