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Workload, learning, and such (#1074)

Topics/tags: Rants

I’m not quite sure why, but events from Friday make me want to rant. I shouldn’t, because the things I want to rant about our, in essence, positive. But I can’t control how I feel. Or maybe my rant will evolve into a celebration. We shall see.

Should I start with Friday’s events or the backstory? Let’s start with Friday. As I said, much of the context is positive. We had Community Friday with a visitor from a peer institution. Community Friday, itself, is a positive. Friday lunchtime discussions used to be Faculty Fridays. Now it’s become more inclusive. Staff are welcome. Perhaps even some students. I guess it’s an advantage of having moved online; since we no longer have to worry about costs, we can allow more people to come. I would have preferred that we just allocated more money to it when it was in person, but perhaps that will happen someday.

Where were we? Oh, yes. Positive number one: We now have Community Fridays rather than Faculty Fridays. Positive number two: Attendance is almost always good. This past Friday was the Friday after finals week. That week is a time for folks to grade, to decompress, to get ready for the summer, all of the above, or many other things. But there were still over 100 people there for a discussion of teaching in the fall. That’s a good turnout.

Much of what we heard about the peer institution sounds familiar. They are struggling with whether to be in-person or online. They are struggling with whether to follow Beloit’s lead and switch to half-semesters (semisemesters?) And they’re trying to figure out how to appropriately deal with the effects on pre-tenure faculty. I’m not sure any of that is relevant, but it seemed worth reporting.

During the conversation, Dean Harris suggested that we look at the Rice workload estimator. I made the same comment about that estimator that I’ve made elsewhere: If the primary work you assign is other than reading and writing, it basically just asks you to estimate yourself. I’m not even sure that it’s all that good for reading and writing, particularly the kinds that I tend to assign, those that include mathematical formulae. I like the RIT guidelines much more, even though they don’t calculate for you. (In contrast, the Rice page doesn’t seem to do much more than use your numbers in its own calculations.)

Dean Harris also referred us to a recent article by Cathy N. Davidson entitled, Quantity Is Not Rigor. Davidson says much of what I and others have said over the past few years. Assuming that a normal course-related workload should be forty-eight hours does not acknowledge the other work that students do and so relying on variations of the Carnegie hour is inappropriate.

And that’s what frustrates me. It shouldn’t, right? But the damn a four-credit course represents one-hundred and eighty hours of work rule has been so core to discussions, it feels like it’s an uphill battle to get folks to talk about anything else. Or is it my ego, wondering why the Dean acknowledges Davidson’s thesis but I never get a response to my question as to whether we can rethinking the 180 hours.

Ah, well. I also cannot claim ownership of the desire for change; lots of people on campus share concerns about Grinnell’s workload. We each express them in our own ways. If the Dean (and soon to be President) acknowledges that our workload definition needs to evolve, then perhaps it will.

As I said, I wasn’t sure whether the rant would evolve into something else. Perhaps it has evolved into optimism. We shall see.

Postscript: Yes, I realize that this musing is relatively pointless. But I haven’t mused in nearly a week, and I need to get myself back in the habit. So you’re stuck with this (or I am).

Version 1.0 of 2020-05-23.