On Alternate Histories and Alternate Futures

Our embedded correspondent in South-Central Ontario responds:

I like this thread, however the trip down memory lane can go the other way too. I’ve heard from faculty who taught in the College system say 20 yrs ago and I’ve heard about 20-25 classroom hours per week.  Not sure if that is connected with smaller class sizes.  Do you know?

And a second part of this particular idea —  IF, as we often hear and think and probably feel, we are not providing the best education we can for students, let’s ask ourselves, specifically: If you had more time or fewer students, what would you do differently that would provide a higher standard of education?

Between you and me, I’m not 100% sure what I would do differently. I TRY really hard to learn my students’ names (and by and large I succeed but not 100%) and I try to have 1-on-1 time with most of them throughout the semester. Some I even get a handle on their home / family lives. I love that connection. However that is largely due to the student being willing to share and meet with me outside of class – I try to encourage it.  There are a lot who don’t.

I do feel I’m racing through topics but the lack of truly engaged learning I think comes also from the students’ conditioned response to simply show up at class and not speak or engage or participate, and watch the clock.   Sometimes, with the advent of WEbCT etc, I think, “what am I showing up for?”.  I have an elective that I think would be really cool and fun if the students drove the curriculum and class time through discussion. However, I have a  class of 35 who virtually sit deadpan in the total 3 hrs per week.

In order to truly engage students, do we have to start from scratch again ?

Indeed, what would we do differently, or how many of us even feel that something needs to be done differently?  Seemingly, at least 50% of us feel we have adequate time to do what we think we’re supposed to do.  And do we feel that the job that “we’re supposed to do” is determined by… our managers’ stipulations?  Our own personal integrity?  Our students’ needs?  The moral imperatives of our discplines?

And I do wonder whether people’s answer to that question might have correlated to their opinion about our contractual needs.

The question is a good one: Do we need additional workload limits to achieve excellence or (which is the same) to foster our students’ achievement thereof?  What would we do if we were granted those limits?  And most importantly: Is the lack of unity in our demand for workload limits precisely because we do not collectively want to be held responsible for that excellence?

Perhaps we, like so many of our students, prefer to be held to the relaxed standards of a system that privileges “processing FTEs” over educating students, and we would prefer not to bring upon us the expectations (from managers, taxpayers, politicians, students) of excellence that would accompany a demand to teach fewer students per year, for that very purpose?

My opinion: If we ourselves do not believe that what we do is necessary and demonstrably valuable, then we have no legitimate basis to ask for the time “necessary” to do it properly.  But what is indeed “necessary”?  If we are to have any community at all as educators, I believe that it must have at its heart an answer to that very question.

Because if we ourselves do not believe that there is something about the work we do that is absolutely indispensible — and on which we may not compromise — then our involvement in the college community ultimately has merely the same motivation as that of so many of our managers and virtually all of our students: Money.

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