Posts Tagged ‘adjunct’

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Talking to Our Major Stakeholders about Writing Education

posted: 8.4.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs


As I write this, I’m preparing to get on a plane to go to the Summer Conference of the American Association of State College and Universities (AASCU) in Portland, where I will speak to dozens of provosts and vice provosts, as well as a few faculty, about the nature of writing education in American colleges and universities, and why that approach to writing education needs to change. I’ll admit that this talk is about the most difficult thing I have ever tried to write. I’ll speak for an hour, and then potentially work in small groups with provosts and faculty to consider potential “course redesign” at their institutions. They might not be listening at all to my message. But if they do listen, they have the power to return to their home institutions and invest heavily in writing education, just as our president has done at UCF.

I have a few messages for this audience, and finding the right way to frame those messages is proving to be a tricky business. For example:

  • Most of the public and many faculty members feel like writing instruction is failing students.
  • And it is.
  • But not because we don’t know how to improve it.
  • Rather, writing scholars know exactly what needs to be done, but doing it requires top-level intervention to change funding priorities and the culture of writing at all of our institutions.

One of the things that needs to change, I want to tell them, is hiring or training composition faculty who are actually familiar with the relevant research on writing and teaching writing. Up until now, writing has been so important that every student must take classes in it, but also so unimportant that we think anyone can teach it, even if they come from other fields, are hired at the last minute, and are paid less than the school’s janitors. [read more]

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Categories: Professional Conferences
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Studying the Student

posted: 9.28.10 by archived

Student diversity is one of the most obvious challenges when designing a course in a community college environment. It takes just one semester of teaching to realize how different the students—and their goals—may be from one another. I’ve been struggling with this challenge for eight years, and in revisiting it for this blog I consulted my colleagues Howard Tinberg and Jean-Paul Nadeau, who earlier this year published their study The Community College Writer: Exceeding Expectations. I asked them how what they discovered about students changed or reinforced their own notions of how to design the composition course. They were generous enough to sit down for an hour’s chat, so I’ll try to distill, without distorting, what they had to say into some bullet-worthy points.

Get to know your students

HT: The study confirmed how important it is to know these students as well as possible and to listen to the stories. I’m thinking back to…how much it would have helped me as an instructor to know something of their backgrounds and their other activities, some of which were highly literate and required all kinds of reading, writing, and speaking skills that I wouldn’t have had access to if I hadn’t been able to be with them or talk to them as much as we did. [read more]

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Categories: Campus Issues, Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Community College issues, Holly Pappas, Teaching Advice
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Design by Committee?

posted: 9.21.10 by archived

I’ve been watching a couple recent videos about Rutgers’ first-year composition (FYC) program via Jeff Rice at Yellow Dog and Alex Reid at Digital Digs. In one, five students discuss their attitudes and writing processes as they go through their first semester of Expos (as in expository): it’s a fascinating glimpse, complete with 2:00 am candy bars, a variety of procrastination activities, and frank discussions of how to BS your way through assignments. Watch it here:

The Expos Five from Expos the Movie on Vimeo. [read more]

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Campus Issues, Community College issues, Holly Pappas
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Money, Money, Money: Turning an Adjunct’s Skill Set into Potential Profit

posted: 12.3.09 by archived

The holidays are here, and the annual crush of spending, gifts, family, and celebrations have returned. While the holidays are a fantastic time to reconnect with loved ones, the cost of travel, food, presents, and unexpected expenses can ignite financial and emotional stress. For adjuncts, this time of year can stretch bank accounts and credit card limits. Since most adjuncts will be off for at least three or four weeks, many times without any unemployment coverage, the pressure can threaten the holiday spirit.

Rather than getting lost in the stress, I prefer to track down possible solutions. Over the past couple weeks I have been searching for additional income sources. I do not have the time to actually take another job, and I need to have flexible hours. Some weeks I have no spare time, and other weeks I have plenty. Unfortunately, few employers are interested in having a brand-new temporary employee with a varying schedule, but I am currently reviewing another potential solution: information marketing.

Yes, there are plenty of scams in the Internet marketing and information marketing business in which customers are tricked into paying good money for a product no more valuable than the next one. But frankly, the same thing can be said about brand-name sneakers, overpriced food, luxury cars, and designer clothing. People usually pay for things they believe have specific value, whether or not the world agrees in the estimation of worth.

I won’t try to sell you on information marketing for your own holiday purchases, but I believe it offers a viable option to adjuncts who need the extra income. First, most information marketing businesses are based upon the purchase of a Web site name and host, free blog software like WordPress, and the creation of digitally delivered products. There are few out-of-pocket costs beyond the $20 or so it costs to purchase a domain name and hosting service. Many information marketers author and deliver digital educational products in the form of audio downloads, video, and PDFs; others offer online virtual training, teleseminars, Webinars, and courses through a variety of interfaces.

The difficult part of information marketing, or of almost any Internet marketing, is the creation of a community and the development of an e-mail list of potential buyers and interested parties. Adjuncts have several strengths here. Most adjuncts are familiar with at least the most basic e-mail and blogging software, so this part is not new. Adjuncts also have well-developed research skills, and they know how to present that information to diverse audiences of learners. Finally, effective teachers create community and a shared sense of purpose and goals. These skills, all vital for the classroom, are invaluable assets in information marketing. It can be seen as another form of instruction, an alternative mode of teaching that delivers very specific information to a paying audience.

Naturally, large percentages of information products fail, and they fail for diverse reasons. I do not offer information marketing as a guaranteed solution to adjuncts’ financial troubles, but I do think that adjuncts’ skill base and the low cost for entry into the market provide a viable opportunity for those looking to expand their horizons. Even better, you can devote as much or as little time as you have to the project; you are, after all, your own boss and can determine your own hours.

During the holidays, when you are with the people you love, why not ask them what they like most about you? Why not ask them what they think you can offer to the world? Perhaps you’ll discover something new about yourself and your interests that will help you worry less between paychecks.

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Gregory Zobel
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Reading Groups and Intellectual Networking

posted: 11.12.09 by archived

As both an adjunct and doctoral student, I’ve felt intellectually frustrated when no one else was interested in talking about the authors I enjoyed reading. As I am neither auto-didactic nor a genius, working through many texts is challenging and even a five-minute conversation can open new plateaus of understanding. Whether it’s the working definitions and implications of a genre or what Deleuze means by “assemblage,” I learn best when I talk and work ideas through with other people.  My need becomes problematic when you consider that adjuncts and doctoral students are usually quite busy: It is very easy to sacrifice intellectual inquiry if you can’t find anyone with the time to talk. As an adjunct,  I assumed that in my rural location and busy community, no one  was interested. I could always find something else to read, and I did, but I also know that I neglected deserving authors because I lacked intellectual support from a community.

In hindsight, I could have actively built the group I needed. Reading groups are a good way to find colleagues and to keep your intellectual curiosity burning. Post flyers on your campus or post on craigslist for free. You can find numerous online mailing lists and groups dedicated to specific authors and texts. A lot depends on how interested or committed you are to exploring an author and developing a learning community.

Initially, I was not committed. I assumed that if I didn’t already know anyone else interested, then there couldn’t be anyone else in the area interested. Hubristic, I know. It’s an easy mentality to slip into, to assume that something does not exist, that people are not there, simply because you have not seen them yet. This is akin to our students who do a Google search on their topic, find no relevant results on the first page, and claim there’s nothing on their topic. If you quit after the first try, then that commitment and passion really aren’t there. And if that passion really isn’t there, then it is probably a good idea to move on. If the passion burns, the quest will continue.

To find colleagues to form an intellectual or reading posse, we often have to change our search terms, adjust the categories of our expectations, and look in places that we have ignored or did not know about. Yes, this can require an investment of some time, but it is time well spent. If you find a reading group or discussion list, you suddenly have a new network of colleagues and friends who will support your intellectual pursuits. If you don’t, then at least you know that you tried, and you probably found some other interesting people and topics along the way.

As a person who quit his quests too quickly and too often, I finally learned to commit to the search. Has anyone else learned this lesson or reaped the benefits of a newfound network?

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Gregory Zobel
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Remembering your roots

posted: 11.5.09 by archived

Over the past couple months of doctoral work, I have been absorbed in theory and research in technical communication. Every now and then composition comes up, but my attention has centered on other topics. Slowly but surely, I started to forget my experiences in composition, the joy that teaching brought me, and the meaningful relationships I had with colleagues and students. As these memories faded, composition’s importance waned in my mind. I began to regard it as not really relevant or meaningful to me. The inundation of new people, new ideas, and a new environment was overwhelming, and I forgot my intellectual, pedagogical, and professional roots. Fortunately, not everyone is willing to let me forget my past.  Last weekend, my parents came to visit. While we were chatting, I was dismissive of composition. Then my mom asked a basic question: “You were happy teaching composition, weren’t you?”

Sitting there, I realized that I have been uttering many of the same sentiments about composition which used to frustrate and enrage me when I heard others speak them. Unfortunately, in a matter of a few months I lost a lot of the real-world perspective of what teaching composition is about and how important it is in the learning and living process for many college students. I was in the process of becoming a person who was “too good” for composition.

This is not a charming position to be in, but it is honest. I had not realized how easy it is to forget who I am, what I did, and what made me happy. I was not fully aware of who and what I was becoming. My mom’s question, fortunately, came at the perfect time. It reminded me that nothing before or since has had the same emotional, professional, or ethical impact upon me that teaching composition offered. Teaching FYC was a gift, and I am glad she reminded me of that.

There’s no need for me to dismiss or deny composition as part of my heritage or future practice. For some reason, I felt the need to be free of it. No more. Instead, I know that I want composition as part of my professional practice and development; I want to remain engaged with it, in and out of the classroom, because I know that it is an ethical, joyous, and rigorous practice which benefits students and me.

I am just grateful that it only took a few months, not years, for someone to remind me of how important my roots are to my identity and lived experience.

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Gregory Zobel
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Newbie to Newbie

posted: 9.24.09 by archived

While I am a relatively new composition instructor, I have more experience than those brand new to the field. It may not appear as if newbies and instructors with a few years’ experience have much to offer one another, but chatting with fresh adjuncts can be useful for both parties. The veteran can gain career development, and the totally new adjunct can gain skills; ideally, both instructors’ students will benefit.

In my experience, speaking with newbies about teaching is an excellent form of self-reflection. This is particularly true if you pay attention to what you are saying, listening to the language and terms you use. Increased awareness of your own expressed views on teaching and pedagogy provide a unique perspective of the differences between the ways you think about pedagogy and the ways you express it. I have identified attitudes or perspectives of which I am not proud; talking with peers and attending to what I am saying helped me see these blind spots and adjust them. Instead of remaining ignorant of my faults, I have achieved a greater level of integrity with my pedagogy and have gained a real sense of just how effective my training has been.

I can only hope that the newbies gain from the conversation, but I have no proof that they do, and I cannot assert what the gains are from their perspective. I do know that almost every time I finish talking to a newbie about teaching, I am usually infected with their energy and excitement for teaching. Newbies often offer naive perspectives—just as I did and still do—but they also have beginners’ minds that help re-see the profession and the purpose of training in ways that new or old veterans may have forgotten.  Either way, newbies are refreshing.

I like to think that I am helping out students by encouraging newbies to avoid the same mistakes that I have made. I am happy to share my errors with colleagues–especially when they want to know what not to do. Sharing this kind of lore can help improve instruction and student learning by working to avoid damaging students. I’m hopeful that this kind of sharing results will allow excitement to trickle down to students so that they are as excited about learning as their teachers are about teaching.

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Gregory Zobel
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Supporting Scholarly Research with Free Sources

posted: 9.17.09 by archived

As an adjunct with no R1 institutional affiliation, I have found it hard to research the past couple of years. When I was only teaching at a community college, this research was even more difficult because I did not have access to the majority of scholarly journals in my field. At first, I focused on teaching and did not notice this deficiency; however, as I sought to return to the world of research, this gap became obvious. Fortunately, social networking, peer exchange, and the Web provide some viable work-arounds for adjuncts in similar situations: those who cannot afford individual subscriptions to academic journals or services, who teach for institutions with minimal academic resources online, or who are between jobs.

Rather than attempt a comprehensive list, what follows is one of my research processes — and it is a process that has served and continues to serve me well. I have used it when I had access to a good research library and when I was without one. I would rather develop research skills and resources that work in times thick as well as times thin. If you have developed other work-arounds that are effective, please share them in the comments.

The first obvious source is Google Scholar. It ranks the relative scholarly importance of articles by showing how often they are cited. Additionally, Google Scholar provides a list of related articles; this can be almost as good as an annotated bibliography. It is also useful for identifying patterns. Sometimes this has led me to discover related articles in free, online, and open access scholarly journals.

Once potential sources and leads are identified, I move to Google Books. I follow the leads there, locate the books, and find out just how much of the materials I can read online. Unfortunately, it is not possible to copy and paste from Google Books; however, viewing is better than having to buy pricey texts, and it offers you a chance to at least look at them. On top of that, it provides an opportunity to review the working scholarly bibliographies and lists of works cited so that if and when you do hit an open window for materials, you are prepared with a list of goodies to go find. Be sure that you save these books to your GBooks library so that it is easy to relocate the texts.

Finally, I go to ScribD. The site hosts a number of scholarly books and articles, and I download them without hesitation. When I have a book-buying budget, then I will purchase the books. At this point, my budget is limited, so I do what I need to do in order to further my scholarship. Additionally, by downloading a PDF, I can use Adobe Acrobat, mark up my own PDF, and keep my notes stored — all without killing trees or paying $230 for a single book. If texts from academic presses are more reasonably priced, like some of University of Chicago’s books or MIT’s books, then I am certainly happy to buy them or pay for a digital download. Ditto on the academic articles.

While ScribD certainly does not have all the materials that scholars need, you can get a lot of material. I also find a lot of interesting and semi-related material in the sidebars which, like YouTube, show related or potential articles of interests. This sort of incidental or coincidental discovery has led me towards a number of useful sources. For example, when I was researching “Biopower” and “Foucault,” Eugene Thacker’s work was listed in a sidebar. I followed that link and discovered his text The Global Genome. From that developed a new area of interest for me: the rhetoric surrounding genetic capitalism and development. I have spent hours and hours researching a topic that I happened to bump into in a sidebar.  Thus, the peer-exchange nature of sites like ScribD offer the additional benefit of numerous potential paths/distractions/leads to follow — something that can be more intense than straight research in a library’s online or physical resources. Unlike looking at books in similar locations, sites like ScribD enable intersections with ideas based on the user who posts the content as well as the content’s key words.

Finally, be sure to network with people in person and online. Perhaps one or several of them will share their PDF library or access with you. It may be a long shot, but you never know until you check. Fortunately at key points in my intellectual development, people have passed along vital PDFs which reshaped my thinking and theorizing.

As an adjunct, we have far fewer resources than many graduate students and most full-time faculty. This means we must adapt, adopt, and innovate to continue our research. The Web can facilitate this.  Hopefully the peer-exchange and social nature of the Web will also cultivate the development of research work-around strategies that bolster our academic work while avoiding the costs of information access.

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Finding Sources, Gregory Zobel, Professional Development & Service, Research, Working with Sources
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What Not Teaching Offers

posted: 8.27.09 by archived

It sounds odd discussing how not teaching can impact our teaching in a positive way — and it feels even stranger to raise the issue.  I love teaching, and I become very passionate when I talk about it, yet I have discovered that with my not teaching in the coming year, I am able to reflect and think about the exact same activities that our colleagues are currently engaged in.  They are writing syllabi, generating lesson plans, answering questions, and attempting to keep their course materials fresh and current.  Many of them are starting to feel the stress of teaching again, wondering where the summer went, and so forth.  Since I am not teaching, I see just how much time I am not investing in those areas and how much of my teaching strategies I cannot see when I’m actually in the classroom.

Even though I only taught for three years, I quickly lost track of how quickly teaching and preparing for classes integrated itself into my life.  Only by not teaching have I really noticed how much of my attention it had commanded.  Now I have time to read, research, and do other things that were simply not as viable or possible when teaching.  When I taught, the work became second-nature and I started to take for granted the time commitment, the endless syllabus revision, and the search for new and engaging readings.  Not teaching gives me valuable perspective on just how much work goes into preparing for classes and the entire process of teaching. This shift also reflects just how easy it can be to assimilate into the lifestyle of teaching and working in academia.

Not teaching also provides distance to step away from my pedagogy and reevaluate just what I think I am doing.  Now as a not teacher, I have more distance from instruction; I think less about specific students, and my tools are much at rest. While it is important to discuss pedagogy and teaching as they are happening so that we can refer to real-life examples and specific details, it is also important to view our pedagogy and our practice while at rest, while not involved. This is akin to having a map that shows where you are and where you are going; every now and then, it is important to triangulate and confirm your location.  If we focus on affirming our location and goals — what our students need, how we teach, what our pedagogy is, or the purpose of education — without confirming our point of origin and our purpose for the journey, we will, at best, waste a lot of effort.  Having a chance to stop, breathe, and analyze why I am doing what I am doing is good: it offers distance from the experience, it allows my brain to relax and rest, and it provides a chance to evaluate my efforts more objectively. Doing so helps me locate my weaknesses and develop them so that my future students will not have to pay for my oversight.

Having time to rework what I think is important about learning and teaching — especially when it comes to writing — is a luxury not available to everyone, especially to adjuncts who are on the financial edge.  However, sometimes we are forced into breaks from teaching or new opportunities take us away from the teaching world.  We can make the most of not teaching by using some of that time away to reflect on the larger pedagogical issues at stake, the role of teaching first year composition in our careers, and, most importantly, how our students are changing so that our teaching can adjust in turn.

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Campus Issues, Gregory Zobel, Teaching Advice
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Summer Perks

posted: 7.29.09 by archived

Nearly five years ago, Keith Hoeller described many of the problems associated with adjuncts and summer teaching.  Unfortunately, very little has changed.  In contrast to the problems that Hoeller points out, the student population is one of summer school’s biggest perks because of their general dedication, focus, and work ethic.  Most students realize quickly that we have to work through a semester’s worth of learning in eight weeks, thus summer courses are high-pressure and highly focused. Once students discover this, some leave. Those who do remain are often more motivated and driven, I have found, than students in the fall and spring semesters. Obviously this is a generalization, but I rarely have attendance or turning-in-work problems common in the other semesters.

This student population enables me to experiment with my pedagogy; I can push the class as a whole to try out more advanced tricks or focused analyses of their own writing, and I can allow them to operate more autonomously than I do in regular classes. This benefits them, I think, because it offers them the chance to work hard and excel with less outside control or restraint. If they are disciplined, they can potentially accomplish more than in a normal class. If they are not disciplined, they and I see it quickly.

As an instructor, I benefit because I am able to test and learn just how much independence students can operate with and succeed and how much will trip them up. This varies from student to student and class to class; however, the more experience I have in providing independent or self-directed work and seeing the results, the better my judgment will be about how to do this or use this in the future.

Similarly, given the disciplined and assertive nature of these students, if an assignment truly is awful, they will let me know. During the normal school semesters, there aren’t many students who will speak up–in summer classes, there are usually at least four or five who will voice their doubts about the value of an assignment. Thus, instead of wasting their time and mine, I develop my teaching skills, avoid inflicting suffering, and the students can engage in a more useful activity.

Summer students are not the “perfect” class, but the limited size and time frame combined with an unusually driven population provides quick and efficient feedback on how on or off the mark my teaching, pedagogy, and class observations are.

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Gregory Zobel, Teaching Advice
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