How to make yourself obsolete.

29 11 2010

My new favorite blog, ProfHacker, tackles an issue that Historiann and I were discussing before the break: the “cheating” scandal at the University of Central Florida. Neither of us is particularly sympathetic to the professor involved here, but I think Jason Jones’ post at ProfHacker adds a new dimension to the argument:

Many students complain, or, at least, faculty worry that students will complain, that their final exam was unfairly arbitrary or idiosyncratic, and doesn’t really reflect the student’s knowledge of the subject. Outsourcing exam writing to textbook publishers appears to solve this problem: an exam drawn up by the publisher of the course textbook will (hopefully!) reflect that book and its material accurately. But the disadvantage of this process is pretty clear–it reduces the faculty member to an appendage of the textbook. Indeed, on such a model it’s a bit hard to understand what the need for PhDs really is.

[Emphasis added]

Bingo. I’m not mad at the guy for being lazy per se. I’m mad at that guy because he gives overzealous administrators everywhere an opening to stick 600 students in everyone’s class or replace all of us with contingent faculty who don’t have Ph.Ds or perhaps even both.

Certainly I have great sympathy with contingent faculty who feel the need to cut corners to survive. I don’t condone it. [The fact that you’re being exploited is no excuse to fail at one of the basic prerequisites of your job.] I just have sympathy. However, full-time faculty have no excuse whatsoever for not writing their own exam questions. Even in Florida I strongly suspect this guy makes much more money than almost anyone teaching in the humanities today. He could at least pretend to care.

Jason also links to another post on this same subject that summarizes the situation well along the lines that Historiann did originally:

[T]he more this situation unfolds, the more unhealthy it makes the whole educational environment surrounding it seem. Class sizes in the multiple hundreds: Check. Courses taught mainly through lecture: Check. Professor at a remove from the students: Check. Exams taken off the rack rather than tuned to the specific student population: Check. And on it goes. I know this is how it works at many large universities and there’s little that one can do to change things; but with all due respect to my colleagues at such places, I just can’t see what students find appealing about these places, and I wonder if students at UCF are thinking the same thing nowadays.

Any professor who sacrifices pedagogy for convenience to the degree of relying on a test bank for their exam questions is writing their discipline’s professional obituary. Take a stand against this now, or the University of Central Florida will be everybody’s future whether we teach in Florida or not.

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3 responses

29 11 2010
Historiann

Well said, Jonathan. I’m the person who called the instructor in the UCF case “lazy lazy lazy,” but I think yours and Jones’s comments are more constructive and more cogent. If we don’t want to be widgets, how can we use shortcuts like out-of-the-box exams?

29 11 2010
Robert Talbert

I’m the author of the second long quote above. Just wanted to say thanks for the shout-out, and thanks to both you and Historianne for furthering this conversation. If there’s any good to come from this, it’s the realization that a 600-student lecture class just isn’t good education, and students can do better.

25 01 2011
The wired classroom as sweatshop. « More or Less Bunk

[…] her employer has given her, but what if using technology this way will eventually turn us all into that guy at Central Florida with 600 […]

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