Has technology turned faculty into prisoners?

28 02 2012

I have always aspired to have the kind of comments section that you can see on just about every post chez Historiann. Smart, collegial and usually very interesting, the comments at her place are about the only blog comments on the whole Internet that I always bother to read. I think this space might finally have started to approach that high bar with the responses so far to my post about students blogging. It’s particularly nice to read a self-confessed longtime lurker pipe up for the first time.

So let’s face it, SouthernProf makes a very good point:

I am not going to let my work interfere with my personal life and time anymore that it already does, and continually logging in to a chat situation in the evenings and/or weekends is beyond the pale for me. I realize that you and many of the readers of this blog may find no such angst with this teaching tool, and I applaud you for it if you can do it. But, as your posts have seemed to suggest, students are not necessarily receiving a better learning experience via these herculean faculty efforts, so I fail to see the value in exerting so much extra effort in teaching in a way that is far too intrusive and time consuming.

I was working on the assumption that anyone who bothered to learn blogging well enough to instruct students in it has to be very dedicated to their work, but certainly there are limits. In order to limit the amount of overwork I have to put in today, let me quote myself here:

For all our bitching, what separates professors from most workers is the ability to control when we do what we have to do. Speaking for myself at least, there are very few places I need to be any given time besides my classes and office hours. This is a good thing as the fact that I can control when to do what I have to do makes a huge difference to my life. If I want to go to the gym in the morning, I can usually do it. If my wife needs me to pick up my daughter at school, I can usually do that. Working nights and weekends is the price for that kind of flexibility, but I’ve been able to keep the weekends to a minimum lately (except for when I have grading to do like this one coming up).

That said, I won’t overwork myself for just anything. I am a fundamentally lazy person. If I’m going to do anything well enough to be good at it, I better be for darned sure that I like what I’m doing. Blogging is fun for me. Half the time I can’t tell if I’m working or procrastinating because I tend to enjoy what I’m writing about, yet I learn a ton about history and how to be a better teacher by reading the comments here and other people’s posts. Unfortunately, it appears that most of my undergraduates don’t share this assessment of blogging, and considering that they’re not historians I’m not entirely sure that I can blame them.

The more I think about it, the more it seems as if I have been asking them to do something that I don’t want to do myself. You see, I suspect that the reason that I don’t have the comment section that Historiann has is that I am nowhere near as diligent as she is at checking back and participating in the conversations that break out under her posts. Trust me, I read all the comments made here, but the prolonged work required to keep a good conversation going just might be over my own line. I greatly prefer writing to chatting. Since we switched from cable Internet to a mobile hotspot, I can’t even get a wifi signal at home unless my wife happens to be around. Perhaps this is why I decided never to teach an online class before I even realized just how awful they can be.

Yet blogs, wikis and online courses are hardly the sole representatives of this problem. Even e-mail can be an unwelcome intrusion into non-work time if you let it control you rather than you control it. Perhaps the only sensible suggestion that Tim Ferriss has ever made is to not check your e-mail first thing when you get up in the morning. I haven’t been able to adhere to that suggestion yet. The funny thing though is that almost every time I do that, there’s at least one e-mail in my inbox from my illustrious department chair sent at some point during the last hour that I was sleeping. Who’s crazier, him for sending them or me for looking? Don’t answer that.

Answer this one instead: How has technology affected your line between your work and home lives? I promise to do my best Historiann imitation this time around and write interesting comments about your answers to this question, assuming you’re brave enough to leave them in the first place.

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10 responses

28 02 2012
VanessaVaile

I must confess to sharing the link with an experimental online training course for teaching online, which I do occasionally to remind them to consider the other side. A few usually comment here in addition to discussion in the class group. In this case, I suspect resistance to writing has as much or more to do with resistance to blogging as either technology or the extra hoops. Then the reasons add up and add time to the task. I have doubts about the value of substituting other online projects that don’t involve writing.

And yes, back to the question you ask: technology increases the intrusion of work into home, personal and private life. In my case, work does not intrude since I’m retired. Community service and other volunteer gigs do, sometimes more than work used to. Supposedly, even now my time is not my own to waste as I see fit. I’ve lost or cut loose a few connections that involved too much internet time social media but relatively little genuine communication. Others, I have fired according to the Worst Professor’s excellent advice.

28 02 2012
Jonathan Rees

Vanessa:

I’m afraid the rest of us can’t fire our students. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to fire up your students too. The inevitable result of this situation reminds me of this post from UD. That’s why I’d rather fail spectacularly than die of boredom.

1 03 2012
VanessaVaile

Retirement without benefits has to have some perks, however limited… might well as enjoy the few there are. Boredom, so far, seems unlikely, let alone fatal.

29 02 2012
J Liedl

I don’t look at my email until at least ten in the morning. Some days it’s not until around noon. Since I’m usually checking email at 10 p.m., I don’t feel too bad. The students who contact me in the wee hours have no realistic expectation of a timely response (I tell them to allow 24 hours for a weekday email response and that’s only in urgent cases).

I’m open on Twitter, FB, email and my blog. But I don’t leap to attention when they ask for something, especially if it requires specific info such as “what’s my grade for this assignment?” or “explain to me more why I didn’t get an A or B!” Those type of queries wait until office hours when I can consult my gradebook and/or review the assignment with them in person.

My mental health has been so much better since I vowed not to be a slave to email. I only open my university email twice a day, once on weekends and not at all on holidays. So far, the world hasn’t ended.

29 02 2012
Jonathan Rees

Wow, you give out your Twitter and Facebook accounts? I won’t turn a student I know and like away from either one if they bother to find me but that’s a border I don’t want to cross if I can help it.

You’re right about e-mail though. I keep thinking that a note will magically appear telling me that I’ve won a $5000 fellowship for being such a great guy, but alas all I ever get besides student e-mails are meeting announcements and textbook spam.

1 03 2012
J Liedl

I’d be so in favour of that $5000 fellowship for most supportive prof – sadly, what funding agency or university administration really cares about that?

With Twitter and Facebook available, students feel that they get everything. They don’t, of course, but they have the illusion of total information!

1 03 2012
Historiann

Thanks for the link, Jonathan. Right about now I’m feeling like you should take my commenters, PLEASE! (Except Janice–I like her.)

I’ll try to shoot some traffic your way today.

1 03 2012
VanessaVaile

for a moment there I thought you were going to just shoot some, not shoot them over…

10 03 2012
Susan Davis

Reblogged this on Learning and Labor.

1 10 2012
World History MOOC Report 4: In which I waste my time. « More or Less Bunk

[...] get better grades, why should they care about them as much as you do? This has been my problem with class blogs. When they’re not central to the course, you have to force students to talk to one another [...]

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