Updates, Links, and Two Sour Grapes

Blogging is a lot like teaching. You start with one project, and then you add another and another, until you’re juggling one more topic than you can track, and you hope that whoever is watching is enjoying the show, or at least paying attention.

Along those lines, some follow-ups on earlier topics. First, I’ve touched on adjuncts working in the law; those interested in this field might look into the Legal Writing Institute’s upcoming workshop for adjuncts on December 4, 2009 (in both Chicago and New York).

Second, still no word about the results of the adjunct writing faculty survey. I’m expanding my net.

Third, and more locally, the adjunct writing conference I reported on earlier continues to bear fruit: faculty are more involved in discussing curriculum at Baker College, and there’s more discussion related to how to improve writing than before. On a related note, other schools who use adjunct faculty extensively have been having such conferences for a longer time. Consider University of Maryland University College (UMUC), who regularly hires adjuncts for online, domestic, and overseas positions. They have had several years of annual summer conferences on writing. You can find a brochure here, and a discussion of the experience here. I’ll also note that this last discussion is found in UMUC’s DE Oracle, an ezine dedicated to instructional quality. Yes, lots of schools have them; this one seems more genuinely committed.

And now, the grapes.

Sour grape #1 is standard for academics for hundreds of years: This has been a hard week as far as the relationship between grading student writing and completing my own. This week I had to deal with a complaint from a student that her paper wasn’t that heavily plagiarized, and so shouldn’t get so low a grade, a complaint from a second student that she didn’t know what she was doing wrong…that let me know she couldn’t find my comments on her paper, and a complaint from a third that I had corrected too many grammar errors on his paper and not told him how he could make his writing clearer. (Oh, the irony.) All this came while my own writing projects sat untouched on the shelf…

Sour grape #2, is standard for adjuncts right now, and a great example of the elephant in the corner. I’m serving on a committee for one of the schools I teach for. It’s a paid gig, which is good, and it allows me access to some of the planning discussions, which is useful if disturbing. In the most recent discussion, one issue that was raised was how to make our students better writers. Another was how to retain more students through the introductory course sequence.

I was literally speechless at the time, because the school in question has been raising class sizes. The introductory course sequence used to be insulated from this, and so have fewer students in those classes. Not any more. What’s more, the course design process puts a cap on the maximum number of pages students are asked to write, and forces a specific design on assignments, often producing bad and confusing assignments. The school has also been pushing instructors to treat the first instances of plagiarism as accidental. Finally, the school has become more arbitrary in scheduling, making it harder for adjuncts to know if and when they’re teaching.

I was left saying “Bad and rigid assignments…free passes on plagiarism…much larger classes…scared teachers entering classes with only a little notice…and you want to know what we can do to help students write?”


Oh, the humanity.

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