About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are what this blog and I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology. I have lived in Europe and Latin America, worked in Economic and Trade Development, Distance Learning, and for the last 17 years as an instructor teaching everything from Marketing Research to ESL to Distance Learning. I am an internationalist first and foremost.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Digital Writing: Do you have to have visuals?

In response to in Yin Wah Krehar's post on making digital writing accessible, I realized that this is how I tend to write.  Living in area with limited internet access for many years, I'm always aware of the features of my writing.

So I'm going to flip the challenge Yin Wah Krehar gave the #digiwrimo community and ask instead, when is it appropriate to use visuals?

4 Questions to ask yourself before using a visual

1. Why do I want to use the Visual? Many times it is simply something that will catch the eye of the reader.  Or perhaps you've been told that blog posts or digital writing SHOULD have visuals. Perhaps it is personal preference.  However, if you really don't have a good reason (it will help you get your message across, it will reinforce an emotion you want to evoke, it will help the reader understand), then why use it?

2. Is the Visual you have chosen really relevant to what you are writing? Now, I have to be honest, I love that picture of the jelly fish at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.  I might even be able to justify it by saying it's like writing in that a writer has all these ideas floating around and writing is a way to put them altogether in a uniform product. But really, it doesn't really do anything for my post except to illustrate that the visual should be relevant.

3. Is the visual easy to understand? For one of my assignments, I made my students create a visual on pinterest. Can you figure out what they were supposed to create? To be honest, I knew it would be difficult for them to achieve the kind of visual we discussed in class using pinterest.  While pinterest includes visuals, it doesn't allow for the type of task I assigned them (which was part of goal).  I was very impressed with the graphic they ended up with. However, for anyone who did not know the task, it would be difficult to understand the graphic.

4. Is it engaging? 

Would you be engaged in watching this video? The fact is that my students weren't and I think you'll understand why as you watch it.  I made this video so my students who were having trouble finding electronic materials from our library would have a visual aid.  It was not really made for engagement purposes but rather as a reference.  However, I do think I could have made it a bit more engaging by considering who my audience was and what questions they may ask.

So before putting that visual into your blog post, facebook post, or attaching it to a tweet, ask yourself if it is really necessary.

Our Activity for #Digiwri

I teach computer mediated communication at the University of Albany.  I am always looking for activities that will connect my students to the real work so that 1) they can get feedback from someone other than just myself and their classmates, who they will end up getting to know very well in class, and 2) so they can see how what we learn in class can be used in the real world.

This is the reason I decided to use #digiwrimo to work on online writing.  Surprisingly, this is a topic rarely covered in CMC classes.  I will be focusing on audience, format, message, and medium.  We will begin with a twitterchat from 3:00-3:30 PM Eastern Standard Time.

Then we will discuss the different forms of digital writing I have examples of for this class. These examples include writing for academic audiences, writing instructions, writing for a professional audience, writing for mobile technology, writing for social media, and writing for video clips.  Part of the writing process will be getting feedback on their writing and measuring its impact.

Finally, students will be asked to choose 3 mediums and produce writing for each.  In preparing for their writing, they will need to include who the audience is, their message, special features/considerations for digital platform they've chosen, and how they will measure impact (this worksheet will be available on Googledocs).

They will then share their digital writing via twitter, linkedin, and facebook.

Cross cultural dialog: Teaching our next generation to engage with others different than them

In my last post I wrote about the course I taught last semester and some of the activities I was using. Today, on the eve of Independence Day, it is even more important that our society restart the intercultural dialogues that have stopped and started, molded our society, led to civil wars and protests, and ultimately created our current society.

Intercultural dialog and conversations

As I began my course in January, there were many discussions of race and religion on campus. I teach at a very diverse university that draws from urban, suburban, and rural communities; diverse cultures including international students from most continents, along with indigenous (Mohawk and Iroquois mostly) students; differing sexual orientations; a wide variety of religions; and diverse socio economic backgrounds. Most of my class had very different living and family situations: you name it, there was probably someone who fit that live style.

My first month of class I used to get to know my students, their values, cultures they associated themselves with, how they identified themselves socially, biases (prejudices), and communication style. I used a categorization exercise to assess their starting point in understanding both other cultures and cross-cultural communication skills. I also used three other projects to assess their intercultural communication skills as we progressed through the semester: Intercultural/Diversity Interview, assimilation project and log, and a group intercultural training project. (These projects are all described in the previous blog post).

The intercultural/diversity interview allowed me to assess the preconceptions my students had coming into an intercultural/cross cultural dialog. For the most part, my students went into these interviews with an open mind. Some did not and it showed in their analysis as they did not try to understand the answers the person they interviewed had given them. They assumed they already knew the answer and there was very little discussion after the initial questions. However, many of my students were surprised by the answers they received, especially if they were interviewing close friends. The majority began to see their own values and biases that they used to lead discussions. I noticed in-class discussions had much more interaction and asking for explanations rather than giving just their view point. There also was much more intellectual conflict, with a deeper level of listening as students not only listened to others, but tried to understand what they were saying. There was also more identification of potential biases, but still not a recognition of others values and understanding. It was during this time that I introduced socio-linguistics and conversation "enders."

Conversation enders are things people say which will make others in the dialog stop listening or trying to make themselves understood. I was shocked at some of the things my students said they had heard or been called which shut them down from further dialog (either wanting to understand the others viewpoints or wanting to connect with another group). Every student in the class was able to identify at least one thing that they felt would stop the conversation.

The next project I had my students work on was a group project in which students collected first and secondary research on intercultural communication within a certain context (e.g. education, politics, healthcare, environmental conservation, customer service, law enforcement) and to choose 3 cultures for the analysis. Group members needed to find information on how each of those cultures discussed and communicated within each of those contexts. For my students, this was very difficult because they had never had to look at content and data from multiple perspectives. They began to understand the more subtle assumptions they made based on their own experiences. Perhaps the hardest part of this exercise was to identify and define the cultures they would be using. The labels they would put on groups often was very wide and identified their own biases. In some cases, a more complex group was identified based on shared beliefs rather than physical characteristics (e.g. people who have been incarcerated, law enforcers, those who have not had any experience with law enforcement).

Finally, my students were asked to participate in 3 events of a club or group whose culture was different than their own. Initially this was difficult as students were wary of immersing themselves into another group's culture. However, with the help of their classmates, all of the students participated in this activity. They had to keep a journal of their expectations, observations about the group, and strategies they used both before and after the event. They then handed these logs in along with an analysis of intercultural communication. These logs gave me insight into how they actually grew and engaged (or were not able to) in intercultural dialog. Their analyses revealed the pre-existing biases that interfered with intercultural conversations, the fear of insulting those of other beliefs, and the fear of being judged based on others pre-existing biases. However, it was this assignment more than any of the others that got them interacting with other groups and truly engaging with others in a meaningful way.

I assessed their final level of intercultural communication skills by giving them the same categorization activity I had given them the first class. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, many students were used to diversity. Their ability to recognize that others had different ways of communicate and behave was very advanced. However, they learned to cross a communication barrier to interact and actually engage in dialog with those outside of their own groups. The majority of the groups had much more difficulty creating categories as they could see numerous levels of culture and communication. In the end, many based their categories based on communication preferences (non-verbal/verbal preferences; direct/group/circular reasoning; social, group, individual). Even then, they had much more conversation and discussion that resulted in questions that could not be answered with out having the individual to speak to.

Lessons learned

It has been a while since I have taught this class.  One area that I noticed a difference was in the basic awareness of differences.  One reason could be that my university is diverse in many ways with a growing international student population; many first generation university students (who are many times also children of immigrants); rural, suburban, small town, and urban populations; a wide range of ethnic groups (including native Americans); and diverse age, lifestyle, ableness, gender/gender identity, and religious backgrounds.  However, despite this diversity, there seemed to be little dialogue outside of their social groups.  As a result, there seemed to be preconceived understanding or those outside of their own social groups.

I used by understanding of social groups as a starting point for my students which allowed them to go beyond cultural stereotypes and begin to understand others from of a view of outsiders/insiders.  Using this as a starting point helped to create opportunities for dialogue.

Another barrier I found to starting intercultural dialogue was the previous learning students had had in K-12 in which they were taught to treat each person as the "same."  While I understand this approach (find what you have in common and use as a starting point), this was often used instead as a way to shut down identifying differences.  As a result, students were afraid to speak about the elephant in the room-differences.  They were never given the tools to create these dialogues to use as a way of understanding other perspectives, creating communicative connections, and developing a relationship with those outside of their own social groups.  This needs to be discussed at the beginning of the course and included in my learning objectives.

I was a bit wary at first in pushing students out of their comfort level to interact with those of other cultures.  I still struggle with the fear of adverse reactions should they feel attacked, judged, or disapproval from their own social group.  I feel by letting them choose the "culture" that they wanted to interact with, they could decide the comfort level.  By allowing them to journal about this experience and then use that as a basis for analysis, they were able to understand their own transformation, level of understanding, and boundaries if they decide to immerse themselves in another culture.   It is important to give students choice (with teacher approval) while at the same time push them out of their comfort zone.  Much of the feedback I received from their analysis was positive.

Finally, I feel it is important that we begin to create diversity/cross-/intercultural training programs that focus on dialogue.  Many of the diversity programs I have seen were heavy on content and processes and light on actually engaging in intercultural dialogues that addressed problems and worked on finding solutions.   Diversity training programs that focus on intercultural dialogue training with a focus on problem solving take more commitment (resources, training, preparation, and time) so are rarely implemented.  I feel more research needs to be done on this.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The need for intercultural dialogue: One approach to start the conversation

This semester I will finally get the opportunity to teach intercultural communication again. It has been many years and I feel it is long overdue. However, many things have changed over the last 20 years, one of which is how communication, dialog, and culture is taught in our schools. More than ever I see students come into my classroom with fossilized concepts, having been educated in a system in which knowledge is content and facts. As a result, I spend much of my classes trying to teach students how to think and communicate critically.

I foresee a course like critical communication creating very uncomfortable conversations. However, I want my students to engage in these conversations, yet at the same time feel safe to extend their knowledge boundaries. This is not always easy to achieve. So I decided to begin the class with an exercise that will hopefully allow them to access their emotions, perceptions, and beliefs in a safe space.


I will be using a card sorting activity adapted from a workshop given by Kimberly Tanner from SEPAL at San Francisco State University.

Step 1: Personal Reflection

First I will ask students to think about how they would react to the following people if they were working alone late at a convenience store in their neighborhood. Students will not be asked to share their answers (or write them down), rather they will be asked to react and note their reactions mentally. My goal here is to begin the dialog about stereotyping and profiling in a non-judgmental way. As humans, we tend to categorize people by attributes, language, "otherness", and "likeness". Often these categories are based on values, perceptions, experience, and beliefs developed through personal experiences, our families, and our communities. These then create the patterns of perception, attitudes, and beliefs that are the basis of culture.

  • A white professional middle aged woman with a dark complexioned young child
  • A group of teenage boys of mixed race dressed in sports uniforms
  • A group of black teenage girls dressed in hoodies
  • A white middle aged policeman
  • A dark complexioned man accompanied by a dark complexioned woman with a scarf
  • A homeless man in his 40's 
  • A homeless woman with an accent in her 70's
  • A man with dreadlocks (complexion non-descript) dressed in casual clothes
  • A group of East Asian men with no English dressed in business suits
  • Two latina women, in 20's and 40's. The younger speaks English, the elder does not.
  • An ungroomed older man (60's) in a wheelchair with a younger care giver bi-racial man with dreadlocks.
  • A group of teenage boys with tattoos and body piercings.
  • A bald white middle aged man dressed in camouflage with a Ron Paul button.
  • A middle aged woman wearing a sari with a cough.
  • A group of teenage boys with body piercings and British accents.

Step 2

Now I will break students up into groups. Some groups will be random, some will have commonalities (i.e. downstaters, foreign students, gender, major, language groups). I will then will give students cards with each of the groups listed above, one per card and ask them to sort the cards. The only directions will be there has to be at least 2 cards in each category and there has to be at least 2 categories. Students will be responsible for naming the categories into which they have sorted the cards. According to Dr. Tanner, categories tend to be superficial or based on simplistic visual cues for students that do not have a deep understanding of a topic. I expect that my students will sort according to physical attributes (age, race, fashion) or other easily recognizable attributes such as ability or accent. A more advanced student of intercultural communication might use other attributes (e.g. matriarchal, patriarchal, level of menace, distance from personal culture, approach in communication).


I was pleasantly surprised at the sophistication of categories my students created. One possibility could be the fact that my class is very diverse so when they were put randomly into groups (by counting off in class), there were different levels of expertise within the discussions. As a result, the discussion became more complex. Some of the categories included: in-group, outgroup, strangers (communication rings) and lifestyles (i.e. caregivers, no social ties, members of groups). The word "stereotypes" and "profiling" did come up in class and we agreed to put it aside to later class (I plan on using it in the socio-linguistics class planned in a couple of weeks as the term has become packed with social meaning due to its use in the media).

I look forward to some great discussions in my class although I am still a bit nervous about opening up what might be difficult conversations in the class. I will update this post with changes to the process based on the results from my class. I will also be replicating this activity the last class to see if student understanding changes over the course of the semester.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Improving online interaction

I was asked to give a presentation on improving interaction for online courses. This is a very complex question. The answer lies in research that has been done in online learning, social psychology, distance or online education, communication (including interpersonal, group, and CM communication), and even organizational development. This blog post will give a basic overview of the problems, barriers, factors, and concepts most researchers agree upon. Later next week, I will upload in-depth posts on choice of technology and its affect on interaction (including private, public, and personal interaction), instructional design to maximize online interaction, types of interaction and their purposes, and models of interaction for learning (including organizational learning).

In a previous paper, I identified 4 factors that affect online interaction: Technology, community, instructional constraints, and time.


Many times, instructors have limited choices of technology type. Because of privacy issues, many US universities and organizations require instructors to use learning management systems (LMS) that allow for privacy. However, these same technologies may limit interaction. For example, Blackboard discussion boards may be difficult for students to identify when a new thread has been started. This would result in discussion that favors one discussion over another because students (or even instructors) are unaware of new information. These more structured LMS tend to structure instruction as two way rather than multiple interaction. On the other hand, Adobe Connect, with audio presentation and chat functions that can be used simultaneously, allow for multiple conversations. However, for some students this can be chaotic.

LMS's also tend to promote "formal" interaction rather than informal. The devise that an individual accesses class interaction can also affect how "public", "personal", or "private" the interaction may be perceived. Even using the same software, an email may appear more private if received on a smartphone than when it is received on a public computer. This might change the way in which a person interacts, either becoming more formal (or informal), more open (or more private) depending on the technology used.

Finally, the level of support, comfort with technology, and reliable access can influence how successful students can interact with other students or their instructor. Students located internationally or in rural areas may not have access to high speed internet. There may also be compatibility problems that affect student participation.


Different programs create different types of learning communities and different communities of practice. The expectations of these communities, a student's ability to relate to the community or know of community norms, and the ability to participate within the discourse community all affect interaction. Students who lack confidence may tend to be "lurkers" who are afraid or, at least, reluctant to participate. They may feel that they will be rejected if they participate or they may not want to belong to community due the perception that they are have a different culture or style.

Instructors may need to develop (with the class) communication norms so that all students are working from the same set of rules. In addition, an instructor may need to help create a safe environment to work and learn through interaction at the individual, group, and class levels.


This is an aspect of interaction that is often overlooked. In face to face interaction, two people can interrupt, read visual cues, and straighten out misunderstandings within a short time span. Interaction online (even if it is through video) may take more time and may be more difficult to follow. On the other hand, there is more time for planned interaction and responses. Instructors can ask for a deeper level of reflection. Another barrier to online learning may be a difference in time zone. As a result, any interaction might take longer to develop. There is also a greater chance of losing motivation during the interaction.

Two ways in which instructors and instructional designers can help to overcome these barriers is to assign facilitators and due dates. It is important for all members of the class to remember the time differences and ensure that times are posted with time zones. Related to time zones are the outside pressures to an online student. There may be work, family, or other activity pressures that limit the time when students and instructors are available. Therefore, it becomes important that there are clear expectations for predictable times within which interaction will take place.

Instructional Constraints

I have taught in Language, Communication, Education, Research, Globalization, Marketing, and Business departments. Some are quantitative in content, some are skill based, some are qualitative, some have static content, some have content that is changing AS I was teaching. I have also taught short term intensive weekend courses, hybrid courses, online courses, workshops, full length year long courses, courses with standardized content, courses which are customized...really any type of configuration you can think of.

In each of these instances, there were some shared givens: well thought out goals and objectives, assessments that matched the course goals and objectives, a student, and a well thought out instructional design appropriate for the student and assessment/goals/objectives.

However, due to the variability of courses, there may need to be different types of interaction. The Community of Inquiry (developed by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer) is one model commonly used as a jumping off point. The model looks at the intersection of social presence, teacher presence, and cognitive presence. Factors such as student experience, previous knowledge, learning environment, external and internal resources, and even culture and language all can have an effect on course interaction.

Improving Interaction

Over the next few weeks, I will be writing some suggestions on how to deal with the factors I discussed here. I will look at research from various disciplines and give some concrete suggestions on how to improve the interaction in an online course at the individual, group, and course level.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Just in Time Teaching #adjunctchat September 9

We've all been there. Either the last minute call asking us to pick up a class (that perhaps we've never taught) or not having a class prepared because of a last minute emergency at home or our other job. How do we handle it?

First, the nature of adjunct/contingent work makes us more likely to get that last minute call when someone quits unexpectedly. On the one hand, many of us feel that this is a favor we can't turn down. If we do this favor, they may give us more/better classes or better times. This may even be a way to connect with the department for tenure track positions. On the other hand, this means we start classes behind. Being given a class last minute means you may not be able to choose the text or even change the syllabus. So the first question is:

1) When do you say yes to a last minute teaching request? What are the pros and cons of saying yes or no.

Once you have committed yourself to teaching the course, what are some ways to get prepared quickly? I use other syllabi. Most universities have syllabi on record from previous semesters. This is always good starting point. However, for me it is important that I make the syllabus my own. I usually will take the text if one has already been ordered because it is too difficult to stop the process. It is important not to teach from the textbook, though. I like to divide my courses into 4 or 5 modules throughout the semester (from my online teaching days). This allows me to group together concepts and readings so readings don't have to be taught sequentially. I also look for other universities' syllabi for teaching/assignment ideas. This has been very successful for my own teaching. Why reinvent the wheel when you have limited time?

So the second question for discussion is:

2) How do you get prepared quickly for a class you have just been given? What resources are available? What instructional design process do you use?

Of course, if you are given a teaching assignment last minute, you may find you are one chapter ahead of the students, especially when it comes to specialized vocabulary used in a text or creating assessments (quizzes, tests, assignments, projects). Many of us who are teaching a course we have been given a while ago may also come to class without knowing what they are going to do for that class. Life happens. Illness, family responsibilities (both younger and older members of the family), outside work, research, conferences, weather, etc...

Even worse for adjuncts are when you have something prepared but are not able to use it. How many of you have taken the wrong bag or forgotten your notes somewhere else? Many of my colleagues admit to having gone to the wrong school or gotten the time wrong (for the day they had to teach) when they work at multiple locations. They also had the wrong class prep at the wrong location. Then there are the times when technology fails, especially for those working early morning or late a night when there is no technical support. The third question for discussion is:

3) What has caused you to be ill-prepared in class? How did you manage it?

I have a few types of activities that I have prepared in case I'm not prepared for the class. These usually student generated (i.e. make up their own jeopardy questions which the rest of the class needs to answer or spending the class time working in teams creating a presentation on the topic). I also am a great believer in games and "playing". In my case, games and simulations work well in the fields of communication, management, education, ESL, and marketing (the fields I've taught in). However, I think it could work in other fields also. It is a great way to assess students and allow students to learn in more ambiguous environments.

4) What are some "go to" activities you use if you can't use the lesson you had prepared? What about activities in the case where you aren't prepared for a class?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Best Practices with Mobile Tech: #adjunctchat Tuesday, July 15

Mobile Technology is here to stay.  It is a fact of academic life.

Many of us may try to resist integrating mobile technology into our classrooms. However, the fact is that it is now a part of our students' lives and it is something as teachers we need to think about whether we work in a traditional classroom or online. What are some ways in which mobile technology has changed the classroom?

First, there is the positive ways. Students have access to information on their mobile devises which can broaden the curriculum. Instructors no longer have to rely on outdated information and can bring in topical issues. This is true of all majors. Another advantage is that higher education students can be sent out of the classroom to learn, observe, and experience what they are learning in context. I often use my class time to send students out and observe while keeping in touch via mobile technology. Using technology in the classroom also helps the instructor to give instant feedback as students work in class. I am able to point to different resources or help students learn how to navigate through information, developing their information literacy, communication, and critical thinking skills.

Outside of class, students can contact their instructor or TA outside of office hours. This is especially important for adjuncts and contingent faculty who may not have access to offices or private spaces for discussion. And new mobile technologies allow for more natural conversation through facetime, skype, or google hangouts. I also am able to update my students, giving them access, through mobile apps for programs such as Trello.com, edmodo, googledocs, youtube or blackboard, to updated resources, feedback, and assignments. Finally, for "temporary" faculty, students can maintain a relationship once a faculty member has left the university. Social networking sites such as facebook or linkedin allows faculty to maintain that relationship which can be a reciprocal relationship for graduate school and employment. I will check in with my former students when I'm revising my classes to get real world feedback so my course stays relevant.

However, more often than not, faculty know the downside of mobile technology. Students become distracted with their technology and social media, neither listening to the instructor or classmates (if they do happen to be focusing on class work) nor being engaged in the class (checking email, messages, or facebook or even studying for another class). For an instructor it is difficult to know when a student is taking notes on their mobile device or communicating with someone outside of class (although grins during a discussion of marketing law are a dead give away).

There are also technology difficulties, such as the digital divide (those who have more advanced technology compared to those that don't), power outages, access to wifi (or lack of access), lack of support for individual devices, and incompatibility with other digital devices. Many faculty members are not confident to use technology that they either are unfamiliar with or have no academic support for. In addition, designing activities for effective use of mobile technology in the classroom may be time consuming as there may be technology testing and training used. For example, there are different designs for smartphone use, tablets, and laptops. Smartphones require a different format than computer based content. In addition, each screen shot on a small mobile device can be linked but normally can't be seen as a whole product.

Finally, the ability for students to reach an instructor 24/7 can lead to an adjunct or part-time instructor interacting with students above and beyond the time for which they are paid. Students rarely distinguish between a tenured, full-time, or part-time instructor and may expect unlimited access.

In this week's #adjunctchat, we will trade some best practices for using mobile technology (m-learning) both in traditional classes and online classes. We will look at the use of mobile technology in academics as a whole and the challenges for adjuncts specifically.

1) Do you allow the use of mobile technology in your courses? Why or why not?
2) What are some challenges in using mobile technology (especially for adjuncts/contingent faculty)
3) How might you integrate mobile technology into your teaching?
4) What boundaries do/might you need to create for effective use of mobile technology with your students?
5) What resources would you like to have when developing activities, resources, instructional design, technology for mobile use in the classroom?

This discussion is open to anyone interested in mobile technology in the classroom. I'll try to put up some links of examples I've used in my classes.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Adjuncts doing research Adjunctchat April 8

One of the common myths in society is that only tenure track faculty or Phd students who are forced to do research are doing so at universities.  In fact, many adjuncts either want to or are doing research, in some cases on their own, in other cases as part of a full time job out of the academy.

However, there are a number of issues that come up. If adjuncts aren't being paid for the work, then should they have control over their work? If that is the case, do they have to get approval from the IRB if they aren't using students as participants? How do they handle "school affiliation" that a growing number of journals require when they they have conducted the research over two or more different locations?  How can adjuncts  overcome their "research itch?"  

In this week's adjunctchat, we'll be discussing how adjuncts can do research, get funding, and trouble shoot problems if they want to continue doing research (inside and outside academia).

Monday, March 31, 2014

What do adjuncts do? #adjunctchat April 1

A few weeks ago, I read something that made me think of this topic.  I'm sorry I didn't save the link, but someone stated, "If we were lawyers, we would get paid for billable hours."  This got me to thinking, what if we as education professionals, started billing for the work we did as accountants, lawyers, or even "trainers" (who ARE educators, by the way, even though there are some who continue to make the division) do?  What if our contracts were to deliver a service, but we could charge more for larger classes (training contract put a cap on maximum class size), tailoring classes or classes we have not taught before (so prep), office hours, administrative work such as inputting grades, writing recommendations or calculating midterm grades for students who need them or verification of progress, making copies of course material, grading student work (which means all of the innovative new ways of teaching requiring more advanced means of assessment or faculty teaching writing courses would get paid more because of the required extra hours) or research in which the school's name is used in a journal or conference (this is part of school image after all).

So, the problem as I see it is two fold: 1) Adjuncts/contingents don't get paid for all that they do; and 2) most people (except for adjuncts and some department heads & faculty) are unaware of all the work an average adjunct does and does not get paid for.

Over the last week or so I've collected some blog posts and reports about the work situation for adjuncts which are finally coming to light.  However, there is still little information and actual data on adjuncts.  So my adjunctchat (Tuesday, April 1 at 4PM  Eastern Standard Time) will look at the information gap about adjuncts and how we can address that.

Some of the questions I'd like to discuss include:

1) How are adjuncts/contingents/teaching assistants identified and used in higher education? Are there differences in unionized/non-unionized, public/private institutions, community colleges/colleges/research universities, or regions/countries?

2) What are the requirements and hiring practices for adjuncts? How is this different from Tenure Track? How is this different from other part time employees? How is this different from contract professionals?

3) How can we make hiring and the work adjuncts do more transparent? How can be begin to publicize the real adjunct work (rather than the public image of an adjunct some experience in the class-but not necessarily an academic degree- popping into to class to lecture 1-3 times a week and giving the class 2 pre-developed standard tests created by the publisher or a tenure track professor, which is graded by machine)?

4) How much time per class per semester do you contribute to class, service, and research?  How can we gather this information so it is not just a self reported guestimate but is methodically collected (I'm thinking there's got to be an app out there)?

I hope you can make this.  It would also help if we could begin to get some additional participants outside of the US and Canada as I think other countries are beginning to be pressured to accept this adjunct/contingent" model which has creeped into the US and is beginning to move into the Canadian system.  If we have data, academics around the world can begin to push back so there is a more equitable system of pay and work.

Conjob (video)
Congressional Report: The just in time professor
Portrait of part-time faculty by CAW
CUPA-HR Professionals in Higher Education Salary Survey
Just visiting
Adjunctaction Town Meeting
Chronical's Vitae Adjunct stats
Columbia Professors fired after yrs as contingents
UK policy makers getting more data from private sector rather than unis
In case people buy that this is a new problem, read this article from 1995

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Integrating service learning and blogs into communication courses

In a recent twitter conversation with Mike Morrison at RapidBI, I mentioned that I felt the current unemployment rate for teen in the US was having an impact on the skills students were coming in with. It used to be that students would learn work skills on the job in low level entry level jobs. These skills included basic jobs skills such as understanding what is expected in a job (being on time, dressing correctly, knowing when to take initiative, knowing when to ask questions, understanding chain of command in a given work situation, company culture), communication skills (interacting with irate customers, problem solving, finding and giving information), and self regulation (taking responsibility for actions, changing behaviors to fit corporate culture, interacting with coworkers, taking initiative). All of these skills can be learned (with support from workplace mentors and training structures) on the job. However, what happens when teens no longer have access to these types of jobs?

My background (as many who read my blog know) is in experiential learning. This means that I am always trying to figure out how to give my students real life situations that they can learn within and try out new skills without the fear of failing the class. I use Kolb's model: experience, reflection, generalization, experimentation. For me, the biggest challenge is to find real life situations that my students can use (simulations are nice, but there is not the same level of complexity and lack of predictability for my students to feel the discomfort of "not knowing" what they are doing, yet having others rely on their work). So, for the last 3 years, I have had my students do various types of service learning projects.

This semester, I have also decided to have them blog about the projects. There are two reasons for this: 1) It forces them to reflect on the project beyond the required documents they are required to produce, and 2) They are publicly accountable for the project.

The Projects

This semester, I am teaching two different levels of group communication. The lower level focuses on understanding group processes and developing communication skills (writing and oral) for effective group processes. I have students working in two different groups throughout the semester simultaneously so they understand how different groups, group purposes/tasks, and communication requirements will result in different group processes and challenges. One of the projects is an open service learning project in which students must work 5 hours per person (i.e. 20 hours for a group of 4, 25 hours for a group of 5) with a non-profit organization. They must keep me informed first by writing a project proposal, then creating a group code of conduct, submitting a progress report, writing a description of their project on a service learning blog, and writing a final report which includes evidence of their hours/work (i.e. letter from organization they work with, receipts, schedule). I allow students to choose whichever organization they want to work with, but they must propose the work and organization and get it approved by me before they start the work.

The second class I teach is an upper level class that focuses on group leadership. For this class, students were given 5-6 books to start off with, and then collect 4 more books per person (20 for a group of 5, 24 for a group of 6). Next they need to find an organization to donate the books to that is outside of our region. Once a week, they are given a different task to complete to help them find books, find an organization to donate to, and deliver the books to the organization (outside of our region). This project may include fund-raising for postage or soliciting various groups for books that are related to the organization to which they are donating.

In both cases, students will be asked to document their work and then create a blog which can be used by the university, the students (for future jobs), and the organizations they are working at (for more publicity and perhaps future contributions and help).

What My Students Learn

Over the last 3 years that I have done these service projects, my students initially are resistant in doing the projects. Many complain that it requires too much outside time with their busy schedules. However, by the end of the semester, the majority are very pleased to have participated and many continue to do the volunteer work started through this class. In addition to being a resume builder, students believe that this project gave them a realistic experience in which they learned to communicate. They were able to use the tools they were taught in class and reflect on their impact on communication in a real world experience. Many students have indicated that they have used those same tools in subsequent internships. They also feel more confident in using the communication skills because they have had to use them in a comparatively low risk situation (the service project) yet being held responsible for using them in a real life situation.