About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are 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.

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

Please tweet me or add in the comment section any other resources you might have.

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.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Distributed groups and mobile technology

A short history

Twenty years ago, I was working on a management training program for Hungary. The program, funded by USAID,the Pew Foundation, and USIA, was headquartered in the State University of New York's Office of International Programs in Albany, drawing on the resources of 26 campuses (university centers, colleges, technical colleges, and community colleges). In addition to the program headquarters, the program had a Center for Private Enterprise in Budapest which worked with affiliates in 3 provincial towns/cities as well as Budapest and a program group at the University of Buffalo (a SUNY research university). Each group had its own way of working, and my job as project manager was to coordinate it. We used faxes, conference calls, carriers, overnight/express mail, and towards the end, we were in the dawn of the internet, learning how to "program" emails, routing them through university servers from the US, to Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, finally sending them to universities in Hungary who would hand deliver them to our Budapest offices.

Distributed groups back then required a core group through which communication would pass. If technology or even a vital member of the group was missing, the work of the group could be delayed for days or even weeks. While the majority of work being conducted was in English, Hungary was just coming out of the cold war years, so English was not a commonly spoken language. Due to Hungary's history as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, many spoke German as a second language. As the only German speaker in the group (and then it was limited), this meant that I needed to be available in case we had to communicate with the Center's clerical staff, who were in the process of learning English. I would go in many mornings for conference calls or our Center's managerial staff would have to stay late because of the time difference.

Fast forward to 6 years later, when I was asked to come to take over a project that was ending. There had been 2 previous project managers before me who had been moved to take over other more important projects. Again, this was a USAID funded project, but this time there was a head of project on the ground who handled most of the logistics. My role as Project Director was mostly administrative: financial approvals, budgets, report writing, communicating with the funding agent, writing contracts, making travel arrangements outside of Paraguay. By this time, however, we were communicating via computer (desktop dial up internet). In addition, the Head of Project had a cell phone that we could reach when he was not in the office (either at onsite training or after hours during the summer when there was a 2 hour time difference).

This helped distribute the power between the distributed group so there did not have to be one central location for decisions. In addition, the internet made communication more efficient as an email could be left overnight for someone to access the next day. However, due to the computer still being tied to a line, if a person was away from the office for any length of time, a colleague would need to access and review their emails. Our office, while multilingual, at times would not have a language specialist to translate correspondence. I was recruited a number of times to translate for our projects in Brazil and Mozambique because I could decipher Portuguese. However, we had to have emails written in Russian either translated into English, put on hold for our Russian speaker to return, or forward the email to another location for the Russian speaker to access. While some work could be distributed, the technology still required some central coordination. In addition, it was still time consuming.

How has mobile technology affected distributed groups?

So how are things different, 14 years later? Even the fact that I am aware of what my former colleagues are doing is a difference. I can keep up with their work peripherally through the web, facebook, and linkedin. When I asked one of my former colleagues for a letter of recommendation, she gave me her cell phone number. She might have been out of the country, but she checked her messages and email via cell phone when needed. She would bring her computer so she could work on projects while she was out of the country. This meant that for more urgent matters, she could make decisions that needed immediate attention. Of course, this also means she is multi-tasking more and team members may know less than they did before if she decides not to share her knowledge or information.

In a recent chapter I wrote about mobile technology, researchers (Ladner, 2008; Julsrud & Bakke, 2009) found that there is a blurring of the lines between work and home life. While a member of management may have more flexible time (as my colleague now has), he or she may also have more time taken out of their home life/leisure time as they are expected to be "on call" and available at all times in case of emergency. My dissertation also had evidence that the more important members of a distributed group are those that can "translate" information from one group to another. In this case, translate was not only to put into terms that others can understand, but also the language and cultural foundations needed to communicate across borders.

Distributed groups means that employees are working with other team members that they may never have met face to face. In any work team, individuals want to present a social identity that will make collaboration easier. In addition, a team prospers from members accessing the social and knowledge networks of other group members. Wallis and Law & Peng found workers controlled their identities in the workplace through mobile phone filters such as turning off the phone, limiting who had their phone number (including trading phones to get a new phone number, thus cutting off access to those with whom they did not want to communicate), and developing contact lists on their mobile phone. They developed different communication strategies for different social groups to limit how they presented their social identities for different contexts. The mobile technology gave them agency to communicate and behave as required by their social/knowledge networks (distributed group) and context. My own research supports this, with members of distributed groups sharing or withholding information depending on their perception of how their knowledge was valued within a group. The mobile phone allows group members to access knowledge and social networks, but either publicly (i.e. conference call, social media space), privately (texting, email) or personally (sharing texts or emails if they appear of value, yet acknowledging ownership to the individual rather than the group).

Mobile technology also allows the social networks related to distributed groups to create new in-group norms and values from those of the departments, social groups, or communities in which they work and live. A third culture that superseded their physical environment(s) can be created through mobile interaction within their social networks. Portus (2008) had these findings in her study on mobile phone use in the Philippines. This is a common outcome of distributed groups (Julsrud & Bakke , 2009), which mobile technology helps to maintain. Mobile technology allows for different pathways for interaction, group development, team culture and relationship building, and knowledge sharing.


Julsrud, T. E., & Bakke , J. W. (2009). Trust, friendship, and expertise: The use of email, mobile dialogues, and SMS to develop and sustain social relations in a distributed work group. In R. Ling, & S. Campbell (Eds.), The reconstruction of space and time: Mobile communication practices (pp. 159-190). New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

Ladner, S. (2008). Laptops in the living room: Mobile technologies and the divide between work and private time among interactive agency workers. Canadian Journal of Communication, 33, 465-489.

Law, P., & Peng, Y. (2008). Mobile networks: Migrant workers in Southern China. In J. Katz (Ed), Handbook of mobile communication studies (pp. 55-64). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Portus, L. (2008). How the urban poor acquire and give meaning to the mobile phone. In J. E. Katz (Ed.), Handbook of mobile communication studies (pp. 105-118). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Wallis, C. (2011). (Im)mobility mobility: Marginal youth and mobile phones in Beijing. In R. Ling, & S. Campbell (Eds.), Mobile communication: Bringing us together and tearing us apart (pp. 61-82). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Wallis, C. (2013). Technomobility in China. New York: New York University Press.

Yonkers, V. (2012). The effect of workplace collaborative writing on the development of knowledge within distributed groups. Dissertation. University at Albany. Available on Proquest.