It has been a while since I blogged, and I do apologize for that. It amazes me that some people enjoy reading my blog, based on the number of page views (they all aren't my family, after all)! I will have some news about blogging to announce shortly. And thanks to those of you who do read these entries!
It was quite an eventful summer, with a visit to my slowly recuperating father in Southern California, a last minute genomics workshop in Washington, D.C., and a trip to Florida with my family (including waverunning and parasailing and beachcombing, oh my...). I kind of want classes to begin so I can get some rest!
As I was beginning to put materials together for my classes this Fall, like most people, I looked for other things to do. Classical displacement behavior. Social Media can be hugely useful or a huge distraction, but it is there regardless, and exerts an inexorable and near-tidal pull on my mind.
Many educators on Twitter like to blow off steam by talking "faux-tough" and generally acting quite differently than they do in the classroom. This may not be wise, career-wise, but folks do need to blow off steam. So do students, I know. This almost "locker room" gender neutral behavior is common, healthy, and blows off steam (I keep repeating that phrase because many of us are under a certain degree of stress). There have been a couple of great examples on Twitter of this sort of thing recently, such as #overlyhonestprotocols or #melodramaticlabnotebook. Both made me laugh and wince in equal measure.
But the other evening, a Twitter hashtag #overlyhonestsyllabi became quite popular. Many educators generated 148 characters of snarkiness on this topic, myself included (mine was bemoaning students turning in term papers that were not stapled, by threatening to deduct 5 points). It was funny and snarky and not terrifically politically correct, as you can see here.
The hashtag certainly touched an academic nerve among educators! On the other hand, it occurred to the inimitable Dr. Isis that such a Twitter-plosion was a bit mean spirited and antithetical to what we claim to believe in and do when we teach. Read her blog post here, which was insightful and heartfelt.
I do think that educators needs a certain degree of catharsis, such as the "tough love" Dr. Dutch's "Top Ten No Sympathy Lines." I also think it is good for students to see some of this; many students are surprised that professors are not "flexible" and do not realize that most educators were in fact flexible early in their careers...and have been burned multiple times into their pose of inflexibility. As always the problem is simple: we focus on the 10% of students who don't need our help, or/and the 10% who "go ghost" on us during the term. Yet we often tend to forget the 80% who are working hard, and are pushing to stay afloat and do well.
There must be some elegant quotation for this issue, but I sure cannot think of one right now.
I blogged earlier about an "extra credit" assignment I gave my freshman biology students during the Spring semester. For the most part, these students were in the 80%. And I was delighted by their creativity and hard work. What is especially nice is that the University of Puget Sound's alumni magazine, Arches, chose to create a three page write up about that class and those students. You can read it here if you like (they understand the concept of "layout," unlike yours truly).
So even though many educators disdain extra credit, I am glad I gave that assignment. It helped the students---in particular that important 80%---and it warmed my heart.
To the folks behind #overlyhonestsyllabi, I appreciate the moderately snarky posts. They made me laugh. To Dr. Isis, I appreciate the reality check. You made me think!
Time to get back to syllabi building for my beloved Microbiology lecture and laboratory! We will be doing some cool things, and I hope to blog about them here and elsewhere.