About Linda Schofield

I teach in the School of Professional Communication at Ryerson University. My early research focus was the rhetorical structure of Christina Rossetti's poetry, and I hold a Ph.D. in English from the University of Toronto. Currently I teach effective strategies for professional communication. My current research interests include the effects of the mobile classroom on the teacher-student alliance and the manifestations of Groupthink in online environments.

Reviewing The Adjunct Underclass

Kelly Train, our Chief Steward, recently shared an essay by Herb Childress on the predicament of adjuncts in American universities: “This is How You Kill a Profession.” The content and tone are exactly what you’d expect from such a title.

However I recommend you read the essay if you haven’t already, if for no other reason than to commiserate on the lure of the academic life, its promises and disappointments. The essay is an excerpt from The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, and the book seems to have struck a nerve. You’ll find a long review in the most recent issue of The New Yorker that contrasts the reflections of a privileged former president of NYU with Childress’s quasi memoir. It is Childress’s story that takes up the bulk of the review, and whose message supplies its conclusion.

Sessional Solidarity

When in the academic year is it an opportune time to bring up precarious employment in academe? It occurred to me that the answer is never.  In the spring we’re worried about getting rehired and don’t want to think about the worst-case scenario.  In the summer we’re hoping to catch our breath long enough to conduct research, reduce our teaching load or take a much-needed break.  In the fall, we need morale to focus on our students.  Just before the scheduled breaks, we definitely don’t want to think about the challenges of our position, so my apologies in advance for raising this issue now.

However, I’ve come across some useful information about the sessional instructor juggling act that you might find interesting now that your marking is (temporarily) behind you. The first is the teaching newsletter, Profession, produced by the MLA. Like me in a previous post, the editors thought of Sisyphus when choosing their featured image. The link is for this fall’s special issue, but you’ll find many other well-written articles about university teaching, specifically in the field of language and literature, in past issues.

The other resource is an article in Quill & Quire on a research project by an undergraduate student at Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver that documents the punishing workload of contingent professors.  Though the project focuses primarily on the difficult trade-offs of instructors in the creative industries, much of the discussion applies to all disciplines.

Both resources explore the unfortunate compromises inherent in our roles.  Still, you’ll find hope alongside the angst.

How Not to Overprepare

SortOfNatural

James Lang, a veteran professor writing for ChronicleVitae has some great advice for making classes less time-consuming to organize.  He suggests lots of engaging, pedagogically valuable strategies for in-class assignments that prompt student self-efficacy and allow for flexible, ad-hoc coverage of the course material.

Though as a School we routinely use in-class exercises as teaching tools, we don’t always see them as moments when students internalize their own responsibility for learning.  As we brace ourselves for the fall, it’s not a bad idea to remember that we can relax a bit and trust the learning will happen if we just create the right conditions.

Mining Student Curiosity

A post in the latest Chronicle of Higher Education Newsletter summarizes a teaching conference session that demonstrated the power of the “Naive Task,” an exercise assigned, often at the beginning of a class, before any principles, theories or facts have been covered.  The reasoning is that students will pay more attention to what the professor has to say about the subject if they’ve already tried to puzzle out an answer with their peers.  You can read the account here: The Power of the ‘Naïve-Task’

You may find this paper on team-based learning, published in the Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, useful for planning this kind of activity.

An experiential exercise in my Interpersonal Communication Class on the ideal problem-solving group size, which is a kind of naive task, does engage students on more than one level.  I plan to try this approach in other classes this fall.  If you already throw students in at the deep end, and have observed the results, please share your experience!

eBook on Reading, Rhetoric and Writing

Though Hearing Ourselves Think: Cognitive Research in the College Writing Classroom was published in 1993, I think the book has much to offer today. Ann Penrose and her co-authors present findings on the ways various students process information when struggling to analyze texts and writing situations.  Observational research (documented as transcribed recordings of students’ reflections) complements discussions of theory and practice.

As dry as that may sound, the content provides a fascinating insight into what different students are thinking when they wrestle with similar writing problems to the ones we design for our classes.  Chapters 8 and 9 cover audience analysis.  Chapter 1 explains the rationale for the cognitive approach.  Here’s the link to the eBook version in the Ryerson library.

Communication Teaching Positions: Part-time

Laurier University has a number of positions open in the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Liberal Arts, with a deadline of June 7 and June 8 (see descriptions).  Those of you who live nearby may find these opportunities a way to fill gaps at Ryerson. See below for the links for the Waterloo campus:

History of Communication Thought

Communication Research Methods

And the following:

The Digital Media and Journalism Program at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford Campus invites applications for instructors to teach the following courses in the Fall 2018 and Winter 2019 terms:

Course Instructor: DMJN/HR252 BR2/L2 – Designing Digital and Social Media

Course Instructor: DMJN/HR312 BR/OO – Advocacy Journalism: Principles and Practice

Course Instructor: DMJN/MX211 BR – Introduction to Media Studies

Course Instructor: DMJN202 BR1/1A – Cross-Media Story Telling
Course Instructor: DMJN202 BR2 / 1B – Cross-Media Story Telling
Course Instructor: DMJN307 BR – Media, Culture and Democracy
Course Instructor: DMJN308 BR – Advanced Data Journalism and Investigative Research

Course Instructor: DMJN317 BR – Editing and Verification
Course Instructor: DMJN319 BR – Integrated Media Lab

The positions are posted on Laurier’s Faculty and Librarian Job Postings page at:

https://lauriercloud.sharepoint.com/sites/human-resources/recruitment/career-opportunities/Pages/academic.aspx

The courses are posted under the Faculty of Liberal Arts. Please see the links there or above for detailed information about the courses.

The deadline for applications is June 8, 2018.

Kenneth C. Werbin, PhD | Associate Dean: Faculty of Liberal Arts | Program Coordinator – Associate Professor: Digital Media and Journalism | Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford Campus | 73 George Street, Brantford, ON N3T 2Y3 | 519.756.8228 x5732 | kwerbin@wlu.ca

More on Teaching Evaluations

Not long after our grades are in, we’ll have access to online teaching evaluations for the term.  If you’ve had a class with high rates of plagiarism or low marks during the evaluation period, you might hold your breath before clicking to see the report.  Will the few students who filled out the online FCS be those who needed catharsis or who wanted to express appreciation?  Will enough students provide written comments to guide adjustments or confirm what worked? Will feedback from less than 10% of your class have an impact on your employment?

In an article in the April 25 Issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Michelle Falcoff considers these issues. She summarizes the results of a 2016 faculty survey, and referring to her own experience directing a program in communication and legal reasoning at Northwestern, she points out that a required course, offered in the first year, with high standards and much critical feedback can lead to highly negative teaching evaluations. This suggests a more widely applicable definition of bias than that used in a recent study on gender bias and teaching evaluations.

In the same issue of the Chronicle, Karen Kelsey focuses on the ambiguous wording of evaluations and notes ways to make the exercise more accurate and useful. Falcoff recommends peer review to contextualize student comments.  She points to a resource from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) that provides an extensive list of measurement approaches that can put imperfect instruments such as the FCS into perspective. You may find some ideas for your teaching dossier on that list.

Those of you relatively new to Procom who still have to submit to peer evaluations may feel anxiety about faculty bias as well.  Another helpful resource from Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching acknowledges this concern.  Click to “Possible Limitations of Peer Review.”

Finally, and more depressingly, are the implications of a 1993 study, which found that teaching evaluation results at the end of term were highly correlated to the impression students had of an instructor’s nonverbal behaviour in the first 30 seconds of the first class. Are our carefully constructed lectures, exercises and instruction, not to mention agonizing over grades, all for naught?

This is an area that makes contractual lecturers feel very vulnerable.  Perhaps it’s time for us to work more closely as a group to discuss how to make the teaching evaluation process more meaningful and fair.