Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Advising Woes

 Like many other campuses, NWU has moved to a system of centralized advising, with students having faculty advisors assigned rather late in the game, and not having any perceived "need" to contact the faculty advisor.  All their registration codes come through the central system advisors.  And those advisors are really pushed to get students through in four years and to keep them as happy as possible in that customer service sort of way.

But they seem really easily riled.  Mostly, this seems to come from a lack of understanding about how departments work.  And, no doubt, from pressures to keep students happy.

So, for example, there's a senior special basketweaving course that some majors absolutely need, about 26 a year.  Ideally, this would be taught with a max of 20 students per section.  And that's what we do.  But that means there are often sections with 12 to 15 students, and that feels like a problem in some ways.  First, it means we have an instructor teaching a small student contact hour load, and that feels unfair to the folks whose senior courses are packed full constantly, and who also teach bigger lower division courses.  And it means that the faculty member can't teach a bigger lower division general education type course.  And the administration wants us to offer lots of those.

So, we've talked about whether we can move to teaching the special course once a year, only in, say, fall.  But for next year, the plan is to teach it both semesters.

But holy cow, the central advising folks had a massive panic and were trying to get permission for students who aren't ready for it to take it this spring, because they can't possibly graduate without it and blah blah.  I think I've written them three or four emails trying to calm them down, and they seem calmed now.  But they needn't have gotten panicked anyway.

My best solution would be to teach it three of four semesters, but I'm not sure that will happen.  If it does, then doing a good job advising students will be vital, and I'm not sure our advisors can handle the complexity.

Then there's also the patterned basketweaving major.  It's super popular, and students need to take five special courses in patterned basketweaving, starting with a second year course, two third year courses, and two fourth year courses.  But students can take two of these at the same time.  So, if they don't get into the second year course until their fourth year, they can take the other required basketweaving and general education courses, and then take two third year courses in one semester, or two fourth year courses in one semester.  

Almost all students who have to delay a bit still get through in four years.  

This situation is nothing new, of course.  We've never been able to offer so many patterned basketweaving courses that all students get to take them the first semester they want to.  

And in the old days, all the faculty advisors knew that, and advised students not to panic, and things worked out just fine.

Now, though, there's major panic over in the advising center, and they're upset because an instructor with a course for spring that already has a full waiting list suggested a student (who contacted him about the course) talk to their advisor.  What else should they have done?  (They're not a TT person, and so aren't expected to do advising, and so they don't know the advising stuff, quite naturally.)

And they're implying that the basketweaving department doesn't know what it's doing and is purposefully scheduling too few patterned basketweaving courses.

The thing is: NWU hired 30 plus advisors, and that means, say, we didn't hire 15 faculty members across the university.  Those 15 people could make a whole lot more classes happen, couldn't they?  (Even though I don't think there'd be another patterned basketweaving hire.)

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Feeling the No Power Position

 Let's imagine, for a moment, I've received a letter of complaint from some students about a colleague.  The students meet with me, and say that their instructor didn't give them a syllabus for the class until after the fourth week of classes, and they spent the first four weeks of classes doing "introductions" to "get to know each other."  

They also note that the instructor's a really nice person, very kind and supportive.

The instructor's supposed to be teaching reed management, but spends most every class session on reed dying, though the big project is on reed management, which (they say), they aren't spending much time on in class, even though it's a really complex subject.

That big project is coming due, and they've asked for help, but didn't get it.

They asked me specifically not to talk to the instructor until after the semester ends, and not to use their names.

And did I mention, the instructor's a full professor?

As a chair, and especially a new chair, I really don't know what to do.  I think an email to the Dean is in order.


Sunday, November 01, 2020


 As chair, I'm responsible for doing my own classroom visits (aka observations) of tenure track and newer adjunct instructors.  Because I was worried about being shut down, I worked pretty hard early on to visit the in person classes I could.  

And now I'm trying to do the last on line observation.  It's totally different, way harder, and more time consuming.

Typically, around here, when we do class visits, we have a chat with the instructor to learn about what they're doing in the class, what their goals for the class meeting are, what difficulties they're experiencing, what concerns they have.  We get a copy of the syllabus and any assignments that are relevant.  Then we visit the class for an hour or so. (If it's an hour and fifteen minutes, we probably visit the whole session.  If longer, we visit part.)  And then we meet again with the instructor to get their take on how things went and give feedback.  Then, in most cases, we write up a report and a copy gets put in a file and given to the instructor.

On line: I visit with the person, usually virtually.  Then I'm invited into the course management site.  And I start looking at the overall organization, which is what I'd get by looking at a syllabus for a few minutes, but usually it takes longer on line because it's been split up.  And then I start in on the material I've been asked to look at.  Except usually people teaching fully on line don't teach day by day, but organize by the week.  So I end up needing to look at a whole week of material.  And sometimes it's hard to know when a week is ending or not, especially with a longer work (such as a novel).

I use the Chico State Exemplary Online Instruction website and rubric (and have told the instructors ahead of time that I would be), because it gives me a foundation to work from.  It's super helpful.  (Thank you, Chico State!)  But it also takes a fair bit of time.


A couple of my colleagues now have covid, and I'm worried.  Before, a colleague was quarantining because a family member had it, but they're back now, and never caught it.