This is a continuation of my earlier post on teaching workload.
I must say that I got quite tired just from writing that post, reinforcing my feelings that this gig might not last. Academic teaching as it is now is awfully work-intensive, and this workload goes all but unnoticed by those who are benefitting from it. Some of this is of course complaining about the Romans who have not done anything for us lately, but the more important question is whether the service we are providing is really needed on that kind of scale. In 1900, half of American kids did not go to school at all, and only a very small fraction ever went to university. In the 1950s, the proportion of the U.S. population aged 25 or more with a Bachelor’s degree was less than 10%. It’s about 30% now. But every homework assignment still has to be marked by hand. We’re making hand-crocheted sweaters for one-third of the population.
Sweatshop wages is one way that could go. I get paid well enough, thank you for asking, but too many educational institutions depend increasingly on cheap adjunct labour with no job security. Or else, we could question whether everyone really needs a hand-crocheted sweater with pompons. Engineers, for instance, should have a pretty solid knowledge of math. I want to be able to walk into a building without worrying that it will collapse on me. But quantitative literacy for the general population might be taught using other models: online courses perhaps, or internet accounts with a point system a la Khan Academy. It’s not necessarily the kind of deep knowledge that I, personally, would love to be able to impart to everyone. But it might be enough, and all that people are willing to pay for, and all that we can do anyway.
More on that later. For now, I’ll finish what I started last time.
How my teaching practice has evolved. It’s been almost 20 years now. Obviously, technology has changed since then. When I started out, course syllabus and handouts were printed, xeroxed and handed out to students in class. We had email already, at least at universities, but course announcements were made in class rather than emailed to the course mailing list. There were no computer projectors or clickers in classrooms. I’m not sure that the technology has reduced our workload, really. We no longer have to print out 100 or 200 copies of each midterm solution set (no, the secretaries don’t do that for us). We post the solutions on the course webpage instead. But the expectations have risen, too. We have to provide midterm solutions, homework solutions, lists of topics for midterms, practice midterms, solutions to practice midterms, and anything else that students might request. The more dedicated instructors post additional handouts, pencasts and Java applets.