Do professors work hard enough?

Apparently not according to one opinion piece found at

Apparently, professors have the reputation of working a few hours a day, leaving as they please, getting time of for spring, winter, and summer, and still getting paid above their non-academic peers.  While some of this isn’t a terrible stretch of imagination, we all know what happens when we are “off.”  Our inboxes are flooded with emails, we have to write the grant proposal while on vacations, and there’s a few papers to review after dinner. 

But, I think there are some tenured, unproductive members of the college community that do get paid too much.  In academia, I think the trend is that a few individuals give the profession a bad name, and then its tarnished forever.

Get ready to cringe, thing topic is on group work

Is group work a necessary evil?

A professor in my department recently sent out this article on group work  If you’re like me, you won’t click on the link so, in summary, students hate working in groups (surprising, I know).  Students cite everything from hating their groups, to being confused about the information, to not being able to fall asleep during class as their reasons for hating group activity.

So, should we encourage group work?

Obviously, students must learn how to work well with others to survive in the work place.  However, I’m sure you have all been in a group where you were the only one doing work, or the material was so challenging that you really did need more instructor from the professor. I generally despise groups, and I think professors tend to use groups as a way of making their classes more “student centered”.  But, when done correctly, groups can also be the greatest learning experience.

Specifically, groups can be great for exploring a new topic, but it can’t be so far out of reach that students can’t figure out the material.  For example, I’m currently in a multivariate statistics class that is run entirely by group discussion.  If you were wondering, it fails miserably, largely because the students don’t have enough background to lead a successful discussion.   However, when I was a undergrad, all of my classes were group-oriented, and it worked because it was mostly problem solving classes built off of information that we were already given, through lecture.

So, why am I writing all of this?  Well, many of us have been told that we need to make classes more student-centered, but the answer isn’t to strip lecture out of class and make student teach themselves.  I largely agree with students that group work is terrible, but that’s because it’s not being done correctly.  It’s usually being used as a fallback.

Don’t use group work as a fallback.

The biggest (in my opinion) difference between big and small schools

Don’t tell anyone, but anytime VT goes on break, I go back to my undergraduate college and work.  I work a lot of VT-related research, projects, etc., but I also have ongoing research still at my school.

Anyway, I’m not writting to say that research is great and passionate at small, liberal arts schools (which, it is), but to point out another HUGE difference between a small school and a big school.  We talked a lot about how smaller schools are typically more teaching-oriented, and how smaller schools have more opportunity for service and mentoring.  What we didn’t mention is the sense of community at smaller schools.

For example, all science disicples are located in one three-story builing at my undergraduate college, and everyone knows everyone.  Better yet, everyone is friends with everyone else.  As you pass in the hallway, there are comments about happy hour on Friday, how someone’s kids are doing, book recommendations, etc.  It a very social atmopshere. When I return, everyone stops in to ask how VT is, how my research is going, etc.

Now, I have a very small department at VT, and none of that occurs.  Everyone is isolted in their own office, there’s not a lot of conversration outside of academics, and it is pretty rare the the entire department shows up to any event.  Work is work, and it is never to mix with personal life.

Anyway, we talk a lot about how different education is in different countries. But it occurs to me that, if you’ve never attended a small college, the workings and ideals of a instituion with less than 1500 students might be just as foreign to you as a college in another country (well, a bit of a overstatement, but you understand).  The difference is way more than teaching exepctations too…..