What's the point of a Professor?

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by Kizmet, May 10, 2015.

  1. Kizmet

    Kizmet Moderator Staff Member

  2. Tim D

    Tim D Member

    I think canned courses exacerbate the issue. There seems to be that trend unfortunately(canned courses) in many DL schools.
  3. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    Could you elaborate? I can see the advantage in offering a course the content in which has been proven over time and incrementally improved based on previous instances.
  4. GeeBee

    GeeBee Member

    I can see your point, but I can also share an anecdote illustrating the counterpoint.

    I was required to take an "Introduction to Programming" course for my online Math degree. The adjunct who taught the course was a nice young man, but it wasn't his course... the course had been developed several years earlier by a woman who was a full professor at the institution, and who had risen in seniority to the point where they were no longer making her teach freshman-level online courses.

    But in the world of computer programming, three or four years is a LONG time. The textbook for the course had been revised. A section on how to code a bubble sort had been removed from the book because modern programming languages include sorting facilities, and there's no need to learn how to code your own. Entire chapters of the book had been removed, other chapters had been added, but the course materials still made reference to the OLD chapter numbers. And the test still included questions about how to code a bubble sort.

    It was extremely confusing. I had the benefit of a lot of previous programming experience (albeit not with the programming language used in the course) but for most of the class this material was new. Nearly half the class dropped the course out of frustration.

    Now that I think of it, I also have a counter-counter-anecdote: I took a course in The History of Modern Philosophy that ended up being an introduction to Libertarian philosophy, because that's the instructor's area of expertise. I enjoyed the class but on the other hand I feel shortchanged because my exposure to "modern philosophy" made no mention of Kant or Marx or any number of other important modern philosophers. It pretty much went Descartes - Newton - Locke - Berkely - Hobbes and then back to Locke and more Locke.

    I guess my conclusion is that in a rapidly-changing field like Computer Science, canned courses need to be constantly updated which greatly reduces the benefit of using them in the first place. But on the other hand, in fields that are NOT rapidly changing (undergraduate level Mathematics, Philosophy, etc) canned courses have obvious advantages, not the least of which is making sure that bored instructors stick to the curriculum.
  5. workingmom

    workingmom New Member

    I think canned courses are an extension of the adjuncting issue. If you're having someone come in last minute to bat, like a substitute teacher in public school, you need to already have a lesson plan in place.
  6. jhp

    jhp Member

    The saddest part for me are the numbers 15 and 43. As in ...

  7. Shawaq

    Shawaq New Member

    Canned courses can also be a problem in humanities fields, especially in fields that include insights from history/paradigm-shifting current events or period courses with "contemporary" in the title. Imagine teaching a contemporary lit class in which the works are all over a decade old or an African-American politics and history course with material that is exclusively pre-2008. In a non-canned course, even with an older textbook, you can use your expertise in your field to select materials that reflect the state of your field. Beyond seeding announcements and discussion posts with up-to-date material, an adjunct is generally out of luck.
  8. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    I'm not sure why so many people here think that "canned" implies "never updated". On the contrary, at a large school where there are many sections of a course taught every term, this sort of standardization may actually make it easier to have a regular review and update of the materials involved.
  9. Tim D

    Tim D Member

    Absolutely, the idea of a professor is someone who has a vast knowledge of the subject at hand and is going share their knowledge with you about the subject matter. This means that each professor might teach the same course slightly differently. In fact, this is why some students have attended certain universities to learn from a certain professor to whom which they admire and is known by his work.

    A canned course does not allow the same knowledge transfer to happen. It doesn't matter if you are learning Physics from Albert Einstein or Albert Brooks. As the course material is set before the class starts by the school. Essentially, the only reason(in my opinion) to have a qualified teacher at that point is to appease the accreditors and in case a student asks a question that may require some actual knowledge in the subject. If as a professor, my discussion questions have been chosen for me,the tests, and assignments have already been laid out, what exactly are you doing other than shepherding the class in the predestined manner the school is asking for? Also, I see no improvement as the professors often switch out teaching the class but the curriculum stays fairly consistent as it is preset. I would like to believe like you Steve, that the whole thing is based on some empirical knowledge and evolving as the course goes along but in this rigid design other than updates to the material not much else has to change.

    I do understand this from a business perspective as it makes it fairly inexpensive and easy for both the school and the professor. I am not even going to argue that students do learn from this model, but it is not the same exchange of ideas and not the same interactive classes that many people in universities once enjoyed. It is one step above completely self-taught( again, in my opinion).
    Last edited by a moderator: May 12, 2015
  10. Helpful2013

    Helpful2013 Active Member

    Thanks for expanding on your earlier point - and I agree.
  11. Helpful2013

    Helpful2013 Active Member

    Steve, this conversation offers an interesting opportunity because we don't have many people on the board who are simultaneously teachers and high-level administrators. My question for you is related to your role as the president at New World University. Are you supporting the "canned course" format in principle and for your own courses, or is it the standard practice at NWU?
  12. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    I do support the idea of standardized courses so long as periodic review and updating is built into the academic schedule, and yes, that's our approach. I gather that's more the norm than the exception nowadays, though.
  13. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    I took an intro to computers course in 2000/2001. It wasn't canned. It was in-person at a well established B&M.

    We spent a few weeks learning the difference between bits and bytes. We learned all of the relevant prefixes.

    We covered the history of floppy drives.

    We also spent many weeks learning about binary and turning in countless homework assignments where we had to convert regular words into binary (the section test, for example, required us to translate an entire poem into binary).

    If you took Intro with the other professor who taught the class, you learned how to program in VB and how to do crazy formulas in excel.

    I also had to take two religion courses. The first course was taught by a rather brilliant woman who taught us bible. She wasn't teaching theology, she studied the bible as literature and taught us accordingly. Lots of focus on literary themes. It was fascinating. My second religion course was taught by a professor emeritus who, rather than teach us "Church History," would sit at the front of the room alternating between quoting from The Hobbit and ranting against birth control.

    In the first course, I learned stuff that helped frame my opinion of the bible. In the second, I scored extra points after promising my professor I would strongly consider attending the seminary (I'm not Catholic, but he didn't need to know that.)

    Canned courses, properly updated, can ensure consistent learning. In K-12, our learning is fairly consistent. A teacher can't just opt out of British Lit and go on a rant about politics for an entire year (usually, and if they do go off the rails, they are typically brought back to planet Earth). Then we get to college where professors can free-form in subjects that really don't allow a lot of free-forming. So, some canned curriculum is not a bad thing. That said, as you progress through higher levels of education there is an expectation that you are participating in the learning in different ways.

    Your job in Intro to Psychology is to learn the basics of Psychology. As you start learning at the 400 level, there is greater room for dialog. Intro to Psych shouldn't be different depending upon your professor's politics. But a course in the psychology of political elections would hopefully be able to absorb that bias a little bit better.

    Part of the problem, I think, is that way too many bad professors continue to thrive in an environment where they are permitted to stagnate. I don't disagree with the notion of tenure, per se, but I think it needs to be reworked to be sustainable. I think that the ranting professors are an example of qualified experts being given too much freedom and taking everything to one extreme. Outdated canned courses go in the opposite direction. But in the middle there is happiness.
  14. Shawaq

    Shawaq New Member

    In a system in which the instructional design process is working properly, canned courses can be updated. That doesn't always happen, though, esp. if not enough money or people are being invested in course development and quality control. Even in a system in which feedback from students and professors (usually adjuncts) can be funneled back to the instructional design team, substantial updates are generally not made during the course. It could take a full cycle or two for updates to be made. Too bad if you take the course with the outdated stuff in it.
  15. Shawaq

    Shawaq New Member

    I see some big differences between leeway given professors in general education courses and leeway given in upper-level to graduate courses. In the general education courses I teach, I am accountable for making sure students master the material outlined on the master syllabus. Most of what students need to know falls in the realm of facts/foundational knowledge, and there's usually a fair amount of agreement among professors on what those are at this level. Lots of departments standardize learning outcomes in these kinds of courses by using a master syllabus and common assessments. The outcomes are created using input from professors, accrediting bodies in some cases, and in response to whatever accountability measures are in place. What no institution at which I have worked fulltime has ever done is tell me as a professor how to get my students to mastery; there are lots of ways to get there, some more suited to the needs of my students and my background than others. From the administrator end, required faculty professional development notwithstanding, I honestly didn't care about how professors got students to mastery either, as long as whatever they did in the classroom made the numbers I had to report out hit the required targets. The lack of flexibility in approaches and teaching methods are what I dislike about canned courses; standardized learning outcomes are fine by me, however.

    In very upper-level courses and graduate courses (in the humanities, anyway) there is a lot more leeway because the focus is on teaching students to generate new knowledge and original perspectives. Again, lots of ways to get there. Beyond that, there is a lot less agreement about what's essential in a given topic, so different sections of courses are quite different. I have no problem with that, as part of what I hope grad students get out of class is a firm enough grounding in the field and the field's approach to research that they can figure out stuff for themselves.

    Finally, I don't think tenure is the problem. Tenure keeps people invested in the institution, and usually for less money than you'd have to pay if you had to constantly up salaries to keep your good people from going elsewhere or else paying the going rate to inexperienced new people. Post-tenure review also provides a stopgap for dealing with deadwood or loons. Also, most institutions have informal and formal means for getting rid of problem professors (take a look at the AAUP's accounts of sanctioned institutions for examples). The real problem, in my opinion, is that overall higher education pretty much stinks at assessment and at closing the feedback loop to improve outcomes for students. With the exception of faculty in education and some social sciences, most professors who are tasked with assessing on the program or institutional level know very little about assessment and data analysis. That's a problem. How do you get better if you don't ask the right questions or do something with the answers you get if you do ask the right questions?
  16. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    And in a system where professors have no motivation to actually teach you end up getting 3 credits for a course called "Introduction to Family Systems" where the professor spends the entire semester sharing bits of wisdom from his own marriage culminating with a final blue book exam with a single question ("What do you feel are the secrets of a harmonious family life?").

    Too bad if you take the course with the tenured prof who gave up ten years ago.

    At least with the canned course the update can come in two cycles. Your fix with the flawed professor isn't coming around until he dies, quits or manages to do one of the handful of things that might actually get him fired.

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