pedagogy

Myth at Yale: undergraduate teaching requirement

Below is the first part of an article appearing in today's "Yale Daily News." For the full article, click here.

One of the Yale Admissions Office’s favorite selling points to prospective students — that, unlike at many other large research universities, all of Yale’s tenured professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences teach undergraduate courses — is widely believed by students and faculty.

But it’s not that simple. In fact, there is no policy requiring professors to teach undergraduates, and in any given semester, a handful of them, for a variety of reasons, do not.

According to this year’s Yale College admissions viewbook, “100 percent of tenured professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences teach undergraduate courses.” Interviews with professors in several departments reveal that faculty members believe this to be a rule. However, Deputy Provost J. Lloyd Suttle confirmed Thursday that no such policy exists.

Indeed, a search on the Online Course Information Web site reveals at least a dozen Yale faculty members who are not teaching undergraduate courses this year. In many cases, Yale College students still have the opportunity to be taught by these faculty members if they enroll in graduate-level courses, and administrators said that (while they do not have formal records) they have not identified any professors who routinely do not teach undergraduates.

Still, admissions representatives often use the idea that professors must teach undergraduates to emphasize Yale’s focus on undergraduate teaching.

“Most of the tour guides when discussing the introductory biology courses will mention that, even at the introductory level, there are Yale’s most renowned professors in the classroom, for example [Nobel laureate] Sidney Altman in MCDB 200: Molecular Biology,” tour guide Matthew Sheehan ’11 said.

While Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel said he understands that scheduling conflicts can preclude professors from teaching undergraduates in a given academic year, he said he still believes Yale expects all tenured faculty to teach undergraduate courses.

“Our viewbook states that 100 percent of tenured faculty in the Arts and Sciences teach undergraduates, and we convey that to [prospective students], because that is Yale’s expectation,” Brenzel wrote in an e-mail.

Online advising

Screenshot from Action News story on online advising, 1999.

In 1999 I was interviewed for the local television news (Channel 6, an ABC affiliate in Philly) about the online pre-freshman advising course I was teaching. Here is the recording.

The future of research

“The income-producing research activity will follow the trend of moving into nondepartmental locations — institutes, centers, and programs — that can be closed with less fuss if the income dries up.” — MARC BOUSQUET, Associate professor at Santa Clara University, and author of How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (New York University Press, 2008)

From: “FORUM: The Faculty of the Future: Leaner, Meaner, More Innovative, Less Secure,” Chronicle of Higher Education.

Tim Carmody, whom I admire and whose blog, Facebook updates, and now tweeting I follow, has a statement here too, part of which reads:

The curriculum, especially in the humanities, valorizes thoughtful curation and recirculation of material rather than comprehension or originality. The traditional unidirectional model of knowledge transmission (best represented by the now-deprecated “lecture”) has been effectively discredited, although it persists through habit, inertia, and whispered doubts about the efficacy and rigidity of the new model. Many professors periodically pause to lecture, but only apologetically, or when distanced by ironic quotation marks. / The ’teens are as widely remembered for technical innovation and radical dissemination of knowledge as the ’20s are for job loss, technological retrenchment, and economic concentration. In 2019, when Google used its capital to snap up the course-management giant Blackboard and the Ebsco, LexisNexis, and Ovid databases, it effectively became the universal front end for research and teaching in the academy.

Anyone who has read this blog knows how much I would (and do) disagree with Tim’s use of the lecture (his valorization of it and pre-nostaligia for it) in this scenario. His error is to tie inextricably the “traditional unidirectional model of knowledge transmission” (which he implicitly commends) to the techno-corporate consolidation of profit-making information providers.

Now, as for “originality” in this context: oh, don’t get me started. For another time. I promise.

Six poets each teach a poem

A few weeks ago I wrote about having invited six poets each to teach a short poem to high-school student. I commented in particular about teaching the constraints of the haiku and its possible special connection to high-school kids’ understanding of poetry today — what with their sense of extreme limits (texting, Twitter’s 140 characters, etc.).

The prof you know personally

Social media Henny-Pennyism comes to the university

John Housman playing a crusty old-school law prof on TV. Not much chance of friending or following him.

A year ago (3/20/08) I wrote this:

In today’s NYT “Thursday Styles” section the lead story, under a huge photo of a famous crusty TV law prof, is a story about “the professor as open book.” Wow! News! Now students and others can discover their professors’ red wine preferences, their favorite films, their social-networking profiles, “friend” them. Or not — or not — if the academic in question does not choose to put such stuff up, which is most often the case, even at this late date into the internet age. So what really is the story here? The key perhaps is where the story runs: the “Style” section, not the higher-ed page/half-page in the main first section. This story befits the My Space/You Tube/no-one-is-private-anymore craze and has nothing to do with academics or education or the professoriat per se.

Regarding and beholding

Teaching Stevens's "The Snow Man"



Each January, at our "Mind of Winter" event, I lead a communal interpretation of Wallace Stevens's "The Snow Man." This year we caught it on video, and here it is.

Teaching with telephony

Paul Baker reviews Liz Kolb’s new book about cell phones as learning tools.

Goldsmith radical class space

Kenneth Goldsmith writes:

During a recent classroom visit of a visual artist, it occurred to me that we've reached a new paradigm in radical pedagogy. The artist entered the room, greeted the class, and began his lecture with a PowerPoint presentation about his work. While he was speaking, he noticed that the class — all of whom had their laptops open and connected to the internet — were furiously typing away. He flattered himself that, in the traditional manner, the students were taking copious notes on his lecture, devouring every word he spoke. But what he was not aware of was that the students were engaged in a simultaneous electronic dialogue with each other about what the artist was saying, all played out over the class listserv, which they all had instant access to. During the course of the artist's lecture, dozens of emails, links, and photos very blazing back and forth to each other; each email elicited yet more commentary and gloss on the prior emails to the point where what the artist was saying was merely a jumping off point to an investigation of such depth and complexity, that the artist — or any ideal of traditional pedagogy — would never have achieved. It was an unsurpassed form of student's active and participatory engagement, but went far astray from what the speaker had in mind.

When later told about this, the artist was very disturbed. His ego was mauled and when shown the blizzard of gloss, was more dispirited as he felt much of what had transpired was irrelevant and even irreverent (hastily Photoshopped detournments of images and concepts he brought up). He was flabbergasted that all of this "conversation" was happening and he, the authoritative speaker, was not privy to what was being said.

I had to explain to him the very positive aspects of this new pedagogy, that in fact his words were triggers for engagements and explorations that, while not wholly controlled by him, were catalysts for thinking in ways other than what he had planned. I told him that their engagement was a deeper one than what normally occurs.

And so we have a glimpse into the future. I can envision a class where bodies physically exist in the same space without a spoken word having transpired; where communication happens electronically and instantaneously — often concurrently — yet retains a semblance of community and continuity, even warmth and intimacy. What the electronic classroom does is give us new ways of being together. I often tell my students that they are smarter with a laptop connected to the internet than they are without one. And after seeing what the results of this are, I am more convinced that I can never go back to a traditional classroom pedagogy. The role of the professor now is part party host, part traffic cop, full time enabler.

A few more words on meta-pedagogy

Somewhat general thoughts on a modernist teaching apt for the modern text, starting with a too-rough but still helpful distinction between history and literature:

Courses using PennSound

University of Pennsylvania: PENNsound, writing.upenn.edu/pennsound and Kelly Writers House webcasts. A stellar project at Penn, PENNsound is “committed to producing new audio recordings and preserving existing audio archives.” Here you can listen to readings from 1950s to today and often find great extras and links to other exciting websites.

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