Par for the course
I may have spoken too soon earlier this month when I expressed the hope that my hard work in my job would actually benefit me somehow — at least that is how I felt in the immediate aftermath of events from this past weekend.
It’s time to set schedules for summer semester, and I really need to teach two classes in order to make enough money to upgrade my living condition. To do that, I need to show a potential landlord a pay stub in which the net pay for a single pay period is above a certain threshold. (Yes, I’m looking to rent primarily because I’m thinking seriously about leaving the area to start a PhD program in Fall 2018.)
Things actually looked good a week ago. I had already been given a physics class, and I had my eyes set on a potential stats class to add to it. That would give me my two classes. I submitted my request and awaited the response.
The response came, and it wasn’t what I expected. My department chair wouldn’t give me the stats class because she said it conflicts with the physics class already on my plate. I realized that the other department head hadn’t changed the schedule like we agreed, so I asked for one business day to fix the schedule so I could get the stats class. I pointed out that my heart was really set on it and I had worked hard to improve the class and prep materials for the flipped format. Those materials would be really useful for students taking a summer class which requires students to learn twice as fast as during the normal semester.
Why did the schedule need changing? For some reason that still escapes me, the physics class was scheduled with lab in the morning and lecture in the afternoon. When I saw that last summer, I asked why it’s flip-flopped from the traditional format of lecture first and then lab. I was told scheduling conflicts. But as the semester unfolded, it became clear that I was the only one teaching in the classroom we were using, and no one else was using the lab. I was able to make a schedule that used that backwards arrangement, but it was awkward.
When I got offered the class again for this summer, I asked about presenting the lecture and lab sections in a more traditional arrangement. I was promised that it would be granted, which would allow me to teach the stats class as well as the physics class. But that switch wasn’t made by the time my department head looked at my schedule when considering giving me the stats class.
By the time I routed back to get the schedule updated, the stats class had already been given to someone else. I felt extremely distraught at hearing that news. Does all the hard work I’ve done — and I work my fanny off way more than most adjuncts — with all of my classes and stats in particular not merit the consideration of waiting just one more day? I have no idea who got the class, but I do know everyone at this school who teaches stats. I can guarantee that none of them are going the distance I’m going for the students. Shouldn't that enter into the equation of deciding who gets what if any class?
I felt extremely powerless in the aftermath of those events. It’s a simple misunderstanding and failure to act on others’ part that is entirely outside my control, which wouldn’t be a big deal if the financial repercussions from those events weren’t so serious. Not teaching that extra class means losing about 15% of my income for the year. Plus I’ll be scraping windows again this winter. Argh! And all the hard work I’ve done in my job doesn’t mean jack. So why even go the extra mile? If nothing I do makes me more competitive or gives me any advantage, why not just do the bare minimum with whatever I’m given and spend my time that I won’t get back in other pursuits?
Talking to my department head wouldn’t make a difference because she’s stepping down. That means someone else will be making those decisions in future. I wanted to talk to the dean, but she was out, taking advantage of Spring Break being next week. Fortunately, a full-time colleague I’ve come to know and trust was still on campus, and so I reached out and asked if we could talk. She graciously accepted, and we arranged a meet.
I explained my situation and how I felt about it, declaring that I wasn’t looking for an answer so much as a sounding board. I’m glad I picked this particular colleague. She emphasized with me and shared some of her experiences when she was an adjunct for a few years before she started her present full-time position. As she talked and explained how all I am doing all the right things — focusing on improving my classes for my students, always engaging in some type of professional training or learning, serving on committees, and otherwise busting my fanny in my job — I began to realize that what I am feeling is just par for the course on the journey from adjunct to full-time teaching position. I just need to stay on the good train I’m riding.
Further reflection on my situation helped me to see the opportunity ahead of me. True, not getting that second class I needed to meet my financial goals provides a real obstacle. But I can use the time that I would be using to teach that class to pursue another opportunity. Perhaps there is another place that I can teach or another job that I can do. Maybe I should take the materials I’ve worked so hard to assemble for my stats class and build a website where I offer to sell videos and other teaching aids on individual statistics topics a-la-carte style. I’m not sure how much money I could make with that, but I am sure that many students as well as working professionals in industry who need to learn stats would pay good money to learn what they aren’t learning through the resources they have presently. Plus I could use selected portions from such a course to boost my resume or CV in furthering my teaching career.
Overall, I’m feeling much better about how the dust has settled than I was previously. I hope to make good use of what I have to improve my situation, and I’ll certainly be updating this blog with future posts about my progress and results. So stay tuned.
One of the topics we cover in my statistics class is the Law of Large Numbers. Basically, this law says that a sample statistic will approach its respective population parameter as the number of trials you perform goes to infinity.
For example, if you toss a fair coin 10 times, you might get any number of heads or tails between 0 and 10, even though the odds of getting either outcome is 50%. If you toss that same coin 20 times, you still might not have half-and-half heads and tails. But as you toss the coin even more times, say 100 times and then 1000 times and then 10000 times and so on, the proportion of heads (or tails, depending on what you are counting) you get will get closer and closer to 50%.
Occasionally I play a mental game to help my mind relax. Lately I’ve rediscovered a game I haven’t played in years — Mahjong. It’s a sort of Chinese solitaire game in which 144 tiles are stacked in a set pattern, and you win the game by matching all the tiles. However, only tiles with no neighboring tile on the left or right are free for matching. It’s simple and yet highly addictive in its challenge.
To use the Law of Large Numbers, I really need to conduct at least 1000 trials and preferably much more. Admittedly, 669 isn’t that far away from 1000, but I’ll come back and update this blog with a future entry to report my progress as well as my findings when I’m done.
As an engineer, I tend to focus on practicality and what is actually useful for some purpose. This question has no purpose; I pursue it because I’m just plain curious. And it doesn’t take inordinate amounts of time. I play a few games here and a few there, which I will do anyway to give my mind a break from all the thinking I do throughout the day. I just need to remember to count the number of tiles at the end and record them in my spreadsheet for later analysis.
Stay tuned for updates. I’ll report on how my curiosity experiment unfolds.
My first flipped class
I’ve heard a lot about flipping classes and the advantages that it can give those students. Eager to provide those advantages to my statistics students this semester, I decided to flip the class. I wasn’t entirely convinced about it, mostly because I wasn’t exactly sure what it would involve. After all, I have never done this before. As the semester was about to start, I took the plunge and decided to try something new.
What I have found is much more work than I anticipated. Flipping the class essentially means placing lectures on video so you can dedicate class time to more active learning activities. It sounds great in theory. But in practice it’s a whole lot of work!
I have to make two slide decks: one for the videos and the other for the in-class assignments. The videos themselves are not that hard to make. I broke down and paid the $15 yearly subscription to Screencast-o-matic, and it’s turned out to be some of the best $15 I’ve ever spent. I do find some trouble uploading them into YouTube so that I can then place them into Blackboard for my course, more than anything with the time it takes to upload and process. Making the actual MP4 file once I’ve done recording the video isn’t exactly instant either.
I could avoid the second deck if I just opened up the online homework assignment and started working out problems, but I want my students to understand the whys as well as the whats of the process. Anyone can push button sin software, but not everyone knows what using different types of input means or how to interpret the results properly. To that end, I create problems like the ones on their homework assignment so they have to think a bit more about what they are doing and why. Plus my in-class slide deck shows them how to use the software, which is particular for just this class.
Of course, the proof is in the pudding. My students are responding very positively to this new approach. They love how they can view my lecture videos as many times as they want whenever they want. And they appreciate the step-by-step procedures I outline in my in-class presentations. Plus, the test scores so far are a little more than a full letter grade above what they were for my students in the same class a year ago.
Making these materials the same semester I am teaching the class is not the best way to go when flipping a class, but I am very pleased to see the satisfaction and learning in my students. It really makes all the hard work I’m putting into flipping the class pay off. Plus it gives me an extra sense of satisfaction knowing that I am the only instructor on campus — full-time or part-time — who is flipping this class, and I’m adjunct!
I really love my job and hope that eventually the hard work I am doing will pay off for my career as well as for my students.
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