Wednesday, March 04, 2015

18. Faculty share governance with administration. (4)

... continued from yesterday

15. In shared governance, faculty have free will on a whole lot of things. On matters of curriculum and academic policy, the administration can try to influence decisions, but the decisions are mostly the faculty's to make.

But our faculty are super-competent. I was so excited when the faculty took over the assignment of scholarships each year. I was so happy when an Appeals Committee took over plagiarism complaints. I should have relied on the faculty more than I did in the ATS accreditation process, but they certainly helped with some last minute assessment analysis. Colleen Derr in particular has been spectacular with filling in gaps in areas relating to the Dean's job description.

16. The faculty have done and continue to do all sorts of things to enrich the Seminary's buffet. In John Drury's first year, we set up a "Theological Research Seminar." I initiated this seminar because I wanted there to be at least one space for faculty that didn't have to be practical. This Seminar could be purely irrelevant, truth for truth's sake.

The first year we had it, Fall 2010, the Seminary hosted it in Noggle, with undergraduate religion faculty included as well. Then Steve Lennox hosted the second year. Ever since, John has faithfully directed this joint seminar and has even included student research. Every Monday afternoon at 4pm, one of us presents something we are working on.

For a brief window of time in John's second year, he and I dreamed of an innovative Master of Theological Studies that would build off of this research seminar and would be scalable from even one student, using a mentor model. But fate, predestination, or accident had other ideas.

I might add that we started out with Bud Bence as "Church Historian in Residence" and Chris Bounds as "Theologian in Residence." This was because we didn't have these yet. John took over the theology role in our second semester of existence. When Brannon Hancock came summer 2014, we no longer needed a resident church historian (although he is really interdisciplinary).

17. There are lots of little features to our story that I don't want to forget. So when the Seminary started, Russ Gunsalus had Don Poff come from the Center for Life Calling at IWU to do an official Myers-Briggs test for our starting MDIV students.

But, very befitting the flavor of the Seminary, Colleen Derr thought it would be more useful for the students to take a version that was free online and thus available for them to use with their staff in the local church. We have done it that way ever since.

Certainly there have been the expected debates and discussions among the faculty. One of my key take-aways from this experience is that conflict is actually helpful if it is done respectfully in the spirit of the greater good and if everyone submits to the will of the majority or authority when a decisions is made.

18. So the Seminary English courses follow a Tuesday-Thursday cycle (The Spanish MDIV does a Wednesday-Saturday cycle). A first post is due Tuesday. Then discussion continues until Thursday. Any submissions are then due Thursday night as well.

This two deadline cycle was one of my modifications to the online curriculum. When I had taught for the Graduate Ministry program before, everything was due on Thursdays. Russ had put the program on a Thursday deadline because ministers are busy on the weekends. A Saturday or Sunday night deadline would potentially interfere with church work. By ending the online week on a Thursday, the weekend was left free for ministry.

But what I noticed as a teacher is that some students would wait till Thursday night even to start their discussion. They might have the requisite number of posts and comments, but I would have little recourse to grade them down. It was a drive by course for them.

So when the Seminary started, I added a Tuesday bump. The first post was to be done by Tuesday. Then there could be discussion until Thursday.

However, what I have observed in the online world at IWU, not only in the Seminary, is a tendency to multiply days and expectations. I think a three deadline week has slipped into one class. One professor wanted to move the first deadline to a Monday night. We've had disagreements from time to time on standardizing these sorts of things.

I think there is a temptation to go to the opposite extreme to what Grad. Ministry used to be. Since we professors are so focused on these courses, we can forget that these students have families. Indeed, for the MDIV degree, we have required them to be connected to a ministry.

For what it's worth, I don't think we should take anything off if our students don't start posting until Tuesday. We can't expect our classes to be every day classes. Indeed, I think both family and ministry are far more important than a degree. I have only praise for a student that thinks it's worth losing the points of an assignment because their children need some parent time. Classes that basically run from Tuesday to Thursday each week would be quite manageable, I think.

19. This also would lighten the load of the professor. Online teaching in its current form is SO much more work than teaching onsite. I don't think students have any idea. I have often thought of Acts 15:10--we have placed a yoke on our adjuncts that we ourselves are not able to bear.

That is not true, of course. The faculty in the Seminary are able to bear the tremendous load of online teaching. They are a talented bunch. But I think we (and by this I am not just speaking of the Seminary, for we built the Seminary's online model off of the broader university) have created a monster when you compare how much less onsite professors elsewhere do. We have created a job that is basically non-stop administration.

I have often thought of a famous biology illustration of evolution. Before the Industrial Revolution, light moths were larger in number in England, and peppered moths in low numbers because the darker moths were easier for the birds to see against the backdrop of the trees. But after the Industrial Revolution, the trees became sooted and the peppered moths shot up in numbers. The light ones decreased.

The current administration-heavy nature of online teaching has caused a different type of teacher to thrive--the person who delights in administration and managerial detail. The old style professor, the entertainer who tickled the ears with ideas, is less likely to thrive in an online environment. There are the rare birds who can do both, and the Seminary has them.

The danger is the rise of administrivia and bureaucracy in the academy. I hope to muse on this subject in a later post. I perceive that it's just not as much fun to teach as it used to be. The administration-heavy trajectory of the field of education in general threatens to suck all the fun out of teaching.

20. The question of how much the faculty should do things the same way or have flexibility is a question that inevitably surfaces from time to time. Although I have no particular fondness for APA style (Turabian is the standard for theological education), the faculty decided early on that it would be beneficial for the students to use the same style for all of the Seminary courses. Since CAPS uses APA and since it seems to fit the practical disciplines, we chose APA.

(Sometimes individuals who work in CAPS are surprised to find out that APA is not the style for the whole university. It is for CAPS. It is for Nursing. It is for Seminary. But most professors in CAS would give a puzzled look if you told them they had to use APA.)

Here is a danger of the new type of moth. The new administrator type faculty tends to focus much more on form than the old style did.

Another matter the faculty wrestled with was a common late policy. I believe the way it stands is that there is a default late policy that individual full time professors can modify if they choose. The default policy takes off 10% for initial lateness, then another 10% for every day it is late after that up to five days, after which it will no longer be accepted.

Personally, I don't like prescribing too many of these sorts of things for full-time faculty. We all had different professors with different personalities, and we were smart enough to figure it out. The standardization of late policies and formal policies tends to endorse one faculty personality over another. And in the end neither is better than the other.

21. What grade should a student get if the student fulfills the basic requirements of an assignment? Here you find different perspectives among faculty. On the one side are the voices that say a student should get full points if they do what the assignment asks. The problem here for me is that any student then can get full points. An A goes to the responsible but not to the excellent. This is the orientation of the guild of secondary education, whom I think have had a lot to do with the current trajectory of online education.

When the Seminary started, we slid the grade scale up high to counteract this tendency we perceived for grade inflation. In the Seminary, a 96% is an A, 93% is an A-, 90% is the threshold for a B+.

I started the Seminary with a sentiment I learned from Joel Green when he was Provost at Asbury Seminary. For undergraduates, average work is a C. For graduate students, average work should be above average, a B. So when I was doing ad hoc training of adjuncts, I suggested that they start off their grading of assignments at a 90% if a student completes the basic assignment. If they do more than the minimum or have higher quality, go up. If they do less or aren't as excellent, go down.

I still think this is a completely appropriate and generally straightforward way to grade discussions and perhaps even submissions.

However, enter two other factors. Some graders don't inflate by nature. For this grader, the slid-up scale bites the student. They get an 80% and end up with a C. I personally think this is too harsh a standard for our context.

The other factor is the rise of the administrator moth, that wants to rubricize everything. I've seen some rubrics that are horribly complicated. You almost need a degree to use them. Contrast some parts of Regent where you basically get credit in discussions if you complete the expectations of the discussion.

To me, it just doesn't have to be that hard.

Previously on Seminary take-aways:

1. There are key moments of opportunity.
2. You need the right people.
3. Good leaders collaborate and navigate.

Year 1: Launch Year
4. Innovation requires some trial and error. (1)
5. Innovation requires some trial and error. (2)
6. Innovation requires some trial and error. (3)
7. New leaders bring new strengths. (1)

Year 2: Growing Pains
8. Administration never ends.
9. New leaders bring new strengths. (2)
10. New leaders bring new strengths. (3)

Year 3: The Year of Maturity
11. Complexity works against sustainability.
12. There are advantages to being embedded in a broader university. (1)
13. There are advantages to being embedded in a broader university. (2)
14. Our guinea pigs survived.

Year 4: The Year of the Faculty
15. Faculty share governance with administration. (1)
16. Faculty share governance with administration. (2)
17. Faculty share governance with administration. (3)

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