Saturday, July 28, 2012

Productivity and Teaching

 Legislators want more productivity these days.  In classrooms, particularly at the college level, this often means more students per faculty member.  If you give a lecture to 20 students, they think, you'll be twice as productive if you have 40 students in the class.  What they really like is the idea of faculty teaching internet classes with 90 students. 

There are two basic ways to increase productivity:
1.   have the same output using fewer resources
2.   increase the output using the same or fewer resources

When legislators want to increase class size, they may achieve an increase in productivity if by that they mean more tuition coming to the university for the same resources, or more students complete the class for the same resources.  But if you mean how much each student learns, the output goes down.  Learning involves interaction between the students and the teacher - during class, after class, and through comments students get about their work.  The more students in the class, the less interaction and feedback (and learning) students get.  (I'm assuming a good teacher here, who does actively give students in depth feedback.)

 All this comes up because I've been reading Robert Boice's Advice for New Faculty Members, in preparation for the new faculty mentor program I'm working on this coming semester.  A key concern for Boice is that new faculty work way too hard.  He's come to this conclusion from studying new faculty for many years.  I got to that conclusion by living it.

Boice quantifies the work load of a new faculty member teaching six hours (typically two classes) a week, a lower than average course load.
  • 6 hr/wk in class plus some 20 min/day interacting with students before and/or after each class meeting (total = at least 10 hr/wk)
  • 18-30 hr/wk preparing lectures/classroom materials via reading, notetaking, writing, plus another 2 hr/wk, on average, grading tests and paper, etc. (total = at least 18 hr/wk, often as much as 40 hr/wk)
  • 6 hr/wk for office hours (total= at least 6 hr/wk, much more for faculty who do not keep office doors closed past official office hours) (p. 13)
This comes to  between 30 and 56 hours a week.  We're only talking about teaching now.

This is a reality I faced as a faculty member.  My preparation for class, after many years, could be reduced by relying on notes and handouts from previous semesters, though usually I wanted to tweak my old materials and that could get me back to the 18-30 hours Boice lists for new faculty.  I found, though, that my grading load was much higher than 2 hr/wk.  I had  students write essays and short papers.  I found I needed at least 30 minutes per paper to read them carefully and give useful feedback.  For papers that needed more feedback, an hour wasn't unusual.

Boice's example above is the load just for teaching two classes, while many, if not most faculty, have a three or four class schedule.  Boice's example  doesn't include time for the other two major functions of faculty - research and service.  At the University of Alaska Anchorage where I taught, the normal faculty load was 3-1-1.  That is 3 parts (60%) teaching, 1 part (20%) research, and 1 part (20%) service.  So, in addition to teaching, there is another 40% expected, and again for research and service, another eight hours each, isn't going to cut it.

Boice writes:
". . . where campuses demand loads of 9 - 12 hours, time spent at teaching usually equals 50-60 hr/wk during the first two years.  . . [T]hese averages afford far less time than anticipated for good starts at scholarly writing, for setting up labs and research and field programs, for preparing grant applications, for reading of the professional literatures, for keeping in touch with colleagues at other campuses, and for socializing on the new campus.  [Finally] the dearest costs of this heavy demand come in social/family life, exercising, health, and sleep." (p. 13)

People would hear that I taught three classes a semester - nine hours a week in the classroom and think I had it pretty easy.  They didn't consider the prep time, grading, and the research and service work that made my work week go into 50 - 70 hours.

But when I think of elementary school teachers, who are in with the students for six or seven hours a day, five days a week, I know my load was easy.  Being in charge of a classroom - the learning and the behavior of a classroom of students  - takes a lot of energy.  It's like performing and directing.  And so good teachers have to do most of their class prep and assignment feedback on their own time. 

Yet many legislators and the some of the public think that teachers have it easy.

Are there problems?  Plenty.  Some college faculty do take advantage of their autonomy and don't spend that kind of time on teaching.  The vast majority though are conscientious and there is a lot of pressure to get way too many things done in way too little time.  There's no such thing as overtime.  And for K-12 teachers, the much higher amount of in classroom time makes for a very exhausting job. 


  1. All true, but as teachers, what do we know?

  2. I'm looking at 7.5 hours per week of classroom instruction this upcoming semester, plus 5 hours of direct prep for the classroom sessions, 8 hours per week of office hours, and ten hours per week of indirect class prep, grading papers ( I have a TA for my 4x per week 120-student lectures), and miscellany. As an adjunct. I wonder how that compares to other UAA adjuncts?


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