Posts Tagged With: sessional lecturer

Dear Ed Tech: This Is What You Don’t Understand About Higher Education

I am the kind of tired that makes you feel hollow inside, so maybe this isn’t the best time to be writing this, but then again, maybe it is. I just got back from my Monday-Tuesday teaching overnighter out of town. I’m a hired gun in the world of higher education- sometimes we’re called adjunct faculty, sometimes sessional lecturers, and a number of other terms that are beyond my ability to recall at the moment. But you know who we are.

The problem is that being able to learn about educational technologies is really a luxury for my lot. I’ve been able to take many free courses which I’ve enjoyed very much, but I was only able to take them because I could afford to not fill that time with paid work. Full-time faculty on campus who opt to attend a course are doing so during the work day, but hired guns do it on their own time. Many of my colleagues simply wouldn’t be able to take the time- I’m thinking of you, Elaine, with your 8 courses this term in at least three different communities. So the first thing you need to know, Ed Tech, is that a substantial number of the people teaching courses at universities are hired guns like me, and many of those are on the razor’s edge of being able to support their teaching habits.

Part of being a hired gun is not having job security. You should care about this, Ed Tech, because the many wonderful tools you offer require a lot of work up-front. It’s a big decision whether or not to use a technology when learning it and preparing materials happens on your own time. It’s an even bigger decision when access to a tool depends on your employment status, as it often does with institutional subscriptions to software.

My blog, for example, started out on a university WordPress service, but after the jarring experience of having my computing access cut off between contracts, and facing the loss of the materials I created, I moved it and absorbed the costs associated with making it ad-free.

The same university is working on updating their in-class response system. I’m using one now- Poll Everywhere, which also happens to be something I can afford out-of-pocket- and the chance that I would adopt the system they choose is zero. It doesn’t matter how good the system is. What matters is that it takes a lot of time to set up questions and to embed them into presentations. Is it worth spending the time if I only get to use those questions once, or, assuming I’m teaching a similar class elsewhere, am unable to access them? This more or less guarantees that whatever system the university chooses will be utilized far less than they would like.

I came face to face with this issue more recently when discussing a home for the open textbook adaptation I’m working on. First of all, I’ve spent 131 hours on this adaptation so far, according to the timer I use to track my various ill-advised activities. That doesn’t include the 65 hours I spent writing a chapter for the original version of the book (for which, I must add, I was compensated- something I appreciated as an acknowledgement of my work as much as for the income.).

My free Pressbooks account didn’t have enough space for the media library, so I upgraded at my own expense. I then learned that the university is setting up its own version of Pressbooks, but faced with the possibility of losing access to what now seems like a ridiculous amount of work, I would never consider using their account to work on my textbook. I would also be nervous about having my students use a version hosted on the university’s system because I’m not clear on whether I would have access to edit it once it got put there. (I have no idea how authors of print materials aren’t driven nuts by being unable to edit at will.)

In my present state of near-faceplant exhaustion, it appears that I’ve made a great many poor life-choices. I can justify this in my better moments as things that are important to do for my students, but on days like today, all I can think of is why oh why am I killing myself with this?

Ed Tech, you need to realize that many of the people teaching in higher education are not in a position to be as frivolous with their time as I have been. In the push to get instructors to adopt various kinds of educational technology, it isn’t just a matter of convincing them that it’s good for students. They very likely know that already. The challenge is convincing them that they should commit to a technology in spite of the personal and financial burden, not to mention being treated like the education version of a paper plate (it works, it’s cheap, it’s disposable, there are lots more where it came from) by the schools that would benefit from their labour.

The commitment you’re asking for isn’t the same as it would be for full-time faculty, and I don’t think you realize how frustrating- even insulting- it is when you discuss the problem of adoption in terms of instructors being resistant to change, too lazy to change, or just not getting it. Especially when you yourselves are comfortably ensconced in a full-time position. For hired guns like me, the only compensation is warm fuzzies. When you’re a dead-inside kind of tired, warm fuzzies are entirely inadequate.

Categories: Challenges, Learning technologies, Textbooks | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Of Dogs and Collective Agreements

This post is a kind of public service announcement for sessional lecturers at the University of Saskatchewan, so if you aren’t especially interested in labour relations at the U of S, you might want to come back another time. On the other hand, if you prefer a data-based approach to cynicism, then read on…

Once upon a time there was a union newsletter that said the following:

“Members who have taught more than 10 x 3 credit units should be paid at level 2 rates; those who have taught more than 20 x 3 credit units should be paid at level 3 rates. Adjustments should be made automatically by the employer.

Courses taught while on regular faculty appointments or while on an ASPA contract, including as facilitator for an online course, should count in your progression through the levels, but it may be necessary to inform Human Resources of this part of your teaching experience.” [emphasis original]   

“Hey!” the sessional lecturer said, “the majority of my work is through ASPA as a facilitator, and I must have accumulated enough credit units to get past level 1 by now. I’d better check.”

So the sessional lecturer added up her credit units and found that she had surpassed the requirement for level 3 pay rates. She double-checked her employment records, and confirmed that she was actually paid at level 1 rates.

“I’d better look into this,” she said. “It must be an oversight by HR.” And so the emailing began.

The sessional lecturer contacted HR only to find that they weren’t sure about whether the ASPA work counted, and she began to doubt her understanding of the newsletter. They said they would check and get back to her. Two months later she got the news: she would be changed to level three as of the new year.

“That’s great!” she said. “But that means some of my earlier work should have been paid at level 2 or level 3. Will I be compensated for that?”

“Of course!” said HR. “It’s in the collective agreement, and we value our employees, so we will take care of that right away!”

No, HR didn’t say that. If they did, this wouldn’t be much of a story.

What they actually said was, “Well no, we don’t do that. And besides- we don’t actually check ASPA records unless someone asks. You didn’t ask us soon enough to check that our records are in order, so we don’t have to pay you. It’s in your collective agreement. You should have read it.”

The sessional lecturer was speechless. She thought to herself, “The agreement says they have to count ASPA work, but they choose not to check on it unless someone raises the issue… that’s not at all what I understood from the newsletter. I’d better read the collective agreement to see if it actually says that’s ok.”

So she made a cup of tea, and curled up with two dogs and her computer, and prepared to slog through pages and pages of legalese. To her surprise, the agreement wasn’t difficult to read at all. She hit paydirt right in the Definitions section:

SERVICE POINTS provide a measure of the teaching performed as an employee at the University of Saskatchewan and are used to determine the appropriate basic stipend. Each service point represents six credit units of teaching as the principal instructor of a credit course or courses and may include, but is not limited to, teaching as:

 1) a sessional lecturer,

2) an applied music instructor (See Article 16.04),

 3) a member of faculty in a term position as set out in Article 14.01, or,

 4) an administrative or professional staff member at the University of Saskatchewan

Sessional lecturers who have accumulated up to five (but not equal to five) service points will be paid at a Level I rate; sessional lecturers who have accumulated five and up to ten (but not equal to ten) service points will be paid at a Level II rate; and sessional lecturers who have accumulated ten or more service points, and retired faculty members appointed as sessional lecturers, will be paid at a Level III rate.”

“It’s right there!” she said. “Number 4 on the list refers to ASPA work. I wonder why it took so long for them to decide that it counted?”

Then she thought, “I wonder if HR was right about not having to pay me.” She read the collective agreement, read it again, and then put down the computer. She turned to her dog and said, “I just don’t see it. I don’t see anything anywhere.” Her dog said, “That’s odd. Scratch my ears?”

In a feat of remarkable dexterity, she patted one dog’s head, rubbed the other’s tummy, and shook her head all at the same time. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “Maybe something elsewhere says otherwise, but everything I can find suggests that USask is UScrewing me.”

Suddenly she stopped rubbing and patting- an appalling thought had occurred to her: “If sessional lecturers think HR is keeping track of their ASPA work, but HR has made a point of not doing it unless they are asked to… If HR doesn’t have to pay anyone if they avoid checking for long enough… that’s a system designed for UScrewing!”

Brought back to reality by prods from two cold noses, the sessional lecturer resumed her patting and rubbing. She sorted through her options, and concluded that if the University were not troubled by the ethics of its system, it was a hopeless cause. She thought back to a blog post she had read about a self-respect threshold, and then got up to make another cup of tea.

After evicting a dog from her spot on the couch, she settled in to read again, this time with her copy of Trading for Canadians for Dummies. She smiled.

 

Epilogue

You may wonder if the sessional lecturer ever contacted her union. That’s what her dogs recommended. In fact, she did, but she got the impression that they would prefer she went away quietly.

When she explained this to her dogs, one put down the tennis ball she was chewing and said, “So the words you were reading before don’t actually mean what they say? People words are confusing.” Her other dog began to wonder whether people words like “sit” and “stay” were also open to interpretation.

Sensing the potential for chaos, the sessional lecturer answered, “It depends on who the people are and why they say the words.” The tennis ball connoisseur put down her ball again. “That makes no sense at all. But then again, I’ve never had a collective agreement.” A pensive look came across the sessional lecturer’s face. “Maybe I haven’t either.”

 

 

Categories: The business of education | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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