Posts Tagged With: University of Saskatchewan

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

Syllabus strategy: The Quick Start Guide

The manual for my coffee maker starts on page two with the words “IMPORTANT SAFEGUARDS” in very large print. This section cautions me against touching the hot parts, or swimming with the coffee maker, and also advises “Do not place this appliance… in a heated oven.”

The first part of page three lists what not to do to the carafe (“Avoid sharp blows…”). The second half concerns the dangers of extension cords, and ends by offering the helpful advice that if the plug won’t fit in the electrical outlet, you should turn it over so the big prong goes in the big hole.

Page 4 is the Table of Contents, page 5 covers features (“Comfort Fit Carafe Handle,” “Lighted ON/OFF Indicator”), and finally on page 8 it gets around to the coffee-making process.

There are 17 pages, and the only part I ever paid much attention to is the instructions for cleaning the coffee maker.  I only looked those up because the coffee maker has a “Clean Cycle” button, suggesting that my usual non-automated procedure might not apply.

So, let’s review. I haven’t read the manual for my coffee maker cover-to-cover because:

  1. I deemed the first several pages as not useful to me, and I concluded that the majority of the manual was likely to be that way.
  2. I know what I’m looking for, so I quickly scanned the manual to find those details, and filtered out everything else.
  3. It is 17 pages long.

I suspect that these points also sum up the reasons why my students won’t read the course syllabus. I haven’t electrocuted myself [with the coffee maker], so my assessment in point #1 was likely a reasonable one.  Not so for my students who don’t read the syllabus.

The ones I’m most concerned about are taking introductory physical and historical geology courses through the Centre for Continuing and Distance Education (CCDE) at the University of Saskatchewan. Their syllabi describe procedures that are unique to the distance education format, such as having to submit an application to write the final exam. More than one student has assumed that he or she could simply show up at the right time and place, and be permitted to write the exam, as with on-campus classes.

Syllabus for Geology 108/121

My syllabus design

For my face-to-face classes, I’ve designed a syllabus to address point #1 by putting the details that students are most likely to look for (e.g., textbook, grading scheme, contact information) as close to the beginning as possible. I’ve addressed point #2 by using sidebars with interesting images, facts, and quotations, to disrupt the scanning process. As for point #3, my syllabus is seven pages long, and that was a very tight squeeze.

For my CCDE courses, the CCDE puts together most of the syllabus following a modified version of the U of S syllabus template. They specify what information I am to supply, and indicate where I have the option to make additions or modifications. Whatever isn’t on the list stays as is. This arrangement allows me to add content, but it does not permit the kinds of modifications that I think are necessary to address points #1 and #2. The syllabi are 13 and 29 pages long, so there’s no help for point #3.

Quick start guide

The Quick Start Guide

These syllabi are not working, and I’m not allowed to fix them.  I fumed about this for a while, and then came up with an idea. Back when computer hardware still came with paper manuals, manufacturers often included a quick start guide. These were posters or pamphlets that showed simply and clearly the most basic steps needed to get up and running. I decided that my syllabus needed a quick start guide.

The quick start guide I came up with has some key features:

  • Fonts and layout that invite browsing, including images, plenty of white space, and text blocks of limited size
  • A place for key information (dates, contact information, assignment submission procedures) that is scattered throughout the syllabus
  • Details that are too important to leave to a chance encounter in the syllabus
  • Motivation to read the syllabus, including a “Top Ten Reasons to Read the Syllabus” list. The list combines humour with items in the syllabus that students usually ask about.

It is two pages long, so printable on a single sheet of paper.   It doesn’t look like any of the other course materials, and this is good, because curiosity motivates inquiry far better than obligation does. I’m trying it out for the first time this term, so we’ll see how it goes.

 

Categories: Challenges, Syllabus | Tags: , , , ,

So much for the low profile

Ruby and Suzie excavateThis post is my first assignment for the Introduction to Learning Technologies course offered by the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Saskatchewan.  My job for this post is to talk about who I am and why I’m taking the course.  I’ve covered the “who” part on my About page so here I’ll stick to the “why.”  It’s pretty simple, really- I know there are a lot of creative and effective ways to apply technology to teaching… but exactly what they are and how to use them is a little beyond me.  Sure, I can PowerPoint with the best of ’em, but when it comes to twittering (tweeting?) in class, or using blogs, or creating my own multimedia teaching tools, I suffer from an uncharacteristic lack of imagination.

Thus far we’ve looked at a number of applications in class, and I have a better appreciation for the breadth of tech options out there.  The thing that has made the biggest impression on me, however, is the whole idea of having an e-presence online.  As a non-facebooking non-twitterer (tweeter?) I had hoped to keep my digital presence and the inherent dangers and annoyances to a minimum.  Our instructor changed my perspective a bit when she pointed out that not creating your own digital presence means that someone else can do it for you.  She recommended googling our names to see what was already out there about us.  Wow.  What a disconcerting experience.  I scrolled through six Google pages before finding an entry that didn’t apply to me…  I learned that someone keeps track of the “genealogy” of my PhD, that somewhere someone rated my goodness as a human being, and that my PhD thesis was available for sale in paperback.  (No, I don’t get any money for that.)  Of course, at the top of the list was a certain website (to remain unnamed) where disgruntled students go to vent their frustrations about their instructors.  Why are the gruntled ones so much less likely to comment in places like that?

My conclusion is that the things I do actively to define my digital presence are more likely to have a benign effect on said presence than not, and that it is better to have some influence than none at all.  I’m going to miss my anonymity, however illusory, but there are benefits to being part of this brave new world: I can open Twitter accounts for my dogs!

Categories: Learning technologies | Tags: , , , ,

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