Archive for September 14, 2010

Discovering Oneself Supporting the “Landed Gentry”

When Russ Shackelford was with the College of Computing, we’d talk about the hierarchy of higher-education schools. Computing curricula volumes, he’d argue, were for the “landed gentry,” the elite schools on that hierarchy, the ones with flexibility to make curricular choices.  What about all the community colleges, all the two-year schools who have so many more students?  Russ would say that we really don’t know much about how they use the curricula volumes, and what their curricular practices were, especially nationwide.

Lately, Georgia Tech, like all other state institutions, has been dealing with budget cuts.  I’ve been particularly arguing that we should increase our teaching load.  College of Computing faculty teach two classes per year, typically one per semester.  That feels really light to me.  But, as it’s been pointed out to me several times, that matches what our “peer” institutions do.  The idea of raising our teaching load has been taken off the table.

Today, I was contacted by a community college teacher who has just adopted our Media Computation Python book.  She wanted answers to the back-of-chapter exercises (which we don’t have yet for the Second Edition, so I sent her what I had for the First Edition) and our “test bank.”  I admitted ignorance: What’s a test bank?  It’s a set of questions (fill-in-the-blank, true/false, multiple choice) that an author of a text book provides so that teachers using the textbook can simply choose a selection of problems for the class exam.  I told her that we didn’t have such a thing.  She was aghast.  “Most textbook authors have them!  Don’t your teachers give exams?!?”  I assured her that they did give exams, but most teachers using the Python MediaComp book (to my knowledge) make up their own exams.  She was really shocked by that.  “I teach five classes a semester, plus I’m doing work on a grant. I don’t have time to make up my own exams.”

At this point, I’m a bit chagrined.  I realized that I’m in Russ’s “landed gentry” — teaching two classes per year makes that pretty clear.  What my community college correspondent made me realize is that I wrote my books for fellow “landed gentry.”  I’m going to guess that the number of community college and high school teachers is far greater than the number of university teachers.  I’ll bet that most teachers probably rely on “test banks,” that they teach so much that developing their own exams is simply a number-of-hours-in-a-day impossibility.  I provide PowerPoint slides as my only real instructional supplement.  Many MediaComp teachers even make their own slides.  Most teachers probably don’t have the time for that.

That doesn’t mean that I am going to be building a test bank real soon now.  I do stay pretty busy with what’s on my plate, and building a test bank is a big job.  Nonetheless, it’s useful, if a bit embarrassing, to have the self-awareness to know for whom one is writing one’s books.  My books are probably not usable by most computing teachers.  Supporting community college teachers and high school teachers is a lot harder than supporting “landed gentry” faculty.

September 14, 2010 at 8:10 pm 6 comments


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