Monday, February 8, 2016

Teaching Take 2. Bad Teaching

This sounds bad, and to a certain extent I apologize for that.  On the other hand – I find it frustrating.  As a student I believe that a teacher has a certain responsibility to their students (regardless of the cost of tuition, but tuition is costly).  My belief of a responsibility doesn’t discount the responsibility of the student to be an active learner.  Just that they should be responsible not just for disseminating information, but making sure that real learning occurs.  I don’t know the answer to this question.  I know that in many cases teachers are hired because of what they have accomplished in their careers (frequently common in business).  Depending on the institution they are hired because they do research (and/or have many publications) and that in both cases, the high profile of the “teacher” can bring in funding to the school.  Neither of these situations have ANY bearing on the capacity of the individual to be a successful teacher.  It is critical that a teacher has domain knowledge.  There are theories out there where this is a debatable criteria, but let’s assume that it is true, for the sake of argument. While I know this may work in coaching, teaching and coaching are not vacantly the same thing.  I’m not an educational theorist – but I don’t necessarily need to be one to say that regardless of any of those theories, bad teaching exists.

Just to be clear, I don’t think that teachers mean to teach poorly.  I think I have seen a lot of reasons over the years for “poor” teaching.  Poorly treated adjunct professors may be working at double or triple the load of a normal professor with no benefits -   Poor teaching in this case could simply be an issue of not having time – or capacity to be as thorough as potentially them may need to be.  Maybe they are burned out from striving to teach and do committee work, publish, and chase tenure. 
But I think, in my opinion, the issue is that teachers are not hired for their ability to teach, they are not taught how to teach after being hired, and that successful teaching is not a primary concern for maintaining their employment.  And I think that it is a problem.  Teachers should be mentored, and taught (assuming they have mentors how are successful teachers) about pedagogy.  They should be able to engage with students in multiple ways.  I don’t have an issue with a class that is a lecture class – but then the lectures should be done well. 

What I see that frustrates me the most are mostly simple things:

-          Poor public speaking, not being audible (even after being asked).  Not repeating student’s questions (this is a huge issue in some online courses). 

-          Lack of clear expectations and feedback to the students.  What is a quality response?  And I spend an hour to make a quality response to a question online and another student say’s yea me too – are we graded equally?  Intrinsic motivation aside, I don’t need to spend hours doing “busy work’ for an online participation grade while have the class gets the same grade for agreeing.  (Except that I do, which is probably why I get mad). 

-          Teaching skills that you don’t demonstrate as a teacher.  If you are teaching a course about creating a learning environment, then create a good learning environment.  I have had multiple classes where slides were published with poor grammar and incorrect information.  It’s hard to learn something when the provided materials are not correct.  Then of course, how do you have any credibility in the first place….

-          Class format, topic, and online versus in person all have different costs and benefits.  Teachers probably have preferred styles, but learners do too.   I have learned a lot from classes that were all lecture.  Unless the teacher is very skilled at leading a discussion, I find learning to be more difficult when it is only discussion – seminar style – unless, the students are very vested.  But generally mixes of styles work best for me.  Discussion is valuable. I like case studies.  I think group projects can be important (though I typically don’t care for them).  But it isn’t a one size fits all situation.

-          Last, but most wrong to me are classes where the teacher tells you a certain percentage of what you need to know to be successful (and it typically occurs in classes where you cannot easily research the remaining information), and expect you to figure out the rest – because they thing that proves that you are learning.  Examples:
o   Teach someone how to draft, tell them to design a house, but expect them to design windows, doors properly without showing them what the symbols mean for those elements (as they can just figure that out on their own).  Better yet, teach someone auto cad, even if they have no drafting experience.  Technically possible – but it comes with a loss of quality.  Or teach a French class, and expect someone to know what a library is called because they know the work for book.  I’m not saying that a student should not be able to put 2 and 2 together.  Students should problem solve, but teachers need to allow that to happen, and to give them the framework to build upon (or, conversely not expect the student to come up with the teacher’s “correct answer”.  I have seen a recent trend where teachers hold back information and tell students to figure it out, and that that if they wouldn’t give them any more information it would be “cheating”.  I don’t get that.   

There are other issues at play of course.  Do students rate easy teachers more highly than hard teachers?  There a third factor of fairness at work – hard but fair is okay, but hard and unclear is different?  I have heard that easy teachers are not necessarily ranked better – but in my personal experiences, there does seem to be a correlation between easy = higher ratings.   

Troubleshooting Today Update

Back in  April 2007 , I described an error in AutoCad.  A couple days ago I got an email from James with a screen shot:

Thanks for sending the image James - it is certainly just as funny now as it was before!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Watchout Software - Projection Design

I was reading and old issue of Live Design and caught a reference to a piece of software called Watchout. I have not used it, but it looks like it would be cool - and a great tool for doing projections.  Its geared towards multi-screen productions & 3D mapping, something that is increasing in popularity.

Media and technology behind it are here to stay - at lease in the foreseeable future. What I have learned in my recent projects is that there are in and outs to the process behind creating digital designs that don't directly transfer to the way that we typically design in theatre.

Monday, February 1, 2016

On Teaching v1 Why do you want to teach?

As you can see by my use of v1, I have a lot of thoughts about teaching swirling around in my head.  This comes from 2 sides.  First, my goal when I got an MFA was to teach.  I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, but I also wasn’t looking for an entry level, staff position where the best I could hope for was a stagecraft class while I was TD for all of the shows – I want to actively teach (and have a role in curriculum development).  Those positions are not as ready available, and frankly if I ever went back to teaching (which I hope, in some way that I do, eventually) I think my current work will probably help in adding to my effectiveness as a future teacher.  Second, I’m in the midst of a MS degree (middle mostly in that I haven’t applied for graduation yet, and have not completed “thesis” component of the degree.
Probably more so is that yet again, I have encountered what I believe is a fundamentally poor teacher.  Part of this problem is institutional in higher education.  Professors are hired not because they teach well, but, often, since they are “subject matter experts”.  In business especially, many professors do not have doctorates, but are successful people in their line of business.  Secondly, they are often hired based on research (as this can help fund the department).  Neither of these qualities have anything to do with the skill required to be a good teacher.
Granted to get tenure (if you happen to be in a tenure track position) student assessments are taken into consideration.  Historically I have done these at the last class.  At the current institution that I take classes at the assessments are not required to be done by all, and are due a week or so before the quarter electronically.  I don’t always complete them.  I would say that typically I would expect these to come back only in highly positive or highly negative since they are somewhat voluntary, except that I know that I have missed the deadline even when I had strong opinions about a class. Thus the only student metric is not one that is reliable.
It seems to me that many poor teachers seem to want to teach because it is easy to make extra $ (as an adjunct working a full time job).  Or perhaps if they are full time, they perceive the position as having less work required than any other work since it is semester or quarter based.  It seems to be forgotten that developing course content, grading, making sure that students understand core concepts are all part of teaching, much of which happens outside of the actual onsite teaching hours that are required per course.  Granted creating and teaching a course for the first time is probably hard than teaching is subsequently, but you have to keep updated on the subject and you have to keep your content updated.  If you have a staff or faculty position there is often advising and committee work on top of teaching duties.  Further, you need to stay current on industry trends, go to conferences, potentially speak at conferences and such, and so forth.  In short, teaching is not any easier than any other line of work.  How good you are at what you do is directly related to what you put into it.
The issue however, is that I am not sure how much universities really care if the teachers they hire (especially as adjuncts) are good or not.  Part of this is the predatory trend that I think colleges have been headed down (another topic of discussion).  Maybe there are a glut of unqualified individuals.  Maybe there are a lack of positions available in all of the different specialties required, and these are reasons behind adjuncts.  What I know, are that professors who have little investment in teaching are often very poor. 
As a student – I don’t pay any less to have a poor teacher than a good one.  It doesn’t serve employers down the road you expect to hire a graduate if they were taught by poor instructors and didn’t learn what they needed to.  And ultimately this gives the college or university a bad reputation. 
None of the above is rocket science.  While being a professor is a lot of work, to be fair putting together a life as an adjunct is also a lot of work.  The pay is very poor compared to a full time position, you need to string together a variety of courses (taking on a much higher course load) to equal out to the income a full time professor might make (on the low end), and they don’t receive benefits. 
Since it is not easy to be an adjunct, and it isn’t necessarily easy – it comes back to why are they doing, and probably more to why I am writing this) why they are often poor teachers.  Is that they are too busy to do the job successfully?  Are they just looking for an extra boost to their normal full time employment and don’t feel obligated to go above and beyond what they see their duties are (showing up for class and grading?)?

I think the situation is getting progressively worst – in that it seems to be more and more common that a teacher is given 2 courses to teach – one section in person, and one online.  In my personal experience this seems to equate out to the teacher giving a lecture (which online students later have access to via a recorded session) and grading assignments (which are the same) for both groups of students.  In reality this doesn’t work.  What works well in a classroom does not work well online.  Obviously there are differences dependent on class type (discussion versus lecture), but in either case an online class should be taught differently.  Secondly, no one at the university level seem to be giving instructors information on how to teach effectively online (or at least insuring that they know).  For instance – they should speak towards the microphone.  They shouldn’t block the board that they are writing on with their body.  They should repeat student questions. These seem basic to me, but I see countless times that I have issues understanding an instructor because of one of the above reasons.  There is also technology that some professors use that allow you to join their class live (if you want), and / or that that have virtual office hours where they are online in an environment with a  white board where you can draw, message back and form, and even share documents and mark up the document live.  I know that even attending live classes that skill and teaching style varies, so of course it doesn’t online.  But the best teachers, in either location also get that students also have different learning styles.  I guess the bottom line is why colleges and universities are so lax in their regulation of quality teaching (or why it’s not a priority on the first place).

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Stand offs and Metal Turning

Metomic brass turning has a variety of brass turned finials.  They also have stand offs and picture lamps.  An odd assortment of stuff - but items that could be difficult to find again in the future.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Food Props

I came across this article about the props used on the Food Networks shows.  Its always kind of interesting to look into what other folks have.  I think real shame (or highlight if you have the honor to walk through and talk to Wendy Waxman the resident historian and design director) is that so many of the nuggets of information that could be learned will never be committed to paper and will become lost over time. The photos also reveal other interesting notes that designers could find useful - like saturated colors do best under stage lights on film.

I have to say that everything looked really clean - and there was no evidence that the items were stored under a dust cover...  it makes me wonder if they were cleaned for the shoot!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Off the shelf Turntables

Everynow and then you need a turntable - not for a car or for a major, but for something small and low tech - like to make an a small object spin.  While creating a small turntable isn't difficult, you don't always need to recreate the wheel either.  (My apologies, the bad pun was entirely intended!)

A few I have come across during my last look:
Vue-More has a variety of small turntables and sign rotators.
Dino Rentos Studios has a variety of display turntables as well.
Turntable 360 has, you guessed, it - turntables. Small, for displays.
Young Electro-Mechanical Company has "motiondiser" turntables, they are small but have a high loading capacity.

Of these I have used both the Vue-More and the the "motiondiser".  The vue more was not very functional, but it was undersized for the application (provided by the artist for a sculpture.  The motionsiser is a fairly small little robust piece that will probably work as long as you can plug in a standard plug.  The unit has to be at least 10 years old - maybe 15, and spins happily away.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Labor Power and Organization

I read an interesting article today called Labor Power and Organization in the Early U. S. Motion Picture Industry by Michael C. Nielson.  It is located in Film History, Vol 2, No 2.  It generally is more about how theatrical workers created IASTE and that stage mechanics typically either worked on the road or specialized in building the scenery for the combination tours.  Film is a more economical model than live theatre.  I assume that it is mostly true today.  After all million dollar movies still cost 8 bucks (or so) plus concessions at a movie theatre.  Any touring show has a range of price points, but you can barely see a high school play or community theatre production for the price of movie ticket today. 

Another quote from the article stands out to me:
It occurred to us that we could use Bill (Bill Bowers was a prop man that had toured in vaudeville attractions) at the studio to take charge of obtaining all the odds and ends needed to dress the sets.  I think Bill established the principle upon which the props departments function today, namely that a director gets whatever he asks for without argument, no matter how crazy or impossible the request.  …early film craft workers set a tone of “doing the impossible” for the sake of creating whatever illusion the director wanted to produce. 

I also thought it was interesting how the article brought up that the unions were based on industrial lines (film and theatre) versus the trades like carpenters and IBEW.  It’s a conflict that still played out in some projects that I have worked on, and we end up working along beside the trades on some jobs depending on jurisdiction.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Bending PVC

I came across pvcbendit while looking at PVC stuff for home projects.  We frequently either bend steel, or have it bent for us to make a design work.  Sometimes it structural.  Sometimes it must be welded, and PVC fittings might not work -but being easily able to consistently bend PVC, especially at a low economic cost, could be a useful theatrical tool for scenery fabrication.

Monday, January 11, 2016

RGB Light Matching

On a project last year we installed RGB lighting within a visitor experience center.  The client wanted the lighting to reflect the colors in their logo.  It actually turned out to be a fairly simple things to do.  We used this site: pantone-to-rgb  and used the numerical number supplied to create the color.  The colors were a close (enough) match!