Thursday, March 20, 2008

"The Professor As Open Book"

Talk about an interesting article in today's Times:

IT is not necessary for a student studying multivariable calculus, medieval literature or Roman archaeology to know that the professor on the podium shoots pool, has donned a bunny costume or can’t get enough of Chaka Khan.

Yet professors of all ranks and disciplines are revealing such information on public, national platforms: blogs, Web pages, social networking sites, even campus television.

When scholars were recently given the chance to refute student criticism posted on the Web site, a cult-hit television series, “Professors Strike Back,” was born. The show, which has professors responding on camera to undergraduate gripes such as “boring beyond belief,” made its debut in October on mtvU, a 24-hour network broadcast to more than 7.5 million students on American college campuses.
Heh. I wasn't aware of such a program. No one has asked me to appear, but then I doubt they would since my RateMyProfessors page seems to be mostly positive remarks (with the occasional "chili pepper" thingy, which means "hot," if I'm not mistaken [thank you very much]).
These days, the clues are usually digital and are broad invitations to get to know the person behind the Ph.D. It is not uncommon for professors’ Web pages to include lists of the books they would take to a deserted island, links to their favorite songs from bygone eras, blog posts about their children, entries “written” by their dogs and vacation photographs.
Note that you'll find none of these things on this blog (my dogs Earl and Duke are retired from publishing these days), mainly because I use this forum for information/education, not to write about myself, per se. I'm sure my hit counter would increase dramatically if I did start telling you more mundane things about me, but "wev," as the hip kids say.
While many professors have rushed to meet the age of social networking, there are some who think it is symptomatic of an unfortunate trend, that a professor’s job today is not just to impart knowledge, but to be an entertainer.
That is unfortunate and definitely not part of my job as I see it, but I'm not sure how telling you what my "10 Desert Island Books" list is, or what's currently on my Ipod at the moment, would be "entertaining" anyway (FYI: "In Rainbows," Radiohead). I would have to echo Prof. Bronner, quoted in the article:
But there are those who prefer to be more opaque, at least in cyberspace. “I can see it if somebody’s using a Web page to store syllabi and articles and store biographies, store vita and that’s fine,” said Stephen Eric Bronner, a political science professor at Rutgers. “But just to say ‘I shoot pool’ or ‘I play poker,’ this kind of thing, what does it really mean? You humanize yourself in front of your students. You don’t have to do it through that.”
Agreed. You guys should know all you need to know about me from the hours we spend together each week in the classroom or during office hours. And if there is more you'd like to know, the "door is always open," of course. But I love this anecdote:
A number of professors said the most disarming thing of all to students is when they encounter a professor not on a Web page, but in the real world. When a student spotted [Prof] Gosling on a street near campus, he said, “She looked at me in, like, horror. Like, ‘Wait a minute, you have a life?’ The idea that I would continue to exist — it was sort of a violation of her expectations.”
LOL. I get this all the time whenever I run into students out downtown or running errands or what have you. Most of us are pretty much the same in "real life" as we are in classroom. There's no need to run to another grocery aisle or hide behind a stack of books over at Borders if you see me.

Come up and say hi and we'll shoot the breeze. All this talk about professors is fine, but I'm interested in knowing more about you anyway.


Philip said...

I don't know, I think that a criminology-themed blog from the perspective of a mischievious-yet-loveable pet dachshund is exactly what this world needs.

Jessica said...

I have to say, as a senior at the University and a student in your classroom, I applaud these thoughts. I can offer one story from my experiences here that you may find as “exhibit A” for what you are trying to relay in your blog. I once had a professor here that I respected, only to discover pictures of a somewhat questionable nature while on the internet trying to locate people in my class. I lost respect for the class as well as for the professor. The old adage of “less is more” can reign true in a lot of areas in life—this instance is no exception. I have to say though; it is weird seeing a professor in “civilian” clothes, out living life like the rest of us…