Saturday, August 6, 2005

Don't thank me, really...

Just in time for the new academic year, I bring you "Grading Problems Solved!" After reading this clever response to outsourcing, and having answered a few too many of those telemarketing calls (long silence; series of clicks, followed by impossibly foreign voice that says, "Good evening, I am...uh...Russell and I am calling from Big US Corporation"), I have decided that we academics must make outsourcing our friend.

We all know, courtesy of "60 Minutes" and liberal whining, that countries like India are positively teeming with articulate, educated people just aching to do the kind of jobs that Americans demand overpayment for. My proposal is simple. Even the lowliest tenure-line assistant prof. rakes in, say, 30K/year. Many of us make a wee bit more than that. Even factoring in massive student loans debts incurred by those of us with suicidal humanities tendencies, we can easily squeeze 10K off the top to hire two bright, educated, articulate foreign nationals to whom we outsource our grading responsibilities. It's like an international system of TAs: we provide the rubrics, the bell curve, the grade distribution—those of us who are over-achievers can even order a set of comment stamps with things like "This is the stupidest thing I've ever read," and "Duh!" in our own handwriting. With our new, high-efficiency grading team behind us, we have hours, and hours snap up those fine single-course opportunities on campuses within a reasonable radius. No, 4K/semester is not sufficient income for a highly educated teaching professional who must live thereupon. But hire your outsource team well, fudge your enrollment numbers, and we're talking $3000.00 pure profit for each additional course with your name listed next to it. Well, after taxes. But think of it this way: students whose instructors are paid less-than-living wages can't honestly expect quality face-time, right? Be sure to include "phone conferences" in your list of outsourcee responsibilities, and let the students wonder why you develop that odd accent after 8 p.m. every night.

What about the class time it takes to manage your expanding empire? This is the beauty of the "distance-education" revolution: one hour of you, on video, can serve as a "class session" for your various client-bases. Every third class can be a "research day," "writing workshop," or "reading day."

The question is, are we going to allow our administrations to be the only ones who gain from the exponential rise in outsourcing, domestic and international? Or are we going to seize the reins and drive our own destinies?
No, don't thank me.


At 7:34 AM , Anonymous New Kid on the Hallway said...

LOL! Great idea!

At 8:32 AM , Anonymous ehj2 said...

My, you’ve been busy.

I was shorted on the capacity to perform sarcasm and admire it in others. I can do crushing irony, but it lacks the heart and humor of true sarcasm. I seem to have developed it (youthful error) as a horrible verbal weapon which I’ve almost given up. But when pressed, there it is; a sword that leaps out of my mouth, ready to do battle. Yuck.

I'm stuck with a kind of "literalness" and "over-seriousness" with which I have to make do.

If I wasn't so grown up (puffing up chest and feigning "grown-upness" here) I could be disheartened by the fact that you do sarcasm and heart and literal (and navigate deftly among them) far better than I can even dream.


“If a thing is funny, search it for a hidden truth” / George Bernard Shaw.

There's a repeated sight gag in an old Val Kilmer movie – “True Genius.” About laser-jocks (but I had a crush on the hyper-active never-needed-to-sleep laser-jockette) at some unidentified super-engineering school (like MIT).

First time in a classroom we see a big imposing blackboard with a professor and a student audience in a big imposing classroom.

Second time we see the professor and a partial student audience ... some of the seats now have tape-recorders running.

Third time we start with the same view of the professor's huge desk and blackboard, but there's a BIG tape recorder on the professor's desk playing the professor's voice ... and as we pan back the whole vast classroom is filled with seats (no students) and some 200 tape recorders "recording" ...

This is in fact fast approaching.

Medical specialties are a driver. There is so much specialization, and the risks (insurance) are so high, that medicine is a major technology driver and early adopter of risk-reducing/managing technologies. Ways are now being explored of having surgeons in say, California, perform (via high speed TCP/IP connectivity) surgery in New York.

Teaching is of course much simpler. And will require only a large television monitor in the front of the class, an electronic “blackboard” that auto-writes here what is written “there,” and a good audio-video system; the professor can be in China.

Advocates will even argue that if the professor is in another country, grading will be less susceptible to personally influenced grade-creep.

You won’t be as inclined to give that really cute hunk the benefit of the doubt and boost his grade just for smiling at you all the time.


At 10:51 AM , Blogger Dorcasina said...

I actually think sarcasm is generally (for me) a cheap default defense mechanism, and it's something I find myself monitoring closely (and mostly eliminating) from my real life encounters, especially the pedagogical ones. The future you envision is one that terrifies me, as is the fact that the increasing adjuncting of university courses has created a practical situation that mirrors the mock-outsourcing I discuss here. In my field, the only reason we don't have more electronics giving and receiving "education" is the superhuman dedication of those who are willing to teach their best despite the economic injustices of their contracts, and to never, ever calculate their actual hourly wage.

I'm fortunate enough to be at an institution that takes seriously (and manages to afford to) a commitment to full-time positions, even for visiting faculty. Most of my peers are not so lucky.

At 12:42 PM , Anonymous ehj2 said...

I think of humorous sarcasm as very accessible even to those to whom it is directed. Mark Twain was gifted at speaking truth to power in veiled humor which was also heartfelt sarcasm.

Whenever I’ve attempted it, the people around me vanish like cats from a heavy book dropped from a great height onto a wooden floor in an echoic room.


I’m as terrified as you – perhaps even more so -- of the future we’re racing toward.

The wealthy (essentially stockholders) have managed to manipulate the political fabric of America so that corporations “are encouraged” to align their interests outside of the interests of the nation (in the interest of garnering profits for stockholders). Thus capital is now borderless, while labor is not.

Allowing this to happen puts us where we are – with the resourced political class (the wealthy) no longer with a vested interest in the success of the American educational system. Why pay taxes here to help subsidize schools to train an educated labor or white-collar class, when other nation’s are willing to do that for free (to investors) -- and their nation’s labor is, at the same time, cheaper. Why pay taxes to educate a labor class here which corporations know they won’t be hiring ... because cheaper labor is abroad?

More to the point, it’s easier to manipulate an uneducated population and to control it via enflamed emotions ... further encouraging the flight of funding and support for education ... in the larger interest of supporting corporatist goals.

Why pay taxes for infrastructure here? The wealthy don’t use infrastructure here; they live in gated communities within gated lifestyles and barely connect at all with the common world.

China is now committed to building world-class universities and will compete with our best. All of our Fortune 400 companies are building laboratories and research parks overseas. Cisco speaks openly of becoming a “Chinese company.”

We’re in deep, deep trouble and we have an uneducated population that isn’t aware of it ... a media that ignores it ... and a dominant political class that benefits from this ignorance.

We have turned the word “elitist” ... which should simply mean someone who’s really good at something ... into an epithet. We have turned being average (a member of the mainstream) into a “good.” Mathematically, it’s impossible to be both “average” on a scale, and “good.”

A reason the political class has married the religious right is because in fundamentalism being illogical and without reason is defined as a moral success. It’s easy for the political class to simply drop in a bit of its own illogical and reasonless agenda. The thing about gibberish is it’s all indistinguishable.

But to really drive home the point, and the topic here is education so I better get back to it ... the political class is dallying with the notion of teaching gibberish in school and calling it advanced moral thinking – “intelligent design.” I’m amazed at the ability of the right to successfully “sell” things with labels that mean the opposite of their referents.

Having started this wacko train ... and pulled the whole country onto it ... it’s going to take real effort even for those in control to stop it. Those who have engineered this will have to change their minds and help pull the brakes.

If we were not now in the decade of Peak Oil ... and if we had not just gutted the country’s educational system ... slagged the economy and disassembled our own manufacturing ability ... and trashed our standing in the world ... we might have had a chance.

But we voted in 2000 and 2004 to waste eight years .... precious time that we couldn’t afford to lose.

It’s difficult for me to see any light in the long darkness of this tunnel. The end of energy (gasoline) cheaper than water will be too great a stress on an already overly-stressed system. My actual fear is that democracy will not survive.

My most reasoned fear is that our world population of 6.2 billion will be closer to 3 billion within fifty years ...


At 11:35 AM , Anonymous drh said...

But in outsourcing grading to India you take much needed jobs away from desperate graduate student TAs in your very own University.

I suppose that dollar-wise we cost less (and it's not coming out of your pocket directly), but we often have the audacity to ask for an education, occasional attention from our advisors and even (gasp!) health insurance in return.

Of course I also understand that not every professor can have their very own TAs, although that is the true dream, right?


At 9:11 PM , Blogger Dorcasina said...

oh drh, absolutely! but in the cut-throat economy, grad students are not only my charges, to nurture and inculcate with the pedagogical wisdom of the ages, but they are also *competition*--if my scheme allows me to undercut their pittance of a stipend, then so be it, in the winner-take-all world of late capitalist academia. Because, of course, a "living wage" and health benefits for a U.S. TA/grad student are *far,* far more costly than what an impoverished third world worker who has never had--let alone expected--health insurance and an IRA would demand.
Yours, with tongue firmly in cheek.

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