College students’ time

“[C]ollege students really don’t work that hard, on average.”

So concludes Chad Aldeman in this post on The Quick and the Ed, and the cited data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics support the claim: on average, full-time college students put a little more than three hours per day into education, for a total of about 16 hours per five weekdays. As Aldeman points out, this does not include work they do on weekends. I believe that Grinnell students do much more academic work than the average, for a variety of academic, cultural, and socioeconomic reasons, but that’s not my reason for posting.

Aldeman cites these statistics as part of an effort to deflate “the face-to-face gold standard”; he points out that comparisons of classroom and online learning sometimes reveal that some studies show online courses producing superior learning outcomes, sometimes (as Sara Goldrick-Rab puts it) “because the amount of actual instructional time in online courses is greater than that in classroom settings.”

My question is this: what would the data look like for classroom courses with substantial online components, components that do create increased instructional time outside of class? Do online activities replace other kinds of instruction, or do they increase the overall time teachers and students spend on classroom-based courses? Reader, have you any thoughts?

Teaching with blogs, episode 1

I gave my first blog assignment this week.

I’ve done email and discussion board assignments for many years, but this was a gen-you-ine blog assignment for my Tutorial.

I had wondered how well students would pick up the blog interface. (It’s a private group blog on Although few, if any, of them had blogged before, they all registered and posted with no trouble. The only minor problem involved tags: I asked all the students to attach the same tags to their posts, and only about half of them did. Of the others, one made up his own tags, and the others added nonw.

No problem. I fixed the issue for the first set of posts and planned to note it in class this morning. I present to you a study in contrast:

Plan! Have computer and projector ready to go, show students how to enter tags on WordPress, ask them to add the required tags to each of their posts.

Execution! Ignore the computer, paraphrase the introductory chapter of David Weinberger’s Everything Is Miscellaneous (with substantial detail about the Staples prototype store), argue for tagging as a wonderfully flexible reinvention of hierarchical categories. As students pack up at the end of class, remember the computer and say, “So here’s where you enter the tags, OK?”

And that was fine. I think I liked the execution better than the plan, in fact, but I did realize after class that, for better or worse, I am becoming a different kind of teacher.

Wait: am I an academic?

Am I an academic?

Yesterday’s post by the excellent Danah Boyd has me wondering. Boyd a researcher at Microsoft Research New England (on the blogroll to the right as “apophenia”), yesterday blogged about her answers to the question, “Am I an academic?” Boyd’s description of scholarly life in a research lab is fascinating; her description of the academic life is harrowing–but it doesn’t describe my life as an academic.

I don’t mean simply that I find academic life more enjoyable than you’d guess from Boyd’s description, though that’s true. I mean something more fundamental: the whole complex of institutional structures, professional incentives, and teaching environments that Boyd evokes arises from an assumption that being an “academic” means teaching at a research university. And that assumption pervades most writing about the digital humanities. When I see descriptions of how academics teach, or do scholarship, or hold office hours, or do most anything else, writers almost never capture my experience at a liberal arts college. Or my mother’s experience at a branch campus of a community college. Or my dad’s experience at a small liberal arts university. Or my brother’s experience at a New England preparatory academy. We all have advanced degrees in the humanities, and we’re all, I think, academics.

One aim of this blog, then, is to enter conversations about teaching, scholarship, and the digital humanities from an unusual institutional position. I teach at Grinnell College, an institution fundamentally unlike the research universities I attended but also unlike my parents’ institutions and other types. Grinnell is small (about 1500 students), rural, Midwestern, highly selective, well endowed, teaching-oriented, and increasingly dedicated to interdisciplinarity and faculty-student research collaborations in all fields.

Teaching at Grinnell, I have no graduate students but terrific, ambitious undergrads. No immediate colleagues (in British Romantic literature) but a strong sense of interdisciplinary collaboration. No research library but skilled, flexible librarians. Good funding for scholarship but demanding institutional service obligations.

How do new models of networked teaching and scholarship translate to such an environment? In these new ways, can I be an academic, too? Let’s see.

Hello? World?

As you can see at the right (for now, at least), “Pages and Lights is Erik Simpson’s blog about teaching, the digital humanities, and the liberal arts college.”  I have touched on those subjects here and there in Underlying Logic, a general blog that will now, unburdened, crawl toward death.

(That, like the title of the blog, is an unfunny and obscure Shakespeare joke. For the record, the title is from Pericles, the unburdened thing from Lear. The excitement never stops at Pages and Lights.)

Since I started blogging, a new conversation about teaching and digitality has emerged, and I want in! Here, inspired by the likes of Cathy Davidson and David Silver, I will attempt a (relatively) focused exploration of teaching and learning, especially as they bake in the ovens of computer networks and liberal arts colleges. Away we go.