Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Get rid of Lecturers

And I don't mean the people. Well, maybe a few (I have a little list, they never will be missed...). It's the title I'm on about.

OK it's a Pet peeve, but why do we have to call them Lecturers? Why should the job title, right there on the contract, on the business card, explicitly specify a pedagogy? It would be like calling Doctors 'Bleeders'.

For Overseas readers, most academic teaching staff in Ireland and the UK are not professors, they are officially known as lecturers. Professor is usually held as a title for heads of Department, or folk of similar gravitas and salary. Academics from Ireland and the UK love the instant virtual promotions they get when they visit America.

You might fairly say, what's in a name, but names are important signals for purpose. If you think your job title doesn't matter, fine. When I become Planetary Emperor, I'll change your job title to Idiot, and see how you like it.

Lecturing is contested pedagogy. Truly great lecturers, even merely good ones, can inspire us. The personal experience can uplift us and affect us in ways that catching it on Youtube can't. It's a monkey brain thing. On the other hand, most lecturers are about two levels worse than they think they are, on a scale of 1 to 3.  Their delivery suffers little from being speeded up 40% on playback. They sound like Chipmonks and it's an improvement. The job title implies a one way delivery of content. It's literally old school. Let's dump it.

The title also ignores what most of them really do. What about all that real teaching and mentoring? What about the research. Since many of them spend as much time on bureaucracy and meetings as lecturing, let's call them bureaucrats. It's often as accurate as lecturer.

The US title, Professor, is at least pedagogy neutral. Professing is a largely forgotten verb. Scholar is pretty good too, wrapping up as it does both the ideas of teaching and research, and with a little gravitas (Where I grew up, "You're a Gentleman and a Scholar" was high praise, usually reserved for people who had just bought you a drink). But please no neologisms like "Adjunct Knowledge Development Officer" or "Learning Catalyst".

As a (very) slight aside, if you haven't watched Donald Clark keynote from the Alt-C conference, please do. It's an excellent critique of the lecture as pedagogy, and well worth 40 minutes of your time. The pro-con lectures argument is too big to get into here, and will be settled by empirical evidence in the end. Donald will tell you all about it...

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