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Friday, May 9, 2014

Thoughts on Summer and Work

Although it's not about digital tools per se, I wanted to post something here on doing what you love and uncompensated work. Today is Friday, and while Friday does not have the same meaning for me during summer as it does during the year, it is still Friday, the end of my first summer "work week," and I was thinking this morning about just what that means.

This summer is the first summer in a LONG time that I have done a lot of school work. I always do some school work, sure, especially in August before classes start, but my main project every summer for the past eight years has been something of my own, either a book (I've published five different Latin books in those years) or else some web content development project (like the great summer of proverbs last summer).

This summer, though, I am doing a big course redesign (as readers of this blog and my buddies at G+ already know), and that is uncompensated work at my school. I am on a nine-month contract at my school; I am not paid for the summer months, and I am very lucky indeed that my meager salary does not need a summer supplement (I never - never - teach summer school). Unlike tenure-track faculty, who make twice as much as I do and who are also, technically speaking, on nine-month contracts, I feel no financial obligation to my school over the summer. They don't pay me enough during the year to create any sense of obligation; I could watch Star Trek and sunbathe all summer long without a twinge of institutional guilt.

Moreover, the work I do is not compensated in intangible ways by my school. I get no recognition for my work, except from my students (more on that in the next paragraph). In part because I am such a cranky person and in part because what I do is such a total mismatch with the culture of my school, pretty much everybody at my school would prefer that I make as little noise as possible. Now that I live out of state, the noise that I make is only digital noise, and I suspect everyone back in Norman, Oklahoma is very relieved.

But about the students... my students are very much part of my motivation in the work I am doing this summer! I work very hard for my students during the nine months of the year, and I am able to do some course development work during that time, but not much. And this summer, I realized that for my students to have a great experience next year, I would need to work on my courses this summer. As I've explained elsewhere, the end of the mini-Ning meant that, like it or not, I would have to make some big changes to my class, switching from Ning as our group blogging space to an alternative. Once I started to think about that, all kinds of things started to fall into place and I realized that the time had come to redo my very old (circa 2002) course website. Admittedly, I don't have to redo the website; it's not going to literally disappear as the mini-Ning will... but once I realized HOW to redesign the website using blogging tools, I also realized how much better the class will be as a result. I am so excited every day as I work on the new site and realize all the ways in which next year's students (and the year after and the year after) will have a better learning experience as a result of the work I am doing now.

So, like many teachers, I am very motivated by wanting to do right by my students. As others have noted, this can be a trap for many teachers, a trap we fall into and from which we are not able to escape — the trap of working more than forty hours per week as John Spencer recently wrote about in his blog, or the trap of precarious adjunct teaching for the people who cannot find a decent academic position but who cannot bear the thought of leaving the teaching profession. On that topic, see Miya Tokumitsu's Jacobin article, In the Name of Love.

So, I try very hard to be clear about what I owe to my university (not much, given what they pay me), keeping that separate from what I feel I owe to my students (who pay a lot of money to the university, even if little of it reaches me), and also from even loftier ideals that, I will confess, are what really motivate the work I do online, even more than commitment to my students. Over the past week, as I have been using materials from Project Gutenberg, Sacred Texts Archive, Sur La Lune, Internet Archive, Wikipedia, etc. etc. etc., I see constantly that the Internet I care about, the learning space which I value above all other learning spaces (even above my beloved UCBerkeley), is a space created in large part by volunteers. By uncompensated labor. By the generosity of strangers. All the people who proofread at Gutenberg. All the people who edit at Wikipedia. The amazing individuals like the late great John Hare of Sacred Texts website or Heidi Heiner of Sur La Lune. With very few exceptions (Dan Ashliman from University of Pittsburgh, for example), most of the individuals whose work I benefit from online are NOT academics. I find that shameful; public universities, in particular, should be leading the way in sustaining and expanding the open educational Internet. IMHO.

Which brings me back around to not being compensated by my university for the work I do creating online resources. I don't take it personally; my university does precious little to support the open educational Internet, and their failure to compensate me is just one more missing drop in that very empty bucket. It's not about me at all; it's about my university's failure to understand the value of the open Internet as an educational space. Still, I am lucky that I have a job which gives me the opportunity to develop my classes on the open Internet and, if I choose, to have an entire glorious summer in which to do that. I cannot change my university (and I've mostly given up even trying)... but I can change my classes and improve the way I teach. I can also watch Star Trek and sunbathe if I want... my choice! So, this summer I choose web content-ment. Next summer might just be the summer of Star Trek and sunbathing, ha ha.

And in the spirit of summer and work, here is one of my favorite proverbs: Happy Summer, everybody!

Make hay while the sun shines.



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(I have limited this to Google accounts only, but no word verification; meanwhile, if you want to contact me directly, you can do that too! laura-gibbs@ou.edu.)