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Rio Salado and centralized content

October 4, 2006

I will post, as I have in the past, shamelessly on the same topic that Dean Dad has. I do this because I don’t like to neglect my own blog while posting on someone else’s. I also do this knowing that I won’t get the traffic (read range of responses) that he does. Saying that:

Why pay for free thinking when you can control the ideas. That is what the Rio Salado model is really all about. By centralizing the content, the institution can guarantee to a greater degree the “quality” of the degree they are granting. And why wouldn’t they? Located, as one commenter pointed out, next to a large, PhD granting university, there is a steady supply of cheap labor, relatively educated.

Rio Salado, though, isn’t the first or the biggest to push for centralized materials (in business it is simply referred to as “content.”) They have a neighbor that pushes centralized content far more widely, both on ground and online. Bird U allows little to no alterations to their formula for success. Online, you have 5 weeks to push a semester-ish amount of content to your eager students, both knowing that it isn’t going to happen. The true underbelly of adjuncting is that if a person isn’t getting paid with money, she will be paid in time and whatever “perks” she can find. For me, time is the biggest issue. I have worked hard to put in upfront effort that pays off with each course. My lectures are written in smallish chunks that can be rearranged as needed (I teach mostly skill-based courses, so it is easier than some courses to do this). I have purchased a grading application that allows me to create small, lecturette-like feedback nuggets that I then paste into submissions as needed (grammar, style, etc. comments). What once took 15-20 minutes per paper now can take 5-10. Does the quality of feedback suffer because of this? I don’t think so. By inserting the canned text, I free up my typing time to tailor comments.

Back on topic, though, centralized content also opens up the specter of off-shore instruction. And why not? It is already happening in some departments with TAs—think math, computer science and the like with high visa student populations. While you may not get an English lit TA from China, you can certainly find one at Large State U, teaching away in ESL.

Is this bad? If the instruction instructs, then no. I have doubts, though, on the widespread outsourcing of instruction. I have recently taken up a project whose first round of training materials was taken up by an offshore development firm. The materials suffered, even though the language of the offshore firm was English (India, actually). Yet, there was still a large culture divide to overcome, especially in training.

One last point. Adjuncting, aside from the urban myths of six figure uber-adjuncts, will not provide for a high quality of life. It is a mission field, with low expectations for achieving the promised land.

The more glaring implication of Rio Salado isn’t that adjuncts will grow in use, but that the make-up of adjuncts will, as time goes on, tend more toward recent graduates than not. That is, as the market cools (people wise up) about the bleakness of the available jobs, then only the young or zealous will enter in. That, above other factors, will affect the instructional level. Why? There is often not a course on instructional methods in a college course (aside from a week seminar I had in grad school before classes started, I didn’t see any). Those lessons come from experience. If I can’t make a living teaching, then I will, as I have, move elsewhere, taking my experience and on ground, embedded experience with me.


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