An admin's eye view of teaching lab activities

I think administrators are evil. Or maybe it’s more accurate (but much less inflammatory) to state that they’re dangerously misinformed. One of the reasons I feel this way is because of the teaching load (and therefore value) ascribed to laboratory teaching.
At my school, those of us in the sciences are given credit for half of the time we spend in lab with our students as a part of class. In other words, for every two-hour session I get credit for one hour of teaching. I’ve talked with other instructors at other schools, and my general impression is that this is about low average. In other words, most of us are being told that our time in the lab is worth about half the time we spend in ‘lecture’. That’s the value the students get out of it, and that’s about the amount of time we need to spend thinking about it.
The rational extrapolation of this is that our research as scientists is also worth about half. It must be because it also takes place in a laboratory and (if we’re doing our jobs right), looks much like our lab assignments for our students.
Gee! Talk about needing more hours in a day? If I’m researching or teaching in a lab setting, I need 48 just to come up even with instructors across campus who do not teach with a laboratory or practicum experience. No wonder it seems I get nothing done!
So I’m truly puzzled when my days of lab leave me far more exhausted than my days of lecture sessions. How come I’m so tired if I’m only working half as hard?
And what about moving toward active learning in my classroom? Well, for reasons of both practicality and safety, any chemistry student should be in the lab if they’re doing active learning, so…oh no!!! My administrators can’t tell the difference!! Wait!! There ISN’T a difference!! A good lab IS active learning already.
The only rational conclusion is that I’m working like crazy, and so are my students, but somehow the value is only half that of those same students sitting quietly (probably texting one another) in a history lecture in another building not a tenth of a mile away. Wow. How humbling!
On my worst days, I think it might be better for my students if I just pack it up and go back to industry where—for some unknown reason—they paid me for a full day’s work.
In the lab.

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3 Responses to An admin's eye view of teaching lab activities

  1. Chris says:

    Ann, Being a good teacher/instructor/professor is about caring what happens to your students in the classroom and lab. If you didn’t care, your job would be a lot easier. At least at your school, students get you! At many big research universities, students get TA’s who are just well-paid babysitters. 🙂

  2. Lindsey says:

    Excellent viewpoint. More chemistry courses need to be active engagement in the lab. Science is about experimentation, right?

  3. AnnC says:

    Chris, I agree. I was lucky enough to have some amazingly capable TA’s teaching my labs when I was a student in one of those big schools. I know that many students aren’t so lucky. And I suppose I could step away from trying so hard to teach the students, and do a half-aspiring job in my lab sections. I can’t make myself do it, though! I have a friend who was once about to be ‘observed’ by an evaluator. The evaluator happened to come into the classroom (it was high school) on a lab day. The evaluator turned right around and left, tossing this over his shoulder “Oh, I’ll just come back sometime when you are actually teaching…” That about sums it up.

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