Thursday, March 28, 2013

Scheduling conferences on syllabus

Every fall, I am confronted by the same problem when scheduling conference travel around class days on my syllabus, and I'm still not sure how best to handle this situation.  This year, if my luck holds, I'll be going to not one but two conferences in the fall that are practically on top of each other.  If I plan conservatively so as not to schedule a class day that must later be canceled when my travel plans solidify, this would mean wiping out seven class days in a row.  And, due to timing, that would mean that we would only have two more class days before the Thanksgiving break.  (We'll have two more full weeks of class after that, though.)  I will probably be in town for Thanksgiving and could go to class, although I know from experience that I am usually worn to a pulp from conferencing at that point, and neither my lecturing nor my discussion facilitation makes much sense under those conditions.  

Last fall, after I went through all of this in combination with some unbloggable drama back in Hometown that forced me to cancel a few other class days around the same time, I swore to myself that I would just write off the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving as days off with no classes scheduled in the first place.  Some months after that, though, it became clear that it would be in my best interest as a researcher to attend a second conference in addition to my usual Big Giant Pseudology Conference this year, which would almost certainly mean clearing my diary for a few more weekdays.  Naturally, I will also be teaching five days a week next semester, so some class sessions will inevitably be lost.  This hurts some courses more than others, since every course I have next term is on a different weekly schedule.

My understanding of CBU's academic culture is that people disapprove of canceling a class day that had been on the syllabus as usual, and that it is preferable to schedule days off as such, so that students know the score from day one.*  But I wonder if I'd be pushing my luck to say that we would basically forget about having class for half a month altogether.  CBU's academic culture – among faculty and admins, anyway – frowns upon declaring days off on weekdays immediately preceding scheduled breaks like Thanksgiving.  I understand and appreciate this policy for things like spring break, when students always try to skive their way out of taking tests and submitting papers with ski trips and the like.  But Thanksgiving?  Isn't it just a little unrealistic to say that everyone has only Wednesday to travel whitherto they require on the busiest travel day in the U.S. calendar?

Oh, right, almost all of our students are from Cornstate itself.**  They only need a few hours on the road to get home.  But I digress.

It sure won't be pretty, but I might be stuck having to travel home from a conference, turn around and teach for two days after a little more than a week of no class at all, and then go back to no class for another three days while I fight off whatever bug will surely attack me during my travels.

Am I missing some better solution?

*That is, if they ever read the fucking syllabus.
**That matter deserves a post of its own.


  1. It's popular in our department to schedule exams on conference days and then have someone else proctor. Alternatively, could you have the nice library science people do a presentation on how to use the library for research (that extended my maternity leave to um, a full week, after my baby was born... a freak snowstorm provided a second week)? Another thing you can do is cancel class in exchange for required individual/group meetings to discuss a paper or project at some point prior or after the absences (giving them time to work on said paper or project).

    Finally, you can ask someone else to cover for you, in exchange for you covering for them later. Make the students write a one page reflection on that class.

  2. nicoleandmaggie has great suggestions; I'd do any or all of those.

  3. You could always have them watch movies in class. I recommend The Henriad. Of course, I would. Too bad you're not a Shakespearean. It would be so justifiable to have them watch plays for two weeks.

    I think nicoleandmaggie have great suggestions, though terrible maternity leave policies (!!!). Ye gads.

  4. At the University of Wisconsin, they held classes the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

  5. You're a VAP with no particular prospect of being hired in a tenure-line position at VAP school, right? Unless there is a chance that your current chair will retaliate in rec letters, I would be inclined to conference away, cancel classes like crazy, and point out that you need to do these things to have a reasonable shot at finding a TT position. All part of the cost of doing business with temps...

  6. Fretful Porpentine speaks the truth! As a non-tenure track instructor I have never concerned myself with cancelling class. (I keep it reasonable of course.) I just put on the syllabus No Class. Sometimes I plan something and sometimes I don't.

    Nicoleandmaggie and Fie had great suggestions. In the past I have had students do independent assignments visiting museums or exhibitions on campus that relate to the class. I have given them a prompt and had them write two pages about the exhibition. I have also seen professors require students to attend lectures or symposium that relate to the class. Additionally, I have a friend who went to a conference and taught one day of her class through skype.

  7. If your university has an eLearning system like Blackboard or similar, you can also do "virtual class." I've never taught an online class or even a hybrid one, but I have done small numbers of online days in face-to-face classes. I would post reading material, some historical notes, and some discussion prompts. Then, I would plan a time (not necessarily during the regular class meeting time, but just a convenient hour or two) to be virtually present for questions. I would also respond to some posts on the discussion boards. This worked fine for me, and I'm not a super tech-heavy teacher most of the time.