Sunday, October 27, 2013

Professor for one year (week 24): Teaching load and learning load

Teaching load for lecturers and professors is usually given in hours per semester (German: Semesterwochenstunden = SWS).  And of course this differs from country to country and from state to state.   Senior researchers  with a full-time position in Zurich should teach 4 SWS; full professors at the University of Zurich should teach 6 SWS, in Baden-W├╝rttemberg (i.e., Universities of Konstanz, Heidelberg, Stuttgart) teaching load for professors is 9 SWS.  A course has a certain number of hours per semester, usually this is the number of hours student spend in class; this is also given in SWS.  Depending on this number, a professor in Zurich teaches two to three courses per semester, while a professor in Konstanz teaches three to four courses.  That's almost twice as much!

Two of the courses I teach or taught in Konstanz, I already taught in Zurich ("Introduction to Perl for computational linguists" and "Introduction to Prolog for computational linguists").  For the Perl course, students in Zurich would earn 3 credit points, in Konstanz they get 9.  In both cases, I taught 2 hours per week in class face-to-face, students then had to do exercises.  There was also a tutorial, where students could go to get advice for solving tasks, this was one or two hours.  I had/have a teaching assistant for this tutorial hour(s).

According to the Bologna rules as implemented in Switzerland and Germany, 1 ECTS point is equivalent to 25 to 30 hours per week; this "hour" is made of 60 minutes, whereas the hour in "SWS" is made of 45 minutes only.  So for 9 ECTS points in a 15-week semester, students should invest 15 to 18 hours (for a 14-week semester, its 16 to 19 hours).  If we subtract the face-to-face hours, students have to invest 12 to 15 hours per week working on their own: reading articles, solving tasks, preparing talks, etc.  

For a programming course, students should get immediate feedback.  Usually, I prepare several tasks per week, students then have to submit their solutions before the next lecture, the teaching assistant helps with assessing these solutions.  For the face-to-face time, I have to invest a certain amount of time for preparing slides and example programs; this time is the same, irrespective of the number of ECTS points students get.  But it makes a huge difference when preparing tasks, so students spend 15 more hours for 9 credit points or 3 more hours for 3 credit points, and the difference is even bigger with respect to assessing their solutions and giving feedback. 

Taking the face-to-face time into account, professors in Konstanz have to invest more time for teaching (including preparing each lecture) than in Zurich, depending on the SWS for each course, it's 1.5 to 2 times more.  But considering the number of credit points for each course and taking into account the time needed for preparing appropriate tasks and giving adequate and helpful feedback, it's way more: 3 courses with 2 SWS and 3 to 4 ECTS points each (ca. 6 face-to-face hours and 12 ECTS points in total) vs. 4 courses with 2 to 3 SWS and 9 ECTS points each (ca. 9 face-to-face hours and 35 ECTS points in total).

Teaching load for lecturers and professors should thus be calculated taking both numbers into account: the number of face-to-face hours (i.e., SWS) and the number of credit points students can earn.  The ECTS system should not only be used for calculating the amount of work of students but, as this has a direct impact on the workload of instructors, it should also be taken into account for them.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Professor for one year (week 23): Repositories

In today's scientific community, it's all about publications, journals, and impact factors.  So you not only publish your research in a high-ranked journal or via a high-ranked conference, but you keep track of your publications, make lists, allow others to access your publications, and hope to get cited.

For me, the best place to store and maintain publications is CiteULike:

I have full control of what is listed here, I can store full papers, and I can extract the publication meta data as BibTeX data.  This also means that available categories are consistent with usual BibTeX categories, i.e., article in proceedings, book, edited book, book chapter, thesis, technical report, etc.

CiteULike is also the place I store all bibliographic information of papers and books I read (or I want to read) and the papers itself.  I put quite some effort in this: if the paper is available online, I upload it and add the link, if it's from a paper-only publication, I scan it and then store it there.  So for almost all of the seven hundred and something papers in my library, I can access the paper itself.  I add abstracts and keywords.  I can export the meta data as BibTeX and thus use it for referencing stuff when writing an article myself.  It's consistent and up-to-date.  There is very convenient feature: the Post-to-CiteULike button you can add to your browser.  In most of the cases, I can add a reference by using this button and then maybe correcting some information.

The only drawback with CiteULike I encountered over the years:  I cannot download all the stored papers at once.  It would be very convenient to have off-line access to all data when writing an article -- however, abstract and keywords are included in the BibTeX export, this already is quite nice.

I also have a ResearchGate account I try to maintain:

There are some odd things with ResearchGate: Look at the very first entry, it refers to the proceedings of SFCM 2013.  I'm one of the editors of this book.  Yes, it's an edited book and/or "conference proceedings (whole)."  However, ResearchGate lacks both of these categories: if you choose "book", you have to input "authors."  After exchanging quite some e-mails with them, they were finally able to list the publication at all.  But it now has authors and editors and those are identical.  Very annoying.

Next, ResearchGate tries to find your publications in the Web.  When creating an account, this is somewhat convenient, you don't have to input all your publications by hand -- uploading a valid BibTeX file as exported from CiteULike doesn't work properly.  However, as publications are listed at various places, sometimes with different (wrong) meta data, it also finds incorrect data.  And it comes up again and again and again proposing to add this data -- it's impossible to stop this.  Oh, and the number of citations is wrong.

However, it's a nice place to be informed about recent publications of colleagues.  I also had an eye-opener some time ago: When you list the people you follow, their names, ResearchGate score, and impact factor is listed.  I follow some linguists, some computer scientists, some psychologists, and some computational linguists.  And it's very easy to recognize the computational linguists -- they have very low impact factors or none at all.  A very nice empirical confirmation that journals (and moreover: indexed journals) don't play a big role in computational linguistics.

I also have a Google Scholar account I try to maintain:

Google Scholar doesn't come up with suggestions to include incorrect data and I can add information myself.  The citation number seems to be somewhat realistic, although you never know about the missing citations (except your self-citations).

I also have an account with Microsoft Academic Search I try to maintain:

Here, incorrect information is included -- I'm not into Chemistry, although I did my secondary school written exam in Chemistry, but how should Microsoft know about this?  You can try to edit and add data, but it takes a long time until it finally appears.  The number of citations is incorrect, the list of conferences, too.

I put most of my publications in ZORA, the Zurich Open Repository and Archive, hosted by the University of Zurich:

I don't maintain this list anymore, so publications there stop in 2011.

I list my publications on my website:

Here the order is by type of publication (journal articles, edited books, book chapters, conference/workshop papers, other) as usually done in the humanities.  If possible, I give the link to the full paper, i.e., to a repository (most of the time it's ZORA) or to the original article if published as open access.

And of course I need a list of publications for job and grant applications.  Here I order them by year and mark the topic (linguistics, NLP, e-learning, writing research).  Additionally, I list the publications "in press" with the date of submission of the final version.

And yes, publication number 32, final version submitted in October 2011, still is "in press".

Oh, and some of my publications are listed in the catalogue of the German National Library and in the ACM Digital Library.

I seem to have an account with Academia, which I don't maintain:

The only reason for this profile: I wanted to download a paper from there following a provided link.  But I had to click through a dozen of pop-ups creating my own account before being able to do so.  I never access this site and so it includes invalid information, most importantly: No information on co-authors is given.  Actually, it seems to be impossible to list co-authors at all.

I still have an account at ResearcherID:

I don't maintain this account.  The interface is ugly and maintaining the list is annoying -- you have to use an online version of EndNote, which is slow and not very user friendly at the same time.  I think I also lost the password, so I cannot delete this account.

I also had an account with Mendeley, but I managed to delete this one some months ago.  It was as user friendly as ResearcherID, I never used it.

That's a lot of places.  But wait, I also added some publications to the Konstanzer Online-Publikations-System(KOPS) and some to the Uni Basel Research Database (those publications that had been published when I was employed at these places -- and yes, some publications appear at both places, some because I had been employed at both places at the same time, some because the co-authors belong to different institutions): 

I used to list my publications also on the website I had at the University of Zurich and at the University of Basel -- I don't maintain a website at the University of Konstanz, there is only a link to my private-professional website. And when I start a new job at another institution, I will probably link to my CiteULike list of publications only.

But maybe the perfect repository is still to come?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Professor for one year (week 22): Bachelor Thesis

This post is more retrospectively:  The week before vacations, I listened to some talks students gave as the last step of their Bachelor (BA) thesis.  I had read the theses of the three students I co-supervised and the talks where quite OK:  Students could show what they did, how and why, and they answered all questions properly.  It was organized a bit like a thesis defense:  Supervisors are supposed to ask first and then everybody else can pose a question.  The audience is the lecturer responsible for this event, the supervisor(s), and the other BA students who already had presented or will present later.  As I understood, there was a course running the whole semester where students discussed how to present their theses. 

This "defense" is not part of the official procedure, it doesn't influence the grade.  But as supervisor, I liked it a lot -- I could see other students and get to know about the topics they had been working on, and I could very easily test if "my" students really had been working on their topics on their own, and if they really understood what they had written down.  I'm not sure if the students liked this part of their BA thesis, but I hope so -- it's the only possibility to tell a bigger audience about the work of the last weeks that had absorbed all your energy.  There are only two people who ever read the thesis paper (the supervisors), but here are 10 or 15 people listening to what you discovered and what you think about related work.

The BA is a proper final degree, so students could leave university and start the real life with a real job.  Studying linguistics, i.e., something from the humanities, your degree basically says that you learned to read, think, and write.  Therefore you should have written a longer text (ca. 50 pages) and spent quite some time researching and thinking.  That's what your thesis proofs.

However, not every BA in the humanities requires writing a thesis.  At the German Department in Basel, students have to write two term papers (ca. 20 to 25 pages each).  Topics could be related, but don't have to.  So this is not a "longer text", and students don't invest that much time and energy.  I don't consider this a good solution.  A the Faculty of Humanities and Arts in Zurich, the first version of the BA regulations had no specific demands with respect to a thesis -- depending on the courses students choose, it was even possible to obtain a BA degree in the humanities without having been writing a single term paper ever.  Regulations for seminars afforded getting credits by giving a talk only.  They changed this now, but a proper BA thesis would be an even better idea, I suppose.

Of course, in the Swiss Bologna implementation, the MA degree is the "proper final degree." and towards your MA degree, you have to write an MA thesis.  But first surveys show that indeed, students leave university after having completed their BA and maybe or maybe not return later for doing an MA.  As there is no long final written or oral exam for the BA study as a whole -- students just collect credits during terms -- the BA thesis is the only possibility where students can show that they not only acquired snippets of knowledge and single competencies, but that they are able to combine everything they learned and solve a bigger task -- and write a longish text.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Professor for one year (week 21): The WWW

The University of Konstanz uses ILIAS for E-Learning.  So far, I also worked with OLAT/OpenOLAT and Moodle, I will compare all three in a later post.  Today, I will only comment on the WWW I found in ILIAS.  No, not the World Wide Web, but the World's Worst Wiki.

That's how the editor looks like, you can modify text and make it bold, italic, etc. And you can itemize and enumerate things or have three levels of headings.  That's what I did in this short text: three headings (level 2) followed by a bit of text each.

Then you hit "Save" and face this:

The text is broken into small pieces and you are no longer able to edit the text as a whole!  You could edit or delete one of the headings or one of the paragraphs independently.  Awkward!

Sure, for the visitor of the page, it looks like it was intended:

With an interface like this, it's no fun to edit wiki pages.  Therefore I can forget about this activity in my courses -- I always have students organize group work, discuss ideas to present, collect material, and decide who is responsible for which part.  All of this involves structuring text, moving parts of written text around, editing and restructuring.  Which is impossible with this GUI.