Working Over The Summer

APSCUF (my faculty union) currently has a blog series that examines what professors do when class is not in session. This is a response to politicians characterizing our workload as being only 17 hours a week. Pennsylvania professors are not alone in sharing their “off contract” and summer activities. Faculty in Connecticut are keeping busy. So important are the summer months to our professional work, faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst have written an advice piece for Inside Higher Ed on how to get the most out of the summer (and not burn out). I have my own blog post on summer writing written two years ago. For this post, I’d like to add to the discussion of – not just how much we work as faculty – but how important our so-called “off” time is.

Indeed, for me, as well as my colleagues, there is no “time off.” We work year round, but time for different activities may be allocated differently throughout the year. Summer is when I do much of my course preparation for the next academic year. This means reading new books on the areas I teach, revising syllabi, and updating data in my PowerPoints. This probably is not surprising to those outside of academia.

Summer is absolutely necessary for research and writing, which is not included the politicians’ 17 hour calculation. While we are not paid for the summer (unless we teach), this is when many of us conduct the research that is integral to our jobs as teachers and educators. At teaching oriented institutions, such as the PASSHE system, summer “free time” is even more important for continuing our scholarly growth. During the regular academic year, the time needed to manage four courses per term, grading, student advising, as well as committee and service work makes it extremely difficult to focus on research and writing.

For example, I study cities and globalization. Summer is my chance to travel to the places I study. In the past, I have visited universities in Ethiopia and Turkey. Last summer, I participated in a conference in Italy. While overseas, I am not only interacting with other scholars, but also investigating the processes that shape urban life. The only way this can be done without interfering with my teaching is to do it during the summer. This work is not just “research,” but it helps me in the classroom back in Pennsylvania. By conducting research, I am also preparing for my teaching. In gaining first hand knowledge and other experiences to share with my students, I can be a stronger teacher.

Summer is also the time in which I write up my research. In my field, this means an 8,000 to 10,000 word article that goes through many rounds of revision before submission to a scholarly journal for review by peers and other experts in the field. I believe that my strength as a teacher comes from my ongoing research and writing. Rob Jenkins, who writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education, has discussed how writing helps him in the classroom. Personally, I push myself to write for the same reasons we make our students write. It forces me to actively engage the literature and current trends in the field. This requires reading what others of written, thinking about my own research, and figuring out a way to make an effective argument. Furthermore, I submit myself to peer review for the same reasons why peer review is good for student writing as well. It forces me to clarify and effectively communicate ideas – valuable skills in the classroom.

As a sociologist, the American Sociological Association (ASA)’s annual meeting in August typically marks the end of summer. In the past four years, Kutztown has sent six undergraduate students to the ASA Honors program. This puts us in the company of elite research schools and selective liberal arts campuses – campuses that provide greater institutional support for research and professional development. Supporting student research and encouraging students to apply for such programs, requires active engagement in the discipline. My colleagues and I do this, because it is part of our professional identities – which extends beyond our specific university employment. This is tied to our passion for our field, research and desire to share the discipline with our students. In order to do this, we need to keep up with our research and spend our summers preparing for our annual conference.

In conclusion, our “off contract” time is valuable to both our professional identities, as well as our students. We go above and beyond because of we made the decision to devote our lives to the study and teaching of our disciplines. Claims by politicians that we only work 17 hours and have summers off demonstrates both a lack of understanding and respect for our profession.

What I Learned From Video Games

This post is not about video game scholarship. As a pop culture fan and sociologist, it is an area that maybe I will read up on when I have time. This post is about how video games made me a better student and later scholar (#academicgamer).

First, some facts about video games: According to the Entertainment Software Association, 155 million or 59% of Americans play some sort of video game (this includes a wide range of games from Call of Duty to Candy Crush).  In 2015, the average game player was 35 years old. This is up from 31 years old in 2013. The average age of game purchasers is 38. As an older millennial, I am right in this age bracket. I grew up on computer and video games. The original Nintendo and Mario were a major part of my childhood. I also played DOS games on the family’s old XT computer such as Jump (Janitor) Joe. Given the number of hours I have (and continue) to pour into video games, I would like to think that they had a positive impact on my life.

Here are some things I argue that I have gained from playing video games:

  1. Critical Thinking Skills: I certainly believe that video games developed my critical thinking skills. I grew up playing the Sierra On-Line text parser games. This required you to type in simple English what you wanted your character to do, such as “open door.” If the door was locked, you needed to figure out how to get into the building in a different manner. Even in current AAA games, problem solving and puzzles are an important part of gameplay. Last year, I finished Batman: Arkham Knight. An optional ‘quest’ is locating and solving the Riddler’s puzzles across Gotham City. These puzzles require the player to figure out which one of Batman’s weapons is most appropriate for activating a Rube Goldberg-eqsue contraption in order to obtain a trophy.
  2. Knowledge: How many of us played Oregon Trail? Or the great Carmen Sandiego series? In addition to explicitly educational games, other games weave history and literature into their plots the same way historical fiction does. More recently, the Assassin’s Creed series has done an amazing job mixing historical figures and places into their gameplay. Last year, I visited Florence, Italy. I could not help by remember all the times I navigated the main character Ezio up the cathedral and other landmarks.
  3. Inspiration: I’m an urbanist and SimCity undoubtedly shaped my interest in studying cities, as did the Civilization. I remember a graduate class discussion on Malthus and soil quality. I distinctly remember thinking about urban expansion in Civilization that day. One of the things I would like to work on in the future is video game simulations of urban environments.
  4. Entertainment: I think the most important thing I currently get from gaming is a chance to have fun. As a busy teacher, researcher, and new parent, video games a chance to relax and escape into other worlds such as Skyrim, or Thedas.

Here’s my PSN ID and current trophy count