There were some concerns about my aggressive approach in my post where I complain about how poor the education technology courses are at McGill university. Before making noise, did I talk to my professors? What about the department, or the dean?
Well that's exactly what I did for two years before finally resorting to public rants. So get ready for a story that ends in a big email to senior administrators and a trick that must have embarrassed them.
Before I start I'd like to say that I'm not targeting McGill's education program. You see, when I searched across Canada for "education software development"-like programs I was hugely disappointed. For this reason and many others, I think these problems are much larger than a single school. I'm hoping we can work together to tackle this monster.
The process of studying education technology at McGill is severely crippled. Here are some things I tried before rocking the boat.
Level 1: Advisers
I feel like half the advisers at McGill must know me by now. I wonder if they have notes on my file as "that guy". To their credit, nearly every adviser has expressed support for what I'm trying to do. And many said they would look into different opportunities for me. Here are some opportunities that tantalized me, but have since receded into the void:
- Creating an "ad hoc program" that combines computer science and education.
- Finding professors that are sympathetic to combining computer programming with education.
- Allowing me to get computer science credits for an education software project.
- Getting back to me after a phone conversation about internship options (this is with another university).
Can this contribute towards my field experience? Of course not. My problem here is that when I asked, the adviser just said no. She didn't appear to contact anyone about this absurdity, or tell me who I could contact. We're left with two options:
- The adviser doesn't care, or more likely:
- The adviser knows she's powerless.
Level 2: Professors
I've introduced myself to most of my professors to see if they're interested in education software. There is notably one professor who offered me an individual research course for three credits, but it turned out that credits in their department are neither computer science or education. I nearly signed up anyway, but dropped the course in the last minute when it became clear that the professor wasn't going to offer me any real guidance or support.
I'm still looking for full professors at McGill who care about making education software and understand computers at least as well as the high school students I teach. I've perhaps found one so far, but not really. If that sounds like you, then I promise I am less abrasive in person.
Level 3: Course Evaluations
I always write detailed and constructive evaluations. Sometimes I include serious complaints! But I always wonder if anyone even reads them. Perhaps course evaluations are just a mechanism to make students feel like they have a say, but really nobody important is listening.
This is a well documented strategy to manipulate people. If you want to make an unfavorable change, first ask everyone for their opinion on it. Then ignore their opinions and implement the change. People will be upset with the change, but will complain less because they appreciate that someone sought out their opinion.
Course evaluations may have been implemented with the best of intentions, but I can't help but think that this is the largest effect they have on the university as a community. Course evaluations funnel student complaints into the void.
Level 4: Everyone
On September 15th I sent a long email to nine senior administrators including deans, department heads, and associate deans. Its content was a shorter and more polite version of this post. But here's the problem I faced: I suspected nobody would read it or even reply to me. What can you do pre-emptively when you suspect administrators do not care enough about student feedback?
My plan was this: to blind carbon copy everyone. What this means is nobody knew I sent my email to nine people. To everyone it looked like only they received it and so did the dean. I waited three weeks and as I feared would happen, I didn't get a single reply. All nine of them got this individual email and independently decided "nah, I don't feel like replying to this". Sooooo... next I sent this gem. This time I sent it so that everyone could see the list of recipients. I don't think I am making friends at this point:
On September 15 I sent an email to a number of McGill administrators. In it I outlined some profound issues with the education department's courses on technology and I proposed some solutions.
Sadly, I received no response from any of you... Not even a "thanks for your input". This has greatly shaped my impression of McGill. I would still be happy to discuss the education issues I raised with anyone who cares.
It's sad that a stunt like that was necessary to get any reply, but that's the reality we live in. My manoeuvre earned me a reply from Elizabeth Wood, the "Associate Dean of Academic Programs for the Faculty of Education".
(and what we can learn from it)
To summarize what Elizabeth said, she was asked by Dilson Rassier, the dean of education, to respond. So she wrote a vague paragraph to me about how "the world today is complex". Absolutely nothing I said was explored, criticized, or even mentioned. I have no reason to believe she did anything more than skim my letter because she was told to. She was however very professional and kind, wishing me "the very best with your studies, and all success with your professional aspirations". So that's nice.
One twist: this email was sent from the dean of education's McGill email address, except it was signed by Elizabeth. So she knows his password and regularly uses it to send email. The only explanation I can think of is the dean does not check his own email, but has someone do it for him. Well... I know he must get a lot of emails but... isn't that his job as an administrator? I'm very confused. I guess there's no way for McGill's education students to directly contact their dean.
Elizabeth says courses are reviewed yearly and my feedback will contribute to that. Which part of my feedback specifically..? I said a lot of shit! Is anyone even going to remember my letter in a year? Aren't they just going to go ahead and do whatever they feel like?
How To Not Win Friends or Influence People
I am honestly being an asshole at this point, but I'm just too frustrated with McGill. In case you haven't read it, there's a ton of snark in the post I link:
Hello again Elizabeth!
I thought you should know that I've been writing about my negative experiences with McGill's education program. To my surprise, this post has over 3000 hits and a lot of people are saying they sympathize with me:
Unfortunately, your response didn't address anything specific that I said. I don't know which of my concerns are being considered, or criticized, or ignored. So I can't help but feel that my letter to McGill administration fell into the void, and no improvements are being made :/
I'd be very interested to be kept up to date on specific progress that is being made here.
I think I'm going to keep writing about my negative experiences with the McGill education program, since at this point I feel it is the only thing I can do to help. I'm sorry if I'm making your job more difficult, but I'm frustrated almost daily with how little progress I feel is being made. I hope my writing can contribute to meaningful improvements at McGill.
Thanks for your time.
I'm waiting for the #mcgilldrama or /r/mcgilldrama jokes to pour in...
What the hell am I doing? Am I burning bridges? Why am I deliberately annoying deans? Well, I'm just really tired of everything I've gone through. If you thought this post was long, consider that it's just the beginning of what I've been through. Trying to study education software at McGill has been really horrible. The worst part is I don't think other schools would be any better.
At McGill I've enjoyed most computer science courses, and I've enjoyed some of the education courses. But know this: do not come to McGill if you want to study education technology.
Finally, I think I'm in a unique situation compared to other undergraduates. I already have another degree, and I know that my programming portfolio is good enough to get me full time employment (because it has, a few times). So why not rock the boat? What's the worst that could happen? We do what we must because we can.
If you care, complain.