work

The (Mis)Use of Teaching Evaluations

Student evaluations of teaching (SETs) are standard practice in almost every Canadian university and college. These are in-class or online questionnaires that students fill out anonymously to rate and comment on the instructor and the course, with the results passed along to the instructor and, usually, to their supervisor.

But although SETs are standard practice, they’re also controversial. SETs can provide instructors with valuable feedback that they can then use to improve the course or their teaching – the so-called “formative” purpose of such  evaluations. But SETs are also often used by universities and colleges as a measure of the quality of the instructor’s teaching – the so-called “summative” purpose. Using SETs for summative purposes can be a problem because there are lots of factors beyond the instructor’s control – such as the difficulty of the course material, the class schedule, the timing and content of the evaluation itself, and even the instructor’s gender or race – that can unduly influence students’ ratings. That is why we’ve seen pushbacks from faculty members and unions at several Canadian post-secondary institutions on SETs being part of (more…)

Mediation, Arbitration, Mediation-Arbitration, and Back-To-Work Legislation

Last week, Canada’s Parliament started the process of passing a law to end the rotating strikes at Canada Post. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has been negotiating with Canada Post for more than a year for a new collective agreement, and the union is showing it’s serious about its bargaining demands by strategically timing its strike actions for when people and small businesses are relying on Canada Post’s services for holiday deliveries. However, complaints about backlogs of undelivered mail and the lack of progress in negotiations apparently made the federal government decide it was time to intervene in the bargaining process.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the types of interventions that can be used to resolve bargaining disputes – particularly mediation-arbitration, which is not used very often, but which is what this law proposes to settle the contract. An explanation of each type of intervention will help in understanding the potential outcomes of (more…)

What’s a Rotating Strike?

Right after the day started today, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers  began a rotating strike against Canada Post. Workers went on strike in four Canadian cities – Halifax, Edmonton, Windsor, and Calgary – in support of their union in its negotiations for a new collective agreement. In addition to reviewing the terms of the existing collecting agreement, the union and the employer are bargaining over a number of contentious issues, such as the pay gap between rural and urban mail carriers. And these negotiations are happening in the context of a changing market, with lots of alternatives to sending letters through the mail – like emails and private delivery services. That shifting landscape is undoubtedly going to affect what the employer feels it can offer and what the union wants for its members.

A rotating strike (also sometimes called a partial strike) is not always used in bargaining disputes, so here’s an explanation of how it works.

Any kind of strike during negotiations for collective agreements needs (more…)

Draw the F***ing Flower

All About Work is up and running again! My summer project is nearly finished, and I will be posting details about it soon.

In addition to working on that project, I’m spending part of my time this year working at a new location, and I get there by taking public transit. To pass the time on those trips, I’m exploring the world of podcasts. A podcast series that I’m really enjoying is Sodajerker, hosted by UK songwriters Simon Barber and Brian O’Connor. Simon and Brian interview other songwriters, and because they are songwriters themselves, the focus of the interviews is on (more…)

The “Skills Gap”

A lot of recent discussion about the labour force in Canada and elsewhere has focused on the “skills gap” – the alleged mismatch between workers’ skills and the abilities that employers need. One reason for the alleged gap is “digital disruption” – the automation or digitization of job tasks – which is changing how some jobs are done and thus changing the skills needed to successfully perform those jobs. These changes are so rapid that workers’ skills may quickly become outdated. Along similar lines, the Royal Bank of Canada recently released a report calling for post-secondary institutions to improve their graduates’ “human skills”, so as to better equip them for the parts of their future jobs that will involve working with people rather than with computers.

The narrative around the “skills gap” has mostly been controlled by employers and by the business community, and the business media have, generally, uncritically bought into the narrative. But the narrative is misleading in how it portrays the problem. It ignores (more…)

Hiding in the Bathroom

Thanks to my local public library, I recently had the opportunity to read Morra Aarons-Mele’s new book Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home). As I’ve discussed on this blog previously, I’m not a fan of most popular-press career and business books, but the title of this one drew me in. It suggested vulnerability and something less than overwhelming self-confidence, and that’s far more representative of many people’s workplace reality than (more…)

I Think This Is An Important Topic

And, um, I’d like to suggest that we should pay more attention to it?

A recent discussion on Twitter raised some provocative points about communication norms in workplaces, especially those norms associated with gender. The research of linguists and sociologists such as Deborah Tannen has shown that men and women communicate differently, especially in the context of work. Men tend to present their views and opinions directly, while women tend to frame their statements with qualifiers such as “I think” or “in my opinion”.

In any workplace, the dominant group’s norms – both linguistic and behavioural – usually become (more…)

Post-Secondary Institutions and Precarious Work

In February, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a study of precarious employment in Ontario colleges and universities. Last week, some of the challenges identified in this study became very real when contract workers at York University in Toronto went on strike. The bargaining issues that the union and the university haven’t agreed on include job security for contract workers and guaranteed funding for teaching assistants.

The CCPA report is extremely valuable – not only because its analysis has suddenly become even more relevant, but also because (more…)

Engineering Change

In January I made an unexpected trip to Edmonton, where I lived in the early ‘90s while I attended the University of Alberta.  Some things have changed, some are the same – like -30C weather that time of year – and some have adapted, like the student newspaper the Gateway. When I was a U of A student the Gateway was a once-weekly newspaper, but it now posts most of its stories online, and the print version is a monthly magazine.

An article in the January issue of the Gateway  caught my attention because it reminded me of a terrible event (more…)

Harry Leslie Smith’s ‘Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future’

Harry Leslie Smith is just about to turn 95, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.  But he has also given a tremendous gift to the world: his new book Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future.

His publishers were kind enough to provide me with a copy of the book. Ironically, the print copy they sent by post appears to have been lost by the Royal Mail – a organization  that was publicly owned for almost 500 years before it was privatized, in the belief that the private sector is inherently more efficient than the public sector. That’s exactly the kind of flawed economic reasoning that Smith condemns – the “free market” logic that says competitive markets will result in superior products and services, and that says better government is less government.

The spread of that ideology has led to decreases in the amount and availability of state-supported services, such as publicly-funded health care and social assistance. By recounting his own history, Smith shows the very real improvements that those services can bring to individual lives and to the overall well-being of society. He also strongly makes the point that governments should work for the betterment of all, not just to help the rich become richer.

Smith grew up in (more…)