You’ll forgive me, readers, for the delay in answering the duct tape question left hanging at the conclusion of my posting on 7 April. The happy fact is that AMS has had a great deal of tape to give away at a great many events in April and May, the task on which it has been my happy lot to be so much employed. Our plain purple tape has flown off the booth table at higher education conclaves all over the country this spring. This is deeply gratifying, particularly when I notice that the booth baubles of my exhibit hall neighbors seem stuck to the table crepe.
“What’s with the duct tape?” An honest question, that. Yes, it’s wildly popular with passers-by. Yes, it comes in handy during wardrobe failures. (The sole of my left shoe recently detached in an airport, requiring a 90-second repair. Thank-you, free AMS duct tape.) But just because duct tape is useful in a thousand-plus ways doesn’t explain why AMS should become a duct tape dispensary. There must be more to the story. Must be.
Enough suspense? Read on.
Well before the shoe incident, I was malingering in a Waterstones at a different airport, surveying the new business books arrayed ten across and five deep on a large table. Periodic review of new business titles in airport bookstores is about as close as I’ll get to an MBA. The winning title that day was Harvard B-School’s Prof. Jerry Zaltman’s Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal About the Minds of Consumers, (2008). I may not ever be able to remember what EBITDA stands for, but I spent the better part of my undergraduate years pondering the mysteries of metaphor. The word rarely pops up in new business book titles. Having a longish layover and posing no threat to the ease of the store clerk, I settled into one of the store’s leathern arm-chairs for instruction.
You may, reader, explore the nuances of the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET – a real thing – US Patent #5,436,830) on your own time. My major take-away was that marketing requires the service of a Deep Metaphor or two. The ball-point pens AMS was giving away at the time did not qualify. Nor did notebooks, thumb drives, key-chains, thermometers, hand-sanitizers, or breath-mints. These qualify as land-fill.
Duct tape, though, is a metaphorical Ali Baba’s Cave.
Where to start? Duct tape is useful largely because it’s sticky. It connects things that ought not to be sundered. Is this a metaphor for course evaluations? Are you kidding? It’s hard to pick up any of the higher education trade rags at this time of the year without reading a story about the stickiness of student ratings of instruction. Two recent scribblers, Steven Burt in Slate (Why Not Get Rid of Student Evaluations: The Answer Requires Us To Think About Power, 5/15/15) and Stacey Patton in the Chronicle (Student Evaluations: Feared, Loathed, and Not Going Anywhere, 5/19/15), rant and roar at some length about the unfortunate, messy, icky-ish way that student opinion sticks to professorial practice, reputation, and identity. Suffice it to say that neither Burt nor Patton dig very deeply into the positive side of sticky student evaluations. For that, they could turn to Linda Suskie’s 2014 Five Dimensions of Quality or Nira Hativa’s 2013 Student Ratings of Instruction: Recognizing Effective Teaching. Suskie and Hativa both recognize that there are a multitude of ways that colleges and universities can do course evaluations badly: poor security, boring questions, garbled reporting, invalid and unreliable samples, etc…”bad sticky” as it were. But there’s just as likely a chance that the much-maligned process that Burt and Patton describe can be transformed with “good sticky.” Suskie and Hativa do a masterful job at showing how this can be done. Have I mentioned that these two assessment sages are Keynote Speakers at the AMS User Conference in September?
I’ll go to some greater length of my own in the next post about the media’s seasonal affective disorder with course evaluation stories. At least you know what’s with the duct tape.