Apparently, I have a snarky side. This post is the backstory for how my recent ASEE Prism column, "Communicating Is So Inefficient," came to be.

TL;DR summary: the article's first sentence is "After years of observing engineering education, I’ve finally figured out what our goal is: minimal student-teacher interaction." The rest of the article points out the observations that led to this conclusion, in the vein of this SMBC comic of aliens speculating about the human war against plant genitalia (translation: we give flowers as gifts).

The article started after several colleagues approached me, in separate conversations, and started venting like this: "Aargh! I am trying to do this thing that requires students to start an open-ended dialogue with me about their work in the discipline, and..."

At this point, they would say some combination of these three things:

A) The students don't get it, don't do it, and are complaining that I'm "not teaching them"!
B) Senior colleagues/admins tell me I'm not supposed to do that if I want to survive tenure!
C) It is impossible to have these conversations with all the students I've been given, in the time I've been allotted, while still covering the content I'm required to cover!

Basically, I was hearing my colleagues genuinely thirsting to interact with students -- engage with their individual processes, help shepherd what they were creating, get to know them -- and running into an education system that penalized them for doing so. At some point, I started giving this response to point (A):

"Of course they don't want to talk to you. These were the 'smart kids' in high school. They've been conditioned to associate 'asking a question' with 'not knowing stuff.' If you talk to a teacher, that means you're failing and something is wrong."

And then I realized that it wasn't just the students who'd been conditioned this way. My colleagues were the teachers who were actively resisting the same system trying to condition them away from talking with their students. I started getting sarcastic in those conversations. "Oh, no, you can't do that. We need to process more students through the system. No, no, we just need to automate everything. Not just the grading. The teaching and the learning, too."

When people laughed at an observation I'd made, I wrote it down. And then I started putting them together into paragraphs, and then my editor emailed and said "we need your column" and I hadn't written anything else...

And that's how the rare sighting of Sarcastic Mel came to be.