Popular Instructors

I cannot believe that I am starting my 18th teaching year. I always start counting the years in September and this is 18. One of the things that I am mulling is what a popular instructor or popular prof means in academe. Does this reflect your enrollments? Is this term cast as a negative assuming that your course content is easy? I think the context mattters.

1. Hearing it from some colleagues it is clear that it cheapens your pedagogy and the depth of what you teach. 

2. Hearing it from students varies, but it is mostly meant as a compliment. 

3. Some colleagues clearly mean it as a compliment. 

Overall, my sense is that the so-called popular instructors generally enjoy teaching. I think that is the difference.  

 

Participation Ribbons: Show Up

At some point in the last decade or two participation ribbons became common at sports events. I have mixed feelings about this. While I understand the need to make every kid feel good about her or his participation in a cross country meet, there is another part of me that cringes with this practice. My mixed feelings stems from not wanting my kids to think that they have to win to be their best. Perhaps this is why they both like competitive swimming? While they swim against others, ultimately they are trying to lower their swim times and it becomes self-focused. 

I know that when I watch competitve sports events I am the one in our household who always comments that it is an honor for the athletes to compete. And, I think it is. Participation ribbons, though, have another part to them. Things get more complicated when I am in the classroom. Somehow this culture of rewarding people for showing up has bled into school work. There is this equation in some students’ minds: effort = A. And, this equation is a problem. 

Yes, it is important to participate. You need to show up to class. However, that is only one part of it. There are terabytes worth of research about the correlation between student attendance and success. Part of it is that students who attend class are more likely to be prepared and feel accountable, but the other part of it is that this same group is also likely to hear annoucements, do the reading, and possibly attend office hours for clarification about assignments. My issue is that I often have to explain to a student that their gauge for effort will vary, and that some students can whip an assignment together fast and do well and others will not. 

I do not believe in participation ribbons in the classroom. A solid blog post, research design, paper or vlog is going to take some effort, and merely doing the assignment is not enough. A stronger assignment is going to have to make me pause. The pause is one of excitement–this is great work. However, most of the students will do good to fair work and this is in the B to C range. And, nothing is wrong with this. What is the saying, “Bs and Cs earn degrees.” It’s true, but the learning experience is more than grades. A new term is right around the corner for our college students. My advice: show up. I hope that your instructors entice you to learn, think, and try. You do not have to do your best, but note that you’ll benefit based on the effort you put into the class. The benefits, though, are more tangible than a grade, and you might end up taking away more than the the ability to write better and think critically. You might be moved to change your major or take more classes with that instructor.

  

Thinking about Learning Spaces

I attended the National Forum on Active Learning Classroom conference held at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. What an amazing conference! Between the Society for College and University Planning and this conference, my head is going to explode with all the great information that I heard. The good news is that I feel validated. Validated for my teaching style and the disruption that I cause in the classroom and with my educational technology use.

I understand from my friends and colleagues in many departments that their classroom is everywhere. They teach online and I tend to veer toward a blended or flexible format. I might have two sessions of lecture/discussion style, lab time or online/group learning time. The reality is that learning spaces exist in and outside of the traditional classroom and we need to make sure that we are supportive of the variety of teaching modalities. Likewise, our students are used to making virtually any space a learning space and we need to remember this as we plan space on campus.

One little takeaway was the artful way that the facilities office has suggested that students clean up after themselves. This is the way to encourage students and does not rant or nag at them, which they dislike. And, I cannot blame that. Many colleges are moving to recycling centers outside of classrooms to encourage sorting your garbage and recycling. I took lots of photos at the conference and there are some other great posters in the rooms. 

 

U of MN classroom

The conference was small with about 250 attendees and the group was mixed in terms of facilities staff, administrators, and faculty.  However, based on my interactions, it seemed like there were more faculty at this conference. The faculty shared a common interest–dedication to teaching and learning. It is refreshing to interact with large groups of people dedicated to teaching and learning. We talked lots about flipping the classroom and the importance of active learning spaces. The photos below are from the conference sessions. All of the sessions were held in active learning spaces. I have more to say, and this is just one post. Look for more about this topic.

  

Networking at Work

I am an administrator with teaching responsibilites, and at the same time I am a unionized faculty member. This role gives me the opportunity to lead a service department, and continue to teach and mentor. The department I run held our annual retreat this year and a colleague from Human Resources facilitated the event. Based on the response at the retreat and the ensuing days, I feel comfortable stating that it was a success. We did some team building and got to know one another better and this was fun. The manager and I also had a chance to speak to what is next and what our roles are in the unit. I am glad that I have taken the time to get out of my home department, Political Science, and know people throughout campus. 

Almost monthly I meet with my Human Resources consultant to chat about the unit, my team, and other issues as needed. These meetings provide me leadership coaching and human resources training. I have my advanced degrees, but none of them are in managing people or campus wide projects. The Human Resources team have been crucial to my leadership success. And, thinking back to the last year, establishing good, work relationships with others across campus has also served me well. Of course, it is not about me, but here I am thinking about the importance of face to face meetings and casual coffees to chat with people who I work with or need to work with on projects. I also have monthly meetings with others across campus, who I regularly work with and these meetings are coffees where we update one another about our projects. 

People always use the metaphor of silos for university campuses and it fits. Most tend to stick to their building or their side of campus. A new school year is upon on and I encourage academics and alt-academic types to venture out of their usual haunts on campus. Make a coffee date with a colleague who you have always wanted to collaborate with or who you know also teaches large first year courses. My point is to network with others who you might normally not take the time to get to know. 

This suggestion includes staff. It is my experience that academics tend to spend time with other academics. The campus is filled with people. Get to know others across campus in different roles. Before you know it, you have established more meaningful relationships around your campus. I realize that networking turns some people off, so think about expaning your circle at work. The photo below is one that I took at a conference where academics were the minority, but the goal was to move major projects across campus in a collaborative manner. It was a great exercise to see the numbers of staff involved in raising funds and planning for a new building or thinking about active learning environments for students. 

 

My falling-out with Myers-Briggs

Originally posted on o! wandering folk:

We have an identity crisis. Call it what you will, a post-modern, existential, millennial crisis of self, we are all asking ourselves: Which Game of Thrones character am I?

Ok, in all seriousness. The rash of Buzzfeed, Playbuzz, Quizmodo, etc “Personality Quizzes” that promise to tell you who you really are, in terms of your favorite fictional paradigm, is really just the latest symptom of our human desire to know ourselves, to approve of ourselves. “Ugh, I got Pansy Parkinson? Are you serious? I wanted to be Bellatrix Lestrange!”

For those seeking to understand themselves in less frivolous terms, we might seek to discover if we’re Type A or Type B, or which of the four humors we are, or, in terms of the perennial, inescapable, enduring favorite: What’s my Myers-Briggs type?

Sigh.

I’ve long been a fan of the Myers-Briggs. It’s helped me understand certain aspects of my personality…

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This is my house.

Originally posted on The Bloggess:

The greatest gift in the world is to grant a kindness to another. The amazing thing though is that the aforementioned gift is one you give yourself. It may be a small thing. Leaving a flower for the tired woman at the coffee shop. Telling a stranger that they have such kind eyes. Listening happily to a story told by an elderly friend or relative who has told you the same story a million times. Nodding in solidarity even when you don’t completely understand. Letting a friend or a stranger yell hurtful things at you because you hope it will help them let go of a small part of that anger…that it will open up room in them for the greater things that they deserve.

This is the way the world goes. Small, mean acts affect the next person who in turn amplify that anger or sadness and take it out on others who suffer…

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Creative Assignments and Student Centered Learning

I am finishing up another term and will spend next week grading research designs. This assignment is meant to provide students an opportunity to fully sketch out a larger paper. And, this assignment is quite specific in terms of the expectations. I offer creative assignments and couple them with the traditional paper assignment. I am going to list a few common issues that I have faced.

1. Just make me write a paper

2. Why can’t you give us a mid-term or final

3. I enjoy the opportunity, but learning the technology takes time

4. Thank you

I did not place these in a ranked format. But, these are the most common comments about blogging, vlogging, e-portfolios, proposals, and research designs. Trying to offer different types of assignments and foster student-centered learning presents opportunities and challenges! I will respond to the four points in another post.