Time Management: Todoist and Other Tools

I have previously blogged about how much I enjoy my job and offered advice for students and others about time management. Like most people I am juggling multiple deadlines, projects, and trying hard to get stuff done. How I have done this over the years has varied. Last Fall, I downloaded a few apps that worked like glorified lists and some were useful and fun.

A fun app that I used last Fall and for a short period of the Winter was Carrot. This app gamified my productivity and rewarded me with praise when I accomplished lots and punished me with insults, when I fell behind. Of course, I wanted the accolades and not the missives from Carrot. I see that there is a Carrot exercise app, but I have not interest in that. I have since deleted Carrot, as it was not really an effective app for my use at work.

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My productivity changed drastically by my immersion with Todoist. At first I was using lightly; however, I started to increase my use as I got more busy with the demands of teaching, administrative work, and service. Where was Todoist, when I was a grad student? I have talked about productivity apps with my TS 300 students, and students in my office and I keep on referring them to Todoist. It is important that I note that I am a Type A person and enjoy apps of this nature. Todoist keeps me organized.

What I like best about the Todoist is that I am able to manage projects with different deadlines, integrate the app with my Outlook, and look long-term at projects or deadlines. I also like the way in which I can prioritize or share projects. I am not using the priorities as much as a I did at the start; however, it is useful for me to track what I am doing and what is coming up for me. Did I mention that I also like the look and feel of the app? I’ve bought other productivity or list apps and used them for a day or a week, and most of them were not intuitive for me or aesthetically pleasing. Developers will smile here, as they think of the app experience. I need the app experience to work for me. For all of these reasons I am an evangelist for Todoist.

Finish the Term Strong

This post is all about suggestions for student success. As a former Undergraduate Advisor and an instructor, I am supportive of student success. I have one more week in the term and due date are looming, but I realize that many of my colleagues have one to two more months left. This post will speak to some suggestions for how students can finish the term strong

1. Go to class

2. Read the syllabus

3. Go to office hours

4. Review points one through three

Seriously, I am not kidding about the above as they are extremely important to student success. As I told a group of librarians today, I might as well say that the sky is blue; however, it is key to emphasize the obvious. There are moment when we need reminding about what is the obvious Beyond the absolute obvious, I also suggest that during the last part of the term that students manage their time well. Now is the time to focus on ending on a high note. It is to easy to finish with the best that you can do in that moment, but that will not make you stand out above the others. I encourage you to become a hermit during the last week or two as you write your papers.

What else can you do? You can visit your Writing Center and then ask if your professor is willing to chat about your draft or to review your draft. Please note that most professors will not copy-edit your draft. Please remember that your professor may have 30-400 students that term, so don’t be too hard on your professor if they are only willing to chat about your paper. If you have a Teaching Assistant, by all means go to her or his office hours. Own your education. Take charge and act like you care. Acting like you care about your education and success really does count for something.

My last words of guidance are about reading the assignments and following directions. I am always surprised and frustrated by the number of students who do not read the syllabus and think that this is not important. A student approached me recently saying, “This is a 12 point font.” I responded, “Yes, it is but it is not Times New Roman 12 and is a huge font. Please review my syllabus.” Following directions is the first part of an assignment and reflect attention to detail. Good luck with the last few weeks and your papers and final!

Graduation is a mere two months away and I can’t wait to sit on the stage and witness this momentous event. Until then, I send positive energy to my students as they wind down. Finish the term well!

 

 

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Five Things About Me

I haven’t done my Friday Fun Facts in a very long time, and it is not Friday. I thought that I would share five things about me that you may not know.

1. I worked at a Hallmark store and for a bank during most of my undergrad. One was the phone job, but both required that I work with the public. The Hallmark job enabled my obsession with great cards and post-cards. I try to send a card or two out every week to someone who has helped me.

2. I have consistently found good take aways from business management or business leadership books. Remember I have taught in the Social Sciences, Arts and Letters, or Humanities for my career, but I have found business books useful for project management and leadership.

3. I am the eldest of five siblings. And, most of what you know about eldest siblings applies. I’m not conservative, but most of the known characteristics applies and I tend to get along well with other eldest siblings. We gravitate toward one another.

4. I am an extrovert. I am more cognizant of my extreme extrovert traits and have to remind myself to dial it back, as I feel exuberant about my job and the things that I do. I think that the exuberance is amusing to my students and I am OK with that.

5. I love teaching. A switch goes on when I walk into the classroom—my classroom or another’s and I feel home. It sounds corny, but it is true.

The image is shared via @kmclellan I think I have his Twitter handle right.

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Lessons Learned from Advising

Officially I was an Undergraduate Advisor for some odd five years, but unofficially I have worked as a mentor, coach or advisor to my students and peers for as long as I have been in higher ed. Now, that I am a mere two months out of that official capacity I am repeatedly finding that I learned lots from those various moments. I was always appreciative of the special opportunity I had helping students maneuver through their undergrad, grad school, or higher ed more broadly speaking.

First, people often are too busy or perhaps not aware of the institutional or departmental guidelines. This is akin to an instructor reminding students to read the syllabus. We all experience information overload and need reminders to read the syllabus, the agenda, the meeting documents in Sharepoint, the Strategic Plan or the Framework Agreement. People want someone to bounce ideas off or have someone listen to them. Lots of people do not like change and react from a place of fear or anger and these feelings can manifest in some negative ways.

Second, I am often reminded that we forget that if the students were not on campus, we would not have jobs. This is not a controversial statement, but I am well aware that it is. I am not saying that students pay my wage, as that is not the case. Taxpayers pay my wage and that includes me. The current class of kids in Kindergarten is smaller than the graduating class of Grade 12 students. This means that all of the colleges, trade programs, and universities are competing for a shrinking pool of students. In the US, the pool of students is also more diverse and are the babies of the “Leave No Child Behind” policies. Depending on your political inclination, your reaction to this policy will vary. Having other educators in my family means that I am quite familiar with the way in which public school teachers must teach to the test, but this is really a discussion for a different post.

Third, I am a better listener thanks to my years of working with students, advising, and peer mentoring. You cannot help someone if you do not listen. And, listening is a real skill. I do not mean listening and waiting your turn to speak, but really listening to someone. I find that many of us wait to speak, but listening takes more work. I’m still learning, but feel that I am a mindful listener. As I work on a different career path for the next year or so, I look forward to listening and leading.

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The Online Academic Community: Enterprise WP Environment

This post ran almost two months ago on Inside Higher Education for the University of Venus. I have revised it.

I would like to speak to  my use of our Online Academic Community (OAC) at the University. This is the enterprise WordPress site on our campus. It is in its first year of “real” (non-pilot) use and my hope is that more users were join the OAC for teaching, learning, research, and community building for scholars and student groups.

I had used the OAC during Summer 2013 term, but the 2013 Fall term was the first regular term in which I used the OAC. The OAC is our internal WordPress site. What makes it better than the regular WordPress site is that the cloud is on our campus. We only use themes, widgets, and plugins that comply with the provincial privacy regulations that keep my students’ data and all information in Canada. While I encourage my students to occasionally Google themselves and mind their digital footprint, it is important in the learning environment that any education technology tools I ask them to use as part of their evaluation maintains the integrity of their information. The other advantage of the OAC is that WordPress is my preferred blogging platform and I am quite comfortable with it. Plus, how can I say no to technical support from colleagues on campus? They are a tweet, email or phone call away from helping resolve a student query or the occasional odd troubleshooting. You cannot put a price on having technical support–it is priceless.

 What are we doing with the OAC? My students are blogging, vlogging, and uploading Wikipedia entries into the OAC. We are also using the OAC environment as portfolios for all of their work. Their blogs are academic research assignments that require the same care of an assignment that is submitted as a hard copy. Some of the students opt to make a particular post or vlog private, and this is acceptable. Given that the nature of my courses focus on issues of gender, politics, and sexuality, it is not uncommon that the students are blogging or vlogging about sensitive issues. The last major assignment is a research paper related to the course materials, and this also is uploaded into the OAC.

During this time, I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing their writing and analysis improve on their sites. Many of the students have been in my office working on their sites and discussing their work. In the beginning there were growing pains for some of the students as they figured out the technology and I helped them figure out the themes, widgets or overall set up of their blog site. And, this term the students are group blogging, placing their apps, and their TS Talks on their group sites.

The students are getting their fair share of writing opportunities, but they are thinking critically and learning transferable skills at the same time. The transferable skill really is the ability to use the OAC, publish on Wikipedia, and use Vimeo or YouTube for their vlogs. In previous terms, when we have used the regular WordPress site or other blogging platforms, I usually hear from a few students that using the technology was lots of work, but others note that the skills they learned were useful with their current job or their search for work.

 I am hopeful that the OAC site and technical support continues to make these assignments dynamic for my students. I am optimizing technology in the classroom in a way that works for most of them. While I have offered blogging assignments during the last six or seven years, I am more cognizant of protecting my students’ privacy and more familiar with effective social media platform use in the classroom. I like to try new things and I find that many students are open to using technology in different ways.

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Revise and Resubmit

What would you do if you had a second chance? In my line of work, when I submit an article or proposal I can often get the opportunity to revise and resubmit the article or proposal. Well, a rejection requires assessing where the article goes next!  But, this post isn’t really about me. Instead, I am thinking of students and their need for second chances. There are moments when a second chance is needed. I do not like to think of myself as heartless when it comes to special situations; however, I also do not like feeling like I am someone’s rube.

There are these moments, when I have to step back and think about what is the cost of allowing a revision for a student. The revision might offer the student the chance for success or the opportunity to try to do better on the particular assignment. Ultimately, I do want students to learn and feel success. However, the means by which this is done is through their hard work. Then, I need to balance the entire group and think about my willingness to offer a second chance to 20-200 people. This is when it get tricky.

One thing that I am having to grapple with is the trickle of students who come to my office hours informing me that they did not do well on an assignment based on not just feeling prepared or some other issue that sounds like mere excuse. Here, I am not speaking to an illness or other major issue. Part of life is managing multiple stressors and responsibilities; yet, a cold before a major assignment is supposed to make a major difference. I cannot comprehend this as an excuse. Perhaps I am contradicting my last post. I feel patient, but less patient due to excuses. And, my syllabi include all the due dates and all the assignments. Is this a rant post? Tilts head and thinks–yes, but a short one.

I love Grumpy Cat and I suppose it is well-known. A colleague from another unit gave this to me and I keep on taking photos of it–knowing that Grumpy Cat would hate it.

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Patience and Mid-Terms

I come to my classes with a sense of compassion. The first week is a major clusterbug for everyone. And, we can ratchet this higher for the new students. What I find that I need to work on is my sense of patience during the upcoming weeks. No matter how many times I gently remind students, some will not bother to review the syllabus and email me queries that can be answered ever so quickly with a glance to the course syllabus. This term I have done something different–the quiz and the mid-term have a question related to the syllabus.

I also am aware that my class is one of four or five and once the students get into the routine, they will have a better idea regarding the protocol on campus. Until then, I read the emails, pause, smile and reply that, “As the syllabus states…” If anything, the flip side, is that the student is bothering to care to make sure that s/he gets the right information and reads the material, shows up to class on time, comes to my office hours at the right time, right? And, let’s be honest, there are moments when a keen student eye finds an error on the syllabus and I appreciate it! So, I am not perfect and I know that my students aren’t either.

I also wish that patience worked the other way. Students need to remember that I am one person serving many. My office hours are limited to some 4 because I have to teach my classes, get some administrative work, prepare for my courses, and possibly steal time for my own work. We are at the start of month two of the new term, and I am sure it will be another great, busy one. At this moment, I am thinking of Guns and Roses. Smiles. This is a reference to their song.

Students with an Edge

In my sixteen years of teaching, not one term has gone by when I do not have at least one student athlete in one of my classes. One thing that I have noticed with the vast majority of the student athletes is that they have drive. These students usually want to excel on the class. Their competitive edge extends into the classroom. They know that their coaches and education team (whoever this may be at the respective institution) expects them to show up to class and to practice. Most of these students will introduce themselves to me during the first week or two and my standard practice is to ask that their contact send me any invitational or team related travel dates. While I have taught at four different institutions none have been at a major sports school–no top ten football programs, which is often a marker for a “big name” institution. I have taught at Division 1 institutions; however, this was at the start of my teaching career.

I truly wish that more of my students had this same drive and felt accountable to their coach or team. This does not mean that my students who are not athletes are slackers! Not true. The typical student wants to do well, but knows that among their array of courses some get more effort. The student athletes are generally more competitive and want to do well in all of their courses, so it is not a big surprise to see at the annual fundraising breakfast that many of them have strong grade point averages. Can I just spend a quick moment to say that I am proud of them. Very proud. And, I know that my colleagues are, too.

It is less common for one of the student athletes to phone it in with their coursework. When I have had a student athlete under-perform, the student has immediately contacted me via email, come to office hours, or in one instance the basketball coach called me to meet with him. When I met with the coach, he made no excuses for the student and said, “His first job is being a student. Do not go easy on him.” I wasn’t going to, but let me tell you that walking into the office was an intimidating experience. I felt empowered and I know that many of my colleagues will counter with examples of grade changes or pressure by the administration to change grades; however, this is not my experience. Getting back to the students–when they under-perform they want to know what they can do to fix it. Thankfully, the student athlete under-performing in my classes is not very common. They are competitive through and through and want to do well. I do not give them any extra credit or leeway. What I want to see is more students with that fire in their belly. Be competitive and humble. The photo below is one I took at the McKinnon Pool–one of the pools where the student athletes swim.

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Helping or Hindering Students

I want to discuss the fine balance between helping and hindering student progress. I am trying hard to work on this balance, as I am quite aware that sixteen years into teaching I am still learning. My current student population is different from my students circa 2005-6. I have attended various workshops about our students and more specifically about first years. Our students require more hands on attention and most universities now have stronger recruitment and retention strategies.

What this means for me on the ground is that I try to provide students with as much information as possible. But, I have also learned some important lessons. Several years ago I helped my godson register for courses and purchase his books in the bookstore. This entire experience really stuck with me. I have more compassion for my students and I am less invested in “schooling” them when they miss the obvious. There is no obvious for the new student. When I say schooling I am really talking about how I know that I have to repeat myself about due dates, have the due dates bolded in the syllabi, and that students will still inquire about things in the syllabus.

I can only do so much, though, and the students need to meet me half way. What do I mean by that? They need to show up to class and come to my office hours. I am not in the habit of chasing students down between my various courses; however, I will make announcements in class or send announcements via the online learning management platform reminding them about course related issues or other campus events. I do contact students when they suddenly disappear. Here, I am not including students who are in crisis or have other issues like learning accommodations that I must take into account. Those students require a different level of attention.

I have resolved for honesty in my office and with my marking. This translates into support and at times brutal honesty while I am assessing work. I do my students no favor when I am not honest with them. This might mean that I am clear about my  assessment of an assignment or an issue regarding academic integrity. What does this also mean? I am listening more. Does this make me helpful? I hope so. This term a common statement, “What can I do to help your success in this course?” But, this requires that the student contact me. Like I often say in class, “I don’t have ESPN.” I know–I need to find new jokes.

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Read the Syllabus, Please

The syllabus is the course contract. This statement sounds like a simple one, but alas, it is not. The statement might sound legalistic, but it is not. The truth is that the syllabus is our guide for the course, not a guideline, but the rules. The thing that I try to remember is that while I take special care with crafting the syllabus and the ways in which I will evaluate my students, I do not have control over their time. I need to make sure that my syllabus clearly states the all the necessary information for student success. I also know that students have multiple courses with multiple deadlines. And, as much as I want to get frustrated that they are not reading the syllabus, it is a waste of time to get frustrated about them not reading. Instead, I am prepared to re-read and revisit the syllabus as necessary prior to assignment due dates. Plus, I must remember that they have three to four other syllabi to keep track of during the term and that my class is one of many.

No, instead, I remind them about the information on the syllabus and refer them to it. Each term many will say something to the effect, “Oh, I must have missed that.” I typically smile and say, “I know that you have four other courses, it is easy to get the information mixed up.” This is a better use of my time and emotional energy. My job is not to chastise or scold. Frankly, I do not like scolding unless I absolutely have to do so. My job is to give the information and move on to the next query or item. Sure, I chat with colleagues about how syllabi are not read. I am sympathetic and am the first to talk to a colleague about what we can do to make this better. However, each term it is the same song and dance. This term I noted in two different places on my syllabus that class would not meet during our Reading Break. The note is in bold, too. My Teaching Assistants went to the class and found almost half of my class sitting in the lecture hall. They looked at the students and said, “You need to read the syllabus. There is no class today.” I  am guessing that my students really liked the material and were keen for another lecture.

What can we do? Review the syllabus with the students and review it more than once. Remind them of the deadlines and refer them repeatedly to the appropriate resources on campus. My syllabi are considerably longer than before, but I am OK with that. This means that I have as much helpful information as possible and I am doing my job. The other half of this is that the students must do their job and review the syllabus–highlighting due dates and keeping an organized calendar. Yes, I am speaking to the students owning part of this and that might require a different blog post. And, I probably should work on that blog post, but now, I am thinking about the syllabi for next term and how I need to be as clear as the water in Maui. I am pining for warmer weather–can you blame me it is almost winter and I know that in just a week I will start three weeks of intensive marking and occasionally write on papers: you should have read the syllabus and followed directions.

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Please note that the above  photo of “Sassy Syllabus Baby” is from a former student who did get permission from his family to use the photo. And, Kevin always read the syllabus. May he have a great post-university life!