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.

OAC

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.

Dr. Seuss

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Dr. Seuss

I used my writing prompt book and I have to say that I appreciate this quote from Dr. Seuss. It speaks to me at the moment. I’ve read lots of his books to my kids and remember reading the books a long, long time ago. There is something about the books and reading them aloud that is soothing. It’s the wit and the nonsensical stories that entertain. I also think that Dr. Seuss holds a place in my memory as an academic due to the collection at the UCSD Library.

I spent many days at the library working on my grad school papers and my dissertation. The foyer occasionally displayed some of Dr. Seuss collections and I would at times procrastinate and pore through the holdings. Well, Dr. Seuss also had some war propaganda pieces and part of my work focused on Mass Political Behavior–I was doing research! In all seriousness, this quote is an important one for reflection. People who care about you  aren’t apt to take offense at what you say. The people who care about you get you and are more willing to accept you and your quirks. And, well the people who have problems with what you say…they might not be worth your time. I know that this is not a truth; however, it is worth thinking about when you interact thoughtfully with people.

Learning Commons at UVIC

Students will be hard pressed to complain that no one is helpful at UVIC. Between faculty, TAs, the workshops at the Counseling Centre and the Learning Commons they have help at their finger tips. OK. Maybe at their toes, as they will have to walk to these offices. I walked around the library this morning and was really excited with the Learning Commons. So, excited that I made a 90 second video on my iPhone just on the fly. Here is the link: http://tinyurl.com/26lvel7 

And, this does not include the International Commons! Don’t forget that near all of this are the desks for the Help Desk (satellite) and Reference Desk. The Library is the place to be to get help, study, research or grab a latte in the Biblio Cafe. Seriously, get into the Library. This is an old post of mine, but too good to not add to and share that there are even more resources dedicated to student learning. What are you waiting for?

 

Those TPS reports won’t write themselves. 

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Do Not Burn that Bridge

I am in the throes of letter writing and giving job references for former students and staff and have edited this post from May 2013. One of the things that I have heard from prospective employers is the ways in which a candidate or hired employee fails miserably and burns a bridge. In my line of work as an instructor, advisor, mentor, coach or supervisor, I also occasionally see a student or staff member burn a bridge. Occasionally this is done with a positive attitude or the expectation that rewards are instantaneous upon merely doing the job.

I have heard repeatedly that a good attitude can help a new employee. If you are new to a job that you are not sure about make sure that during your shift you act like you care. This job could turn into something else for you and it is hard to shake off a bad impression. Be careful with social media. Do not post negative statements about your employer or co-workers. Nothing is private online and the worst thing that you can do is make you or your employer look bad. Likewise, if you have some terrible customers you also do not want to post information about them. Be careful and smart.

Make sure that you are dressing in a way that fits the environment. If there is a dress code, follow it. If there is not a dress code, ask your immediate manager what she or he suggests. There is nothing more embarrassing than having a manager speak to you about your clothing. In my early twenties, this happened to me twice and I never wore that blouse or the skirt again. Both seemed fine with the ensemble, but giving further thought I realized that they did not meet the conservative norms of that work place. I always suggest to my students who have job interviews to think about the dropped pen exercise. If you have to pick up a pen, will you feel comfortable as you lean in to grab the pen. Bend with your knees–not your back!

Other hints for looking for work–keep in contact with people who are well-connected or who you might want a reference from at a later date. This might be a bi-annual email that updates or an occasional hand written note. Make sure that you keep your circle of references up to date with all the wonderful things that you are doing. Related to this, be careful on social media. There are numerous examples of poor use of social media. I imagine that the communications staff at one East Coast university spent part of this last Monday chatting about a student’s racist post and the follow up posts that only made his original tweet worse. While his Twitter account is now deleted, many screen-shotted the tweet. Plus, the response against his racism was swift. That original tweet could haunt him.

Overall, be smart while you are looking for work and new on the job. Even if you do not have a probationary period, your first few days, weeks, and months are scrutinized. Check in with your co-workers and manager. If you do not have regular performance reviews, ask if you could have some assessment. Think of it as a work tune up. Reflect and learn.

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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