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Happy 2014: Woman Working Edition

31 Dec

It’s hard to believe 2013 is nearly over. It’s been a busy year and it’s gone by incredibly fast. For once I didn’t make any major moves and didn’t start a new job. Instead this was my first full year spent settling into my tenure track job. I have some more detailed posts planned about my academic goals and scheduling/juggling techniques, but for now I’ll just take a bit of stock of the last year, and where I’d like to go in 2014.

2013 in Review:

  • After the dust settled from my first semester at my new school, I realized how much I really, truly love my job. I love the school where I work. I love my colleagues. I love that I have the room and support to take charge of my research and decide what I want to do next. Something like only 13% of people like going to work— I’m among those lucky 13%. I get to teach what I want and research what I want. What more could I ask for?
  • I’ve become much more comfortable in the classroom. I’m better with the students who try to pull one over on me– I have a better radar for them. And I am better at recognizing the students who are truly working hard and encouraging their growth. I remember that first class I taught by myself at the school where I had my VAP (I didn’t come out of grad school with much teaching experience) and I can’t believe how fresh-faced and visibly nervous I must have been! How far I’ve come since then!
  • I’m honing in more and more on my own teaching style. I do more assignments and activities that empower students to learn on their own. I do less lecturing. I’m honest in the classroom about what they need to learn, and why, and what standpoint I come from. I listen to my students more and try to incorporate what they know into the classroom. After spending some time getting to know my students (first generation, poor, mostly non-white students), I know that they know a heck of a lot more in a practical sense about what I’m teaching (racism, inequality, poverty) and I work to draw out that knowledge. I’m a work in progress, but I feel that I am making some headway.
  • I’ve become more liberal, more progressive, more radical (if that was even possible), and more passionate about addressing injustice. As a result, I’ve become less tolerant of beliefs that people hold out of ignorance that actually cause harm to others. Someone wants to vote conservative? Sure, go for it, but I won’t respect the fact that they’re voting for candidates who support policies that perpetuate inequality and  that literally cost people their lives. Yes, I am still committed to a dialogue and believe that people can change, but I’m no longer tolerating crap like “love the sinner, hate the sin” or “people should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

cc8c9b8952a333a65c6b062fdc19f8e72014 Goals:

  • Since I love my work so much, this coming year I want to focus on accomplishing even more. I want to throw myself into my career. How much of a luxury is that? I’ll go into more specifics in other posts, but I want to start working on a book, and launch an exciting new research project. In short, I want to focus on doing what I need to do for tenure, AND what I want to do as a scholar. I want to work towards what I want my career to look like.
  • To do this, I want to put new habits in place to better help me reach my goals. No more triaging during the semester– constantly running behind and trying to figure out which ignored emails and tasks need to be addressed during whatever short amount of time I have on hand.
  • I want to assign fewer written assignments, make them more focused on specific learning goals, and due much earlier in the semester. I want to spend less time grading, especially at the end of the semester, and make the grading I do worth more in terms of improving students’ work.
  • Continue my goal of “less is more” in the classroom. I want to make sure I assign only what is important to read, and avoid information overload in class. Specific, learning-focused tasks, communicated well with students, go a longer way for learning than assigning tons of reading and cramming a lot into a class.
  • Read more fiction. I don’t think I’ve regular read fiction since grad school and this makes me sad. My brain misses it. I have stacks of books to read next to my bed, but I fall asleep as soon as I get into it at night. I need to make fiction reading a priority.

I am Patti Adler

16 Dec

This past week, a tenured professor at University of Colorado-Boulder, Patti Adler, was forced into early retirement after complaints about a teaching technique she has used for some 20 years in her popular Sociology of Deviance class. When the initial student newspaper article came out with few details, I was hoping that the story was blown way out of proportion, or maybe even a terrible misunderstanding. But, a student group on Facebook, a petition, and now a more detailed article and interview with Patti Adler, makes it sound like this is actually happened. So, based on what we know right now, a tenured professor was actually forced into retirement for a creative, engaging classroom activity.

428f7d29ebd2a6a209c14a180b53d14fFor some reason this really hits me in the gut. I was even up during the night with Adler’s classroom activity gnawing at me. Her activity illustrated the different levels of status among people in a stigmatized group (prostitutes). I’ve had some interesting conversations online with others about this. Some feel strongly that her activity on prostitution further stigmatizes an already stigmatized group. Some believe that there are two issues– (1) the classroom activity on prostitution (2) how the university handled the complaints over this activity– and that we need to have a feminist conversation about both. I do agree we should have ongoing pedagogical conversations about privilege and marginalization in the classroom. As a white middle class woman, I am always thinking about how I teach material in a way that is real and engaging, and also respects students’ experiences, privileges, and disprivileges. I’m not perfect at this. I’m still a work in progress.

The truth is that Adler’s prostitution activity sounds like something I’d come up with to engage my students. I could see myself thinking of it in the shower (where I get all my good ideas) and running with it in the classroom. I am always thinking of ways to help students exercise their sociological imaginations– getting them to step into the shoes of others and to see from different standpoints. So when is it ok to ask students (in her case, TAs, but students are just as  vulnerable to professor-student power relationships) to take on marginalized positions in order to teach them to expand their perspectives? These kinds of activities are so central to my teaching, and they’re the ones that students respond the best to and learn the most from.

I am Patti Adler.*

Here’s why:

  • I’ve had my students role play families in different marginalized positions, with different economic and institutional resources, and think through how they would navigate personal disasters like unemployment, illness etc.
  • My students have role played high school kids (actually drawing on Patti’s work on peer pressure) acting out ingroup and outgroup dynamics in the most illustrative ways they can think of together. In this activity I’ve had students decided to call another student a “wetback,” another a “slut,” or another student “white trash.”
  • My students have had to craft social movement framing and tactical strategies, assigning them a “side” they may not agree with on issues like: Marriage equality, access to abortion, affirmative action, immigration (undocumented immigration), feminism etc.
  • My students have conducted multi-class period studies of the language and images used by “pro-life” activists and pro-choice activists. Often these are disturbing and offensive.
  • I’ve had my students make campaign slogans and posters drawing on the collective identity of motherhood against the war on terrorism, and in support of the war on terrorism.
  • My students bring to class examples of songs that describe living in poor urban neighborhoods. We watch the (quite racey and filled with terrible language) videos together and they analyze what words like “the ghetto” mean from various perspectives.
  • My students have discussed institutional control of bodies by debating the issue of airlines charging more for passengers who weigh more.
  • I break my students up into groups of “proletariats” and “capitalists” to form strategies about how to either improve their position or maintain their position.
  • I’ve shown current rap and hip hop videos in class (again, suggested by students as I have no idea what’s popular) to facilitate discussion of how women are depicted as sexualized objects in pop culture. Some of these make even me uncomfortable!
  • I use countless clips of The Daily Show– filled with stereotypes, humor, and a strong dose of liberal propaganda.
  • I constantly use South Park– a show that makes no qualms about offending everyone– to talk about various social issues. My students have collectively laughed over the one Black kid named “Token.” They’ve laughed at, and deconstructed, Cartman’s stereotypes of Kenny’s poverty.
  • Speaking of Cartman, I regularly show my students the episode where he starts a social movement against Gingers and have them analyze Cartman as an enigmatic movement leader.
  • Heck, my students have even role played the Sandinista government, figuring out a media plan using the powerful identity of the spartan mother to sell the draft to weary Nicaraguans.

I am Patti Adler. I am a teacher who constantly tries to think of innovative ways to engage my students. There is no way I could teach without having students role play various disprivileged identities. I use these activities in the context of lessons that are focused on social justice, and include discussions of privilege and marginalization. I hope they make the connections I want them to make– the connections our classroom discussions hopefully lead them to make. But there is always the possibility someone will be offended. Someone could be offended by something any single day in any one of my classes. I mean, how many times have I lectured white guys about structural racism (although of course I’m able to do this from the privileged position of a white woman– which I address in class)? My goal is not to avoid potentially offending issues, but to engage them head on, and have the class figure out how we can understand them as sociologists. If my students are uncomfortable then I’m doing something right. That’s how I teach, and that’s why an attack on Patti Adler is an attack on me.

* Actually, I’m much more vulnerable as Patti Adler. I’m an Assistant Professor, and not even remotely as well published or as well known as she is.

Evernote: A Guide for Academics

30 Sep

Whenever I rave about Evernote (which is quite often) I get a lot of questions about how I use it. A lot of people don’t know where to begin or aren’t sure how to get the most out of the application. Maybe an Evernote Guide specifically tailored to how an academic might use Evernote might help demystify this great appl.

I’ve been using Evernote since 2008– early enough in Evernote’s life that I actually have only my first name as my login. I’m not sure why I was such an early adopter. I probably read about it on Lifehacker, and was probably at the stage in my dissertation that having a place to organize digital material seemed useful. And as part of the Great Dissertation Avoidance Plan (doesn’t everyone have one of those?), having a place to save cooking recipes and knitting patterns was also welcome.

So, what is this Evernote thing, anyway? It’s simply an application (for your computer, phone, ipad) where you can save every bit of text you might ever need again. It’s like a filing cabinet, but because it’s a digital one, you can tag and categorize notes in ways that let’s you cross-reference different ideas. And you can search everything in a second, which you definitely can not do with a filing cabinet.

What I love about Evernote:

  • It’s my brain dump for EVERYTHING I want to remember:
    • Articles (or blog posts) clipped from the web that might use for teaching or research.
    • Lists of documentary/film recommendations, reading lists, classroom activity ideas etc. that come from the collective wisdom of the listservs that I’m on.
    • My tenure notes. I keep a list of what I accomplish (committees, panels, writing etc.) during the year as they happen so that I have it all there when it comes to putting together my retention folder.
    • Meeting notes. Whether I’m at conferences, workshops or committee/department meetings, I take notes in Evernote.
    • Personal stuff: Recipes, gift ideas, knitting patterns, medical info etc.
  • Assigning tags to individual notes means you can sort your data in meaningful ways (and then Bubble Browser which I show below is a fun way to look through it).
  • What I clip is saved forever. Online news sources do not keep articles available forever. Web addresses change. Blogs go down. Posts are deleted. When you need to access something bookmarked again, you’re SOL. Evernote saves the entire article or webpage, so you never have to worry about something (even the included images) disappearing ever again.
  • Searching all content (or a selection of content) is fast. Fast enough for me to find what I want and print it out in minutes before class begins!

What I don’t use Evernote for:

  • PDFs. I still find Evernote clunky with these, even though there is OCR. I save my article PDFs in a folder labelled by the author and year of publication.
  • To do lists: I like the Reminders app on my iphone for a to-do list. I do use Evernote for larger project-related lists, like moving across the country, etc.
  • Pictures: I only use Evernote for pictures when they’re inside an article that I’m clipping. Otherwise, I save images for teaching/research that aren’t part of an article in Pinterest.

Getting Started:

  1. Download the application Evernote. Sign up for an account.
    1. The application is free, but you can pay $45/year for more upload space per month. Honestly, I used the application 4 years, nearly every day, and never ran into their upload limit. I just decided to upgrade to “pro” this year to support the application that I love so much.
  2. Install the webclipper extension. This adds a button to your web browser (Firefox, Chrome or Safari) that gives you a way to clip things from the internet.
  3. Open the application on your computer, and create a couple different notebooks. My notebooks are:
    1. Personal Notebook
    2. Sociology Notebook
    3. Retention & Tenure Notebook
    4. Sociology Department Notebook
    5. General Notes
  4. Start clipping, tagging and organizing!
  5. You might want to start with a binge-clipping of things you’ve been saving in other ways (e.g. links and stuff saved in emails). Clip while you watch TV or something, and you’ll have a little database before you know it!

My Evernote Workflow:

When I see an article or blog post online that I like (usually posted to Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and I think I might want to use it in class, or in my research, I click the Elephant icon on my browser.


Here’s what your Evernote clipper probably looks like. You’ll notice on the top left that Evernote also installs an icon in your menu bar which you can use to save text and other desktop notes.

When I clip the Evernote Elephant, a window comes up that gives me a chance to select how the note will be clipped. I have it defaulted to “Simplified Article” which gives you a nice print-friendly version, but you could select “Full Article” for a shot of the entire webpage.

The sidebar also gives you a place to decide what notebook this article should be clipped to, and allows you to assign tags to the article. What I love about Evernote is that the more you use it to save and tag articles, it starts to predict what tags and notebooks are the most appropriate. It knows to put recipes in the “Personal Notebook” and it determines pretty accurately what articles are related to race, gender, education etc.


This is a must-read article, by the way.

Once you’ve set everything, just click “save.”

What Evernote does next is save the article or webpage to your account. You can access it from your installed Evernote application, from, and from an Evernote app on your phone or ipad.

I rely on the Evernote application for finding and retrieving things I’ve clipped. Here’s what mine looks like.


On the left are shortcuts to my notebooks, recent notes, and then the contents of the selected “Sociology” notebook. As you select a note, it shows up in the window on the right, complete with tags, and a link to the original online.

You can also just open up the Evernote application and use it as a word processor, typing your notes right into it while at a meeting or workshop (I do this a lot on my ipad). Or, you can cut/paste information into it from email or someplace else.


Here’s an example of writing a note directly into Evernote. Notice that Evernote starts to relate notes to one another by suggesting similar notes.

Like I said, the more you use Evernote, the better it knows your information. Not only does it suggest notebooks and tags, it suggests related notes. This is very useful if you’re prepping for a specific class, or working through research information.

There are other applications now that interact with Evernote. Bubble Browser is especially fun, and I would love to see it developed further to show the connections between notes in more of a mind map format. Here’s a snapshot of the tags in my Sociology Notebook. You can click on each bubble to drill down to related tags, and then browse to the specific article.


So, that’s pretty much how I use Evernote. My file cabinet is mostly empty and my Evernote is full of useful stuff I can find instantly.

I would love (I’d actually physically jump up and down) to see Evernote include within-note tagging. It seems like Evernote, with it’s amazing tagging prediction and relation tools, is just one step away from allowing users to highlight chunks of different text within a single note and tag it separately. Like NVivo. But so much better, because it’s not clunky like NVivo. With this functionality, Evernote could be an invaluable research tool for qualitative sociologists. Sociologists who study the internet would have an easy way to save entire webpages for analysis, a process that right now for me is a patchwork of tasks that includes downloading multi levels of html files, converting them to pdf or txt and then uploading to NVivo. Imagine if we could skip all that and just clip! Add in the photographic and note-taking capabilities of the ipad and iphone Evernote apps, and you’d have some very happy ethnographers!

Anyway, that’s how I use Evernote. Hopefully this will help  make it an app that’s useful for you!

2 Weeks In: Reviewing & Adjusting My Schedule

20 Sep

We’re now 2 full weeks into the semester, so it seems like a good time to sit down and take stock of where I’m at with following the schedule I outlined a few weeks back.

What’s worked:

  • Having a schedule. Seriously, just mapping out when I’m going to do what (not just appointments and classes) has helped me feel so much more organized and productive. I hung it up in my office and it keeps me more focused during the week.
  • Coming into school an extra day: My new schedule includes coming into school a 4th day (we’re really only required to be on campus 3 days a week). Not only do I have to come in sometimes anyway for meetings, but thinking of Thursday as a full day of work helps keep me productive. If I stayed home, I might be somewhat productive, but I’d be distracted by stuff I needed to do at home.
  • Scheduled writing time: This has been eaten into the last couple weeks (see why below), but knowing that I have set times where I have to write really helps.
  • Scheduled research/reading time: Knowing that I have Fridays to catch up on some errands, and also focus on reading and research has also been great. I plan to do specific tasks those days, and then don’t feel badly about not doing them other days.

What hasn’t worked: 

  • Events: The beginning of the school year always means extra meetings and events (Meet the New Provost! All College Meeting! etc.). These cut into my writing and prep time during the first two weeks. Hopefully there won’t be many of those coming up.
  • Committee Meetings: Yeah, I knew I’d be on committees this year (we’re only exempt from service our first year), but jeez, I wholly underestimated the amount of work involved. I shouldn’t have– I’ve done administrative work before, but I guess I blocked it out. Not only do I have committee meetings, there is work that goes along with those committees (especially since I’m the chair of one). And because I’m still new, there is time spent finding out from other people what I should being doing as chair on said committees, and learning how everything works. In short: I need to schedule in 2 hours a week for committee work and other admin-related paperwork.
  • Club Advisement: As the Soc Club Advisor, I actually have to go to their weekly meetings! So, I’ll add that to the schedule.
  • Running: I’m happy that despite a head cold, and the spell of 90 degree weather, I’ve gotten out for 3 really good runs over this 2 week period. But, the Monday/Wednesday/Friday running schedule isn’t going to work. Mondays is fine. I teach two classes and generally have enough energy when I get home for a run. Wednesdays is impossible. I teach late on Tuesday night, and then teach early Wednesday morning. That’s not an ideal schedule for me anyway because (a) teaching is exhausting, and (b) I’m just not a morning person, but it is what it is. So I’m tired enough to only relax Wednesday night. Running will have to be moved to Thursday. And then another run Saturday, which works out just fine. Regular running = a happy Jan in the Pan!

So, here’s a new schedule for the rest of the semester (Department meetings and Curriculum Committee meetings aren’t actually weekly, thank the goddess, but they’re on here as a good example of interrupted time). All in all, I like the idea of planning things out. I used to be resistant to how rigid this seems, but I think I see now that this is necessary in order to get done all the many different things I have to get done every day. No more multitasking (which we know is a myth, anyway), instead I’m trying to work on one task at a time, in it’s allotted time slot.


Ok, I set up a schedule. Can I actually stick to it?

23 Aug


Inspired by one of my favorite blogs, Get A Life PhD, I decided to actually make a schedule for the semester. It’s not that I’ve never had a schedule before– I’ve always blocked out my teaching, meetings, and office hours for the semester. I do this in Apple’s ical, and then it’s accessible on my computer, iphone, and ipad. So what’s different about this schedule? Well, I actually scheduled in chunks of time for writing, reading/research hours. And running, because, hey, a girl needs to do that. And I’m going to make an effort to stick to these hours, barring any meetings that I can’t avoid (like the department meeting above).

This isn’t a complete schedule. My morning routine is to drink coffee and catch up on email and social media. My brain just isn’t good for anything more than that before 9am. I also didn’t factor in my commute, which is 25 minutes each way. I didn’t include lunch, because unless I venture out of the building to have lunch with a colleague, I usually eat a sandwich at my computer while working. I did leave an hour open before my Tuesday evening class so I have time to not only eat, but venture out to get coffee and clear my head if I need to. Grading is obviously not included and that inevitably eats into evenings and weekends.

In addition to 8 hours of  writing time per week, I included a day for research (data collection, interviews etc.) and for reading articles etc. related to research. I’ll work from home on Friday as doing that stuff from home is ideal. Writing I do better at the office. There is no way I can get any writing or research done on my heavy teaching days (Monday and Wednesday), and that’s just going to have to be OK.

I included time for running 3 days a week (chances are that I’ll go on a long run on the weekend too). Running is key to keeping all these activity going in as non-stressful a way and the afternoon is the perfect time for me to run, come home and have reward beer. I haven’t been able to run much this summer due to an injury (and the heat), so getting back into that routine will be fantastic. Ideally, I’d come home around 4pm each day, go for a run (MWF), then cook a nice dinner and eat with my partner. Cooking and relaxing are just so much a part of daily life for me, I need a schedule that let’s me do that. And in the evenings I’m sure I’ll have to do some emailing and grading, but ideally, I’ll be able to actually relax and watch a good old movie.

So what could go wrong? Well, lots of things. First of all, meetings are going to inevitably cut into chunks of time. I’m on more committees this year and have more commitments. I can’t do anything about that, although I can say “no” more, which I did just do for the first time. Tuesday and Thursday are also potential issues. I am good about getting into school for teaching (the professor has to make it to class– no matter how close she cuts it), but in the past I have not been good about getting into school to just work. I’m likely to spend too much time in the morning in my PJs, unaware of the time, and then lazily run errands on my way to school, stop for lunch etc. Notice what I wrote there? “Just work.” Well, writing, we know, is work and isn’t “just” anything. I think if I actually put this time in the same mental category as any other appointment, that will help. And my partner knows about it, so she can prod me to follow my schedule.

Another potential problem is that during those writing times, I’ll get side tracked by emails, the fascinating internets etc. The only way that works for me in terms of focusing, is to use the Pomodoro technique and a timer. I have a timer app on my computer, but I’m not adverse to buying a plain old kitchen timer for my office. Knowing I can work for 15 minutes (with ticking in the background– helps to distract me from my tinnitus) and then quickly check FB really works for me.

If this schedule works, then I’ll be productive, and I’ll have time to relax and have a life.

I need some incentive, though. If I can get through September, following this schedule (minus meetings), then I need to do something as a reward. I can’t think of what that is, though. Maybe a nice meal out and a movie?

Current Goal: To Be Deliberate, and Afraid of Nothing.

12 Jan

31243791135917738_KrKqVNZ1Right now I don’t even feel like I know what my research is about. God forbid someone ask me. Well, not really. I mean sure, I do know what my research is about. But sometimes I don’t feel like I have a reign on it– I over think it, or I spend some days away from it trying to get prepped for the semester that begins Monday. Monday? Yikes! Since I’ve worked every single day (other than Christmas and New Year’s) since the break started, I’m not even going to count this as a break.

Anyway, here’s what do I need to do to “take back” my research agenda:

  • Get back to writing every day. The “break”, visits from friends and family (which was so wonderful and needed), prepping for new classes etc. has gotten me out of the habit.
  • Ease into that by finishing up a blog post related to my research.
  • Order some books from the library related to my current research and devour them. There’s nothing like a stack of books and a bunch of notes to get me all excited (yes, I’m a dork) and remind me of why I do what I do.
  • Review my job application material, and finish my retention essay on my research agenda.

I love starting a new semester. Even if I’m not buying new school supplies anymore, there’s so much newness— new students, new classes, fresh starts, new goals. So far my semester goals are:

  1. Finish up my retention package and hand that in next week.
  2. Review new literature and finish a draft of Article #1. I’m trying to fit it into a slightly newish sub-field for me, so I have to figure out what kind of contribution it’s going to make to that sub-field.
  3. Work on Article #2. Decide which journal it is best suited for. Bring in new data that I started analyzing last semester.
  4. Write a short piece for the highly accessible magazine-like journal in my field.
  5. Import my data into Dedoose and learn how to use it. I don’t anticipate much of a learning curve, though. I’m official giving up on NVivo. Good riddance.

And I have a few general teaching goals:

  1. No paper. I’ve set up my courses in Schoology and will stop accepting paper assignments.
  2. Not to let grading get the best of me.
  3. To actually stay a week ahead of my students in terms of readings. Posting discussion questions for each reading will force me to do this.
  4. To give my students (and myself) a daily sense of where we are in the class, what’s next, and how things fit into the larger picture. Last semester I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants (maybe because I was?), and I don’t like that feeling.

All in all, I think those are reasonable goals. My very astute partner just pointed out that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself about the time it takes me to adapt. We’ve done 2 very large moves in 2 years, and I’ve had to adjust to two different jobs, schools, colleagues, students, commutes, grocery stores, etc. And adjusting takes time and energy.

This semester my one goal is that I am going to be deliberate. And afraid of nothing.

Rethinking Taken-for-Granted Teaching Practices I

5 Jan

As it turns out, our semester starts a week from Monday! Yikes! Where did the break go?

I need to finish one new syllabus, and rework one for a class I taught last semester (I’m using a new book for that one, so I have to rework the readings as well). I woke up in the middle of the night thinking that maybe I’m taking some parts of my teaching style for granted, and not interrogating whether or not they’re worth it or meet a useful goal.

Online posting, for example.

I’ve used for the last few semesters as a place to organize course material, share links with my students, and require online discussion posts. It’s been revolutionary in the classroom, but the more they change the interface, the less I like it.

What I like about online discussions:

  • Students who never/rarely speak in class get to show what they’re thinking about. Some students really excel in this.
  • Students can post links to videos and articles that contribute to the course.
  • I can share links with students that I can’t assign for reading and don’t have time to use in the classroom.
  • Online literacy is important. Participating professionally in an online space is a necessary skill.
  • Organizing the course someone other than the syllabus (a piece of paper some students obviously misplace) is helpful.
  • Online paper submission. I really want to ONLY deal with electronic papers this semester. I can’t stand (a) having some emailed papers, some online papers, and a bunch of paper papers, and (b) piles of papers all over my desk.

What I’m not sure about:

  • Required posting each week gives students 1 more thing to have to do. Unless I link it more to class, or make the requirements easier for students, it’s a pain for them. 
  • Using Lore has been a pain this semester– they changed what was a simple interface and made it needlessly complicated. Toward the end of the semester, they made some changes to bring back the simplicity, but my students were already thrown.
  • Using Lore (or something similar) is a learning curve for students. It takes time to teach them, and I probably need to spend more time in the classroom doing so. I suppose they already know Blackboard, but I hate it, and they generally hate it as well.
  • If I am only going to accept papers online this semester, I need an easy way for students to submit them. Lore has been needlessly complicated, and I’m thinking dropbox submission, or Google Docs, might be the way to go for simplicity’s sake (and learning either is a good job skill).
  • If I go with a different website, like Schoology, then I have to learn it. This coming week. But the nice thing about Schoology is it’s like before they made it too complicated, and it integrates with Dropbox and Google Docs.
  • Or I could try to embrace Blackboard. But I already know I hate it, and I know it’s needlessly complicated for my purposes.

Maybe the solution is to:

  1. To use Schoology this semester. Try it out this week, and spend time teaching it to my classes this semester.
  2. Instead of mandatory free posts (i.e. the requirement that they have to post once a week, anything related to course material), I could given them a directed post/discussion question each week to respond to. They are also free to post anything else related to the course, but they have more direction in terms of what is required from them.
  3. Only take electronic papers from students submitted through Dropbox or Google Docs. No exceptions. Hopefully this will help the paper load.
  4. Use online posts more in the classroom.

It’s Mid November? Notes from 2+ Months on the Tenure Track

17 Nov

Suddenly it’s mid-November? I don’t know what happened to October. The month was lost in a flurry of emails, teaching, grading, meetings, and trying to get my car to pass emissions inspection. Now it’s nearly Thanksgiving, and I’m starting to reflect on the semester as a whole, while I struggle to get done everything that needs to be done. So many times during the last couple months I’ve thought “oh, I need to blog about this” and then never have the time. The closest I came to “blogging” was a long and overdue “catching up” email to my advisor. Maybe I should just cut/paste that here.

Here’s a smattering of observations and experiences from the last semester:

  • Being tenure track is awesome. It’s just as awesome as I always thought it would be. I feel welcomed at my new school. I feel like I have dozens of new mentors. It’s really fantastic. Actually, yesterday, I felt so much warmth toward my new school, that I almost went into the bookstore and bought a school sweatshirt. I’ve never owned a college sweatshirt (I only own a t-shirt from where I went to grad school) so this seems strangely significant to me.
  • Another part of my new school that’s fantastic is the diversity of the campus. I really, really, appreciate that students, staff and faculty come from so many different backgrounds and experiences. The diversity in my classroom contributes to what we’re able to discuss and learn together.
  • Teaching has been an adjustment, but not a terribly difficult one. Thank goodness that the workshops I attended before classes began helped me get ready for the classroom. I’ve had to rework what I do during class time. I almost spend less time prepping outside of class, and more time listening to my students and thinking in the classroom. My classes are much more interactive, and I’m always thinking on my feet about what I can do differently or use as an example to make a concept clearer. Yes, there are new struggles in terms of getting students to do reading, and make it to class (busy work schedules and long commutes) but they are realistic problems and I’m figuring out how not to let that distract from what we can learn in the classroom.
  • We’ve had some obstacles this semester. The most obvious has been a lost week+ of class time due to Hurricane Sandy. I’ve had to be even more flexible with my syllabus, with deadlines, and have had to make some painful cuts to readings. But, we’ve also been able to have some great discussions about the unequal impact of the hurricane on different areas and segments of the population.
  • After the hurricane we lost power for a week. Thank goodness we live in an apartment with a gas stove and gas hot water heater, so we didn’t suffer too much, although being without internet was difficult to say the least. I couldn’t get to all of my academic books on campus, so instead I read the pile of academic advice books I had here at home (it was either that or get hopelessly lost in a bunch of mysteries). By the light of my headlamp, I ended up reading:
    • Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom by John Bean. I got this one at the writing workshop this summer, but hadn’t had a chance to read it yet. It’s definitely going to be the only teaching book sitting on my desk for a while. Engaging Ideas is chock full of practical, writing-focused teaching ideas. Using it, I drafted some grading rubrics, and constructed a peer evaluation worksheet that we used in class last week.
    • Preparing for Promotion, Tenure, and Annual Review: A Faculty Guide by Robert Diamond. This one was included in the tenure materials given to my by my new school, so it seemed to be an important read. It’s actually quite useful, and I made a ton of notes on what I can include in my retention packet, and prepare for my future tenure dossier.
    • The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions by Seldin, Miller, and Seldin. Another one that my school gave me when I started. This book has lots of concrete examples and will be very helpful when putting together my teaching materials. I also appreciated the focus on being up to date on pedagogy for your discipline– definitely something that I enjoy, and that matters to the school.
    • Finally, I got around to reading Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing by Robert Boice. Boice is the author of Advice for New Faculty, a book which was so revolutionary for me when I read it in grad school that I still keep it by the side of my bed (not kidding). I consider to be sort of a bible for my academic career. Professors as Writers is less philosophical than Advice for New Faculty and very action-oriented. I’m now toying with the idea of waking up a little earlier to do some writing first thing every morning instead of trying to fit it in during the day. While I am not, and will never be, a morning runner (that’s for the evening), I could write for a while with coffee in my PJs. Maybe even before checking my email or Facebook. More on this in another post!
  • It’s a good thing I read all that stuff on retention and promotion during The Great Blackout of 2012, because it turns out I have my first retention packet due in early January! It’s been described to me as “another job application” in terms of professional content (but not in the sense that they don’t keep us– they very much want to work to keep each of us). Thankfully, colleagues have already offered to read drafts of personal statements, and to loan me their retention packets to look at. Here’s what I’m working on for the three areas (weighed equally at my school):
      1. Scholarship: Since we just started, they don’t expect a lot here. I have an article I am planning to send out before the end of the semester. I’m also working on a book review, and a submission for a national conference. Additionally, the contributions I make to a well-known blog count as scholarship. And my participation in the interdisciplinary faculty writing group counts as ongoing commitment to scholarship.
      2. Service: First year faculty are technically exempt from serving on committees, but I was asked to serve on the GLBT Advisory Board and happily accepted. I’m serving as a mentor to an at-risk student on campus. I am also the social media guru for a national organization, which counts as service to a wider community.
      3. Teaching: In our first semester they definitely want to make sure we’re doing well in the classroom and adjusting to new teaching challenges. In this section I expect to talk a lot about the adjustments I’ve already made and what I plan to change in the future. Mid-semester evaluations show that my students are happy with my classes, and the fact they’re asking me what I am teaching next semester leads me to believe I’m doing well. We also do regular peer teaching evaluations. I completed one for an adjunct, and I’ve had 3 colleagues observe my courses. The feedback has been incredibly positive and helpful. I love the fact that the goal is really for all of us to help each other succeed as teachers, and as scholars.

All in all, it’s been a great semester so far. Provided I can make it through all the grading ahead, prep a new syllabus for a spring class, and put together a good retention packet, I should be just fine. I appreciate that a mid-year retention packet helps me think through where I’m at, and goals for the upcoming months.

Really, though, my big goal right now is just to land an office with a window!

Bringing More Writing into the Classroom & Making My Job Easier!

1 Sep

Life has been too busy for blogging! I’ve spent the last two weeks at orientations and workshops at my new institution. I can’t accurately describe how impressed I am with this particular institution’s commitment to teaching, writing, critical thinking, social justice and public education. I met a lot of new colleagues, had wonderful conversations, found lots of like-minded people, and have already learned a ton. It’s truly inspiring and I can’t wait to start teaching this coming week.

The first workshop I attended was an intensive 3 day Writing Across the Curriculum workshop, and the second was a Diversity and Social Justice workshop. Both were fantastic, and I’ll talk about the WAC workshop in this post.

Even though I firmly believe writing is a great way for students to both think through issues, and learn to express themselves clearly, I’ve only ever used formal writing assignments in my classes. I’ve never actually had students “free write” or write short thought pieces that wouldn’t be graded. I’ve never just started a class by having students write down their thoughts and questions– and what a wonderful way to generate discussion! It seems so obvious, why didn’t I do it before?

And I’ve always had issues with grading. Yes, I’m confessing that I’ve always *hated* grading. I avoid it. I assign too much writing to begin with. When I do grade papers, once the guilt has gotten to be too much, I love reading students’ thoughts and helping them develop ideas, but I’m always overwhelmed with what kind of, and how much, feedback to give. I either give too many comments, or too few. And since I’m not a firm believer in letter grades, giving a letter grade always ends up feeling arbitrary. I end up thinking I am too harsh in giving comments, and too easy a grader. Why? Well, part of this struggle comes from never being taught how to grade! We’re not really taught to teach in grad school (at least not in my PhD program), and we’re definitely not taught how to give written feedback.

Now all that’s changed. In just 3 days I feel empowered to have students write, and I have direction when it comes to grading!

Here are the major takeaway points I took from the workshop:

  • The difference between writing to learn and writing to communicate. Duh! This one should be so obvious, but it was a revelation for me. I can work writing to learn exercises into my daily classes (to get students to think about the readings before discussion, to get students to tell me the key points, or questions they have etc.). Writing to learn doesn’t get the same feedback as writing to communicate. I can collect it and count it as completed, or not collect it at all. More learning, and less time giving feedback!
  • Free writing in class can be structured in the sense that it can walk students through good practices. Like how to form a good paragraph, how to make an argument, how to think through both sides of an issue, or how to evaluate evidence versus opinion. Structured free writing can also have students walk through Bloom’s Taxonomy for a certain concept or word. And, it doesn’t have to be graded! Students self-evaluate in class!
  • Graded assignments are the writing to communicate part (although, of course all writing is writing to learn). Assignments need to be both very simple to follow and very clear about expectations. Define terms like “thesis statement,” “compare and contrast,” “analyze,” etc. either in the assignment or in class.
  • Rubrics aren’t bad. I always dismissed rubrics because I didn’t love the idea of assigning set points to various criteria. Grading is more holistic than that for me. But, now I realize I can have a rubric of √+, √ and √- and not worry about attaching points that influence the final grade. Huzzah!
  • The grading advice was the most mind blowing part of the workshop. You don’t have to comment on/correct everything that’s wrong with a paper! In fact, if you do, it will take you an hour to do it and the student will probably cry. Instead, we learned from the education professor in the class how she used to grade 4th graders. Pick 1-2 issues per paper to comment on and work with the student on. Only 1 or 2 issues per paper! So, things like clarity, organization, run-on sentences, thesis statement, argument etc. And when a student has serious issues, or something that might be hard to explain in comments, just ask to meet with them! Going over things in person is sometimes so much faster and easier.

Although I received a ton of good advice at the workshop, both from the facilitators and from colleagues, these are the things that immediately changed the way I will teach this semester. More writing to learn, less time spent grading stuff that will overwhelm the students anyway.

And we all got a copy of a fantastic book, Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom by John C. Bean. I’ve already devoured it, and highly recommend it.

Back to School: Dreaming of Cardigan Weather

19 Aug

I’m probably not the only academic that loves back to school. I look forward to seeing the school supplies in stores. And I love late summer when the nights start to get slightly cooler. I start to dream of cardigan weather.

When I was a kid, I chose my school supplies with a tremendous amount of thought and care, and then I organized them thoroughly in my new book bag, ready for the first day. I developed my own system of organizing early on– color coding notebooks, folders, and binders for each subject. I labeled everything. I was probably the only kid to arrive at college with a three hole punch (that I still have), hole protectors, a full sized stapler, and colored hanging file folders.

Now, I don’t buy anything for back to school. There isn’t a need to do so. I don’t use notebooks, or binders, or paper. Everything is electronic– on my macbook or ipad. I use the same shoulder bag. I get pens from the department. Instead I organize digitally for the new school year. And it sort of feels the same, I guess. Minus the smell of new notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils.

Here’s what I’ve been busy doing to get ready for the new school year (in addition to creating the syllabi):

  • I created a Dropbox folder for the semester (Fall 2012), and a subfolder for each course.
  • I create shortcuts for those folders and stash them in my mac’s sidebar, and on the desktop of both computers.
  • Within each folder, I create subfolders: (1) Lectures (each lecture document and keynote presentation is dated– like 1104.doc and 1104.key), (2) Images (even though this is less needed now that I organize all my images into Pinterest), (3) Readings, (4) Assignments, (5) Resources, and (6) Handouts.
  • I go through my Evernote library for related material for each course, and either assign them as readings, or add them to my Resources or Handouts folders (documentaries, class activities etc.).
  • I search for videos related to my courses on Youtube, and save them to the Youtube playlists I have set up for each course.
  • I search for images related to my courses, and save them to the appropriate Pinboards on Pinterest.
  • I set up for each course– complete with assignments, calendar, and resources.
  • Once I have a set roster (which doesn’t happen until the second week), I set up each class in Gradebook Pro on my ipad. If I have student photos, I’ll add those. It’s the easiest way for me to learn names and take attendance each day.
  • I do create a physical folder for each class. Just a plain old manilla folder. In it goes the roster, and a copy of the syllabi. And reading material for each class. That’s all I carry with me each day.

Once I’ve done all that, I feel ready to dive into the daily grind of the semester! While there may not be a place for color coding any more, at least I have everything organized digitally before I even begin the semester.

You might notice that a lot of my prep is public. I readily share images for my classes on Pinterest, and I create public lists of videos I use in Youtube. Why? Because my teaching benefits from collective know online, and I feel good about contributing to that collective knowledge myself.

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