Tuesday, March 24, 2009

CVs move into the digital age

Wordle: my cv wordleYesterday on my commute home I was listening to NPR's All Tech Considered. They were discussing how resumes and vitae have moved into the digital age. More and more companies are using not only websites meant for job postings, such as Monster.com, but also social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to learn about their employees or potential hires. Already, academia is not far behind. There have been many conversations on campus and in the blogs and lists I follow about e-portfolios, both for students and faculty.

Making your CV available online can have many advantages. If you are currently seeking work, it allows potential employers (including headhunters) to search for you on the internet. Even if you are currently employed, having your CV online is a great way for students and collaborators to learn more about you. Indeed, many of us already have our own web pages (contact your department to find out how you can get your own).

But of course, there are also downfalls to being online. You may have read in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how a professor at Dartmouth put her foot in her mouth on Facebook (you can read the article here). Tech faux pas such as these are becoming known as "Cisco Fatties", after a woman "tweeted" herself out of a "fatty paycheck" at Cisco (read about it here). Apparently, students and employers can view not only the amazing, impressive items you post, but also the devastatingly stupid.

So a word to the wise - as you venture out into the world wide web, keep in mind that, for better or worse, you are being watched.

Did you know?

The graphic used in this post is an electronically created visual cloud of my own CV, created using wordle. Find out more about wordle, and make your own, at http://www.wordle.net/.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Copyrights and wrongs

When starting this blog, I wanted to use images to give you something pretty to look at in addition to something to read and think about. My first instinct was to search the internet for images and copy them to the blog. Instead, I started searching the internet for articles on fair use and copyright.

Trying to muddle through all of the legalese and complicated issues became more than I could handle, so I contacted Allyson Mower, the U's Copyright Librarian. Allyson pointed me to 2 great resources that made it much easier to understand what I can and cannot do both on the blog and in my classroom. One is Know Your Copy Rights, where you can download their informational brochure "What You Can Do", or the handy 1-page chart that breaks down what you can do with written and audio-visual resources in face-to-face classrooms and online classes.

Allyson also pointed me to one of several sites that now exist where you can find images that you can post or modify without the need to ask permission. Many images can be found on Flickr - just use the "Advanced Search" option and click the box for "Creative Commons-licensed content". You can learn more about the Creative Commons on their website. If you use their search tool, you can simultaneously find images, video, and music. Just be sure to check out the different types of licenses, as they limit what you can and cannot do with the content you find.

(Luckily, the artist who created the image above gave her permission for others to distribute it. You can see more of Roberta Murray's work here.)

I think that incorporating images and other media into my teaching (and my blogging) enriches the experience for everyone, and helps me to reach people with different learning styles. Learning how to do this without violating the rights of the artists and scholars who have produced this work can become complicated in the "digital age" when everything seems to be just a click away. I'm very grateful that we have resources like Allyson to help us - both as creators and consumers of media content.

University of Utah faculty, staff, and students who would like to contact Allyson with questions about copyright issues can reach her at allyson.mower@utah.edu

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Are they really studying?

The strangest and most unexpected thing happened in my class last week. Let me catch you up to speed:

Some of my students have been complaining because they have to write short answer questions on my exams, in addition to multiple choice. They say that there's not enough time, that the questions take to long to read, that they can't figure out what it is I really want them to say. So one of my brighter students, who happens to have trouble taking exams, suggested that I share the short answer questions with the class ahead of time.

I thought about it, and talked to some colleagues who reported that even when giving students the questions ahead of time, the distribution ends up being about the same. I decided it wouldn't hurt anyone, but thoguht I should let the students discuss it so they could feel like they were part of the process. I just assumed that everyone would think it was a great idea and vote it in.

Boy, was I wrong.

We ended up having a heated debate that I had to cut off lest it eat up too much class time (I let them finish their discussion through an anonymous discussion thread on WebCT). Although several students responded as I had expected, I hadn't predicted the number who would be totally against the idea. They argued that they had been studying hard and doing well. They stated that the point of college is to learn, and to develop the skills needed to identify what's important about a topic. They felt that it was totally reasonable to be expected to think on their feet. They didn't want everything handed to them. And they challenged their classmates, asking them if they were really studying at all.

I opened up an anonymous poll using the survey tool (found under assessments) on WebCT. I thought that maybe those against the idea were just the loudest, and that maybe other students were afraid to ask for help. But I was surprised again. So far, the clear majority of votes are against having the questions available ahead of time.

Although the polls are not yet closed, I'm heartened by the unexpected results thus far. I'm proud of my students who don't want everything handed to them and actually want to think and learn. I'm also really glad that I let my students in on this process rather than making the decision for them. Regardless of what the end result ends up being, this has been a learning experience for us all.

Friday, March 13, 2009

In the spring, an instructor's fancy lightly turns to...

...thoughts of the next semester.

Although many of you probably won't be teaching again until the Fall, I am starting to think about preparing my class for this summer, in addition to the two classes (one a new prep) that I will be teaching in the Fall semester. Getting ready to teach a course to a new group of students, even if it is one I've been teaching for almost a decade (!), is both exciting and overwhelming. I start to madly make lists of all the things I want to change, what worked and what didn't, what students said in their evaluations of the course...

Then I take a breath and think - "Okay, what are the objectives of this course?"

Well-defined course objectives always help me make those tough decisions about what material to include and what to cut (which can be hard, because there's so much neat stuff I'd like to talk about! And shouldn't my students have the benefit of my many years of experience all wrapped up into one semester?!). Then I can move on to creating learning objectives for each lesson. This helps me decide between all the different, exciting new activities I've learned about over the past year and want to try. After all, I could use the latest, greatest new technology or the most clever approach to group work ever and have it fall completely flat because I didn't think carefully enough about the purpose it was supposed to be serving. What was the objective here? What were students supposed to get out of this, and did they understand how playing tiddly winks related to cognitive development in early childhood, or did they just have fun?

The one thing that I always try to keep in mind when creating learning objectives is that in the end they aren't really my goals, they are what I'd like my students to be able to do once they leave my classroom. They should be manageable, measurable, and action-oriented.

By manageable, I mean that I need to be careful to identify only a few objectives that can be reasonably met within the lesson or over the course of the semester. For the course as a whole, I aim for 3-5 broader objectives. Within each lesson, I try not to have any more than 3 objectives, and even then it can be hard to really feel like students have covered more than one by the end of a 50-minute session. If I've done my job right, the lesson objectives over the course of the semester should "add up" to the broader course objectives come the end.

By measurable, I mean that I should be able to assess when students have met the objectives through exams, assignments, class discussion, etc. Hopefully, students will also be able to assess their own learning, by at least being able to judge what they do and do not know about the subject at hand. So objectives worded as "The students will appreciate..", or "This course will help you understand..." don't really lend themselves to measurement. They're not specific enough. What does the student have to do to demonstrate his appreciation, or her understanding?

This is why learning objectives should be action-oriented. This means that the student knows what they should be able to DO once the lesson or course is over. For example, one of the objectives of my current course is "Students should be able to apply developmental concepts to real-world examples." To meet this course objective, in class I ask them to do things like watch a Nanny 911 video and identify the parenting style and likely long-term outcomes for the kids, or after learning about the invincibility fallacy in adolescence, generate examples of behaviors they participated in as teens that demonstrate this concept. So my lesson objectives in these examples include "You will be able to identify parenting styles and discuss their likely outcomes" and "You will be able to define "invincibility fallacy" and generate examples that illustrate your definition."

Thanks to the use of these types of learning objectives, my students feel better prepared because they know what is expected of them - they are able to focus their reading or attention in class. On my recent mid-term evaluation, they said things like: "The course is really easy to follow.", "She provides very informative lectures and also does a good job in explaining key aspects of the lecture.", and "I also think that the opening slides "by the end of this class you should..." really help to set clear objectives...I feel that I have a really good grasp on the information and material".

Did you know?

CTLE recently gave a workshop on creating lesson plans and learning objectives. If you weren't able to attend, the video of the workshop will be available soon on our website.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Efficient Teaching

As I wait to hear the final word on the latest round of budget cuts, it's become quite clear that no matter what happens, we're all going to have to find ways to teach more efficiently. Some of us will likely be teaching more classes per semester, with more students, but with less support and prep time. How can we manage this increased workload without sacrificing the quality of instruction - or our sanity?

One thing that I'll be doing more of now that time (and money) is tighter is taking advantage of online tools that speed up some of the more mundane teaching tasks. I'm already using WebCT/Blackboard Vista to have students submit written work and return it to them. This practice has helped me to avoid the time it takes to collect and return work in class, and has reduced the amount of paper wasted in the process. I'm likely going to begin administering exams this way as well, which will reduce the time it takes to scan response sheets for multiple choice questions, and will allow me to easily review and grade the answers to other types of questions. Plus, many types of questions can be set to auto-grade!

I also plan to take greater advantage of the teaching resources that are sent to me (for free!) by the publishers of the textbooks I use. I've found that the quality of these supplements has greatly improved over the past few years, and the multimedia packages that are often included have allowed me to not only cut the time it takes to prep material, but also provides an engaging way to present it. Students in my classes seem to love the videos, and it's certainly the only way I can get big name researchers to "guest lecture" in my classes.

I'm also making greater use of the teaching resources that are made available through the major associations in my discipline (for me, it's the APA). Most of these types of associations provide resources for instructors and ways for instructors to share materials with one another. Especially when prepping a new class, I find it helps to see how someone else has covered the same material - it can provide a great starting place for your own lesson.

What do you do to reduce prep time or otherwise make your teaching more efficient? Please share your ideas!

*The image used in this post was created by Hobvias Sudoneighm.