Sunday, January 27, 2019

Tidying Up - Academic Style

After one episode of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, I was hooked. Having filled the trunk of my car numerous times for drop off at the donation station, I began to translate the concepts to our careers as academics. How can we tidy up our professional lives as well?

My takeaways from the show on Netflix (she also has books you can read) have been to take stock and evaluate everything systematically. Does it bring you joy? Do you want to take it into the future?

With your clothing, Marie asks you to make a giant pile on your bed. You are then visually confronted with all of the clothes you own. If we did this will all of our service efforts, I bet we would be confronted with a similar shock and awe. How long have you been on that particular committee? Is it time for a change for you, and the committee? What service brings you joy? I know colleagues who have worked with department heads to better streamline their service efforts.

Pile of clothes
Imagine this pile of clothes is your research agenda, service activities, curriculum offerings,
or books from your office. How do we tidy up our professional lives?
For research efforts, keep a spreadsheet of what articles you have in play, from the idea stage to the submission process, and periodically update this. Are you selecting topics that fulfill your research agenda and areas of interest, or do you get pulled into projects that only half-light your fire? Tidying up may mean pushing that hard-to-finish project out the door or saying goodbye to a manuscript that is a no-go.

Oh the books! Some people flipped out when Marie said 30 books is about right for her. Do we need the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th edition of that desk copy textbook? Are those the books I want to take with me into the future?

I realize we need to keep student papers and some records for a set amount of time, but where I tend to find bulk is multiple copies of a handout stuffed in a folder. Digitize it, or make a master-copy binder with clear protector sleeves, and recycle the extras. For student work product and tests your institution wants you to keep until a certain date, place them in a folder with a destroy date front and center. On that date, destroy it!

Curriculum should be on the tidy up list, too, to keep us current and offering what students today and tomorrow need. Try using a prop to represent each course you teach in your department. Place it on the conference room table and go through them one at a time, without considering the professor who LOVES to teach that course. What purpose does the course fulfill? Could it be updated or re-tooled? Does it fit your department's goals and the university's mission?

I have just started my tidying up, and would love to hear your thoughts on applying Marie Kondo's principles to academia.





Thursday, November 15, 2018

Proud moments: Grad students shine at SWECJMC

I'm super proud of our graduate students who presented at SWECJMC in Denver. You'd never know it was their first presentations as academics. Here's the university's news article. It's always fun to catch up with colleagues at SWECJMC. Think about joining us in New Orleans next year!

SWECJMC picture
Tarleton State Grad Students on the MSU-Denver campus
while presenting at SWECJMC. Photo by Dr. Shearon Roberts. 



Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Follow-up: Encouraging Students to Jump In

Great news! Two of our Tarleton graduate students who "jumped in" and submitted papers to the Southwest Education Council for Journalism and Mass Communication were accepted! It's nice to see their hard work acknowledged and the opportunity before them to learn from colleagues at other institutions and network at their first academic conference this November.

Congrats to Devynn Case for her ethics case study titled, "The tribe has spoken OUT: Survivor, transgender issues, and the Ubuntu approach," and to Logan Case for his research project titled, "Ratemyprofessors.com: Gender differences in student descriptions of professors."

Program screenshot

Program screenshot

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Conference season: Encouraging students to jump in

Lately, I've been spending energy encouraging our graduate students to submit their work to academic conferences. Simply saying, "It's good for you and your career" is not a persuasive sell when students have so many other responsibilities vying for their attention and travel can be a financial strain.

Here is a list of reasons attending a conference as a graduate student (or undergraduate!!!) is a good idea. Please feel free to add:
  1. Scope - You will see your academic field as a larger entity. We get used to our bubbles on campus. Your department is your world right now, but go to a conference and you will see how small that viewpoint can be.
  2. Standings - Many times, I have very humble students who don't think they qualify or can compete on a larger stage. I am always so proud when they try, and realize, yes, I am as good (or better) than that student from a Research I institution. I've had undergraduate students rock presentations where they were the only undergrads at the conference. I've had master's students presenting at conferences surprised to meet doctoral students from top universities who reported being too nervous to attempt a presentation. 
  3. Energy and Excitement - You will be surrounded by people passionate about your field. It's hard not to let that enthusiasm motivate you to something bigger. One student was so excited by all of the research he heard, that he exclaimed, "Dr. Maben, research is fun!" I wish he had come to that observation during my class...but it *is* fun to see what others are researching. Sometimes, the reboot is exactly what you needed during the semester.
  4. Real People - I laugh when students tell me that Dr. So-in-so is actually a funny person when you go to conferences with her/him. I myself still fan-girl a bit when I see a researcher I have quoted in publications. Researchers and professors are REAL people. You can meet that citation you've been writing over and over, or get to know your own institution's professors better.
  5. Extra Mileage  - You've gone to a LOT of work to write that paper or conduct that research. Get the most mileage out of it by presenting at a conference and then use the feedback to fine-tune the project for possible publication. In my master's program, I didn't think my work was good enough to present. Dirty secret: Yes, much of your work is presentable. Work with your professors to take a project from class-ready to conference-ready. This is another great way to get individualized help from your professors. Just think, down the road, you might be conducting research together as peers.
  6. Ambassadors - By presenting at conferences, you are showing off your program and school. This is a commodity in the academic world. 
So, now you're interested in going. Let your professors know. They can help identify student-friendly conferences and how to submit a quality product. Your university will likely have money to help send you to conference (see no. 6). I have yet to hear students say that going to a conference was a mistake.

What selling point has worked best in your efforts to encourage (or cajole) students to attend conferences?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Mini-conference: Easy class transformation

Transforming your classroom into a mini-conference takes a bit of planning, but it's well worth the effort. For my graduate ethics course, I have been slowly adding more conference-like attributes each semester. You could do this for almost any level of course, with any student presentations. Students can get an introduction to conferences in a low stakes environment.

Our conference was Ethics beyond Utilitarianism: 2018 Case Study Conference, where panels of four students presented their cases in 5-8 minutes, with about 15 minutes left for Q&A.

Transforming Class into a Conference Experience
Explain conference-style - Students may have no point of reference for "conference-style" so you will need to educate them about expectations for your field. Beforehand, I shared videos (through our learning management system) from our national conference to help set the stage. This is where you can share valuable tips like using your phone's timer to monitor your own time while presenting, checking the room's technology before your session, and having your presentation loaded on the presentation computer before the panel begins.

Room organization - If you're lucky enough to be in a room where furniture moves, organize your tables for a panel presentation in the front with audience-style seating for attendees.

Program - Ask students for the names/topics of their papers or presentations ahead of time. Work those into a program with three or four students on a panel. Print hard copies of the programs to hand out as students enter the conference.

Roles - Seek volunteers for moderators and discussants — or assign these conference duties to students interested in attending other conferences. Add their names/roles to the program. Remember to give students a short primer about these roles and expectations. Explain the role of the audience to ask questions, and when and how to do that.

Publicity -  Advertise your mini-conference to your department head, colleagues and other classes meeting at the same time. Outside attendees can make it feel more like a conference, and students can share their findings with a larger audience.

Debrief - Be sure to explain the conference experience after each panel finishes. You are essentially using your class as a conference simulation. We talked about how to facilitate networking following your presentation, adding your social handles to your presentation or nametag, how to handle wonky questions from the audience, and the awkwardness of being in front of the crowd while the other panelists present.

Individual feedback - After the conference, I emailed individual feedback to each panelist.

In the future, I want to incorporate live video feeds and answering questions from virtual attendees. My hope is that more students will consider submitting their work to a conference because they have had a small taste of the experience.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What to do when the magic isn't there

Have you ever had a class that just wasn't clicking? I started this post in a different semester and waited to hit publish. For some reason, something was amiss. Instead of writing it off, I decided there is always time for a turnaround.

Before the semester spirals away, here are suggestions:
  1. Don't panic. All is not lost. So many factors are at play in our courses. Not every course in every semester will be magical.
  2. Talk to a colleague, preferably a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) fan. Your campus center for instructional innovation or teaching excellence likely has resources or mentors you could tap for inspiration. We mistakenly think of teaching as a solo mission. Others have been there and done that. Reach out and ask.
  3. Survey your students. Surprise! Your students may be feeling the disconnect, too. I use a three question anonymous online survey. Q1: What do you like about our class. Q2: What would you change? Q3: What else would you like to add? My students have thanked me for even thinking to ask them.
  4. Make notes so you don't end up in the same situation again. A colleague marks up the syllabus with ideas for the next semester. I love this idea! Do yourself a favor and keep a record. You'll thank yourself as you plan for future semesters.
  5. Take a look at yourself. Brace yourself for this...it might not just be the students. It could be something going on with you. Or maybe your class radar is a bit off. Are you getting burned out on that particular course? Is it time to infuse new techniques or learn something yourself? Professional development opportunities abound.
  6. Make changes. I don't think it's ever too late in the semester for interventions.
How did my class turnout? After surveying my students, I found that my perceptions of the course tanking were not as dire as I thought. See No. 5. Student perceptions were that the course was rocking along, with only a few small changes mentioned. With that panic behind me (see No. 1), I worked to incorporate student suggestions from the survey into our course design.