Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A semester in review

In my classes, I typically ask students to reflect at the end of the semester. Sometimes I hand back the first-day assignment and other times I challenge them to list everything they learned in the semester. What did they learn about themselves and what inspiration did they find this semester? It could simply be the revelation that they didn't like a certain aspect of public relations. This goes beyond the course learning objectives and regular course evaluations. If I believe it's good for them, then I should follow my own advice.

Reflections from this semester

1) Nap time is a great time for writing. While the toddler sleeps, I feel the urgency to work as efficiently as I can. I worked on two new research projects and three revise and resubmits. So far in 2017, I have added three publications to the vitae. I should have been doing this before the kiddo came along!!!

2) Class size makes a difference. In retrospect, I should have changed how I handle our graduate ethics class when it moved beyond the 10 students I had last time. Each night, we had so many peer presentations to jam into our time together that I fear class became predictable and routine.

3) Expect a lot. I'm a believer in setting expectations high and helping our students get there. And they will. Our grad students submitted to NCA, a call for book chapters, and a PRSA conference. The ethics case studies they wrote this semester were exceptional and I hope to see them present and publish soon.

As the semester winds down, what are your semester-in-review reflections?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Proud Moments: Ethics Panel

Tarleton communication graduate students Skyla Claxton, Elizabeth Lempeotis, and Keauno Perez, and Brandon Sermon, Tarleton outreach specialist, presented "Move over Utilitarianism: Incorporating and Valuing Additional Ethical Frameworks for Social Media and Public Relations" at PRSA's Educator Academy Mini-Friday on April 7 at Baylor University.

From left: Skyla Claxton, Keauno Perez, me, Elizabeth Lempeotis, and Brandon Sermon.
Each panelist presented a recent ethical situation and dissected how decision makers could have used other ethical philosophies to better inform their decisions. The peer-reviewed panel was a first for all four panelists and they rocked it! 

I was so excited when they decided to submit a panel for review, and doubly excited when it was accepted. I could not have been prouder of their effort and presentations. It's just icing on the cake that one of them told me, "Wow, this makes research fun!"

The PRSA Educators Academy Mini-Friday is a conference I would highly recommend. It was intimate enough to really connect with researchers, and is grad-student friendly. Now, we're looking ahead to Super Saturday.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A New Learner - Let the Quilting Adventure Begin

As part of my teaching philosophy, I write: "I want to forever remember what it feels like to be a new learner, and admit that I’ll never be in the exact position as my students."

I may not be able to hit rewind on my understanding of Intro to Mass Communication, but I can place myself in the vulnerable position of approaching an unfamiliar topic or task. So begins my quilting adventure.

Picture of a tiny quilt and quilter
My tiny helper and her quilt topper.
I'm immediately reminded that every topic has its own vocabulary. Have you ever "stitched in the ditch" or bought a "walking foot"? I had to look up so much just to understand what the online tutorials mentioned. I needed the online tutorial for the online tutorial. Our students feel this way when we start yammering on about any topic for the first exposure. This brings me to pacing.

Instead of zipping right along, I am having to move at a much slower pace. I read and re-read my instructions. Hesitation happens. The confidence I feel with well-known tasks and topics is not there. I struggle with the tools, too. Every bump in the road seems much larger than it might be for the experienced quilter. So imagine if our students are trying something new AND they are new to BlackBoard or a social media tool AND they experience setbacks.

Quilt topper
Quilt topper for Little One's doll crib.
As a beginning quilter, I want to see progress. Our students want the same kind of validation and assurance that they are on the right path. Maybe more checkpoints or self-checks are in order for brand new topics and tasks. And more self-help videos.

I would be lost without the quilters who have taken the time to post how-to's on YouTube. Some are better than others, but getting to see the process in action and being able to replay, replay and replay has helped me to understand quilting concepts. The take-away for me is to create more help videos of my own and develop curated lists of better videos for students.

How is the quilt, you ask? I'm starting small, a quilt for a doll crib. I have the topper complete and will now actually quilt (after I buy more supplies!). I'll let you know how it goes. What do you do to remind yourself of how our students might feel?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Why Dissertation Dilemmas are the Best

In retrospect, a messy dissertation process has been a blessing. The ups and downs and workarounds prepare you for the realities of academic research and the race to publish.

During my childhood, my Mom would say during times of distress, "it will make you a better person."At the time of my dissertation, it seemed that a hurdle await at every turn. If Mom's saying proved correct, I would be the best person, ever.

It's taken more than six years to come to this realization, but I am thankful. I find that most projects have some kind of setbacks and the storm before the calm — that moment where the thought of abandoning the project is appealing. If you can make it through the cloudy chaos, which for me normally means parking myself in a chair and setting a timer for a required work period, you will see progress.

So, if you're doing the dissertation dance, jump the hoops, leap over the hurdles and keep pressing. The battle scars will help you in the research part of your future faculty positions.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Research Graveyard

Have you ever taken a walk through your research graveyard, the projects that just never found a home? I know some believe there's a home for every paper/project, but I think there is a time to cut your losses and let it go.

Here's what I learned when taking a critical eye to my failed works. They shared some themes:
  1. Lacked focus. The paper may have been better as a brainstorming piece to get me to the bigger picture, and should have been the precursor only.
  2. Tried desperately to force something. At one conference, our entire panel sat in disbelief as NO ONE attended our presentation. So, we decided to make use of the time, and devised a project. It was forced and never found a home. This can also happen when you try to manufacture a concept to fit a conference theme or merge too many researchers' interests into one piece.
  3. Rushed. Not leaving enough time to properly conceive the research design and collect the data is a recipe for a failed project.
  4. Failed to answer the so-what question. Just because you want a publication on your vitae does not mean a project really matters. I try to ask, who would care? Who can this help? What will the research mean?
The goal would be to have a small research graveyard. As the semester kicks off once again, I use this list as a reminder to fully develop research projects on the front end, so they will find a home.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

First-year Seminar syllabus share

In 2013, a few communication colleagues were tapped to teach our college's inaugural First-year Seminar (FYS) course. With student learning objectives (SLOs) handed down from the university, we began to craft a course to meet those objectives. So, on the road between Stephenville, Texas, and Norman, Okla., Dr. Lora Helvie-Mason (author of Communication & Higher Education blog) and I developed activities and assignments to help students make the transition from high school to university, in a mandatory one-hour course.

Through weekly reflective writings, a collaborative original research project and presentation, required attendance at campus events, readings (Tina Seelig's inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity), and a predetermined financial literacy module, the course came together. In our first semester, we were a bit ambitious, but wanted to hold the line of academic rigor. Here is the original syllabus, and you can see how it has adapted based on student feedback and faculty reflection to the 2016 syllabus.

One of our challenges was catering to the many and varied majors in our college, from criminal justice to geography to fine arts to social work to communication studies. We created choices where possible, to allow students to tailor projects to their interests. In the syllabus file, you can see the reflective writing prompts, which gave students some room for major and career exploration as well as multicultural exposure.

The collaborative original research project and presentation was something we tried, in order to tackle multiple SLOs. Students followed activists on Twitter for a mixed methods research paper with an oral conference-style presentation. Lora and I chronicled this project for our own teaching and learning research endeavors. Two journal articles will be published. One explains the project details and the other looked at student perceptions of their learning.

  • Helvie-Mason, L., Maben, S. K. (in press). Twitter-vism: Student Narratives and Perceptions of Learning from an Undergraduate Research Experience on Twitter Activism. Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication.
  • Maben, S. K., Helvie-Mason, L. (in press). When Twitter Meets Undergraduate Research:  A First-year Seminar Project. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 29(1).

I applaud anyone who teaches FYS/FYE courses. They are rewarding, and the challenge to incorporate so much into a one-hour course is a stimulating curricular exercise for a prof. My contribution was for one semester, and I'm excited to think that many of my FYS'rs are getting ready to graduate! Lora and I are following up with our first cohort to see what FYS course elements stuck with them, and what mattered most to their successful transition to college.  Stay tuned for those results!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Poster Session

What to do with an old poster from a conference poster session? I offer the following options.

Option A: Let your kid color on it, dance on it, or ultimately destroy it.

Option B: Hang it in your office. You can present again and again.

Option C: Share it on your blog. Below is a poster presentation for the 2016 Southwest Symposium of SWECJMC.
Download the pdf