So this morning I arrived to work pretty early by my standards (about 7:15am).  This is because we are currently down one car due to the massive hail storm up in Vermillion the other day.  So my husband dropped my off and went on his way up to school at USD.

Though I’m not a fan of such an early morning I thought this would be a great opportunity to finally catch up on my grading and perhaps even to have a nearly grading-free weekend (but probably not).  Anyway….I began grading semi-diligently and found myself not wanting to be in my office.  I began thinking of ways that I could change my atmosphere and realized that I was a bit hungry.  Now I have good healthy yogurt in my little office fridge, but that is not what I was craving on this cold, windy early fall day.  I wanted a sausage and egg McMuffin and hash browns.

So I sit and debate on whether or not I should give in to this craving and eat the gut bomb that I know this fine cuisine to be, or to just go ahead and take the 5 min walk over the McD’s.  I went.

Something that I noticed as I enjoyed one of the 2 or 3 McMuffins that I would eat this entire year was that I was by far the youngest person in the place, by a few decades.  What I saw actually cheered me…older adults sitting around tables sipping their coffee.  They moved from table to table chatting with nearly everyone in the restaurant.  When a new person came in, they often received a welcoming “hello’ from one of the tables.

People were chatting about mundane things, what their chores were for the day, how their kids and grandkids were doing, what was going on with their other friends.  It made me wonder, why is this wonderful socialization happening in, of all places, my dreaded McDonalds?

I chalk it up to the cheap coffee (no none had the fancy McCafe’s in their hands) and the fact that in this little neighborhood, there are no other coffee shops or small local restaurants.

I liked what I saw, I just did not like the fact that it was a McDonald’s that it was happening within.  I do love the fact that Sioux City still has many small neighborhood diners and cafes, but when people cannot find these, they go to McDonalds.

This week, without getting into detail, the issue of academic dishonesty has been high on my radar.  This is an issue that all teachers and college professors will need to deal with at some point during the school year.  In my own short experience it is typically about a dozen or so various offenses (small and large) that occur throughout the year.  Academic dishonesty (in all of its forms including cheating, plagiarism, etc) could be argued to be a potential threat to our country’s well-being.  Let me describe the argument as posed by my husband the other day (see, I am giving credit where credit is due!)

Because academic dishonesty is very often an attempt to circumvent the educational mission, students who engage in this activity are therefore undermining their own education.  They do not allow themselves the time or the opportunity to develop their own original ideas, which reduces the amount of practice they have in actually developing new and innovative ideas.

If our students do not practice innovative thought, they will be less likely to come up with the new and innovative ideas needed to make our country and society competitive in the world. We will be left behind perhaps with  a mentality that we should just borrow from other countries and allow for other societies to solve the world’s problems (sounds a lot like social loafing on a huge scale!).

This eventually leads to the US playing catch-up and at the mercy of waiting for others to come up with ideas for the world’s problems. (A bit of a slippery slope I admit)

Now, a few disclaimers, I realize that not all great ideas come from the US and that just because an idea comes from the US that the idea is therefore good and right.  But if we are not even developing new ideas and innovations we are reducing our contributions to the world.

I am also not suggesting that great ideas do not come from borrowing from others.  Most new ideas come from the ideas of others, we just need to first, give credit to those ideas and second, not depend on others for new thought.

If the future is in the hands of the younger generation there needs to be an instillation of the gaining of a good education and the ability to have creative and innovative though of being the duty of a citizen.  Of course there are issues here in terms of equality of access and educational opportunities which I will not get into at this point.

I wonder if college students see obtaining an education in this way?  Would it make a difference if they did?  How can we get students who engage in academic dishonesty to REALLY see the potential implications of their actions?

Those of you who know me are aware of my professional interest in the use of technology in the classroom.  I enjoy trying out new hard/software into my classrooms and occasionally am able to do some real research on the effectiveness of these tools.  Two tools that I am recently interested in is the use of student response systems (clickers) and e-books.

There has been a deluge of research on the use of clickers in the classroom.  It is actually beginning to be a bit annoying that at nearly every teaching conference that there is at least a half a dozen presentations on the different uses of these tools.  From what I have gathered it appears that the hopeful message that use of these clickers would consistently improve student performance is not supported.  Rather, there appears to be more of an effect on student engagement and enjoyment of these toys.  My own research has also supported this lack of an effect on performance.  This does not suggest that I believe clickers to be useless.  I am currently trying to find a way to suggest that the use of clickers might change how one approaches teaching.  I know it did for me, but I am still hammering this one out.

One consistent finding that I do have, anecdotally, is that student enjoy using the clickers.  Nearly every class where I introduce the clickers, there is a noticeable change in the students.  They giggle a bit, are interested in the ability to see immediate class results, and search to find just the right way to point their remote to activate their answers.  I also have students comment on my course evaluation forms that they liked the clicker questions and report that it helped them to pay better attention during lecture.

However, recently a colleague of mine used a slightly different version of a response system (one that worked through the student laptops and wireless network) and he reported that the students did not enjoy using this technology.  I am interested to know some of the reasons behind this because there has been suggestion of going the laptop route if Morningside chooses to adopt a response system institutionally.  Was it the technology?  Was it more difficult to use?  Were the questions not ‘fun’ or seen as ‘useful’ by the students?  Experiences that differ so greatly as my own and my colleagues raises very interesting and very practical questions.

The other technology that is becoming more popular is the e-book.  More and more publishers are offering e-book versions of their textbooks and these are often marketed as less expensive options to buying the actual paper and cardboard textbooks.  Personally I have been reluctant to offer an e-book exclusively.  I do let my students know about the option, but have not done anything formally with our bookstore to offer the students an e-book.  Part of this is from my own difficulty in reading from a screen and the other part is a desire for my students (especially majors) to be able to keep a resource for themselves (I know, how many will actually crack open their textbook later in life).

With new technologies like the Kindle and the upcoming Apple Tablet, perhaps it will be worth investigating the use of an e-book and student response to these books.  As with the contradicting experiences with the response systems (possibly due to differences in platform) perhaps there are differences in having an e-book on one’s laptop versus a more text-friendly technology.

I hope to have the possibility of doing some sort of systematic research to attempt to answer this question.  This appears to be more of a Human Factors than an Ed Psych question, but in all honesty, comfort with the material and ease of use is an important part of integrating technology into the classroom.  Students need to be able to focus their attention on the content and developing their thinking of the material, not trying to figure out or focus too much energy on the technology.  At least this is my personal point of view.

I will let you know if I am able to answer the e-book and clicker platform question.  It is an interesting one.  Perhaps there is a new study on the horizon.

NITOP Days 2 & 3

January 5, 2010

So  I was not able to post a full blog yesterday because I needed to take a nap in the afternoon.  I am nearly complete with my first ever NITOP conference and it has been great!  Yesterday I attended sessions on how to develop a mentoring program using alumni and a website, what the new(ish) products and policies based in cognitive science are, and a participant idea exchange where I learned about an in-house journal and how to be a more effective student organization advisor.

I did not attend the afternoon general session as I needed to get some class prep work done and frankly I needed a break and a short nap.  This conference is so good, that you actually want to attend every session and NITOP does a good job in offering multiple presentations of the same topic.

Today I attended a fantastic talk on how to make teaching “stick”, how to use popular press writing on scientific research as a tool for teaching research methods, and a great general session on taking risks in teaching by James Gross.  All of these session were inspirational and I was able to walk away with some concrete examples for my own classes or ideas for how to improve the experience for our students.

I am left with only one poster session to attend and then I am done.  Unfortunately we need to leave early in the morning and will miss the sessions tomorrow including the concluding talk entitled something like “Making students eat Earthworms” which is an interesting topic and I wish I could hear what Bill Henderson will be talking on.

In addition to the sessions I have had a great time talking about teaching strategies and ideas for our department with my colleagues.  I believe that attending this conference with them has made this that much more of an enriching experience.  We can talk right away about the ideas we were presented with and we also each tend to take our own angle from the mateirals presented.

I will soon be off to my last poster session here at NITOP (I’m sure snacks will be provided!) and am a bit sad to be done.  However, I am also ready to be done so that I can go home and hopefully implement some of these ideas into my courses yet this semester.  Attending these teaching conferences often makes me feel more energized and excited about new possibilities for my classroom.  I know that my other colleagues feel the same way as well.

For anyone else that reads this and is a teacher of psychology (high school through university) I’d highly recommend NITOP.  If you are in another field I hope you are as blessed as I am to have a National Institute for teaching for your discipline as well.  It is well worth it!

NITOP Day 1

January 3, 2010

I am writing from cold and cloudy St. Pete’s Beach Florida at the annual National Institute for Teaching of Psychology (NITOP).  One would think that an early January getaway for Florida would be nice: sun, beach, water.  But this year me and four of my department colleagues were met with clouds, cold, and even a frost warning in the Tampa Bay area.  But don’t get me wrong, the conference is great, the weather has little to be desired except that it’s not as cold as home.

NITOP is a great conference for those of us who are dedicated to the teaching of psychology.  I have wanted to attend this conference for several years, but it was quite cost prohibitive (nearly $450 for registration alone, not including air fare and hotel).  But this year our department applied for a grant for faculty development and our college has graciously allowed us to attend this conference.

Today I attended a couple of very good sessions.  One session will be of great use immediately.  The session on examples and exercises for Statistics and Research Methods was fabulous and we all came away with a packet full of possible things to use in our courses.

The other interesting session was on Evolutionary psychology. This session was probably best for those that have little to no background in this newer field of psychology (like me).  I must admit to not having much of an idea of what this field is about and have been reluctant to include any discussion of evolutionary theory in my courses because of my ignorance.  But Michael Buss was a fantastic speaker and really made this very interesting field accessible.  I think I will probably try to incorporate some of these ideas into a couple of my courses (general psych and possibly developmental during the discussion of genetics).

I also attended a couple of other sessions for those who are teaching introduction to psychology and using online social communities in the classroom.  These I did not get as much from, but this is only because the speakers covered information that I was already aware of.  These were likely good session for a person very new to teaching or who has little to no experience in using online social communities in the classroom.

Finally there was a poster session that was pretty good.  Unfortunately by this time of day I was pretty tired and was not really in the mood to interact much with folks.  I did pick up quite a few handouts and hopefully these will be useful for some of my own research interests, particularly the use of student response systems or ‘clickers’.

All in all a good first day.  Next there is a reception with complementary nibbles and drinks and a dance with a DJ.  I’m sort of interested to see how the dance goes.

So, I have to admit that I am a pretty long-time fan of the Colbert Report.  His biting satire is extremely funny and the guy has a great taste in music.  In my life time I’ve never seen such a successful use of self-promotion as Stephen Colbert.

Last night through the Colbert Nation, I was introduced to a website http://www.conservapedia.com/Main_Page.  Being curious I took a look and was, quite frankly, horrified by this site.

Supposedly this is supposed to help balance out the reportedly liberally biased wikipedia and conservapedia purports to be “The Trustworthy Encyclopedia.”  Any halfway educated individual who begins to read through this conservapedia  site would find that it is full of complete non-sense.  Two articles in particular that raised my hackles (whatever a hackel is, I’m not sure just what part of my anatomy this is) were the articles on feminists and professor values.  As both a feminist and a professor, I was completely insulted by the information that is supposedly ‘true.’  Evidently being a feminist means forgoing any sort of femininity (refusing to bake and preferring to wear pants) and being a relentless man-hater and professors are nothing but left-wing nuts who work to indoctrinate the fragile young minds of our country with our atheistic views  – and no this is not an exaggeration from the articles, please take a look for yourself:

Feminism: http://www.conservapedia.com/Feminism

Professor Values: http://www.conservapedia.com/Professor_values

Now I know a lot of feminists and a lot of professors…sure a small minority might actually fit these stereotypes (and really this is all that these articles describe).  But many feminists I know are quite feminine and embrace femininity (I have regular conversations about fabulous shoes and cute skirts) and certainly most professors are not criminals (as conservapedia might like you to believe).

Let me also point out that even though these articles appear to be well references, upon further investigation of most of the source materials, they consist of blogs and other non-vetted material.  Certainly types of sources that are not highly credible and would likely result in a failing grade in a paper written for me.  I can tolerate views that oppose mine as long as they are supported by valid evidence.  Much of conservapedia is not using valid evidence!

Now I’m not sure that anyone would ever label me as a true liberal and in general I am not.  I am a very moderately minded individual (probably too moderate for some folks), but evidently even this moderate view is too far left for this particular group of folks.

The final item that really upsets me about this site it that it claims to have ‘commandments’ – see: http://www.conservapedia.com/Conservapedia:Commandments – or rules to follow whereas the articles are not to include opinion and only fact.  Again, any decently educated individual would recognize that these so-called facts in the actual articles certainly do only portray opinion or are so skewed that they engage in something that we call accurately “confirmation bias.”

I’m not sure who is exactly in charge of the content, which is what Colbert was attempting to uncover through his interview, but I’m guessing this is not an open-site like wikipedia.  Perhaps I’ll try to create an account to see if anything I change gets removed.  Odds are as a liberal professor and femi-Nazi my account will be canceled (statement dripping with sarcasm).

So this site has gotten to me, yes, and I am guessing that it is then doing its job to tick off anyone who is not an extremely conservative individual.  It takes quite a bit to get me riled up and I certainly am not the most politically engaged individual.  But quite honestly, having information like this available on the Internet,  is frightening and I can only hope that our students are able to see that this site is generally a bunch of bunk.

I realize it has been a very long time since my last post.  Quite honestly nothing of terrible importance has happened to me professionally recently to write about.  However, recently I have finally heard some reports on the status of a couple of writing projects that I have in the works.

First is my seemingly endless review of my research project that I conducted last year.  I have had a manuscript (ms) in to one of the more respected teaching journals in the field of psychology. It’s been there for nearly 6 months… I hope to hear a positive response sometime soon, but I am always nervous.  The first round of reviews resulted in a hung jury of types and the ms needed to be sent out to another reviewer or two.  Seems the story of my academic life.  People either seem to really respond well to my research and believe it is interesting and important or see my research as trivial and self-evident.

For anyone who wants an inside look at what authors often go through with the review process, please see this link.  It is funny, but also very close to real life – warning there is a bit of language used (which is not uncommon when the rejected decision comes through) –

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VRBWLpYCPY

I have already warned my colleagues that I may be shouting in German depending on the  decision that is made on my ms.

Second project was a chapter proposal for a book on the “Ethics of Teaching” that Eric Landrum proposed to the APA.  Just today I was informed that the book itself was accepted for publication, but my particular chapter was one of the 6 that needed to be cut due to page length constraints.  A disappointing decision for me, but I plan to pursue this project through other means (journal article, conference round table, etc.)
Such is the life of the academic.  We work for months on a project and sometimes we are rejected .  We need to learn to pick ourselves up, dust off the dirt, improve the product, and pursue other avenues in which to disseminate our work.  If you cannot publish in one journal, you move onto the next.  Sometimes it takes a couple of years to get a study published.  But for those that persist your research can often find a home somewhere.

What is extremely exciting is when you actually see your name in print and your study packaged in a journal.  But probably one of the most exciting things to happen to me in the past couple of years is to actually have one of my published works cited by other authors!  This means others ACUTUALLY READ IT!  What a pleasure to have gone through so much work and actually know that you have contributed to the field!

Today I had a meeting with fellow colleagues who are involved in or interested in implementing a service component into their courses.  At Morningside we have a graduation requirement where students must take a course that is flagged as service learning.  These courses include a certain amount of volunteer hours and papers/presentations on these experiences and how they relate to the course content.

I became interested in being a part of this group after I decided to try to implement a service component into one of my often taught courses (developmental psychology).  I decided to try this because I was getting a sense that the students were not really seeing the true value of the content and how different developmental experiences can influence individuals.

The big question for the service learning group (and for those who want to try to implement service into courses or organizations) is who to contact to do this.  At my Alma Matre (St. Thomas) there was a whole office dedicated to helping people coordinate these service opportunities (see: http://www.stthomas.edu/cilce/current/via.html and http://www.stthomas.edu/servicelearning/).  These offices are often student staffed, but have a faculty member or staff member as well allowing for a more consistent point person.  At Morningside it has been a bit of an issue.  We have had Vistas (yearly employees) that have been extremely helpful for people, but we have not had someone with a consistent relationship with the faculty, organization advisors, and the external organizations. The St. Thomas model may not work for Morningside, but perhaps it can provide just one example for how to better serve those on our campus who have service learning needs.

We know that having students engage in service is a good thing and the more that we can have students experience how the content of a course can be applied and seen in real life the better that students can retain this information.  However, we need to have a more constant connection between faculty and these organizations for this to happen well.

I often find myself excited by the possibilities for my courses and for UPA (psychology club) after these service learning group meetings.  But I often feel stymied by the amount of work needed to really organize a quality experience. And in all honesty, I often do not have the time to do a good job of this.   I hope that Morningside would consider having a more permanent individual who can work to help faculty and others interested in having students engage in service in the community.  Morningside emphasizes civic responsibility, now we need to invest in the man-power to help Morningside effectively execute this part of our mission statement.

Technology = Frustrations

September 18, 2009

Today I write on behalf of both myself and my students when I say that the technology these past couple of weeks has been a huge frustration.  Morningside just this year allowed students the choice between a mac and a pc (we are a laptop campus and issue all students a computer).  Many people knew of the change, but few of us were really prepared for the trickle down effect of the change.

Personally it has affected me in two classes that I teach.  In one class the program will work fine with a splitter on a mac, but does have times when it becomes buggy, but at least much of the time it works.  In the other class the pc software will not work at all on the mac os.  So now my mac students are having to borrow a friend’s pc with the software on it to compelte much of the course work.

At least this has opened up new discussion at least in our department of how to best deal with these macs (which in and of themselves are not evil, but many students are cursing their macs).  There are many coulda, woulda, shoulda’s in how we could have better prepared ourselves as a campus for this.  But we just got so used to most students having pc’s and having our software work on them that it just wasn’t an issue.

So, with new choice comes new frustrations but also new opportunities.  We must learn to work around them as most other campuses do.  We have just honestly been a bit protected from the platform compatability issues for several years.

This was more or less a rant, not against macs (my grad school advisor would likely dis-own me if that were the case!), but just that we needed as a department and as a campus to have been more prepared for these issues.

A long first couple of weeks

September 4, 2009

Here at Morningside we are often spoiled in that we start with a short week of classes, have a long Labor Day weekend, and then one more short week of classes before we get into the M-F drill.  Because Labor Day is late this year, we had our first full week right away, and BOY were people feeling it.  Both Faculty and Students alike were complaining.  But I have managed to get most of my important work complete so that I have little grading to do over the long weekend.

The other issue this week that has irked me is that some school districts are caving into what I believe to be conservative paranoia about Obama’s scheduled web cast to US school children next week.  I have recently heard that the Grand Forks, ND system will not be showing it….I will not be surprised if districts here also cave.  Much too bad because the message will be an important one….challenge yourself, get an education, and become a productive member of society.  How is this a bad thing.  Our country has become too polarized and perhaps we need to get parents who DO want their children to hear this message call into the schools!