Saturday, June 10, 2017

The writing and research grind - you are not alone!

I recently had the honor of helping to organize and facilitate a qualitative research retreat sponsored by my university. The process of organizing the retreat involved a few strategic partnerships who connected to sponsor about 20 spaces for tenure-track and tenured folks to come together, talk about methods, projects, ideas, and barriers. We incorporated a dynamic speaker, Dr. Lucy Bailey from Oklahoma State Universty, and had a few days of powerful research-heavy conversations. We stopped outside distractions and just focused on research (what a privilege! I am still in so much appreciation to our University for this opportunity).

Many of us were from very different disciplines, we had different experience levels with qualitative work, and we were at different points in our academic careers. As a facilitator, I was initially worried about these inherent differences. However, after day one it was clear to see that our differences made our conversations much richer. It was exciting to see new partnerships emerge across colleges and disciplines. I enjoyed leaning back and watching light bulbs burst into illumination above my colleagues' heads as they really explored their research.

It reminded me of the value of writing and research WITH others. There are times when our journey as academics and administrative academics can feel isolating--especially when struggling through a nebulous research project or when you have a strong idea for research that doesn't move forward and is somehow "stuck" and you need to talk it out. The isolation can be especially profound when one is on the tenure-track and may not feel confident about their productivity or processes. This reminded me just how important it is for us to open ourselves up to feedback, to seek the help we need, and to invest in really strong peer mentoring and support efforts along the tenure-track and post-tenure.

Consider what you can do to ditch the isolation and help yourself (and others) on the research journey. Perhaps you help to organize a retreat like we did, perhaps you start a reading group focused on one type of methods, research, or content. Perhaps you grab a few of your colleagues who are at a similar point in their academic journeys and declare a phone-free, distraction-free weekend of writing hosted at your home. Set goals and help one another get there. A writing/review group that meets weekly (or every other week) may foster accountability and work to ditch those pesky feelings of isolation.

With so many demands on our time, especially those of us in "split" positions, we may forget our needs relating to mental space, environment, and energy to be productive researchers. We may also forget the ability we have to mentor others in their journey. Our days are filled with people, but we often get mired in our isolated reality and lose the bigger picture. We're all in this together.

The next time you feel that research black hole threatening to swallow you up, consider how you can craft creative systems to help yourself and others achieve writing and research goals.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

New Semester Energy

Is there anything quite like that energy that magically bubbles up before the start of a new semester. No matter how fatigued I am from the previous term, the "new semester" energy seems to arrive just when I need it.

This semester, it happened after the strangest moment. I have my course prep done and was thinking about new approaches to a variety of lessons to "snazz" them up. Then, I came across an article about "Fake News" on NPR. While the information should have been depressing, it gave me some great ideas for teaching my somewhat hum-drum content on evidence and critical exploration of sources. And then that whoosh of energy swept in and I found myself instantly rejuvenated and looking forward to a new semester.

Sometimes, that is all it takes. A new text, a new approach, or revamping tired material to tap into the magical source of energy. This energy propels the part of us that loves teaching, that can't wait for the students to get engaged, and that strives to find in-roads to connect their content with their world.

I'm embracing my new semester energy and won't question the magic of it--I'm just going to be grateful and excited it swept in, again.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

First Year Seminar (FYS) - All of THAT in a 1-hour course!?

That moment of incredulous disbelief when you look at learning outcomes and then look at the parameters of a course can be overwhelming, particularly for some of the newer First Year Seminar (FYS) and First Year Experience (FYE) courses that are trending around the country.

Over the past four years, I have taught the mandatory, one-hour "transition to college" course for both cross-discipline and communication studies-only majors. The primary takeaway is that you CAN fit all of those learning objectives into a one-hour course if you take some time to creatively consider assignments and the environment you choose to create in the course.

Several years ago, my colleague, Dr. Sarah Maben (author of Communication Crossroads Blog), and I received the charge and proceeded to draft a First Year Seminar course designed to meet the many, layered (and somewhat murky) goals for the course. We're happy to share our journey and the syllabus.

We discovered a few helpful steps to managing any class which relies on a litany of pre-determined learning objectives in limited time. Here are some tips to consider if you're facing your own mountain (there is hope, it IS possible!):
  1. Let the learning objectives drive you. Before you do anything, consider WHY the course exists and what is expected of you and the students. By brainstorming from learning objectives (pre-set, in this case), we were able to fit a lot of content into a course that has limited time (1 hour) without overwhelming the expectations of a 1-hour class's workload.
  2. Don't forget assessment. Before you get married to exciting ideas or new directions, remember that you will need to assess (and report) on how you are meeting the goals of the course -- especially for those FYS/FYE courses that are part of the core curriculum. Draft your rubrics, consider how you'll measure the learning well before you commit to too many details in the course.
  3. Consider energy. It is often discussed here on Communication in Higher Education, but we cannot undervalue our ebb and flow of the semester -- it impacts us. If you're on your game, you'll anticipate typical student-based and professor-based workflow and the "traffic" of the semester. This is especially important in an FYS/FYE course. Read up on when students traditionally get homesick, overwhelmed, euphoric, or re-vitalized and try to work WITH that information. You cannot control when midterms are, but you can certainly avoid three major assignments in one week, therefore saving your sanity and the students' stamina.
  4. Think about consistency. One of the best things we can offer our newest students is a clear understanding of what to expect. This lessens their anxiety and helps them to feel comfortable. I try to have a schedule where students aren't surprised when an assignment is due, that they know "Thursdays are journal days" or that we have guest speakers on a certain day. We also build up to big assignments and maintain a daily schedule that allows them to "get in the groove" of class. They know we'll open with check-ins and reminders, so they learn to be on time and have notetaking materials ready at the start of class, for example.
  5. Set them up for success. In a FYS/FYE course, consider what students need to know in ALL of their classes. Teach transferrable skills. This makes some of those drier learning objectives easier to digest and embrace. For example, a big gap in my students' knowledge in Junior-based courses included effective writing and knowledge of Blackboard. For that reason, we teach the newest students how to navigate Blackboard and require regular writing assignments with meaningful feedback to help lay a foundational skill set that transfers to their other classes. The same is true for our final group project, it works to emphasize critical thinking, data analysis, effective oral and written communication, and teamwork (that is very different in college).
  6. Environment. Know how you want to approach any course that may feel "full" of learning outcomes or objectives. For my FYS/FYE class, I want to provide a safe space to question, share concerns, learn, explore and grow into an understanding of university life and skills for success. For that reason, I prefer to meet the 1-credit course twice a week (to catch any of those breakdowns and to be there for the students as a resource. We finish by mid-semester, but I trust they are very prepared at that point to launch into the final 8 weeks of the term with the resources they need. I maintain their office hours and schedule optional times to check-in (Lattes with Dr. Lora) so they remember that I am still a resource if they need to talk about how to prepare for finals or get a refresher on our time management strategies. 

Overall, those learning objective lists can serve as a great nudge to be creative, be conscientious, and use a layered approach to maximize the limited time you may have with the students.

See the latest version of the FYS syllabus here: FYS Fall 2016 Communication Studies.

Share your strategies. How do you handle meeting the layered outcomes in your courses?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Finding the way

It is July?!?!

As always, I deluded myself into thinking the ever-present list of items to tackle could be handled in the magical (but oh-so-misleading) freedom of summer. Not surprisingly based on my previous posts, I have again somehow forgotten that I teach two summer sessions, take a class on a study abroad trip, maintain a consistent meeting schedule, have grants and assessment projects due, have two research projects due, and must prep my newly assigned (and with new texts, ugh!) courses for fall. 

As a way to avoid squandering the meager weeks of summer that remain, I am clearly mapping priorities. My final summer class ends tomorrow. This produces an eerie sort of dread because I have used my 8am class to fuel my energy this summer (I have a fabulous group of students), but also fills me with a confusing glee (I will be done with the class and therefore gain two hours a day of my schedule back). As always, #facultylife continues with its strange dirge where emotions push and pull simultaneously. 

I'm revisiting my "make the most of your summer" blog from 2013 while reassessing some goals -- I've also reminded myself that this over-planning of "off" time is part of my (apparently never-ending) cycle of self-delusion (see also "Over the break...") that I must accept, especially when working as a split position. 

With all of this in mind, I'm spending a lot of time reflecting, writing, and exploring my work world, as indicated in my recent post, "shedding light," I am really honed in on honest internal conversations about myself, my work, and the ebb and flow of my energy. 

So bring it on, July. I can take it.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Shedding light

I had a recent conversation with a friend from out of state that has compelled me to dip back into the blog. It was one of those conversations that begins very surface-level, but before you know it, the insight of the other person zaps you like a laser and highlights an area of yourself that you have been struggling to accept or understand.

Because of this conversation, some changes have to be made or tough topics explored.

These conversations should be treated like the gift they are. It is rare that we are shown ourselves in a new or different light.

For me, I started to really reflect on what motivates me. During the conversation, I had mentioned being exhausted. Not the typical "oh it is finals and I am drowning" feeling of exhaustion, but a deeply rooted feeling that is steadily nearing apathy. That scared me. A lot. I can't do what I do if I'm apathetic.

I can't count on many things in my life, but I have always been able to count on the love and passion for my work. No matter how weary, that energy has propelled me. Until recently. During this enlightening and unexpected conversation, I realized that I sounded jaded and detached from those tasks or efforts in my life that historically drew me through rough times. My friend, who inadvertently focused this beam of insight my way, said, "Girl, if you don't protect what you LOVE about your work, no one else will. Find your zone and forget the shenanigans of others." Simple right? I nodded my head in that stunned way we have when we are blinded by new information. I have reflected deeply since the conversation.

Here are some things I realized.

  • I still LOVE what I do. Teaching and students are my passion. 
  • I'm living in an odd state of fear, worried about losing this love because of a bunch of things outside of my control: meetings, administrative responsibilities, the endless fight for funding, etc. Strangest thing? I didn't know I held this fear. But it has driven a lot of my behavior and mental processing that leads to this chronic exhaustion. 
  • No one can take away this love, but I can harm it by not valuing it or by over-relying on it. Something has to give or burnout is imminent. 
  • I am not powerless in this process. It is my responsibility to protect and grow this love, regardless of the rest of my work life. 
So, what do I do about this revelatory conversation and new observations about myself? What any good faculty member does. I write through it. I process and explore it. I value it as data that can assist future actions. 

Additionally, I strive to keep that light turned on, focused on this previously shaded area of my world as I continue to navigate new demands, processes, and procedures on my #facultylife. After all, it is a passion worth protecting. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

August - Again!

Somehow, the days fly by and summer, full of shortened summer semesters, whirlwind classes, administrative preparations and assessment, and even a study abroad trip is gone and we are--again--staring at August.

Despite my tendency to make summer task lists that have no hope of getting done, I was able to stumble through this summer without a full blown panic attack about not accomplishing everything. After all, whether the check marks are placed on the items or not, August is here and another semester looms ahead.

I'm going through my typical August emotional tornado: sadness that my summer classes are over, excitement that I have new students in August, concern that I don't have enough time to overhaul a class or the energy to teach effectively after such a busy summer. How can I get in the classroom full of energy and life when I feel a tired and drained?

But then I begin my August checklists and I start getting that anticipation that there will be another class, another group of students to engage with...there's just no feeling like connecting in the classroom. 

So, I'm preparing. I'm following my First Week Tips and my Preparation Quirks that I thought were unique to me (practicing in the room you would teach in, testing whiteboards, reflecting on first-time student emotions, and considering clothing when reaching up to write on the board or leaning over to help a student). I feel ready. I feel excited. I feel thankful.

Perhaps it is the summer graduation ceremony - where two of my students were mentioned by the President and one gave a great commencement speech despite being nervous, but I'm feeling very thankful for the opportunity to be a tiny little part of a student's educational journey. This time of year, it is important to remember that it is an opportunity and that we do have an impact--even if we don't always realize it in the chaotic midst of a full semester.

This year, I'm beginning my semester outlook with that gratitude as a primary emotion. It has helped me to regain energy, to focus, and to trust myself and my teaching approach. This is going to be another great semester!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Determining your energy: Work time & place

In the past week I have heard many conversations about work/life balance, the perceptions of when others work, and even comments on when to email others. At times, I can find these conversations bothersome. After all, we are each on individual journeys when it comes to work and the ways we do it.

I tend to go with my energy levels and work when I feel most aware, awake, and inspired. This is almost always early mornings and weekends. As I wear dual hats at my institution - both administrative and faculty - I find my typical work week is full of urgent, time-sensitive work efforts. A grant is due, a position is opening, an event needs planned, papers need graded, and oh! the endless emails. The interruptions, flitting from class to meeting and on to another meeting, and the phone ringing means my 8-5 work is typically surface-level only. If I want to do in-depth work like draft that IRB, dig into program assessment, or create my classes, I have to do it during other times.

If I come into the office a few hours before most of the building arrives, I can power through a LOT more! I've been able to edit research articles, connect with assessment (it really clicked!), and write more productively than twice the time during the day. Better yet, a Saturday or (sometimes and) Sunday are almost perfect -- five hours of uninterrupted morning-time productivity. Call me a happy camper!

I find my early mornings and weekends flummox others and they often feel compelled to advise me to take a break or take time off. I take breaks. My home is a sanctuary. I walk away from the office (sometimes late, yes, but I leave my work there) and I have such peaceful amazing times at home in the evening allowing my work world to calm itself at the office. I implement Digitally Down Days. I protect my space and time. I'm not a night person -- I do not think well in the evening. I no longer try to grade until midnight or fall asleep with my laptop on my lap while propped up in bed. I have learned to capitalize on my energy, to determine my work time and place. 

As we move through the summer, and your ambitious (some might say impossible) task list isn't shrinking as quickly as you'd like, it is important that you don't get overwhelmed by others' perceptions of your work and it's time and place --- that is an individual decision and journey. Some of us might find we want to slow down, create some boundaries, find some non-work time to absorb non-work life elements. Others of us (me! me! me!) might find that work IS a huge part of life, identity, and happiness and it is okay to have work time that is different or distinct from colleagues' perceptions on their journeys. "To each, their own" - You go your way and I'll go mine. No criticism, no judgment, just different journeys.

So, expect me to send early morning or weekend emails and to not answer your late night ones right away. Expect me to be in the office well before 7 a.m. and to nearly always be comfortably typing away on a Saturday morning. It might not be your way of working, but I've determined where work time and place are in my little corner of this world and it maximizes my energy flow.

When do you work best?

Monday, June 30, 2014

Texas Bloggers UNconference

Near the Dallas/Fort Worth area this summer? Looking for ideas to spice up your blogging efforts? Consider the TSMRI (Texas Social Media Research Institute) "UNconference" for Texas Bloggers. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Digitally Down Days

In the faculty/administration world, you stay "on" all of the time. Digital devices are rarely turned off, our brains stay somewhat connected to work at all times, and we find little distance from the working world.

Because of this, and the fact that I am working a LOT of hours and most weekends, Spouse and I implemented Digitally Down Days and Digitally Down Zones. I prefer to stay at the office and get work done there so I can come home, power (mostly) down, and feel that home is a stress-free zone. There are times, usually after lots of conference travel or tons of huge projects/events at the office, where I find myself slowly powering down: my productivity lessens, my focus is sporadic, and I start to have low-quality sleep. 

An easy solution has been to implement a Digitally Down Day. This is an ENTIRE day where I do not check email, voice mail, texts, or Blackboard. I avoid all things digital. Now, realistically, I can't do this every week--but I can easily do this every now and again. It just takes some boundary-setting and then ruthless boundary protection--something I have to seek assistance in or I will simply never do it.  

I try to have a DDD each month and, though hard, I protect it aggressively. I also work to have my home remain a relaxing place--so you might see me in my office on campus throughout the weekend or during late hours, but I can truly shut down once I arrive home.

These are small things that make a big difference in my world. What works well for you?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Over the break...

"Over the break..." what famous last words for a faculty member. No matter how realistic I think I am, I seem to fall into the trap of thinking that I will accomplish massive amounts of previously unconquerable work during a break -- no matter how short that break is.

With a dual appointment, it is even more challenging to consider what I can or cannot accomplish in the breaks (few and far between in a 12-month appointment). For some reason, I think I will re-design an entire course or review multiple texts and prep for new courses. Or, the biggest break from reality, write an entire grant.

I often start back bemoaning my far-reaching goals and wondering "what was I thinking?" when looking at that massive to-do list.

We truly do need actual non-working down time. It is challenging to get that mental release when we feel behind at work and then like quasi-failures during vacations from work when we don't accomplish everything we've promised ourselves we would.

It is almost a set-up-to-fail cycle and I hear many of my colleagues doing the same thing, semester after semester, break after break.

Will this be the time I break through this cycle?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Call for papers: International Society for Educational Biography 2014

Explore this conference! Great for first-time presenters, those in education or related fields examining qualitative research, narratives pedagogy, phenomenology, ethnography, auto-ethnography, and other related concepts. In April 2014, this conference will be held in beautiful Toronto!

Learn more:

See the call here:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Faculty life and "hidden" work

Forbes just released this article about "hidden work" within our faculty life -- a familiar concept as this blog has often shared the hours of at-home work, the lost pockets of time in meetings, and the often unseen elements of this career. Thank you, Forbes! This career can be one where those hidden work hours become stifling and our stress levels can really spike just when someone outside academia mentions how our schedules "must be nice" - it seems to happen most often in summer or on a "break" from teaching.

Is it just me, or do we often find ourselves working into the wee hours sneaking time to grade around other, non-work events, logging into the email to answer students questions when we sit in meetings. How often do we find that the work we have to accomplish is done on a laptop as we try not to fall asleep in bed? Surely, I am not the only faculty member attempting to milk more out of our 24 hours each day than is humanly possible.

Explore the Forbes article and consider your hidden work...and any strategies you have implemented to protect the way the work creeps into our lives.

Consider also:
Professional Development - On A Budget!, Summer 2012
Tenure, Retention, Binders, and Budgets - Oh My!, Summer 2011
Make the Most of Your Summer, Summer 2013
The Stages of Spring Break, April 2011
Service: Who Participates?, March 2010

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Conference for research on social media (Call)

The Texas Social Media Research Institute is accepting papers, panels, and training session/workshop ideas for its 3rd Annual Social Media Conference on Friday, Nov. 8, 2013.  Deadline for proposals is June 30.

NEW CONFERENCE LOCATION - Join us at the Tarleton SW Metroplex campus in Fort Worth this year. We expect about 250 attendees.

To discover more information about the 2013 Social Media Conference, please visit

This conference consists of a few tracks: a SOCIAL MEDIA RESEARCH, SMALL BUSINESS, NON-PROFIT, K-12, HIGHER EDUCATION, and TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT tracks. The conference planning committee is actively seeking papers, panels, and training workshops focused on, but not limited to the following topics:

- Mobile applications, interactions and technologies
- Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest, Instagram (How to Use the Technologies)
- Social Media in Business (Ideas for Entrepreneurs and Large Organizations)
- Social Media in Education
- Social Media in the Non-Profit Sector
- Social Media in Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication
- Practical Solutions for Social Media Problems
- Benefits and Disadvantages of Social Media in K-12 and Higher Education
- Social Media and Generational Communication
- Social Media and Information Sciences/Library Sciences
- Social Media and Mobile Applications and Devices

Additional Information
Possible forms of submission include: panels (including roundtables and discussions), papers/abstracts, and training workshops. Complete the conference submission form ( AND e-mail papers/panels to TSMRI ( no later than JUNE 30TH.

Participants will have an opportunity to publish their papers in the conference proceedings book, which will be published on the Texas Social Media Research Institute's website. The top paper will be considered for publication in TSMRI's peer-reviewed publication, The Journal of Social Media in Society.

If you have any questions, please contact the Texas Social Media Research Institute via e-mail ( or telephone (254-307-8211).

Feel free to forward to your colleagues and graduate students.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Free webinar! Student Success and digital changes on campus.

Communication on our campuses has changed a lot over the past decade--the Chronicle of Higher Education shared this opportunity to explore what the University of Oklahoma is doing to boost digital tools to foster student success. 


FREE webinar on Thursday, June 27 at 11 a.m. Pacific (2 p.m. EST) to explore the ways the University of Oklahoma implements "24/7 business automation tools to deliver superior student services faster and cheaper-and the totally unexpected quality of education delivery and morale benefits they experienced as a result."

This webinar is not hosted by the tech folks on campus, but by an educator and an administrator. 

To register, click here!

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Make the most of your summer

Summer has me focusing on productivity. How can I get through the task lists that build up during traditional semesters? How can I find the energy for summer classes and new fall preps?

Whether you have a nine-month appointment without summer classes, enjoy a nine-month appointment with summer classes, or have a 12-month appointment with administrative duties, you can maximize your summer efforts. Here are a few tips that work for me.

  • Change your work space. Spend a few hours a week at a coffee shop, library area, home office, or empty conference room. A change in the walls (or fresh air) around you can stimulate your mind and rejuvenate you after a long semester. Or, simply close your door--a small, seemingly simple feat that took me a long time to accept, as you can read in "Closing the door--Prioritizing Research" post from last summer. 
  • Compile your notes. You've probably got scattered sticky notes, e-mails to yourself, half accomplished task lists, and various research ideas thrown around your work areas. Take a morning (or evening) to compile all of those amazing ideas and start to make a plan of attack to accomplish them. Do this regularly to stay on top of the ideas that can easily get "lost" in the chasms of our tumultuous semesters. 
  • Consider using a "power hour" method to tackle tasks that are looming large and that you might be dragging your feet over. Yes, professors can procrastinate, too. Try this technique to help conquer the biggies and move through tough projects. Read more about "power hours" in a post from a few years ago, "Research Power Hours."
  • Don't shudder, but one great technique is to put your phone away. I turn my phone on silent and shove it in my drawer for the first few hours of some high-output days. I have also heard of others using plug-ins and apps to block Internet access during productivity/writing times. I haven't gone to that degree, but if you are interested, LeechBlock for Firefox is one option.  
  • Watch out for "Mock Productivity" -- the time eaters that steal away any chance you have at tackling your to-do lists. 
  • Don't create such a massive task list that you dread facing it each time. Chunk items into projects, split up your tasks, and set realistic goals to avoid burnout or frustration. 
I also set a "summer goal" for my professional life. What item is my top priority, which is second, which is third? Those are the go-to areas for my time and, when August rolls back around, I can mark of the major areas and feel a sense of accomplishment. 

Share your tried-and-true practices to make the most of your summer.

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