Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A hearty thank you!

With gratitude to all of the readers and especially to Ms. Karen Franker, University of Wisconsin-Stout, I am delighted to report that "Communication and Higher Education: Life on the Tenure-Track at a Teaching Institution" blog was selected as one of the "Top 8 Education Blogs to Inspire and Inform" by the University of Wisconsin-Stout:

Dr. Jennifer T. Edwards from Tarleton State University, author of A Millennial Professor's View of Higher Education blog ( was also recognized with her insights into both the millennial student/professor minds as well as her emphasis on new technology activities and uses in higher education classrooms. This is an honor and a very hearty thanks for the recognition and for all who read the sometimes exhausting, but (nearly) always rewarding journey along the tenure track. Thank you!

Tech geek at heart...

"My name is Lora and I am an educational technology geek" -- Yes, I have to admit this after spending nearly all day yesterday "working" on my online course with the new 9.1 version of BlackBoard, the geek moniker is fully embraced. I realized my day did not feel as if I had done work, but instead it felt as if I had been playing on the computer all day. Believe me, progress was made and the course is coming along but I was continually sidetracked by exploring the new features available in this course management upgrade. I felt like I was logging into a familiar site with a familiar goal and was then surprised by what was in front of me. It was like going on a walk when you know you need to arrive at, let's say a grocery store as a final destination, but as you walk you decide to take a scenic digression and find yourself in a beautiful farmer's market full of brightly colored seasonal delights. BlackBoard 9 is a more verdant place than BlackBoard 8 and I am glad to make use of it this semester. After my one-day adventure in BB-9 I found it to be user-friendly and similar to 8 in many ways but those of us who are not willing to click and see what happens might find it takes a bit of time to adjust to the new visual layout.

My students can easily embrace the intuitive software and make use of several new features. Though some of my students have used blog and wiki applications in class before, they have been difficult items outside of the BlackBoard program. Now, these items are embedded into their courses and much more accessible. I am pleased by the "journal" feature which allows students access to an ongoing reflective writing process throughout the semester and allows me to avoid the submission of "journals" after each speech. This tool allows the students better ability to reflect since they can see their past submissions right along with my comments and will give richer depth to their reflection.

Of course, this is all in the "I-sure-hope-it-works-like-it-looks-like-it-will" phase so I will report back on the outcome of the new course tools. In the meantime, my true geekiness continued as I clicked my way through resources for embracing all of BB-9 and here are a few resources that might prove useful to others beginning with BB or simply experiencing the upgrade transition as we are: is of course the best place to go for help, tutorials, and webinars. A great place to begin clicking and reading about instructional opportunities with BB-9 for a presentation on the Mashup feature of BB-9

And for any beginning the transition to online instruction remember to keep the communication lines open. Consider reading Betts (2009) article, "Lost in Translation: Importance of effective communication in online education" from the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration:

Facing a course I've taught online for nine semesters and updating the course with a new learning platform wasn't as tedious as I had dreaded--in fact, the course preparation yesterday was fun and has allowed me to breathe new life into some of the course elements which increases my energy and will hopefully help to engage the students. Faculty duties continue in the realm of instruction and for many of us, that means sprucing up our understanding of new technology and getting our geek on as we prepare for a new semester.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Improvement and assessment: Growing your courses

It is that reflective time of year again for most educators when we review what worked and what did not over the course of the recent semester. It is also a time to embrace changes for improvement in course offerings and options. Are your courses adapting to your students' shifting needs? Do you seek to improve class activities, texts, and online space? It can be difficult to find the energy to tackle even small change in courses we are regularly instructing, but it can be incredibly rejuvenating for you and for your students.
This semester my institution is upgrading from the online course management system, Blackboard's, earlier version to the newer version 9. Many institutions have already made this change and any advice is greatly welcome! The newer version appears to embrace technology as more than a post/reply medium and allows new ways for students to engage and (hopefully) learn including wiki pages, a blog, better video embedding options, search tools, and more visualized learning features in the course controls area. I am excited to work with the new version and embrace the possibilities behind the upgrade but it is also a time to really assess what has been working well in my online course. New tools and technology in the classroom are only beneficial if they are employed purposefully and with pedagogical intent. This coming semester will be one to watch and see what works, what does not, and what new technological elements to explore in more depth before employing them in the course. There are many detailed webinars and help options on the BlackBoard page at
During this break from the campus, I am using my time to enter data, analyze data on another project, and hopefully edit an article. But I am most looking forward to examining the new version of Blackboard and preparing my courses so the students can benefit from the new and exciting learning tools available to them.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"our" work during our "breaks"

Yes, another "vacation" from work looms and everyone inquires what will be done with all of that time off...this winter I am taking a week to visit with family over the holidays, but will be absorbing the rest of my time with much needed research writing. It seems there are never enough hours in the day during a regular semester -- particularly this past semester where much of my time was on a new course prep, a new text, and an extra "overload" course (making five courses total). I am also sitting on two university committees that are what I have dubbed "time eaters" since they just slowly munch and crunch all of my little bits of extra time away. We've all sat on such committees, I am sure, and know the importance of the work but also the desire for time for "our" work.

"Our" work varies from field to field, but it is that simple desire to research what we want, to explore what we find most interesting, and to publish and write in the area we consider "ours." This proves difficult when there are many hands reaching for our time and our energy. But the "break" will prove a great time to readjust my excel spreadsheet of tasks, goals, and time lines that will hopefully lead to a positive review come tenure-review time in Fall 2012.

As faculty at teaching-centered universities this struggle to find time for our work while teaching many (often very full) classes is an on-going issue of balance and strategies/prioritizing. It is a battle I speak of often, write about often, and which fills the pages of my journals where I fight with my teaching love and my research passions. I am insistent that I can blur the lines between the areas of the tenure-track faculty member's responsibilities and find a balance that will allow the separate segments of my work to be braided into a strong holistic vision, but I have yet to find a way to make this happen. Perhaps it takes time and continued energy in all three areas before I begin to see the parts as collaborative and fully functional. Until then, I must simply continue focusing on each part in its turn and hope that the quasi-equal emphasis will end in some semblance of balance.

With that thought, I enter the winter break with the goal of making up lost ground in the research realm and pushing projects forward that have lacked the necessary focus the past few months.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Grading gadgets

There are many words to describe this time of year: hectic, frantic, overwhelming, and the simplistic but appropriate word: busy. Final exam time can bring out the best and worst in our students and in ourselves. As we find our own work mounting along with students we haven't seen in weeks coming out of the woodwork, it is easy to fall behind and give in to the emotional drain of finals. However, there are many new (and not so new) tools we can use to facilitate this time of year. Here are some ideas that can ease the strain of the final weeks of a semester.

My colleagues and I are handed out roll books at the beginning of each term and I look at them in wonder. I have never kept a pen-and-paper roll book. As a graduate student I was taught using excel and I continue to allow the digital formulas to easily compute everything from attendance to participation. I have permission to simply print out my grade sheets and staple them in the hard-copy roll book. It saves me hours of calculations that many of my colleagues continue to do. It also allows me to know where each student stands every day of the semester, so I can easily warn students (or commend them) early in the term. Things are getting fancier in the digital grading arena: Blackboard's grading options are nice, but there are other software options like Class Action Gradebook ( and iGrade (designed more for k-12), GradeKeeper (, and SnapGrades ( These options can help instructors organize their time and track their students' progress and make recording final grades as simple as clicking a button.

Grading individual assignments is also going digital in my discipline of Communication Studies. The public speaking course instructor could explore SpeechGrader (, a software program that has been mentioned at several conferences recently for the ease in grading speeches. This software allows for individual student reports to be generated as well as an overview of class performance so instructors can easily target problem areas.

Of course, there are many options and opportunities to explore when it comes to efficiency and quality in recording student scores and providing useful student feedback. There is nothing wrong with handwritten grade books, but organizationally I enjoy the cleanliness and ease of Excel and Blackboard options. I find that it works nicely with my ability to access my grade books without lugging around hard copies and it facilitates a student-professor interaction when I can easily print out grade slips with all of the student's scores and hand them out at midterm to show where and how grades are devised.
Little techniques can help with our grading and most of those involve advanced planning and clear preparation of guidelines and rubrics (see also for more tips on efficient grading), but technology has become a part of the process.
Teaching tools are essential and just as engaging (I'm currently exploring Wordle -, Mindomo -, and many organizational/company-hosted teaching sites such as CSPAN- where my teaching can embrace new technologies while continuing to focus on content and critical listening. More teaching tools can be explored at Education World, a great place for teaching ideas and discussions:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Renewed by student research

Previously I posted about the wonderful ability of our undergraduates to embrace research and to tackle challenges that we place before them. I want to reiterate how effective this has been for me this semester and add emphasis to the personal benefits that exist for faculty members when we include our students in the research process. I have been fortunate to work with a Junior as a Research Mentor for our Undergraduate Research Day on campus. It has been really powerful for me to navigate this role with such a promising scholar -- but also to revisit some of the things I love about research and share those things with the students. Considering what goes in an abstract, the credibility of sources, the flow of ideas, and the heart of a project are parts of research that have become mundane, but were seen with fresh eyes when exploring this new world with the student. I have been so rewarded by this experience that I asked my students to work on submissions for a regional communication conference which offers a forum for undergraduate work. This can be challenging since I don't have a major and so there are no upper-level courses. However, the students have responded and several are working with me to submit their work to the conference by the end of next week. Feeling the pressure of the tenure clock can certainly make research feel like a chore or a burden. I wanted to post to encourage all of us in higher education to take a moment and remember the possibility and excitement of research and to, perhaps, feel ourselves rejuvenated by the process.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Communicating through and with our work environment

Consider what your office-space says about it cluttered or obsessively tidy, comfortable or rigid, sparse or decorated? Do you have sticky notes everywhere and family pictures smiling at you? Or do you prefer a de-personalized space to work? I've been exploring the issue of work environments as our campus has spent the past five years in FEMA trailers/temporary buildings since Hurricane Katrina struck the New Orleans area.

When I first began working in the recovery area in Fall 2007, there were 23 people in half of a FEMA building and we had library study carrels that we shared where each person had a two-drawer file cabinet stored underneath the study carrel. You couldn't fit your knees under the desk area and the computer hard drive and monitor barely fit on the work surface. We shared a single departmental phone. After a year and a half, some members were moved to rehabilitated building spaces and there were 13 of us left -- we each got two study carrels to work from, our own phone lines, and our own printers. The open working space made a loud, unproductive area in which to meet students and try to accomplish research, but the small improvements in space allocation seemed as if we could move around and really own our space a bit more than before. Despite the improvement, many of us struggled to maintain a steady pace with the research elements of our work. Just six months ago our tiny study carrels were replaced with actual desks and we received bookcases--but as my family would say, "you can put lipstick on a pig--but it is still a pig" -- and though the environment was improving, the space was rather depressing and difficult to work in, though I didn't quite realize that until today. After three and a half years, I am moving out of the shared FEMA building to a rehabilitated space on the second floor of a previously flood-damaged building. The space is an office suite with five smaller offices. Each individual office has its own door, but the walls stop about a foot shy of the ceiling, meaning the privacy is not complete. However, it is so much more than what we've had! We will no longer have to go outside and walk to another building for restrooms or water fountains (no small feat in the rain!). We will have the ability to close out the rest of the office, to not see and hear every student meeting and every phone call made by our colleagues. My whole outlook is shifting and I find myself much more content, positive, and excited about research and what I may tackle in this new space. Even though the office space is older and not truly individual, the step up is wonderful. It is a true morale boost.

My excitement over the move has startled me. I didn't realize how much my work space impacted the feelings I had when I went to work or as I tried to tackle certain elements of work.

That prompts the question, what does your work space say TO you and ABOUT you? Do you find you draw energy from the work environment? Does it motivate you? I have spent many long hours in this FEMA building and as I stare at the boxes piled around me I feel as though I am shedding several years of unrecognized sadness/frustration while embracing a bright, new outlook.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Teaching with bells and whistles?

This week I used short movie clips to illustrate concepts from the text. While I don't do this often, I try to add in some type of pop culture (music, print ad, movies, tv programs) for more difficult materials covered in the course. For example, for the Introduction to Public Speaking class I used clips from My Cousin Vinny to illustrate the concept of Ethos and Logos (Marisa Tomei court scene) in constructing arguments. I also incorporated a brief non-verbal analysis of candidates seeking election from CNN analysts to illustrate the idea that our bodies say more than our mouths. In the Advanced course, I relied on short clips from Lean on Me, A Time to Kill, and Inglourious Bastards to talk through the ideas of coercion and persuasion. I am quite blessed to say that my students are very engaged in most of the class sessions we have--they work to apply the text to daily life and to upcoming speeches. This week's classes went extremely well. Students were engaged and participating actively in discussions. I was thrilled the difficult concepts were absorbed easily and students were using academic vocabulary in the class discussion.

When I returned to my shared office, a colleague noted I lugged around a laptop, projector, speakers, and asked about the lesson for the day. When I described what we did the reaction was unexpected. My colleague noted that he doesn't like to teach with "bells and whistles" and that "of course the students would like it, but are they learning?" We are in separate disciplines and divided by 25 years of age, so it was interesting to explore the ideas of learning from one who views it in a more rote, solitary fashion and my own perception of teaching through connections and more democratically-based classrooms. It made me wonder about our perceptions of pedagogy and how we most often teach the way we liked to learn. While I enjoyed a good lecture, I really remembered/retained information when it was through some applied medium such as a class activity, a group project, or pop culture. Those classes were the ones I enjoyed the most because I knew that the material I read would be brought to life in some way during the class session. In the end, a productive and interesting discussion on pedagogy came out of the "bells and whistles" comment where we both reflected and examined our approaches in the classroom. Maintaining an open mind and sharing ideas on pedagogy across disciplines opens opportunities for educators which can enhance learning in the classroom.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Motivation and retention

What is it that spurs your motivation? This semester has been an interesting mix of energetic opportunities and simple faculty fatigue. After 10 weeks, the semester is flying by and the TO DO list is static. Examining motivation in higher education is interesting. Why do we work such long hours? What keeps us at our institutions? What are we using as a source of energy to continue our efforts?

Oldham (2005) remarked that motivation within the teaching side of higher education depends greatly on the symbolic organizational behavior and sheer collegiality within the institution--this motivation was stronger than any bureaucratic or political organizational behavior in influencing faculty motivation around teaching. This is an important observation, noting that our perception of collegiality in the workplace can influence our personal motivation to meet our professional goals. Interpersonal and organizational communication carries a powerful oar in the way we navigate our professional journey within higher education--even across departments and campus. Drysdale (2005) commented that faculty at one institution were motivated to remain at their institution by three consistent factors: their families, their desire to remain in the geographic location, and their tenure status (achieved). This calls to question, what happens to retain faculty members when they are not tenured, not set on the geographic location, and do not face family pressure to remain? In short, how are many non-tenured faculty finding the motivation to remain at institutions?

Personally, my motivation to do work and to do work specifically at my institution continues to be highly impacted by my students. When they are engaged and excited, it is much easier to work (both on teaching elements, and on committees and research). As students lose energy, my own seems to fade. This means that the end of October has become a difficult time for me to self-motivate here on campus. However, the research shows that strong collegial ties and an institutional focus on need, emotions, and intellectual goals can help faculty members stay motivated to commit to their institution. Perhaps our institutions need to continue focusing on these areas to explore faculty retention, motivation, and ultimately the success faculty members are having in teaching, service, and research as they move through their careers. Institutions aren't the only place to look for assistance in maintaining a productive work environment. Faculty members would do well to reflect on motivation and retention while personally examining how they are shaping institutional culture, departmental culture, and that all-important sense of collegiality on today's college campuses.

In the mean time, my goal lies in finding a consistent level of motivation from which I can draw to stay productive-- A level of motivation that is not subject to the valleys and peaks of the semester timeline or the student energy base.

Drysdale, D. (2005). Faculty job satisfaction: Retaining faculty in the new millennium. Dissertation: Montana State University.
Oldham, B. (2005). Organizational behavior and faculty motivation in higher education. Dissertation: Peabody College for Teachers of Vanderbilt University.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Undergraduate research during fiscal cuts

There are so many great opportunities for our undergraduates. I had the pleasure of taking several juniors to our state communication conference yesterday and was delighted to see how warmly they were received by professors and how excited the students were. The students and I presented a panel and they were professional, well-researched, and very capable to address a variety of questions from the diverse audience. Even though we do not have a Communication Studies program at my institution, the student Communication Club has provided an opportunity to introduce students to research beyond their coursework--and they are embracing such opportunities! Moreover, they were incredibly excited after they presented. They spoke about graduate programs and instantly wanted to consider regional and national presentation opportunities. I was a little shocked at how excited they were as I am somewhat numbed by conference presenting and though it is rewarding, the newness and excitement has diminished for me--until I saw them taking pictures of themselves by the poster with their panel description and names, uploading their images to facebook from their mobile phones, and claiming with their social networking status, "Just presented and did an awesome job!"

As a faculty member I know how easy it is to lament the lack of funding and assistance during today's difficult higher education budget environment. After yesterday's success, it was obvious that we may be overlooking the perfect opportunity to marry our research needs with our students' desires for opportunities. Reaching out to our undergraduates may allow them to explore and understand research, to become more familiar with our discipline's current knowledge, and to introduce them to disseminating research through presentations and writing. It appears to be a symbiotic relationship that can provide both the faculty member and the student with several benefits.

Why not include our undergraduates more fully in our research? Here are a few ideas:
- Ask for those who would like to participate in state or regional (or national) conferences that welcome undergraduate research. Mentor them as they work on their research and explore their presentational dynamics.
- Seek out opportunities for the students to assist in data-entry or literature reviews where they can learn library techniques and software and where you can get your research progressing toward publication.
- If you work with students, share the limelight! Allow the students to highlight their work and share in yours at conferences or in publications.
- Share their energy. Let their excitement for new opportunities reinvigorate your research and professional drive.
- Consider sponsoring an undergraduate research day at your institution where students can present to the campus and earn valuable experience sharing knowledge with others.
- Don't underestimate your undergraduates. They are amazingly equipped and a little guidance can go a long way.
- Share your ideas and activities with other professors!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fall frenzy

The new semester is officially underway today! For many of us, that means leaving behind a productive summer of writing and research, or it marks the end of a hectic summer semester of teaching, or perhaps the last languid days of time away from campus duties entirely. This time of year always feels full of promise and potential to me, despite the frenzied pace of activities. Seeing the new influx of fresh-out-of-high-school students can be especially exciting. I enjoy watching their acclimation to the university culture and to their coursework as they explore personal freedoms and new academic ground. The frenzy of the fall term is one of bustling excitement and new possibilities for faculty members as well. If we but take a moment to absorb the energy around us then we can begin the semester as eagerly as those new college students.

During our registration duty last week, however, it seemed many faculty members at my institution and others bring little energy to the new term. In fact, several people reminded me of the Winnie the Pooh character, Eeyore. There was no energy, no zest, and when faced with a few items of news responded that it wouldn't be long before some type of doom came upon our heads or noted that a book they ordered had not come in and a machine was on the fritz. It is true: Higher education these days in most states is suffering from crises of morale as we trudge through the fiscal cuts. While these issues can be frustrating, and I do have my share this term, I disliked seeing such feelings overshadow the zest of a new term. The start of a semester is one of my favorite times and I am eager to meet the students, to explore the personalities of my various classes, and to see what might emerge in the next 16 weeks.

Despite the extremely dire economic forecasts in higher education, I am focusing on the positives, feeding off of the energy and eager for the new term to begin. As when I was younger, I awoke today thinking "First day of school!" and will carry with me reminders that while it may be just another semester to me it might also be a student's first taste of college life and his or her first interaction with my institution. So, bring on the new students, the emails, the questions, and yes, even the apathy. I've decided that I will bring enough positive energy into this semester to tackle it all!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Vacation and the tenure track

As a whirlwind summer semester draws to a close in two short weeks, I have many friends in the non-academic environment who comment about the lucky "vacation" time I will get with the two weeks that separate our summer and fall semesters. The Chronicle of Higher Education calls it the "fantasy of the faculty vacation"--that elusive time "off" from teaching that usually means time spent preparing for new courses, researching, revising, editing, and analyzing data. It is not time off. It is not a vacation. We often find the tenure track clock tick-tocking away and the work that we know is THE WORK that will be tallied up by those waving the tenure-granting wand is done when there is no pay and there is no vacation--it is work we do when we are on "vacation."

As a first generation college student, the misunderstanding many in my social and familial circles have about the "time off" is hard to combat and a futile effort, in most cases. Just as the comments, "You only work 12 hours a week" (representing actual class-time, not "work" time) no longer bother me, I am trying to let go of the many comments regarding the perception of time outside of the traditional semester. The impression that faculty life involves a schedule of weeks off throughout the year for "holidays" many of us spend working long hours in home offices will remain unchallenged when I hear commentary on the easy path I have chosen in my professional life, I am going to let the many slightly sarcastic well-wishing comments, ("Have fun on your vacation, I wish my job was like that. Must be so hard! chuckle chuckle) drift away from my ears and try to incorporate more of what others see in my away-from-campus time: I'm going to try to have a few days of pure vacation during my vacation. No laptop, no data, no tenure clock floating in the back of my mind.

Many faculty members struggle with this "real vacation" time. We have lingering guilt when setting aside the tasks that need done before another semester begins. We struggle to justify a true vacation when the finite time of the tenure track has us running frantically toward our goals. This is especially true for newer faculty and those who are pre-tenure. We might also share the thought, "You know how it is. Tenure first! There will be time for rest later, right?" one of my colleagues wearily wrote in her last email.

So in two weeks (and a few days) from now, during a few days of my semester break you may find me on a mental beach taking a much-needed mental vacation from the tenure track faculty life. Until then, I will wrap up the summer semester teaching, polish off a few research goals, and focus on the freedom of a few days of TRUE vacation.
Montell, G. (2010, June 9). The fantasy of the faculty vacation. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved June 12, 2010 from

Monday, June 28, 2010


In graduate school and probably as far back as kindergarten, I was the student who got my work in early. I did not miss deadlines, forget assignments, or miss work. Even at age eight, I was annoyingly focused on meeting expectations and being timely. In the tenure-track life, so many things compete for our time that I can no longer be that person with projects done weeks in advance. I have accepted some days (weeks, months, semesters) are busier than others, but struggle when I feel a lack of control over my time dedicated to projects. I have found that the most pressing item gets done while other tasks sit waiting. So, the syllabus gets edited since students will be arriving while the data sits un-entered or un-analyzed.

To combat my personal tendency to leave research as a secondary focus at my teaching-based institution, I embrace deadlines.

Is productivity benefited by deadlines? Do deadlines motivate you? My ability to balance research/teaching/service is getting better, but I still find research to be the hardest task to tackle since, for me, it requires an unwearied mind and blocks of time where I can focus (difficult in a multi-person office). My best tool to moving research forward: my love of deadlines. When it comes to organizing any project, I generally create "sub-deadlines"-- a mock deadline a week or two ahead of a larger project in order to give myself extra room for final details or for anything that might go awry. It is akin to the snooze button on your alarm. It generally works quite well for me. This summer semester I find applying my love for deadlines and structure can help my research. The deadlines are serving two key goals in my research world.

First, deadlines are motivating me. I have put them in my digital and hard-copy calendars. The digital calendar shows reminders, color-coded for type of work, and set to encourage forward momentum. The hard-copy calendar is tactile evidence (the blessed check mark!) of small tasks tackled for that larger project. The date with the giant star or exclamation point reminding me to submit is a constant reminder to keep the research at the forefront of my academic work.

Second, deadlines are, in themselves, rewards. I feel a huge excitement when I mark off an item that has been staring at me on my "to do" list. It is victory, it is accomplishment, it is relief. "When you get a task completely finished, your body naturally releases energy and good feelings associated with accomplishment. The bigger the task, the better you feel, " according to Whiteside of the Self-Improvement Association.

Deadlines and sub-deadlines help me manage my research goals when facing a busy week of committee meetings or grading. This week, midterm week, my students have a large presentation to complete and exams to grade alongside the June 30th deadlines for grant reports, conferences, and revisions or submissions for publications. It seemed everything would hit at once and the deadlines were slowly suffocating me. I re-evaluated what I could cut out (I had to let a conference submission go) and prioritized (grant report first) and then made all the calendar notes about sub-deadlines, slowly tackling items bit by bit. Despite a busy semester, I am two days away from my final date for submission and have all but one project completed EARLY. The final edits will be made on my last project and I'll submit one day before the deadline...which feels like sweet victory!

Then, of course, the next deadline looms and the another project gets underway--such is the life of the tenure-track faculty member.
Whiteside, R. (2009, June 24). 7 steps to prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed. Retrieved June 21, 2010 from the Self-Improvement Association web site:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Strategies: A two-week reflection

After nearly two weeks of the fast-paced summer session, I find research continues to be an area where I must pressure myself to emphasize. With the immediate needs of my students, I often put research aside thinking, “I’ll work on this over the weekend” only to find myself buried in emails and exhausted by the time the weekend comes. I love my research areas and enjoy reading and exploring communicative concepts, but find my time is prioritized with teaching tasks always landing at the top of any to-do list. With this continued push and pull of the research requirement at a teaching institution, the last blog post focused on several strategies to continually focus on research this summer. How are they working? Here’s an update:

- Checking e-mail twice a day: Success! I am still responsive to the students’ needs and aware of institutional news but do not rush to immediately address every email I receive. Has led to more focused work time at the office where I can write.
- Scheduling (in day planner) and protecting blocks of research time: Success! I still have a long way to go but I have dedicated blocks of time to research and don’t allow anything to “steal” that time away. This week, however, this has been hard with conflicting meetings scheduled by those in administration where I feel I must attend. To off-set this concern, I re-scheduled the time. I have noticed that I must force myself to put away my grading and stop answering emails, though, so my natural inclination remains toward teaching-related tasks and I will continue to work on this throughout this term so the busier Fall term will see success as well.
- Accountability with research journal and “motivators”: The most successful strategy so far. I have reported in with colleagues both inside and outside of my institution and we have served as cheerleaders and points-of-reference for one another. It is exciting to see the progress we are all enjoying with this co-mentoring attempt.
- Organizational grids: These continue to work extremely well for my personality type.
- Weekly check-ins on project deadlines: A wonderful addition to the research plan—I have continued to stay focused on the on-going projects while determining if various deadlines are realistic or need to be modified with plenty of time to accomplish the tasks. This, however, has also shown me that I might want to employ a new strategy regarding limiting what is tackled during various points in the semester. For example, I have a lot of items due at the end of June, which will coincide with a big speaking assignment for my students (increased student needs, emails, grading). If possible, I will try to navigate my research tasks away from heavy teaching times to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
- Office hours: Keeping my teaching work during office hours hasn’t been as successful. The teaching tasks spill over to home and to other hours of the day, especially this summer. I am continuing to work on a more balanced allocation of time, but continue to struggle in this area.

There are many strategies those of us at teaching-heavy institutions employ (and at research institutions as well) to manage the pull of teaching, research, and service requirements in our professional lives. As noted, “Ultimately, you will be most successful, and feel most comfortable in your chosen career, when you learn how to balance competing demands on your time, both personally and professionally.” This lesson is particularly challenging for me, but as Blackburn (1979) showed, the gap between productive and non-productive faculty increases over time. So those who learn to be research-productive early stay productive and those who are less productive only continue on that pattern. He also noted that faculty productivity is often influenced heavily by the institution, organizational factors such as support, colleagues, and environment. For all of these reasons, I believe it is important to continue to focus on discovering what helps me be productive and what my needs are institutionally so I can co-create the professional culture which allows for the most success with the least stress.

Blackburn, R. T. (1979). Academic careers: Patterns and possibilities in faculty career development. Current Issues in Higher Education, 2, 25.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Teaching VERSUS Research?

As a new semester begins, I am feeling the familiar pull of a common dichotomy: Teaching versus research. Already I have sat through hours of advising and registering to face classes which are overflowing and the rigors of daily summer classes for the next nine weeks. After two weeks of productivity on articles, research, and transcribing it is amazing how quickly the familiar TUG of the two areas of teaching and research start to pull on my time. Today my schedule included creating course syllabus and calendar for two on-ground classes and beginning to structure the modules for the online course. Somehow, the time is already flying away with the student communication and course needs. And so, I find myself wondering if my research goals will take the back seat to my teaching load this summer. I continue to struggle with the balance of my time between these two worlds and have developed several strategies that I am employing with vigor beginning the first day of the term:
- I will only check my email twice a day to avoid being pulled away from research work in "non-teaching" blocks of my time
- I have already scheduled (in my day planner) hours where I will be focusing on research. I will protect this time, making sure I don't schedule meetings or other work in those time frames.
- I will remain accountable with a research journal and by keeping "motivators" around me, other junior faculty who are striving for tenure. We will keep one another focused on our bigger goals.
- I will track my progress continuing to use my organizational grids for each semester.
- I will check in each week to see where I stand and to modify deadlines and dates if necessary.
- My office hours will be kept for teaching tasks (if no students attend) and answering emails to avoid excessive work at home.

Let's see how it works out...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Delayed gratification: researching and publishing

It has been a year since the first draft, but news that an article will be published has come! Any academic loves to hear their work has moved into publication-phase, but it had me considering the fact that research (and service and teaching elements, too, I suppose) in academia is really not for those seeking instant gratification. This article in particular had a lot of time both in research and writing/revising, and patience is difficult when eager to see the fruits of our labor. There are a lot of steps to tackle before finding success in this tenure-track world, which makes time management all the more important skill for those of us with heavy teaching loads and the requirement to also make a name in research. It is also interesting to see how the news of acceptance for publication can make all of those hours of research and writing melt away to a misty memory and amp up my energy to get MORE before tenure review.

Balancing the duality of research and teaching continues to be an ongoing lesson for me after three years on the TT. In fact, this past year is really the first time I have felt myself becoming more equalized in the realm of research and teaching time. As Lang (2005) commented, life on the tenure track is about finding a personal ability to manage different responsibilities and research takes a lot of mental space. After a year on the tenure track he wrote, "I still haven't mustered the intellectual energy to work on my scholarly articles. The prospect of paging through all the critical articles and works of scholarship I have assembled in order to top off the pile with my own small insight doesn't seem as intellectually invigorating as it did in graduate school" (p. 158). I latch on to the "intellectual energy" component--after teaching 5 sections of class and attending committee meetings all week, that energy can be difficult to find and even more challenging to direct into multiple projects. But, the TT does not wait and those of us trekking along that track seem to find a few tricks that work to help cope with the various demands on our time.

I may have mentioned my organizational grids created at the beginning of each semester which chronologically lists the research and conference projects on the agenda for the upcoming months, breaks them into stages, and lists by date what needs accomplished. Though it can change, the structure has been a real motivator this past year and it is exciting to see things in the "pipeline" finally finding their way to publication.

In the end, delayed gratification is better than no gratification -- so with the good news of a publication comes the renewed energy to keep the next project moving forward and to allow the research wheels to continue to spin.
Lang, J. M. (2005). Life on the tenure track: Lessons from the first year. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Writing, reflection, and impact on our research

At age seven I remember peering over the counter of Kmart slowly adding money from chores for the purchase of a bright pink notebook with a fake leather cover (it was the 1980s, so don't judge the fashion too harshly) and magnetic closure. I wanted to keep a diary after I learned how to write enough words to express my feelings. That day, I began journaling and have continued to journal throughout my life. I have a box full of my old journals stored away. Though I transitioned in 2005 from paper and pen to a private blog, I have found the act of writing and reflecting a powerful element in my life. As the semester draws to a close, I look back and feel glad that I have taken a new step in my reflective process. I keep a "research journal" where I free-write, reflect, and make notes about the research element of faculty life.

Sometimes my entries are desperate pleas to find time to write [February 20, 2010: "I can't do this. I can't balance all of this committee work and (title omitted of the article) that is due at the end of the month. I need large blocks of time where I can focus"] and other times the entry is a brief observation on methods, participants, or future project ideas [April 4, 2010: "I see a lot of pathways from this entry point in (project name omitted) and can't wait to dig into the literature to see if we've considered the student perspective."].

The writing is not forced, there are no rules, no structure. It is one place where I can simply dump all of my thoughts out to help focus on the path that needs to be taken. I began my research journal this past January and have found it to be a wonderful tool to help me stay motivated on my research--in fact, it has helped me to really keep my research a bigger priority this past semester. Often, though it is tough to admit, my research is a last priority for me. That is dangerous for the tenure path, but it often fades to the back-burner when faced with grading and committee work threatens all of my time. Since using my research journal, though, this semester I have submitted more articles, completed more projects, and worked with more data than in the past semesters. While some of this productivity can certainly be related to the ever-present and increasing-in-volume TICK-TOCK of my tenure-clock, I also believe a portion of the success has to go to reflective writing in the research process.

I'm writing on this journal as I feel that it has been a useful tool for me. This past Monday I was surprised to receive our college Scholarship award for the academic year! I truly believe this new focus on research is a driving force for my new motivations to keep research at the heart of the work that I do in future semesters. Would this work for you? What other tips might serve us well as we balance our service, teaching and research?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Research recoil?

I am transitioning from the Service component of tenure-track life to the Research element for a few posts to examine the balance of Research at a Teaching institution. Research weighs heavily on many tenure measures and I believe it should--it keeps us abreast of new developments in our disciplines and can push us to explore new pedagogical areas. I love doing research, but finding time to COMPLETE the research projects I've begun has been an ongoing challenge since starting on the tenure track. I've enjoyed the data collection and analysis, but find that partnering (co-authoring) has been a very helpful path to push many projects toward completion. The problem, some institutions do not weigh a co-authored article the same as a single-author article. This is understandable in many respects, but it does seem to push academia into more of an isolated, individualized endeavor. For me, collaborative work which crosses disciplines is very engaging and informative. I struggle with the potential recoil of the Research element when at a teaching institution.

Most teaching institutions carry a heavier load of teaching per faculty member. At mine, I often carry a 4/5/3 or 4/4/3 (anything above a 4 would be an "overload" based on the need for additional courses due to high enrollment or demand). With classes bearing 30-35 students each, the grading and energy required for instruction easily draw me away from the intellectually-intense research writing. I've been seeking advice from senior colleagues and new faculty members as well to explore the nebulous area of balance in the tenure track and found a few great guidelines to help us stay focused on a balanced tenure picture:

- Set deadlines and give incentives to meeting the deadlines (my advice, move deadlines up by two weeks to allow for the unexpected and work with mini-deadlines on larger projects).
- Work on having something "in the pipeline" so that you don't experience stagnation between projects.
- Determine boundaries on your teaching time (this is one where I struggle) and protect your writing/research time.
- Connect with others on the same timeline and consider peer reviewing /editing or simply meeting to support each other's research work.

What are some tips that have helped you, whether at a teaching institution or research institution? Feel free to post, email, and explore concepts together.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Conference season begins

April in my world is full of conferences and all kinds of exciting deadlines for publishing and presenting opportunities. As my conference season begins I am left with the scars of funding concerns in higher education. Many institutions, mine included, have been heavily hit by state funding shortages and one solution which many seem to adopt is limiting (or removing) funding opportunities for faculty travel to conferences. This is especially difficult for those of us who represent the only member of our discipline in an institution--conferences provide a much-needed exposure to scholars in our field, pedagogical advancements, and networking for future endeavors. I wonder, as we look at service-- including service within our associations as well as the continual look at how faculty members are rewarded (tenure requirements and more), will this lack of financial support result in a change in the way faculty are reviewed and rewarded? Or are many of us dipping deeper into our pockets to continue to attend conferences? This is especially concerning at some institutions which require conference service and presentation of research for the tenure process.

Last year the Chronicle reported "The recession is having a big impact, with attendance down at many academic and professional meetings, and next year is expected to be even worse." (J.R. Young, March 29, 2009 Economic downturn limits conference travel). There are institutions which have struck any funding for conferences, those which limit to one national conference a year, and those which have instituted application procedures for funding--but as the financial cuts continue where will it leave the academic conference in the landscape of higher education?

As I spoke about this with a colleague he noted that there are those who will always be able to travel and he felt those most impacted were junior faculty members and graduate students who are working to build their CVs and feel it necessary to travel. I personally dealt with this dilemma: The deadline for submission to a national association was in February and I took one look at the West Coast location and groaned. I priced a flight, hotel, and when the estimated cost hit $1200, I called others in my field to talk about what fallout could exist if I opted not to attend or present. It was a very difficult decision, but I decided to not attend. I've told myself I will focus on publishing and will attend next year when it will be in my state, but the nagging concern won't leave and each update on the looming conference brings a wave of concern.

I suppose higher education will continually adapt during these tight times and wonder what the changes will mean for both associations and for tenure review/faculty development. Until I know, I will attend my regional conferences and commit to service with these associations to continue to build my CV, contribute to my discipline, and operate under the assumption that a lack of funding for travel will not mean lessened scrutiny when the tenure review takes place.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Efficiency and your committee work

Now that we've been exploring committees and have had some discussion about the benefits and struggles of committee work, it might be interesting to explore how to maintain your committee work and remain efficient. There are a lot of great resources for navigating academic life for faculty members. While exploring some of these, I found this advice and thought it might be useful to pass some items on.

There are some good tips from the University of California, Fullerton web site:
And more advice from Ms. Mentor's recent book via Tomorrow's Professor-blog:

The advice primarily centers around several key constructs when in a committee meeting, which ties nicely to communication research on group processes:
- Try to identify finite tasks with realistic details when sitting on committees
- Help the committee stay focused on the tasks/work at hand, don't contribute to extremely tangential directions that lead one to leave the hour-long meeting bemoaning, "we didn't do anything!"
- Contribute: adding your voice seems to allow more buy-in and can add great input for those in the committee
- Do the work when you've agreed to serve on a committee, doing this ahead of time can help the meetings stay on track, be productive, and can make a new/introverted faculty member more likely to speak up in meetings

There was also advice centered on the elusive balance we all seek in our jobs and lives when it comes to Service work in the university:
- Set aside specific reading/writing/researching times in your day planner and protect those times
- Ask for advice from chairs and senior professors
- Say "no" when you know you don't have the knowledge to serve on a committee or when you know you cannot appropriate the proper amount of time
- Limit the number of committees on which you serve (one site suggested ONE standing committee and ONE other committee and some recommend taking a total break from committees to rejuvenate yourself as needed).

After reading this advice, I can see where a lot of my own heavy load has been facilitated by my desire to please those around me, to be involved on campus, and to not want to appear unwilling or uncooperative. All those feelings have done, though, is burden me with a heavy service load which threatens my energy level in all aspects of my work and can even lead to a sense of burnout. While I don't plan on avoiding committee work, I do hope to become a more positive, contributing member of the committees I'm on and to work hard to balance my own work load--because after all, if I don't protect my time, who else will?

A few other references to consider:
Boice, R. (1992). The new faculty member. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Magnan, R. & Schoenfeld, A. C. (1994). Mentor in a Manual: Climbing the Academic Ladder to Tenure, 2nd edition. Atwood Publications.
Toth, E. (2008). Ms. Mentor's New and Ever More Impeccable Advice for Women and Men in Academia. University of Pennsylvania Press.
And a personal read that I enjoy to help me avoid becoming overwhelmed,
Kasl, C. (2005). If the Buddha got stuck. Penguin.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The reward and demographics of Service

To briefly update, I want to thank folks for all of the great e-mailed comments on the blog! Please feel free to add your comments to the blog itself for all to read. I'm including a few comments that were sent my way via email:

- The reward for solid committee work is "more committee work" AND another comment received, "once you are seen as productive on committees you're getting 'rewarded' by being on more committees" {seems like a common consensus!}

- Several readers commented on the demographics of committees and one noted an interest in national and cultural backgrounds of the committee members as an interesting avenue to explore. I agree! In fact, there is some research in this area--

It has been noted that those "unique" from the dominant culture or background of the institution disproportionately serve on committees in higher education [see Aguirre, A. (2000). Women and minority faculty in the academic workplace. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, 27(6). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass OR/AND Kelly Ward's 2003 article, Faculty service roles and the scholarship of engagement found at ]. Often, these unique faculty members are called on to represent his or her sex or ethnicity in organizational affairs, according to Ward (2003). One could see this as highly negative tokenism, or as an opportunity (standpoint theory) for those with less power to become more enmeshed in the dominant culture's world (and therefore gain more power, have a greater voice, etc.). It is intriguing.

Such research also showed rank relates to committee/service load. Those with tenure or with longer administrative time appear to feel more confident saying "no" or self-ascribing roles in various campus committees. Those further along in their careers, with higher rank, serve on notably less committees. So, it is quite common for those new to the professoriate, like myself, to end up struggling with committee loads simply based on rank. Adding other demographic contributing factors may compound the service load.

This hidden curriculum to faculty life is one I do not shoulder with distaste, however. I value most of the committees and the solid work tackled by busy people for positive change in our institution. It does seem though that this facet of faculty life could lead to problems with work/life balance as one proceeds along the tenure track.

Thanks again for the thoughts!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Service: who participates?

This entry continues the topic of Committees/Service work in the university.

After talking to several colleagues, I realized that I carry a very heavy service load compared to others in my cohort, triple some of the others. I've been appointed to a LOT of committees by my Dean or other administrators at work and have found them to be a great way to accomplish a few key issues for new/junior faculty members:
1. I was able to learn a lot about the inner workings of my institution
2. I met many people quickly (and they were able to know/recognize me much earlier than my counterparts without committee loads)
3. My voice mattered in shaping the direction of the university which fostered a deeper connection to the university my first couple of years
4. I began to recognize political undercurrents and was better prepared to navigate them
5. My image on campus seemed to be crafted as one willing to work
But there have been drawbacks as well:
1. Time--I have at least 3 committee meetings each week and some weeks there are as many as 6. This might not sound like a lot to some, I have no real point of comparison, but when it is a work-heavy committee there are a lot of demands on time. Add a full (and overloaded, some semesters) teaching load this is the chief issue with heavy service requirements
2. Rewards--There seems to be minimal institutional rewards built in for committee service. It is a much smaller part of the tenure/annual review process
3. Energy--At times, I find myself depleted of any energy when facing endless meetings and tasks on quick deadlines

This made me ponder WHY faculty are appointed to committees and to wonder if other tenure-track faculty members find themselves feeling unable to say "no" when appointed by Deans or higher administrators as I have felt in the past couple years. I must say, I've begun employing "no" more often and feel partially responsible that I didn't start out more assertively in setting the tone on committee work. I assumed if appointed one should sit on that committee.

There seems to be a trend, though. A lot of the committees seem to involve a core group of the same folks. We appear heavily female in most committees, as well. So, I've posted a research article to examine this element of faculty life (Porter) regarding participation on committees. Porter noted that females and minority faculty perform more service than their male, majority counterparts and claims that excess committee participation may harm career prospects (since it takes time away from grants, research, and publications).

Armed with new literature to read, safely tucked in a file folder next to my upcoming two committee folders, I plan to dip further into the research and explore this issue to better inform my own career trajectory.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Committees and higher education: is there a balance to faculty life?

Faculty life, it seems, is made up of more than just teaching and research--this was the largest lesson of my first couple of years on the tenure track. In fact, that service component has become a time-consuming monster! I run from one class to a meeting and back to office hours before another committee meeting and then wonder why my research has slowed--well, then it is of little surprise that I was in a committee meeting today (Strategic Planning) when a colleague mentioned blogging. I maintain a personal blog for friends and family full of the short quips and pictures that keep them up to date and never thought of anything further, though I enjoy many excellent blogs in higher education (check out I was new to an academic blogging endeavor. But the idea of a blogging community to explore the balance (or lack thereof) of faculty life at a teaching institution was suddenly very appealing. I found a desire to further explore some of the many objectives, goals, and tasks faced by institutions of higher education--particularly teaching institutions. Slanting this through a lens of my research (faculty socialization, communication, pedagogy, technology and the larger issue of access to the culture of higher education) I thought I'd try a little blog to see if others shared this interest. Let's see where this blog goes!

A few questions I've been pondering, though all thoughts are welcome!
- what is your committee load and how do you feel about your committee work?
- how is the communication at your institution?
- what role does/did mentoring play in your academic socialization?
- have you found balance in your tenure track?
- what new tips or strategies do you have in teaching, research, or service?