Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Prezi: The PowerPoint Alternative?

Do you zoom when you present? A zooming presentation moves through ideas more conceptually than the standard computer-mediated presentational aids. Prezi, offered for online and desktop presentations, is an alternative to the text-filled boxes and slides found in PowerPoint. As a public speaking professor, PowerPoint has quickly become the bane of my existence as I watch students read from one slide to the next. In meetings, I feel much the same way. The lights dim, the slides go up, and my attention span instantly goes down.

So what is an alternative? Prezi, found at www.prezi.com, creates a zooming flow or conceptual map of your presentation that is not limited to the confines of a slide. When you are ready for a certain topic, the screen zooms toward that topic, it becomes the center of the screen and sized to be viewed as the focal point. When you transition, the screen shifts to your next topic and again situates that as the new focal point. Though PowerPoint can be incredibly useful and professional, students often type every word of their presentation on each slide and then read from it. Prezi allows a less-rigid display of knowledge which seems to enhance the students' abilities to speak extemporaneously.Above is an example of my most recent Prezi creation. From afar, it looks jumbled and unclear, but the process of watching the Prezi (with each element "zoomed" into the center of the screen) was delightful. Warning: There was a learning curve to creating the Prezi presentation. It is fairly intuitive, however, and opens with a video tutorial that is incredibly helpful. I still found a tendency to textually lump items together and quickly challenged myself to avoid this and embrace the free-flow and space of the Prezi.

I found that I enjoyed preparing the Prezi more than the PowerPoint. This could simply be due to the fact that it is a new tool and has a novelty factor, but I don't think that is it. Since Prezi allowed for creativity and worked with a flow of ideas, it actually helped me brainstorm for my discussion. I was hesitant to try it, but have now determined the students should be introduced to this and other options for computer-mediated presentational aids.

Do you seek other PowerPoint alternatives? Others do exist and they are worth exploring if you find you are teaching students the use of presentational aids, if you use presentational/teaching aids, or if you are just looking for new options for that afternoon meeting. Check out GoogleDocs Presentations or Zoho Show (which offers audio chat!) and are free--a great feature for students and professors alike.

So, the only question is...are you ready to break out of the PowerPoint box? If so, I recommend you click on PREZI and sign up (free), watch the video, and zoom away!

Monday, March 28, 2011

The research spurt?

Several posts have dealt with the nebulous construct of "faculty work-life balance" and even "faculty work-work balance" (the different elements of faculty workloads and how they argue so ardently for our time). After skimming over the blog on my recent conference travel, I noticed a trend in my own research output that can only be described as a SPURT.

"Spurt: to show marked, usually increased, activity or energy for a short period" - From Dictionary.com.

I am facing a cycle of research spurts. While it doesn't sound overly attractive, it isn't all together bad. I find that I work in waves of energy when it comes to my research. I will have peak days and then, inevitably, comes the valleys. My research spurts tend to cycle along with my teaching energy levels, meaning that when I get burned out on teaching I tend to rotate BRIEFLY to a very productive, but short-lived spurts of energy on my research. Then I inevitably rotate back to teaching-based and service-based work tasks and thus the continued struggle in BALANCING the work we face in faculty life.

I noticed the other day that I had been grading speeches for a seemingly endless amount of time before I just closed everything down and had an incredibly productive spurt of energy on a research project. This was rewarding and invigorated my grading, which I could return to with new zeal. However, the spurts are not enough for long-term, consistent productivity.

Why does it seem that I am always seeking a balance among the different facets of faculty life? There is so much to do in each of the realms of academic work along the tenure track. Research, teaching, and the ever-consuming service work: they are all trying to get me to focus in their direction, but tenure insists on success in all these arenas (and then some...).

I came across this image today which represents a lot of thoughts: first and most obvious is the need for balance. Secondarily is the need to "eat the elephant one bite at a time" -- or tackle what is in front of you and to be persistent. It is with this image in mind that I am now shifting from meeting-mode to grading-mode and will then hope for a spurt of research energy to help me end the day with balance and productivity.

[Image from: http://www.lifeionizers.com/blog/]

Thursday, March 24, 2011

That conference energy

I am attending my regional conference and despite a day of hectic travel with delays, mechanical problems, and a full sprint through the airport, I am excited by the possibilities that exist with conferences. It wasn't two minutes into the lobby before I was exchanging research ideas, re-connecting with others in my discipline, and finding that energy again.

You know the energy. The research and teaching energy where you become re-ignited to reflect, explore, and examine what you do as you hear what others do. The energy which can so easily deplete during a busy semester can be recharged when attending a good conference and Southern States Communication Association is always a good conference. I haven't even attended a session and I don't deliver my own presentation until this afternoon, but I can tell you the travel is already worth it.

This reminds me of the work Boyer did on examining faculty work and scholarship and how we reward that work. Additionally, how we talk about and share our ideas on teaching. Boyer's thoughts about faculty collaboration was reinforced within the first hours of my conference experience and I am reminded to slow down and enjoy all of the opportunities and dialogues that can be fostered in academic conference settings.

Want to read more? Check out:
Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Those old family sayings...

I was on campus yesterday morning before 7 a.m. When I pulled up, I thought "the early bird gets the worm!" and felt optimistic about my day. But then, the reality set in. My day consisted of a class plan which required me to heft (roll and carry, actually) 40 pounds of equipment/props to class in another building. Of course, being a completely uncoordinated klutz I ended up wrenching my back and doing something unknown but painful to my foot. I kept pushing forward remembering my mother saying, "this too shall pass, Toots." Working through the pain, I rushed back to the office for a student appointment before heading to a 2 p.m. meeting which very unexpectedly ran until 4:30 p.m. and threw off my whole schedule. I zipped over to my departmental office to sign payroll before the 5 p.m. deadline. I left work around 6 pm. hungry and tired. I went home to log on to the computer and work on my online course. I turned off the computer around 8. I then reviewed a research articles, made some notes, and sifted through luggage for my upcoming conference travel. By the time I went to sleep I was exhausted.

This morning I pulled up at ten til 7, armed with a Tuesday Treat (a chai latte) and ready to face the day. I reminded myself that "hard work reaps rewards" and squared my shoulders as I faced my desk and all of the items I didn't get to yesterday. Then...I saw that I must represent our department at a high school recruiting/informational event today and will, again, be scrambling from one place to another before flying to a conference for the rest of the week. I felt deflated, defeated! Does the early bird REALLY get the worm? Does hard work reap rewards? Will the challenges ever pass? Is there truth in any of the old sayings from my family? My face worked itself into a cranky grimace as I thought about my grandma saying, "I'll just take my dolls and go home" whenever she was teasing us kids. I wanted to pack up and call it quits. Instead, I sighed and began to chip away at the to-do list, but mentally I was starting to check out.

Then, I opened an email from a student. And suddenly I remembered something my father told me when I was 15 and working at a local greenhouse. Back then, I complained about the dust, dirt, and heat. He told me in his logical way, that "work is a privilege." I have tried very hard to remember this throughout my life.

Seriously, it is easy to forget though...isn't it? With deadlines looming and conference season under way, our work can sometimes overshadow the actual WORK we are doing. In that email, a student wrote her appreciation for the course and noted she had given a speech where she saw her past 9 weeks of the public speaking course pay off. She even thanked me and said she was looking forward to the rest of the semester! That little email brought back a big reminder. All of this work matters. All of this effort has an end. All of the endeavors carry forward the institutional mission that I so strongly believe in and improve the educational opportunities of our students. This work is a true privilege.

Thus the emotional cycle of the tenure track life continues! I believe it is especially difficult in this year (year four) where I so easily feel the pressure of the need to publish, speak, and present on top of the institutional obligations of our QEP and the added duties of another semester with an overload class schedule. It is as if I can SEE what must be done, but there is a glass pane in the way and I can never quite reach all the things that need to be done. There are grants to be written, articles to finalize and submit, and research to analyze...but there are classes to teach and conferences to attend, and meetings that never end. It all goes back to the balancing act that we try to manage in academia. One that we control, but often forget to evaluate. One that can easily start to change our outlook on life. And so I end up mentally dialing in to my family members' sayings and reminding myself of the mantras that have moved me forward in my life.

The tenure track life involves so many different types and kinds of work that we can easily lose sight of the impact we may have daily on our students, institution, and community. We can easily forget the privilege of work when faced with its pressure.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Instructors: Do you use facebook?

I am continuing my research on instructional communication by examining how instructors use Facebook and its impact on communication with and perceptions of students. Please help me by taking a brief survey. To participate in this study, you must (a) have a Facebook account (b) be a college-level educator. Please participate by answering (10-15 minute) online survey questions about Facebook use. This study has been approved by the Southern University at New Orleans IRB.

Please forward this survey link (http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/2CM2RBW) to others who fit the criteria above.
Thank you so much!
Dr. Lora Helvie-Mason
Assistant Professor of Communication Studies
Southern University at New Orleans

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The lost episodes of acadmic research

All of our favorite old TV shows seem to declare a "lost episode" with the imagery of a dusty room with canisters and spindles of old film. Could it be that our academic world has the same dusty rooms and forgotten story lines? This weekend I began to wonder. I am known for being organized (which is a nice way of saying that I am obsessive about my work space). In my home office, I had a group of file folders neatly labeled and in a little stack. The stack sat on top of my printer and was shuffled about as the very urgent issues of the past two months took center stage. I grouped files together, moved them to the appropriate "must do" or "work on when time" and "back burner" sections of my file system. I neatly labeled tabs and updated time lines on the manila files. Now that our on-site SACS visit is finished, I reviewed the files to re-categorize and to tidy up the work space (I hate piles). Everything was going smoothly until I came across THE LOST FILE.

I stared at it slightly dumbfounded. I picked it up. Felt confused. Put it down. Picked it up and heard myself muttering, "what are you?" to the file.

I saw the tab, neatly labeled in my color-coded system (green for on-going research) and opened the file to find printed out journal articles, notes in the margins, a piece of paper with my handwriting noting very rough ideas for research and a sketch of a time frame for submission...from TWO YEARS AGO! Yes, the file has somehow escaped my slightly obsessive-compulsive reign of folders and excel spreadsheets of to-do items. I was staring at a lost opportunity.

As I glanced around my orderly work space I pondered what to do with the Lost File. Should it be updated and moved into the "ongoing research" area? Should it simply be forgotten since there is no doubt I have enough to do right now? I stared down at the file, glanced through the articles, and felt that familiar spark of interest re-ignite. This was research I wanted to do. So what if the work in the file was outdated. I could update it. I could add it to the (overwhelmingly full, nearing panic-sized proportion) to-do list. I couldn't lose this opportunity. Plus, I hate wasted work.

The whole thing has me shaking my head. Could I have seriously forgotten about a project? Has this happened to anyone else? How strange! But, just like those never seen, lost episodes of TV shows, I couldn't help but feel a strong curiosity and eagerness to explore the file. Lost? No more! Let's see what this file's previously un-aired story line adds to my journey.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mardi Gras: reflections of the tenure track?!

Here in New Orleans, we enjoy two breaks during the Spring term: Mardi Gras break and Spring Break. Our Mardi Gras break is 3 days and after a busy semester, I was glad to see a few days where I could take a break this week. Have you ever noticed, in academia, that a break isn't really a break? Somehow the work sucks us back in. I did work on emails, a conference proposal, treasurer duties for an organization, reviewer duties for another conference, and some grading. But a Mardi Gras break refused to be ignored and after the last couple of weeks, my brain was begging for some time away from the computer. With that in mind, I did take a day to just do nothing. I enjoyed a nice walk down near the parades on Sunday and don't think I will ever tire of the energy that this city can generate during Mardi Gras season. The houses are decorated, the people are friendly, and the whole city has a sense of family and celebration about it.

As I walked around the city, it was clear to see that Mardi Gras offers a lot for the city, but Mardi Gras can be applied to the tenure-track faculty life (don't shriek in disbelief, it is true!). Take the Mardi Gras colors: green, gold and purple. Green stands for FAITH. Gold stands for POWER. Purple stands for JUSTICE. The colors of Mardi Gras were everywhere this past week and I was very excited to learn about their meanings. Faith, Power and Justice: I live my tenure-track life with these beliefs. I have faith in my institution and in the tenure process, I hold the power to make it a successful journey and to make choices which will move me forward toward tenure, and I believe in the justice of the mantra that hard work WILL pay off.

Additionally, Mardi Gras itself and the constant chanting of "Throw me something, mister!" from tourists and city dwellers alike had me thinking about the goal of tenure. We want something and we sure do fight for it. During Mardi Gras, we raise our hands, clamor to the front of the parade route traffic, and (as I can attest as I rub a bruise given to me by an eager parade attendee) even elbow our way ahead of others to reach our goal. Tenure, for those on the tenure track, can seem all-consuming and we might forget that HOW we get there could be as important as getting there. So tuck the elbows in and do the work without breaking down those around you. It can help you reach tenure as you will be seen as a collegial contributing member of the department. It will also make the tenure-track experience more enjoyable (again, drawing on the parades and how much MORE fun it is to work with others, as we see city dwellers give beads to tourists who haven't figured out the best way to grab them out of the air).

Mardi Gras break also allowed me time to reflect. The city's celebrations reminded me to celebrate--a lesson much needed in the tenure-track process. It might be overwhelming some days and exhausting others, but there are many times where we can celebrate the tenure-track journey and too often we cheat ourselves by focusing on the negative emotions. Today I am celebrating the moment in today's class where the students led the discussion, applied the concepts, and then revised their speech outlines. They were engaged, positive, and focused. That is a victory. Today I am also celebrating the mid-point of the semester by offering extended office hours for students to check on their grades and seek extra assistance on their upcoming speeches and midterm exams. This ability to extend my time to connect with students is a treat and I see it as a way I can balance some of the stress of the semester with some of the rewards. Thus, there are many ways that the city, Mardi Gras, and the little break from work have impacted my outlook as I begin to tackle the second half of this semester. With that in mind, let me wish you luck on your own educational journey and leave you with a final Mardi Gras reference, "laissez les bon temps rouler!"

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Home Depot Re-tool Your School

The Home Depot is giving back to Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU) by awarding $150,000 in grants for campus improvements. Please take a moment and click on this link to vote for Southern University at New Orleans. You can vote once a day through April 22. Please support our university and share the link with others. We desperately need this opportunity! Thank you! And a giant THANKS to Home Depot for this amazing support of our universities.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thank you!

"Communication and higher education" has been selected as an "Online Master Resource" in Education. I am honored to have this blog serve as a resource for master's students in education. The Online Master Resource offers links and information for scholars in Education. This blog is now listed as a reference and it is exciting to see academics sharing resources in this way. View the Online Master Resource here. I would like to welcome students and encourage you to comment, question, and engage with the content of this blog. Thank you readers! And many thanks to Online Master Resource for incorporating this blog into your list of references for students!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The on-site visit

You can tell by the hustle and bustle on campus, the somewhat frenzied administrators and faculty, the feel of energy around the campus. Yes, it is that time again: Institutional re-accreditation and the on-site visit. I mentioned QEP and we all know the larger auspice of re-accreditation comes with the QEP endeavor. This is my first time as a core part of the re-accreditation and QEP process at an institution and I would like to report a few thoughts from the perspective of this junior faculty member:
1) Involvement in re-accreditation is a GREAT way to learn about your institution! I feel so much more knowledgeable and aware of the institution after serving on these committees and being a part of this process.
2) Not only do you learn a lot about your institution, but you also learn about your fellow faculty members, administrators, and students. You can see buy-in to the institution, commitments, and work ethics at this pivotal point.
3) There is a lot of stressful work that must be accomplished before, during and after an on-site visit but the process itself is beneficial for the institution and its members. You can see the inner-workings, the processes, and the overall flow of work.
4) It is incredibly interesting to watch the communication from the students up to the faculty and administrators and from the administrators to faculty then to students. I am curious each day to see how the communication unfolds institutionally as the pressure of the re-accreditation process is felt by institutional members (there's the organizational communication scholar coming out again).
5) There are powerful opportunities which emerge in this process which allow us to identify areas for positive change and growth within the institution.
6) Every faculty member should be a part of this process at some EARLY point in their career. It is endlessly informative.

As we welcome our on-site review team to the Big Easy, I find myself reflecting on the years of committee work and efforts that have either directly or indirectly tie in to what I hope is a successful re-accreditation process.

To read more about SACSCOC accreditation click here. To follow our institution's process, click here.