Tuesday, June 28, 2011

When sticky notes attack...

The end of the fiscal year nears. With the looming deadline of the 30th, my focus has been entirely on submitting a grant proposal and on writing two annual reports and submission of several presentation/article deadlines. It seems everything is due at ONCE and I found myself getting very overwhelmed. In fact, this was the scene of my office when I arrived to work at 6:30 a.m. this past Friday. That's right. A total of 12 sticky notes screaming at me to do a variety of tasks in the blatant urgency unique to sticky notes. To realize I had left the office Thursday night with that many random notes made me groan. I am organized, I am detailed, I am meticulous. And, apparently, I am watching my desk become a direct reflection of my mental state. Frantic, worried about forgetting something, and overwhelmed. During this busy time, I am employing my Google calendar and my trusty task list (aptly titled "Dr. Lora's Lunacy") to help me prioritize my work and to manage these last hours before my projects are due. I am also avoiding distractions. The phone is on "silent" while the emails are NOT open in other windows of my computer. I am focusing on one task at a time. Today, that is the annual report of grant A. When that is finished, I move to the report for grant B. After that, the presentation items before turning to the research articles.

Then, I hope to explore ways to better manage the multiple demands of faculty life during high-output/high demand times and try to remember to avoid scheduling anything next June if this is the way the month traditionally happens! I will schedule out the final reports and my publication goals with regard to the hectic summer session teaching schedule and attempt to avoid any other high-pressure work periods like I have had the past two weeks.

Accomplishing these little tasks now means that the check mark in my Google task list with the beautiful line through the task won't be the only reward for hard work, I will also get to hear the satisfying crinkle of a sticky note heading to the garbage can!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tenure, retention, binders, and budgets...oh my!

Summer months for faculty members are often filled with the items we couldn't squeeze into the "regular semesters" as we try to: finally get that article done, analyze that data, edit that book, submit that proposal, or write that report. Whatever "that" item is for you, the feeling of "other" work for summer months can become overwhelming. But the summer months also provide a type of motivation that I don't feel any other time. I see a tangible end (July 31) to my work cycle and MUST accomplish tasks before that date. No more slippery deadlines, no more sliding a task from one day's list to another. I become hyper-motivated to accomplish as much as possible despite my regular summer teaching load. Somehow the magical word "summer" implies I can get it all done.

We'll save the sad reality of the ability to accomplish all of these things for another day...

Today, the reality is summer holds certain projects that rise to the front of all faculty work: the end of the fiscal year budget reports for any grants, and at my institution the looming "Tenure and Retention Dossier."  This summer these two projects seem daunting. I was fortunate to get funded and now face the responsibility of the reporting phase. Though I groan, there is something wonderful about telling funders what was accomplished with their money. It is also a nice sense of finality for a long-term project.

My summer also involves a yearly, mandatory retention dossier (later to become a tenure dossier). This is just a huge binder filled with all of the evidence of your academic work from the past year. I love that my institution requires one every year from those faculty on the tenure track. It is a great motivator to remain organized and to see where you might want to improve. It is suggested we submit one binder and make a copy of everything for our records. You don't have to be a long-time reader of this blog to know I fully embrace the organizational challenge each year. I buy plastic sheets, type up tabbed section dividers, color-code my table of contents to the different sections, cross-reference, paginate, and included everything I could think a junior faculty member would need. I carefully review the format in our faculty handbook. I finish it early and let it sit before proofreading it. This past year my four-inch, color-coded, tabbed binder was submitted and I couldn't help but feel proud. It was organized, detailed, and a perfect representation of my past year of work.

From my desk.
The institutional process is lengthy, of course, as it is everywhere. So, months later I get the binder back and stare dumbfounded. What was this gargantuan thing? This HEAVY, overwhelming (albeit well-organized) binder seemed slightly ridiculous. Couldn't the information be more efficiently displayed in an electronic format? Couldn't we save some trees here?  I couldn't believe any one was sifting through all of that information (though I did enjoy the trip to the office supply store and the color-coded organizational process, of course). After lugging the binder back home to await updates for the next cycle of retention reviews, I asked my Chair if I could submit an electronic portfolio this coming fall, but was told that was not an option--though I could submit a "supplement" electronically (it may or may not be viewed by committee members). Her reasoning was sound and I can understand the institutional thought behind the policies of reviewing a hard copy document in a set location so nothing goes amiss, but an e-portfolio seems so much easier on both the reviewers and the reviewees (and the environment!). I write seeking input: What are your institutions doing? Hard copy submissions with optional e-supplements that may or may not be viewed (like my institution)? Only hard copy? Only e-portfolios? Fill me in! I would love to know though in the end, this summer will still mean a new binder, dividers, tabs, sharpies, and me sitting blissfully amid my office supplies organizing another year of academic output.

Monday, June 13, 2011

New love: LiveBinders

If you're a regular reader, then you know I have a sincere love of all things organizational. Each semester I begin by cleaning out file folders and re-using the last semester's binders. I eagerly print new color-coded covers for each class, adding in my tabs for class agendas, sign-in sheets, handouts, and notes. I file my "in process" research and build organizational grids in Microsoft and GoogleDocs to plan incremental tasks toward larger goals. I then embark on my favorite trip to the office supply store. When I'm placed on a new committee, I have a color coded system of filing that screams I should have stock in Sharpie markers. I simply love the flow and placement of the office environment. I carry my color coded files with pride. I know what I have at each meeting. But, all of this organization can be cumbersome and it is usually time consuming..

So, I am becoming increasingly infatuated with LiveBinders, so much so that I simply had to take a moment from a hectic schedule to blog about it. For those unfamiliar with LiveBinders, take a few moments and click on the website. LiveBinders is a site which allows the user to create electronic BINDERS full of information, links, images, and information. The greatest part is not the storage and organization (insert your shock at me saying something trumps organization!). The greatest innovation is that you can share this binder with others! I am developing one to go along with this blog and it is incredibly interesting to see the potential of LiveBinders for those of us who travel or who have to work on a variety of computers. When the blog binder has a bit more progress (it only has tabs right now), I'll share!

Warning: I am admitting to full-on NEWBIE status when it comes to this great tool, but I've got my NERD ON and will be continuing to explore this site. I just crafted a few binders and see excellent potentials for sharing resources for training, continuing education seminars, and my workshops. Additionally, it could carry over into the classroom very easily where students can formulate class activities or access additional information from the professor. There are so many possibilities that I had to blog about it before I fully immersed myself in it (an unusual choice).  Check out a sample LiveBinder (this one is open access--you can give limited or full access to your binders or keep them private): http://livebinders.com/play/play_or_edit?id=26195. By clicking on the URL, you are taken to a binder titled "iPads in schools" where you can easily see the full range of the LiveBinders options.

Here's a very basic overview. You have a lot of information (say all of your information from a committee on university housing). You go to www.livebinders.com and set up a FREE account. With this account, you can then create a "new binder" where you can upload, deposit, add, and delete information just like you would with an old manila folder. You can craft tabs and sub-tabs of information and very easily share information with others. Want to see the minutes from the last meeting, use an "access key" and view the binder. Want to share a link with a fellow committee member, add it to the binder. Everyone can access those binders from their personal computers, iPads, netbooks and you are saving paper!

I have to say, the educator in me sees the beauty of LiveBinders: I can easily learn and teach with others. I can SEE students interacting with information. I can see implications for faculty life. The communicator in me sees the beauty of LiveBinders: I can send and receive information in a variety of formats. The tech-geek in me sees the beauty of direct mobile access to mountains of previously paper files along with a living, dynamic format. The bottom line: LiveBinders is beautiful. Why? This site offers an empowering ability to share knowledge ... and knowledge-sharing is just beautiful.

The best part are the tutorials and extra information all over the site. Additionally, I was able to easily follow @livebinders on Twitter and can see the responsiveness of the twitter feeds. So, dear readers, here is the question. Are you ready to think about your files in a new way? Can you see a future full of file-sharing?

The only downside: I won't get to go to my beloved office supply store for my favorite binders, folders, and markers to color-code all of my files. You better sell your stock! Without me, those stores might just crash :)

Two livebinder images from: www.livebinder.com; File folders picture direct from Lora Helvie-Mason's desk!

Don't forget, you can "like" Communication and Higher Education Blog on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CommHigherEdBlog

Monday, June 6, 2011

Prezi returns!

Yes, it is rapidly becoming a sub-topic for this blog. I've had so many responses about Prezi that it seems there might be room for more exploration. If you're using Prezi, please continue to comment and email! Regular readers might remember my first discussion of Prezi titled "Prezi: The PowerPoint Alternative" and the follow up discussion, "So you want to learn Prezi" brought on by so many emails to the first. Well, there is renewed interest in Prezi and those emails are still rolling in. Hopefully this third installment is equally useful to past and new readers.

Have you been exploring Prezi lately? There are some great changes that have simplified the use of Prezi and broadened the usability of Prezi. For example, a friend of mine mentioned the trouble she was having with iPad and Prezi, but just emailed me last week to tell me there are no more issues and compatibility is now strong. Prezi reported on this (and yes, there's an app for that): Check out more information here (along with a video demonstration of iPad and Prezi use.

What other news can educators (or other presenters) note about Prezi? Last month Prezi altered the Zebra (blue circle image above is the older version with the image on the right as the newer version). This new Zebra was coupled with new abilities for better image cropping. line flow, and even a bending opportunity (See more here). I have enjoyed the newer features which allow for more direct editing that makes our Prezis so great for audiences to view.

Today I took about 15 minutes before class and threw together a brief Prezi designed to illustrate parts of our chapter dealing with the term "Ethos" -- I made sure my "path" allowed me to move from specific concepts back to the overall term, so it flowed with my mini-lecture and with a class activity. Several folks emailing wanted to see Prezis in action. Here is the one I used today (basic, but great for class discussion):

Overall, I find the use of Prezi engages the students -- and for a public speaking course, it works to demonstrate speaking tips/tricks as well as a new tool they may use. Today my students asked, "What is that?!" This works well in my communication courses to help the students better understand presentational aids and speaking with technology.

Prezi support is growing as well. You can find Prezi support easily through their Twitter  page and become a fan on Facebook and, of course, on their site under support or community (the blogs are great!).

Thanks for your responses, comments, and emails. Let us know what you're doing and consider sharing your Prezis in a comment!

Images from www.Prezi.com

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Preparedness through technology

It is impossible to live in post-Katrina New Orleans and not have the dates of hurricane season emblazoned in your mind: June 1 - November 30. The news media hype up the dates, the state gives you tax-free shopping for hurricane supplies, brochures about "preparedness" appear everywhere, and the businesses test their emergency response measures. This time of year, my husband dutifully checks the generator and then marches up to the attic to replenish the hurricane box which gets fresh bottled water, food, paper, pens, batteries, a few decks of cards, first aid kit, clothes, and flashlights. We don't really speak about the fact that an ax also sits in that container, but we know the risks of living in the city--a city that we love and that has adopted us so generously into part of the NOLA family.

It is equally impossible to completely forget the stress of hurricane season, which begins during our first week of summer session every year. With that in mind, I have to make the announcement during class that everyone must use Blackboard this semester (and fall semester) and in the case of a campus closure due to weather we will try to meet virtually. Students then typically reference our 2008 Gustav evacuation and 2005 Katrina evacuation. We all hope that we won't need to pack up and leave again.

SUNO Library a year after Katrina
SUNO, January 2006
My former office location. We have 45 such FEMA buildings.
What so many outside of New Orleans don't understand is that Katrina isn't a memory, it isn't a past, it is present in every day life here. As I blogged last fall, many of us have spent our post-Katrina time in FEMA trailers, shared offices, and with the first floors of our buildings STILL off limits. We work on the second and third floors walking past the boarded up entries each day. We manage offices with sporadic air conditioning and heat. We send students to a temporary library. We drive past homes with the too-familiar orange spray paint "x" symbols and boarded up windows. We have half of our campus still utilizing FEMA buildings. We live with water line stains above our heads and frustration in the slow process of putting our campus back together. We are in ninth ward New Orleans and we continue to live the aftermath of Katrina every day.

Since yesterday marked the beginning of the 2011 hurricane season, I thought it would be appropriate to note how far higher education has come in emergency preparedness. The word "preparation" itself has come to mean so much more in our digital age. As educators, we now have many tools available that help us to reach our students virtually. The use of an LMS like Blackboard is just one avenue that can help. Many of my students were in NOLA during Katrina (I was not, I moved to the city in 2007) and they remark that Facebook was the reason they found their family and friends. Today, I purposefully offer multiple points of contact for my students and embrace social media and our LMS knowing that it can offer in-roads the old telephone-on-the-desk contact information cannot. Our institution survived by transitioning to online course offerings for our displaced students and literally by administrators and faculty using personal cells, email, and social media to reach out to find our students/faculty to tell them to return for classes.  I am happy to note that in 2008 we began re-occupying the second and third floors of some of our buildings. To date, we have two new buildings and look forward to more. Though progress is slow, our campus is recovering.

Despite budget cuts and downsizing, higher education institutions increasingly offer "emergency preparedness technology" links on their home pages noting that one can sign up for text alerts, tweets, and streaming updates in the event of a campus emergency. As the unfortunate weather events of the past several months detail, no institution is immune from an emergency like floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Consider your personal preparedness plan by exploring sites like the NHC. Consider your academic preparedness plans, too. Many of our faculty members lost research, data, documents essential to their careers, hard drives, files, laptops, teaching evaluations, and equipment. Ponder how you can best back up your information and what responsibility you might bear for students or others at your organization. For example, when my husband and I evacuated for Gustav in 2008 we touched base with two students who didn't have family near to make sure they found rides out and had places to stay--it turned out THREE other faculty members had called the students. That is but one reason why I love the folks at my institution. There is a family feel here. It is that feeling that has compelled me to write this note encouraging preparedness (no matter your geographic location).

As you plan don't forget how easily you might be able to count technology in to your plans (though we should plan for a lack of technology, too). I wish everyone a safe hurricane season and thank you for indulging this blog entry.

Read more about SUNO's history here
Top image from Coast Guard site.  Middle image (SUNO library) from Times-Picayune. Middle image (SUNO campus) from Photo site. Middle image from my personal photo collection. Final image from Eastern Michigan University.