Friday, September 30, 2011

Mock productivity

Imagine yourself at mid-day: clipping along, fast-paced, mentally feeling proud of your efforts as you move through the massive emails and return calls or head to committee meetings. You've taught two classes already, held office hours, attended a committee meeting, revised a quiz for class, and returned phone messages before addressing the emails. Somehow, those emails grow and time slows down before you feel your pace slacken, your motivation wane. You really just want to get through these emails and get to work. Real work. Except, you didn't actually accomplish that much before noon, did you? Sure, you were euphoric, you felt accomplished. But think about it. When you get to the end of the day, will you reflect on what you DID accomplish or will you realize all of the important things you DIDN'T work on? Was the effort truly productive?

This feeling of working hard all day only to end up in bed at night wondering how I could put in so much effort and get so little accomplished has haunted me on certain days. I find myself growing frustrated, blaming others, and wondering how anyone survives this last year before the tenure review.
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Truly, though, the problem is mine. I am involved in way too much "mock productivity" -- work that FEELS like productive efforts, but does nothing to move a project, article, or event forward toward completion. This "mock productivity" may be a fact of faculty life. It may be a necessary part of our world. We have to expend a lot of effort just to get to our actual work! There are many mornings where I work diligently for a few hours just to get to the point where I can really work. The point where I can open the data set, dig into the literature, examine a teaching lesson, prepare materials for a grant. The "work" side of faculty life is hard to actually get to due to all of the other items that can, easily, creep into our days. There are several culprits: email, distracted methods of working, and poor planning. Chief among the tasks feeling most like productivity in disguise (dubbed 'mock productivity') involves email. With a large number of students, advising a student club, working on collaborative projects, general departmental and institution needs, and (let us NEVER forget the service...) committee communications, the emails seem to require half a day!

No matter how I rant about it, or how I seek someone to blame, the mock productivity is my own fault. I own it. I have a tendency to ALLOW time-stealing culprits to transform efforts toward genuine productivity to become mock productivity. I do this by being "on" all the time. Students drop in, a committee session is called, a colleague needs help with a situation, I get pulled into an impromptu meeting in the hallway. I am distracted.

Lastly, I'm always connected to my email and when that 'ding' happens I feel as if I simply must respond. I want to answer quickly and therefore, remove the email. It feels like marking an item off a list when I hit the "delete" button. But, even though I rationalize that a fast response now means I am less likely to have a bulky in-box later, this is poor logic. The email distraction eats away at time. Before you know it, you're completely derailed.  

I am, therefore, distracted easily by a phone call/email (or random shiny objects that will promise an escape). These distractions let me break away from tasks requiring more involved thinking or that are higher pressure...(procrastination?!). Lastly, I need to continue my growth when it comes to planning. Though I have recently dedicated email-free, phone-free research power hours (see Research Power Hour entry), I haven't done the same for my other faculty duties such as teaching and grant writing. I need to, perhaps, make most of my day an email-free zone and only address emails at certain, dedicated times. Though that may seem to add bulk to the in-box, it will, in all likelihood, keep me more productive on bigger projects.

Managing these time-eaters, these "mock productivity" items/feelings, will certainly help me reach the work I really want to do. Kyvik (2010) noted that the increase in academic publishing does not change the trend that a few faculty members typically do most of the publishing/research work. Those few are likely embracing the word "no" more frequently and can be more focused on their research productivity (see Super Power of Productive Faculty entry). They are, likely, protecting their time better.

As Lackritz (2004) reminds us, burnout is a common experience in higher education -- particularly for those with a high number of students and a high amount of activities to manage. But working on the type of work YOU find engaging can actually stave off burnout. In fact, faculty members who spend their time on the work they find most meaningful, have less of a risk to experience burnout, according to Shanafelt et al. (2009).

Be reflective. Where are you spending MOST of your effort?. Is it on the work that is truly meaningful, the work that will be "counted" when it is tenure/retention time, work that you find rewarding? ... Or is the bulk of your effort spent on false feelings of success? On mock productivity? 

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Lackritz, J. R. (2004). Exploring burnout among university faculty: Incidence, performance, and demographic issues. Teaching and Teacher Education, 20(7), 713-729.

Kyvik, S. (2010). Productivity of university faculty staff.  International Encyclopedia of Education, 3rd edition, 455-460.

Shanafelt, T. D., West, C. R., Sloan, J. A., Novotny, P. J., Poland, G. A., Menaker, R., Rummans, T. A., & Dyrbye, L. N. (2009). Career fit and burnout among academic faculty. Archives of Internal Medicine, 169(10), 990-995.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Assistant Faculty Life and Kids

Readers, please welcome Anthony Garcia, a guest author for today's Communication and Higher Education blog! Anthony offers an exploration of children and life in academia in his post, "Assistant Faculty Life and Kids." Anthony, MA Literature, explores research emphasizing contemporary Native American fiction, gender studies, and American culture. We all can benefit from this much-needed exploration into families and tenure-track life. See also the earlier post: "Gen-X women in the academy."

Assistant Faculty Life and Kids

Not only is the job market at academic institutions extremely competitive, but the pressure and stress that assistant professors undergo in their push toward tenure can put their lives on hold. Although embarking on relationships like marriage and family is not out of the question, the schedule of an assistant faculty member juggling service, teaching responsibilities, and scholarly pursuits can place a lot of stress on a relationship. Women especially often find that having and raising children can be an impediment to achieving tenure.

The life of a faculty member straight out of a graduate program is full of pressures and stresses. First, tenure-track requires time-consuming research that has or will lead to multiple scholarly publications, possibly even a published book. Second, service on multiple committees and as a department representative can also demand several hours a week. Additionally, these scholarly writing and service requirements are placed on the shoulders of a fairly new assistant professor teaching a full load of classes. As a result, assistant professors can easily find themselves working at least 60 or 70 hours a week.

So how do children fit into this equation?
Gregory Semenza, author of Graduate Study for the Twenty-First Century, notes that women who go directly to graduate school after college find themselves on the tenure-track between the ages of 30 and 35. Consequently, women whose ideal situation is to wait until earning tenure to have a family might feel pressure to have children before age 35, the year in which the healthcare community begins to view the pregnancy as high risk. He concludes that the pressure of having and raising children may be one reason that women make up a minority of the professoriate.

Taking this idea further, Kelly Ward and Lisa Wolf-Wendel indicate in their article, "Fear Factor: How Safe is it toMake Time for Family," that in the past faculty members, particularly women, chose to forgo having children in favor of their careers, but now more and more assistant professors are attempting to have both. Ward and Wolf-Wendel have found that academic institutions generally provide little support, whether in time, money, or personnel, to women endeavoring to have children. Many institutions do not offer faculty members paid leave for childbirth, and at those that do, women often feel that taking leave would hurt their careers. Some schools, aware of this issue, have provided a way for women to take a year of unpaid leave in which the tenure clock stops. And while this stop-clock offers women a pseudo-answer to the dilemma of having children while pursuing full professorship, many still struggle to balance the time and pressure of raising a family and furthering their careers.

But these pressures also extend to male assistant professors who have children. Because of the competitive nature of academia, many find it difficult to balance time with family and time spent on scholarly pursuits. Children can throw a wrench in even the most organized of schedules by falling sick, going on a field trip, or simply asking for your support at a sporting event, and parents who want to be involved in their children's lives must often sacrifice some aspect of their work. As a result, both mothers and fathers can face stress and exhaustion in their quest to further their careers while raising children.

It has been noted that those who enter academia later in life, with older children, have an easier time pursuing tenure since their children's ages do not require as much time as infants and toddlers might. On the other hand, these same professors often struggle early on to put themselves through graduate school while raising young children, and many find their job prospects diminished because their careers hold less potential than their younger PhD-holding counterparts.

More and more, academic institutions are recognizing both the gender gap of tenure-track faculty and how this gender gap represents the difficulty that having children poses for assistant professors. As more thought is being given to how universities can hire men and women as full professors without compromising their family lives, policy advancements are slowly being made. These advancements though, slow as they are to appear, still leave the majority of assistant professors struggling with the demands that their children and careers place on them.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Research Power Hour

When faculty life is insane (the ENTIRE month of September for most of us), our research agenda can begin to fall behind. It happens. We simply have to grade certain items, or we get pulled into committee meetings now that a new semester is under way, then we find ourselves presenting at conferences (or planning them)...the end result is the same. We are left struggling to get that "research" time. Research time, for me, cannot be a few moments grabbed in between meetings. I truly need time to sink into my research, to wallow into it, to have the literature or data wrapped around me. I can't just stick a toe into Lake Research and find progress has been made. I have go all in. I have to jump. I have to swim.

I need at least an hour of uninterrupted time to make productive advances with my research. Those hours are really hard to find as I near tenure review time. This scares me since, at this point in my career, I need to be the most productive.  So, I came up with dedicated time frames for research. And, though I protected them valiantly, I am a mere non-tenured faculty person and there are many things outside of my control (such as meetings called by those who far outrank me). I watched as my research time became less and less prioritized. This had to end!

Enter the Research Power-Hour. Okay, so I made up a cheesy name--but it does reflect the reality of what I now do. I look at my trusty iPad calendar EACH morning and wiggle in at least an hour of time every day. Then, while at the office, I click on my timer app (used for speech classes but handy in the office and kitchen). I have a pre-set time frame, aptly titled "research power hour" and hit start. The first two minutes has me silencing the phone, closing all email account notifications, and posting a note on the shared office door (in a really obnoxious red) saying "do not disturb." And then I put my head down and work.

Often, I am moving along so well that the hour ends and I can hit reset and do another hour (since I'm not distracted by emails and phone), but I do have days where I have to rush right to class, meetings, or open the door and communication channels for office hours. It may not seem like a lot of time, but since implementing my daily calendar reviews and the power hour of research I am able to keep my head above water despite the complete insanity of the year leading up to tenure consideration.

There are some folks who can do this by blocking time at home, but with my teaching schedule I can't get home in between classes and I have so many committee meetings that it is ridiculous. This little solution has helped me continue projects that would otherwise sit for months or end up using every bit of the weekend to try and push a project forward. And, the power hour technique helps me to avoid that guilt.

We know the feeling. That back-of-the-mind-I-should-be-working-on-some-research-right-now-but-somehow-have-to-do-eight-other-things feeling. That has been the best part of the research power hours for me. I find that I don't panic all day and all night about what I'm not doing or how unfair it is that my research time was stolen by Dr. MoreImportantThanMe scheduling a last minute meeting right in my desired time frame. Instead, I can quiet that voice and trust that each day I will make some progress.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Embracing the large lecture environment

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I sat in a 360-person lecture hall at Purdue University for a few of my science and math classes as an undergraduate and I will never forget the large lecture environment. Students crowding over The Exponent (the campus paper), eating, sleeping, talking, and taking notes. Though there were many amazing professors at Purdue, I had a hard time as a student learning in most of my larger lecture halls. Later, teaching in a larger lecture hall, I realized how challenging it can be to FEEL the audience. It can feel like an echo chamber or it can feel chaotic or, in the best of classes, it can be a dynamic learning environment.  It takes some time to develop that large lecture rapport. Reminiscing on my time, I find myself thankful for the ability to currently teach in smaller class sizes. But changes may be on the horizon. Budget cuts, program changes...higher education today is a shifting, uncertain place. I want to be ready for any opportunities or changes that may come. If you're a regular reader, you know that I will (of course) turn to technology to see what might be available to me when it comes to enhancing the larger lecture environment.

So, I have spent a few weeks exploring LectureTools. I found LectureTools while doing a search on lecturing, lecture capture, and student engagement. I initially thought I was exploring another lecture-capture program, but was surprised by the content. If you have a large class, or a student population who seems connected to their digital device, you might find LectureTools helpful to enhance your learning environment. Let me share what I learned and explore some basic uses.

LectureTools is not lecture capture. It is a tool designed to help student engagement during your lecture. It offers a variety of ways for profs to build in interactive elements into the lecture -- students, typically via laptops or cell phones, can participate easily despite the size of the course. Professors prepare materials (stored in the cloud) that can include image maps, free response, rank orders, polls and during the lecture students can respond. Perhaps most useful (in my eyes) is the feature where students can take notes, note their confusion, and type questions the lecturer can address. So even students who may not typically speak up have the chance to be heard. {See more about the note-taking features:}.

An unexpected treat with the notes feature is the ability for the professor to go back, see where many students expressed confusion or interest, and modify future lessons or review information.  The site is intuitive to use and there are a lot of demonstrations, videos, screen shots, and the ability to request (and rapidly receive) a demo is easy. They also have a very interesting blog. It is worth a few moments to check out their website and explore the demo videos and overviews if you're teaching a class larger than mine (30 people) or if you are interested in exploring new ways to incorporate interactivity with students.

As a professor, I like the fact that I would be able to save previous lectures and use them in future classes. The interactive tools are very easy to incorporate (just clicks of buttons) and the tool could help those professors struggling to reach students in a large classroom environment. While in class, ideally, a TA would assist or monitor during discussions or live chats (also available). LectureTools is currently adapting to the changing landscape of higher education, too. They are currently working with new features to help add smart phones and iPads (safari-based devices).

My thoughts on LectureTools: it is an interesting way to reintroduce technology-based communication to enhance the learning environment. It would, however, work the best in larger courses and where students own their own laptops/cell phones, and where the professor can utilize a TA to help monitor (and rapidly respond) to questions/thoughts now available through the interactive capabilities of LectureTools.

Keep your eyes open for the upcoming safari-based changes from LectureTools and see if you can change the sometimes cavernous feeling of the large lecture hall by harnessing the true potential for interactivity among all of those students.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Social media in the college classroom

Recently a listserv question asked how to incorporate social media into a class. I sent a response that has left me with a full email inbox and so it ends up here in the hopes readers may find it of interest.
I use social media in all of my classes in one way or another. I do believe it should have a pedagogical purpose for being in the class when used with course content---so I don’t like when profs add it just to add it. It should serve a purpose to reinforce the instruction. I encourage you to use social media as a way that helps the students to better understand and relate to their course content. My favorite teaching tool is Twitter, but here are some general ideas for a variety of social media (see below). Most are free and many the students use regularly anyway. I hope you may find this information useful.

 You could have the students analyze mock Facebook or LinkedIn pages (or as a small group they could even create a Facebook/LinkedIn page, blog, or wiki for a fake/real company) to show they understand the idea of professionalism, image construction for multiple audiences, the impact of web-based social media, a company’s position on an issue, etc. This could be interesting considering controversial companies like BP, for example.

OR: Send them on a Twitter search (or have them monitor the Tweets) to explore how/why certain celebrities or politicians or companies Tweet certain information (why did Taylor Swift tell her followers she was “eating homemade cupcakes, yum”) when they are fans of her MUSIC? Does it create identification between the company/celebrity and the individual…how could such posts/tweets be beneficial or detrimental to the image of company/celebrity? Use Twitter with a hashtag for the class and have the class find content that might be useful and link it with the hashtag and re-tweeting. In my advanced public speaking course, students are required to tweet at least 3 times a week on content related to the course materials for that week. Students in large lectures can even tweet a live stream up on a screen while you speak to stay involved and active in the discussion.

OR: Have the class create a wiki! This is a great tool built in many Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Blackboard. Put the class in 3 or 4 groups and let them create a wiki with videos from youtube or vimeo while linking it to course-specific content. I have my students select ANY topic and they have to incorporate at least 3 chapters of content to that topic. So last summer a group chose Police Brutality in New Orleans…and they added links to court cases for the Danzinger Bridge case, a video of Rodney King, a link to a speech by the Chief of Police, and blended their content with our ideas of audience, public speaking, ethos, logos, pathos, etc. It is collaborative, creative, and FREE. They were able to explore new, collaborative technology while applying communication course content. They loved it and we all learned from each group while they formally presented it to the class.

OR: Have students create and market their own videos involving the content of the course. They can make a PRIVATE group on an LMS or through vimeo, youtube or through some other video-sharing services (I use – They collaborate, synthesize information, create, and post for the rest of the class to view.

OR: Have students use or (in groups or individually) to put together resources and information (again, you can have them do a formal presentation OR partner this with a wiki, blog, twitter, linkedin, etc. option on a topic of their choice.

OR: You can use the social media as a way to stay in touch and be available to the students. I offer virtual office hours alongside my traditional office hours and can be IM’d by students during this time…we also do optional exam review sessions for extra help via IM. If you are concerned about privacy, consider staying within the LMS or using ConnectYard.

How to get started: 
I would first explore your institutional policy on social media. Then, I want to note that it is best to consider what type of social media your students are comfortable with. Lastly, consider what type you are comfortable with. Then, I would recommend you explore issues of privacy and access. Those questions will help you determine what type and use of social media is right for your class. If you want public access option consider Twitter, but if you want a more private option, consider the LMS wiki or blog features (or make a private page/restrict authors at Blogger or Wordpress or Wikispaces). As with any assignment, share with the students guidelines or rubrics.

I have a few of earlier entries on similar topics that you might find helpful:

Please share any successful ideas that you have for class activities! I wish you the best of luck! 

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Gen X women at work in the academy

There has been plenty of research on women in academia, but there should still be MORE in this humble blogger's mind. Today I was reflecting on the role of women in academia after reading the following section of an article: 

[From Huffignton Post article, "Gen X women succeed at work, have fewer kids" on 9-13-11]
"The women of Generation X are a hard-working bunch. They're so hard working, in fact, that many of them are opting to not have children, according to new research from the Center for Work Life Policy. The study, titled "The X Factor: Tapping into the Strengths of the 33 to 46-year-old Generation," concluded that Gen Xers, who you might think of as the "Reality Bites" generation, have gradually shed their slacker reputation to become more ambitious and educated.But they are also more likely to be childless than members of their parents' generation -- over 40 percent of women between the ages of 41 to 45 surveyed didn't have children. It's also true that whether it's extreme jobs, or the financial pressure on this generation, many individuals decide they want to do two things well, and not three things badly. Those two things are their relationship and their career."

 Though the Center for Work Life study above notes this is a generational trend, it is also a trend long-seen in certain careers, such as higher education. Women in academia have struggled with the decision about if and when to have children while balancing their work life and the tenure track, which coincides with peak/traditional childbearing years. This dilemma showed up in my dissertation research back in 2007 and seems as prominent today. Here is a brief excerpt from my dissertation titled "A phenomenological examination of tenure-track female faculty members' socialization into the culture of higher education" which looked at the lives of 8 pre-tenure, tenure-track women at R1 universities in a variety of disciplines.

"She perceived the males around her as being pushed to move up more than the females, “I often see male colleagues being more groomed for leadership positions.” Sandy remarked that females were equally represented in her field, that her experiences have been gender-neutral, but that, “I do feel like they [women] have to do more to be equal.” This showed her concern for gender beyond equal representation in her field of education technology, but also for equal acceptance.  Dianna felt that sex was an over-played issue in academia. She did not see any concern about females in her field. She believed in the truth of hard work, commenting “And I think that you can do whatever you want as long as you put in the work and set your boundaries” and added, “You can do it. It just takes perseverance and hard work.” She had a staunch faith in the fairness of the system and that good work could not be denied. At the same time, she also believed that females may face more obstacles than males, but stated with conviction that sex would not prohibit a hard working assistant professor of either sex from achieving tenure, “What are they going to say if you have 15 publications? ‘No, you’re not going to get tenure because you’re female?’ No, they can’t say that. So if you do the work, you take away the excuses.”

"balance" (free use photo from Flickr)
           Others were not as sure as Dianna, after hearing stories of women who had done everything ‘right’ but who were denied tenure. Simply working and succeeding within higher education, Olivia felt, was more difficult for women, because of priorities in their home, social roles, and the necessary element of relocation for merit pay and advancement in higher education. This was true for Joyce. After three years in her position, she felt that her marketability was difficult to enhance because she was uncomfortable moving her family,

But I have kids. I don’t have that freedom. Like okay honey, let’s just pull up if you have just a partner and even then it’s tricky. I have kids; it’s like I’m not pulling them after a couple of years so that we’re going to move.

Family roles bled over to concerns about sex and how the women were seen. Taking time off from tenure for children concerned the women. As Olivia noted,

You have to take time off to actually have a kid and I think even though some schools, including this school they’ll give you an extra year on your tenure clock if you have a kid. It’s still like looked down upon. 
 Such policies shaped the way Molly saw herself in her work. The senior women she interacted with had not been supportive and did not offer empathy when child care issues arose: If I can do it, so can you, without help or excuses, was the message she received. Even the tenured female faculty members with children sent that message as Molly noted, “She  . . . told a new assistant professor, your children should never be an excuse for why you’re missing a meeting.” This was felt by several of the pre-tenure faculty members as warnings about the time and place for children. Though most did not hear this as bluntly as Martha did, whose mentor told her, “One should wait until one gets tenure before having children.”"

I included this excerpt along with Huffington Post's report as a way for us in academia, male and female, to analyze how we talk with others about family and tenure. Words like "mommy-track" and "daddy-track" are often times used without thought for the impression they may send those new to academia. This HP article was a great reminder for all of us to be cognizant of the way we interact with our peers AND for us to realize that our professions aren't the only determinant on our decisions. As noted, the generation we come from may also contribute to how we view ourselves, what we value, and the choices we make. Perhaps just as important, we should consider the impact we make on our work culture -- consider what type of culture you are shaping...

  • August, L. & Waltman, J. (2004). Culture, climate and contribution: Career satisfaction among female faculty. Research in Higher Education, 45(2), 177-192. 
  • Banerji, S. (2006). AAUP: Women professors lag in tenure, salary. Diverse: Issues inHigher Education, 23(20), 27.
  •  Robst, J., VanGilder, J., & Polacheck, S. (2003). Perceptions of female faculty treatment inhigher education: Which institutions treat women more fairly? Economics of Education Review, 22(1), 59-68.
  • Takiff, H. A., Sanchez, D. T., & Stewart, T. L. (2001). What’s in a name? The status implications of students’ terms of address for male and female professors. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 25, 134-144.
  • Umbach, P. D. (2007). Gender equity in the academic labor market: An analysis of academic disciplines. Research in Higher Education, 48(2), 169-192.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Prezi's "Zoom back to school" contest

As a huge fan of the Prezi presentational experience, I was excited to see this contest announcement (see previous blog entries: Prezi: the PowerPoint alternative, So you want to learn Prezi, and Prezi retuns). After several months of working with Prezi and now teaching it regularly in the classroom, I find it is a great tool for students AND educators. 

 The goodies: 
-1 winner will win a new iPad, with the Prezi iPad viewer included.
-3 winners will win FREE 1-year Prezi Pro licenses. (If winner already has a Pro license, winner will receive an additional 12 months on the Pro license.)
-Winners will be featured on landing page (1 of 4 featured prezis)

Prezi “Zoom Back to School” Contest

In honor of school getting back in session this year, Prezi has put out the call to thinkers everywhere: Create a Prezi teaching us about what are you excited to study this year, and how you are using Prezi to facilitate the open exchange of ideas in your classroom.
One Grand Prize Winner will win a new iPad with the Prezi Viewer, so they can pinch and zoom their Prezis in the classroom. Three runner-ups will also win 1 year Prezi-pro licenses.

Here’s How to Enter: CREATE A PREZI
Tell us about how you plan to use Prezi to teach and learn in your classroom. Inform us about your topic, and what makes you so excited about it.

Just visit our page and click on the “Like” button at the top. Then submit your prezi on the “Contests” tab at Left.

The Prezi with the most “Likes” on Facebook wins; So get the word out about your Prezi!

Grand Prize: Wins a new iPad with the Prezi Viewer iPad app. 3 Runners-up: Win free Prezi Pro Accounts

Contest Guidelines:

• Your Prezi should showcase a “Lesson” about the ideas you are excited to explore this year. It should teach people about your subject.
• Best Use of the Prezi Functionalities: How can you use the possibilities of Prezi in innovative ways to best illustrate your concepts?
• Most Fun! How can you use Prezi to show just how excited/ passionate you are.
• Most Liked: Spread the word and get people to ‘like’ your prezi!
The “Zoom Back to School” Contest is open for submissions now until October 15th, 2011. Then there will be a 2 week voting period, until October 30th. Winners will be announced on November 1.
Thanks everyone- we look forward to seeing how you plan “Zoom Back to School” this year with Prezi!
Contest Starts: September 01, 2011 @ 12:01 am (PDT)
Contest Ends: October 15, 2011 @ 11:59 pm (PDT)

Best of luck to all who enter!
Images from

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Prepping for RTP

How can we examine faculty life without talking about RTP (retention, tenure, promotion)? While institutions vary in their policies and in their acronyms, there are many similarities that can help new and more seasoned faculty members through the tenure journey.

At my institution, we have RTP. One of the great things (and really annoying things) about my institution is the policy that all tenure-track faculty must submit an annual retention package. This is annoying only because it is a TON of work at the busiest time of the year (August-September). The annual RTP dossier is great for many reasons, it allows you to examine what progress you have made in the past year, it helps you see holes in your faculty work ('oops, I need more publications' or 'uh oh, my service record really dropped this year'), it helps you organize your semester and plan for activities (see previous post"The Tenure Tally"),  it organizes your work so that the tenure dossier should be quite easy to put together.  In fact, my entire filing system has morphed into a version of my annual retention packet.

Whether going up for Full Professor or just starting your first year on the tenure track, here are a few things that have helped me while I complete my annual packet.

BEFORE step 1: Read your institution's policies. Be familiar with the handbook and their expectations. The scoring procedure at my institution detailed how I should break down my dossier. This then lead directly to how I would file my work and organize my documents. Without that knowledge, even the best filing system won't save you time or energy when you need to create your RTP dossier. 

Organized by year, then category & color-coded
1. Organizing throughout the year. All year, I file everything (hard copy and electric files are managed in the same way). I do this by academic year. Then I split up the files into the six categories for retention (the same six will be for tenure). Then (because I am really over-committed to organization), I color-code sub-folders. I keep files out that are in-progress and anything that is complete is filed in the appropriate folder, so by the time the retention dates come up I can simply grab the folder marked "Grant-writing efforts" and copy the items to include in the dossier. All of the "evidence" required for the retention packet is continually placed right where I'll need it come RTP time. When you're busy and overwhelmed, you can easily shove a folder in the right spot--so it may get messy, but it is a very organized type of mess (see picture).

Sticky notes to help organize
2. I focus on colored sticky notes and flags that highlight important parts of documents. This helps me to remember why I think a certain document should go in the dossier or why I placed a document in a certain section. This handy sticky note system was given to me by my father and it works beautifully for the task. The sticky notes last forever (as you can see) and I use primarily green and yellow.

3. Pictures. Why not include some pictures in the dossier? Show the committee that you were registering, that the club you advise hosted an event, that you spoke at the conference. I add all kinds of evidence to help the reviewers move through the dossier easily.

4. Electronic supplements. My institution does not utilize e-dossiers or allow their submission, unfortunately, but if yours does then consider the structure and organization carefully. It should "read" in line with your RTP standards. 

4. Retain copies or electronic scans of everything you submit. Though rare, problems can happen. Take the time to give yourself a back-up option and keep copies or e-copies of everything. I have a dedicated external hard drive for this. The finished version should be a well-organized, clearly structured, dossier that easily mirrors the scoring process for your RTP requirements. This means the committee can find what they need, can score you on your actual work, and you again can see areas that may need to be developed before the next RTP step.

5. Repeat steps 1-4. Each year do these steps. Then, by the time you prepare your Tenure (or Promotion) packet, you have everything right where it should be.

How do you communicate what work you have done and who you are academically?  The trick is to make the dossier speak for you. It should be professional, polished, organized, and efficient--just like you. So take the time out NOW to organize for the future. Plan ahead for materials and procedures so the image you put forward gives you the best chance to attain your faculty goals.

This entire post encourages faculty to work smarter and not harder. Work throughout the year (and throughout your pre-/post-tenure track time) to focus on the next career stage and make informed, focused decisions based on your accomplished tasks.  Best of luck to you wherever you are on the RTP journey!
The finished product! A dossier full of organized "evidence"

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The super power of productive faculty

One of the things I love, and hate, about faculty life is the flexible job description. So often, we can carve out our own path and enjoy our own interests while providing service to the institution. You like discussing pedagogy and new instructional ideas? Serve on the institution's CETL committee. Eager to guide the institution toward a certain role in the landscape of higher education? Consider the community outreach committees. Do you have a desire to speak for other faculty? Why not serve a term on faculty senate?

But there are times when the lack of boundaries in a faculty member's job description can lead to an overworked and over-committed professor. Yes, I know, I know. I am completely ruining your previously held belief that faculty members not only should, but could, do all things academic. However, too many of us are being used in ineffective ways. Are you shocked? Ask around. See what your colleagues say. There are many of us who have a variety of skill sets that may not be fully maximized by our institutions. And perhaps worse, we are losing energy and zest working outside of those skills trying to meet the needs of everyone all the time.

What can we, mere faculty members, do about this gross oversight? Break out your cape and get ready to use the one super power we all have. What is it? It is a tantalizingly simple, often over-looked, usually under-used word: "No."

Those faculty members who seem to "do it all" and manage everything actually use this superpower. Watch them in action! They skillfully target their skills to the issues, move tasks to others, and say "no" with confidence and tact.

Now we all know it is not as easy as saying no, but so many of us fear that word will raise a complicated issue (and we certainly should just say "yes" so we don't have to link ourselves in the potential problems around the word "no") that we don't use it -- but let me share something with you: we all have this super power. Why not explore yours? If you never try it, you'll never know!

I speak from years of heavy-service experience. You name the committee and I've probably served on it. Strategic planning, re-accreditation (times 3), student review, grants and outreach, countless searches, QEP, women's council, CETL, student conduct, faculty senate...from university-wide to departmental, I've been lifting that service load. Until I learned that the earth did not shatter when I threw on a (mental) cape, strapped on (imaginary) boots, and found confidence behind a (completely unreal) mask as I tried this new super power out. Would it work for me? Could I see it in action as it righted previous wrongs and cleansed the area of (not-so-evil, but definitely problematic) time-stealing requests? Yes.

Don't mistake me. I encourage you to participate actively in your campus (See "Service: Who participates?" and "demographics of service" blog entries about some benefits/drawbacks to junior faculty serving on committees). We can learn from committees. Meet colleagues from"other" parts of campus. Be involved in the future direction of our institutions. But also be realistic (she says sardonically as she houses this blog entry in the metaphor of super heroism). Focus on committees that YOU want to be involved with OR those that can benefit from the skills/background/knowledge that you can bring to the table.  Try to be sparing and purposeful in your service. Learn and befriend the word "no" -- it truly has remarkable powers. Though still on the puny side in my ability (as I am rather new to the use of this power), I can now call up this remarkable word and use it to improve faculty life. Do you also have this power? Do you dare give it a try? Seeing that I have tested it out for you and the end-of-the-world-doom-and-gloom image some of us have around using the word is not true, why not? There were no explosions, no glares, no whispered comments, no earth cracking in half or sun exploding. I promise. I tried it. Will you?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Climbing the ladder

Somehow, years have passed and I am no longer an institutional "newbie" -- I now find myself answering a lot of questions from newer faculty members. This includes questions on tenure, retention process, service, and institutional policies. Just this week, I had newer colleagues seek information on the deadline for our annual retention packets, had others seek to review mine from last year as a sample, and was asked to "discuss managing writing and teaching" by two who are newer to the institution. I was shocked. Have I really become a less-junior faculty member? Have I moved out of the "new junior faculty member" phase to the "old junior faculty member" phase. Is there such a thing? I go up for tenure next year and though I often write about the pressures,  joys, and the issues related to tenure track life, I was surprised to be so heavily sought out these first two weeks of the term.

When others come to me, I share my successes and those important lessons that I had to learn on my own no matter how many folks told me (protect your writing time is a prime example). I avoid a laundry list of problems or struggles, resisting negativity and 'venting' about the process. These are new faculty, so I try to offer them meaningful assistance. I focus on techniques and avoiding pitfalls. I found myself repeating a few references and tips often enough that I think they merit mentioning here. I hope you or your colleagues may find them useful as the new semester moves forward:

Lora's lessons:
  • Craft your campus communication carefully. Whether inter-personally in a face-to-face setting or via email, be aware of tone and image at all times.
    • Communicating in the culture of higher education can be tricky. There are multiple audiences with a variety of personal and professional stakes in your addition to the faculty/department/institution. Go slow and steady until you get a feel for your department and institution.
  • Find a person OUTSIDE of your institution, but familiar with academia, to use as not only a mentor, but a relatively objective outsider. Bounce off issues that are too political or personal to bring to the institution. Use this person as a sounding-board.
  • Seek out a mentor INSIDE the institution. Do this carefully. Explore research efforts, grant writing, observe collegiality, and then determine if that faculty member could work as a good mentor for you. Schedule regular meetings that have clear goals to help you with areas that are a challenge...I even kept a little running list of things to ask my inside/outside mentors such as: How do I say 'no' to committee work? What committees should I serve on as a new faculty member? Will any of XYZ activities count toward tenure? What should I improve upon?
  • Schedule that writing time and protect it as you would any meeting in your calendar. This is an on-going struggle for me, but it is something I strive for at the beginning of each day. 
  • Put on your research-colored glasses. View EVERYTHING as an opportunity to begin a new research project. Keep something in the research pipeline at all times. Follow up regularly and stay active. 
  • Reach out to your students. Show them you want them to succeed and that teaching is a valuable part of your day. If the students are a continuous joyful part of your daily life then the rest of faculty life becomes much easier and colleagues begin to see you as a long-term part of the department.
  • Explore the institution's history (and the area's history if you are new to the region). This can not only inform your activities, hobbies, and social activities, but it can add a lens to any research and help you to understand students and institutional culture.
 Readings: (These are tried and true--I often revisit them!)

  • Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  • hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.
  • McKeachie, W. (2010). McKeachie's teaching tips, 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 
  • Schoenfeld, C., & Magnan, R. (2004). Mentor in a manual: Climbing the academic ladder to tenure. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing.
  •  Smith, J. O. et al. (2001). Peer networking as a dynamic approach to supporting new faculty. Innovative Higher Education, 25, 197-207.

Share your tactics by commenting on this post: what advice do you have for new or junior tenure-track faculty? What lessons have you learned as you journey along the tenure track?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Instructors talking about technology research: Participants needed!

We are conducting a study looking at how instructors talk about technology and its use in their classroom syllabus. If you are currently teaching a class that talks about technology in your syllabus (i.e., you have a laptop and/or cell phone policy, discuss how blogs or wikis will be utilized in the classroom), and would be willing to share your syllabus with us, and fill out a quick survey (under 10 minutes) about your teaching experiences, your participation would be greatly appreciated. The results of this study may help researchers and instructors better understand technology policies. We will accept syllabus submissions through October 31, 2011.

If you choose to participate, you will first submit a copy of your syllabus to . You will next be provided with a response email including access to a survey website that will have the consent information provided. If you agree to participate in the study, you will move forward and respond to demographic questions about your past teaching (i.e., number of years). You will also respond to questions about your views of technology and technology use. Any demographic data collected from this study will only be used to describe the participants as a whole in the study write up, but individual information will be destroyed after the summary is constructed.All personal identifying information will be removed from all aspects of the data before analysis.

There is minimal risk involved with the study, as you might feel uncomfortable thinking about your classroom technology policies. However, you may skip any questions that you are uncomfortable with. There is no more risk than you would experience in your daily interactions.

Your identity will not be revealed in either written documents, or verbal presentations of the data. The following steps will be taken to protect your identity and confidentiality.

1. Consent forms will be separated from the data.
2. Personal identifying information will be eliminated from the data and any reporting of the data.
3. You can refuse to answer any question asked.
4. Files will be kept on a password protected computer and/or a locked cabinet.

If you have questions about the study or research related injuries, feel free to contact the primary investigator, Katherine Denker, (765) 285-1965 or Lora Helvie-Mason can be contacted at (504)286-5013 or or If you have questions about your rights as a research subject, please contact: Research Compliance, Sponsored Programs Office,Ball State University,Muncie, IN 47306, (765) 285-5070,

Your participation is voluntary. You may quit at any time and you may refuse to answer any question. Finally, by submitting a syllabus and completing the survey you are giving consent to participating in the study.

Thank you for your participation!
Dr. Katherine Denker
Dr. Lora Helvie-Mason