Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Service loads: a detour to tenure?

You are bounding along the tenure-track, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (as I was described my first few years along this journey). You review your requirements, explore your calendar, and set out for success. You begin realizing, however, that you are not moving as quickly (nor bounding so boldly) as you once were. Why is it that you can't seem to grade those papers throughout the week? Why is it you are writing that research article on a Sunday morning? Why are you up late designing class activities?

My first few semesters on the tenure track had me often confused -- I was once the girl who met every deadline early, never forgot an appointment, and flew through course preparation with an exciting energy that made work fun. Then, slowly, I saw my workload shifting. I found myself pulled in a lot of directions and much of the work being incorporated into hours outside of the office. Had I lost my touch? The uber-organized pride themselves on deadlines and charts -- yet I could not make my time lines and to-do lists match up with my actual output.

I was exploring this the other day after talking with a few new (bright-eyed and bushy-tailed) junior faculty members. In the light of their radiant new energy, I felt rather dingy and lackluster as I worked to avoid dulling their shiny energy with my weariness. How could it be that each semester got more challenging?

My scapegoat: SERVICE.

Yes, Service gets all of the blame this time around!

Service requirements can eat tons of time throughout a week. This semester, I'm on several committees and on two searches. Last week I was in meetings for HOURS each day! Then, you add an overload of classes to teach, office hours (where I am very blessed that my students DO come by so that time is dedicated to them first), and the struggle to squeeze in time to research and write grants. At the end of the day, it seems the interminable meetings might be the giant ogre in the path on our journey toward tenure.

To keep service components in place and polish up my brightness level so I can be eager, shiny, and beaming in my energy again, I decided to more carefully monitor my service hours per day.
  • If I am already attending a meeting on an especially convoluted teaching/office hours day then I am declining (or noting my lack of availability) for any meeting requests for that day, regardless of their times.  I am going to instill a one meeting maximum on heavy teaching days!
  • I will prioritize committees where I bear a burden for work (like our QEP or a search committee) while de-prioritizing meetings where we don't produce a required document or event (like CETL)
  • I am not open to any new committees, so my apologies to all but this girl must draw the line and a few university and department committees should be it, even at a small institution where the smaller number of faculty usually means higher service loads. 
  • I will spread the wealth! I think my committees have given me a lot of benefits (see previous blog entries, "Service: Who participates?" - March 2010 and "Service, stress, and pre-tenure paranoia" - April 2011 ) and other (newer) faculty should have the chance to experience such benefits. I will decline while recommending someone who may be especially poignant for a certain committee. 
  • I will try to let go of my controlling ways and encourage others to steer the boat. 
  • I will remember the words from my March 7, 2012 post "Muscle through Midterms" where I reminded myself of the joys of service, where I noted "even the (often laborious, somewhat thankless) Service is on my "pro" list of university  life. Knowing that your voice has a place in shaping the university through committee contributions can be incredibly rewarding."
  • I will continue to learn, grow, and explore within the academy by pursuing my goals with clear communication highlighting why I am or am not able to work with certain committees. I will foster and retain solid relationships so everyone can see the benefit of a well-run committee without being placed on too many to be effective. Let's hear it for strategic workplace communication!
Consider sharing your tips for effectively navigating the tenure track and hopefully you'll let some of your bright-eyed, bushy-tailed energy rub off on the rest of us...I can already feel mine replenishing! 

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Teaching Presentational Aids with Prezi and the iPad

Today, I walked calmly to class with my iPad under my arm and a cup of coffee in my hand.  This may not seem empowering, but considering my normal toil to and from the classroom it was definitely an empowering start to the day. While I may be easily appeased, WALKING itself does not normally create such a feeling of peace and empowerment. But, considering that this time every semester, my introductory public speaking course covers how to deliver a speech using presentational aids to reinforce and enhance their message-- which means for the past few years, I lug around a stack of poster boards, an easel, a projector, laptop, models, objects, handouts, and other samples. And it never fails. Every semester the day I have to carry all of this it will rain with torrential wind. I had enough. I incorporated all of those (years of) saved poster boards detailing what worked and what didn't and took pictures with my iPad and put them right into a Prezi.

I've been moving along my Prezi journey the past year or so and have enjoyed incorporating it into my classes as it is easy and intuitive. This morning I smiled at the forecast for rain and heavy winds, charged up the iPad and got to work. I created the following Prezi and used it in class finding the students could see Prezi use (one type of presentational aid) and I could save myself the headache of carting around all of those sample presentational aids. I put a few objects/models and handouts in my bag (which miraculously zipped shut--a never-before-seen feat on Presentational Aid day!), and strolled to class.

The Prezi worked well and I wanted to share it (and the idea of moving all of your old, cumbersome teaching props toward an e-medium). We used the various prompts as discussion points to highlight effective and ineffective examples of aids and to brainstorm possibilities for students. The students were able to see multiple types of presentational aids and the discussion was really strong with everyone engaged.

Why didn't I think of this sooner?! So, I'm passing it on in the hopes that a simple digital migration might just make your entire morning. It certainly made mine!

PREZI: "Presentational Aids: Chapter 10" --
And embedded below:

[Additional posts about Prezi--this educator's journey along the Prezi path...
First Prezi Post: "Prezi: The PowerPoint alternative?"  
Second Prezi Post: "So you want to learn Prezi?" 
Third Prezi Post: "Prezi returns
Fourth Prezi Post: "Prezi's 'Zoom Back To School' contest
Fifth Prezi Post: "PreziU - Sharing resources for Prezi use"]

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

ADOBE mini-contest winner!

Congratulations to "SUBMISSION C - Mobile Game Design Using Flash and Photoshop" for the prize-winning submission to the Adobe in Higher Education contest co-sponsored by Communication & Higher Education blog and A Millennial Professor's View of Higher Education blog. We hope you enjoy CS5.5! 

Thank you to everyone who submitted their use of Adobe in higher education and thanks to everyone who took the time out to vote for your favorite submission. 

To see the ideas submitted for the mini-contest, check out the ADOBE MINI-CONTEST post.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Muscle through midterms: faculty survival tips

There are many things that I love about university life. I appreciate the ability to have a new, fresh group of students every semester. I love the interaction we can share in the classroom and the growth I see at the end of a term. Researching various areas of interest and sharing new ideas can be the best part of a busy day. Yes, even the (often laborious, somewhat thankless) service is on my "pro" list of university  life. Knowing that your voice has a place in shaping the university through committee contributions can be incredibly rewarding. There are many joys in this career. Midterms, however, are not one of them.

Image created using
Let's face it. As midterm week approaches everyone on campus has lost their shiny outlook on the new semester. We are all holding on, tenaciously, to stay on task. Most of us start to feel overwhelmed and productivity can stall. Our students, staff, faculty, and administrators can fall victim to the midterm slump. The students start getting sick, they start missing classes, they start sending you a million emails such as the one I got this week:  "wat did we do 2day? i was sick." You may start to wish you could copy and paste "It is on the syllabus" into every correspondence you have. As the midterm week gets nearer, students' tones start to become more frantic. Students you haven't seen for weeks start to show back up in class. Your committee load gets heavier. And, it never fails, something happens to derail your productivity such as the news that you will be moving offices or the appointment to a search committee (or two!).  Despite life's attempts to pull you away from your productivity, you can muscle through midterms. Here are some tips:

  1. Plan early for midterms. Now, unless you have a time machine (if you do, PLEASE let me share that resource!), this may not be applicable to you at THIS point in the semester, but you can work it in your course preps for next term. To plan effectively, try to stagger the timing or your assignments in your courses (or the types of assignments (essays, multiple-choice exams, projects, presentations) so you don't experience a flood of grading 200 essays in less than a week.
  2. Approach midterm week with a plan. I schedule the most time-consuming or mentally draining grading first thing each morning of midterm week. Then, my tasks get easier as the day goes on AND I can move more efficiently first thing in the morning, so I am actually working faster with a higher quality response process. 
  3. Beware the time eaters! Emails, tweets, IMs, phone calls and drop-ins can all whittle away at the entire week! If you are not in office hours, don't have your email open or your hand hovering near your phone. Schedule appropriate DAILY time to manage the increased communication from your students. Doing this will allow you to keep on task and not find yourself drawn away on a 20-minute time suck answering a student email. You will answer it effectively and within 24-hours, but it won't derail your grading/writing/research if you schedule it in. 
  4. Of course, this does not mean you become unavailable. You are prioritizing and protecting your time, so stay focused and keep that office door wide open during office hours. Stay on IM during office hours. Have your email in-box ready during office hours. But don't spend an entire day on the small tasks while falling even further behind on the big tasks.
  5. Bribe yourself! "When I finish my midterm grading, I will _____ (sleep for the entire weekend, wear pajamas and watch my favorite movie, get a nice dinner out with friends, get a weekend in the garden, explore a local museum display, etc.)" I find a little carrot dangling in front of me can often be JUST enough to power through a few more essays or emails and stay on target for the week.

You can muscle through the midterm slump! Stay focused, work diligently, and the balance to this sometimes hectic week WILL come. 

See also Tools to Avoid the Midterm Slump from last fall's midterm season.

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