Leave the poop deck unswabbed, matey… just write!

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The beginning of the academic year is always a crazybusy time. If you work at a teaching-intensive institution, the start of the year often feels like a time of mournful separation — with the end of summer comes the end of our scholarship productivity for the year. That’s because finding time during the term to get any writing done can feel like Popeye trying to get Poopdeck Pappy to sleep when he’d rather go out and start a bar fight.

The problem with “finding time” to write is that the enterprise is often impossible — there are always other things to fill our time. However, Joli Jensen from the University of Tulsa, a writing columnist for Vitae, reminds us that while the decks will never be sufficiently swabbed, we can still proceed to sail the scholar-ship (see what I did there?) with a little shifting of perspective and the application of a few easily implemented productivity tips (which she writes about in a separate piece that I recommend highly).

So put away the mop and weigh anchor, matey!  Arrrrr!!!

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Image: Richard Dorgan, from ‘Biltmore Oswald’ (Project Gutenberg E-Book)

August 29, 2014

 

One of the most widespread myths in academic writing is that you can, and should, try to “clear the decks”—that is, finish all of your other obligations before you can focus on your scholarship.

In a recent faculty workshop on “stalled projects,” six colleagues committed to try, for two weeks, a few of the writing approaches I’ve been recommending. No pressure, I told them. This wasn’t a permanent commitment. It was just a way to explore why these projects weren’t moving forward.

The day before our second meeting, one colleague emailed to say that she couldn’t start using the techniques because she was overwhelmed. There was just too much going on, it wasn’t an opportune time for writing, and now grading had to take precedence. She couldn’t make the meeting, and she would be out of town the following week, but hoped she could continue with the group once things settled down.

Obviously the “cleared decks” delusion had her in its grip. Even though she said she wanted to reconnect with her project, had been confident she could find 10 minutes a day to write, and had had a week free of teaching, she still hadn’t been able to get started. We had discussed specific ways for her to make better use of her time, such as doing scholarly writing before her grading. In spite of those suggestions, she still felt obligated to put her research project on hold until “things cleared up.”

The other members of the writing group understood, of course, but this time they had been able to make different choices. They, too, felt overwhelmed by other obligations. They, too, felt that this wasn’t the best time to be writing, and were tempted, each day, to put off even their brief 10-minute commitment. But somehow they were still able to try at least some of the techniques. And once they experienced even a little progress, they felt better about the project, and about themselves, and were eager to keep going. They were no longer stalled.

The reality is: Things never clear up. They don’t even reliably settle down. Your in box is always full. The decks are always crowded.  There is always more going on than you want or expect. Nonetheless, you can find ways to put your writing first, and make sure that it gets done. Otherwise, everything but your writing will get done.

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Feel like an impostor? This free webinar is for you!

Webinar

It’s inevitable… at one point or another we’ve all felt it…

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At a certain point, the Daily Affirmation of Stuart Smalley just doesn’t cut it.

Thankfully, the folks at Academic Coaching and Writing are offering a free webinar in September on just this pervasive malady:

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Managing the Impostor Syndrome in Academia: How to Overcome Self-Doubt

Do you ever feel like you are an academic “impostor,” living with the dread that you will someday be discovered to be a fraud? Do you feel that you are not really seen for all your strengths and capabilities? Key to academic success is your ability to present yourself in a compelling manner. Howevcr, many academics are inhibited by negative self-talk that undermines the way they present their competencies. This webinar will help you to step back and assess how you present your academic capabilities and how you manage others’ impressions of your abilities.

This webinar will present some research on faculty productivity and guide you through coaching exercises to help you:

  • Understand your role in the performance of being an academic
  • Identify the three components of “Academic Presence:”
    • Recognize how academic culture may lead to negative self-talk
    • Increase self-awareness of how negative thoughts sabotage your performance
    • Step into your strengths and manifest your Academic Presence

Join Moira Killoran for this webinar September 25, 2014 at:

  • 1 p.m. PDT
  • 2 p.m. MDT
  • 3 p.m. CDT
  • 4 p.m. EDT

About the Presenter

Moira Killoran, ACW Director of Academic Coaching, is a professionally certified coach with experience in leadership, academic career and dissertation coaching, as well as in qualitative research consulting. As a consultant, she has worked extensively with faculty members, university administrators, and graduate students, assisting them to complete manuscripts, dissertations, and grant proposals. She also has worked with academics to transition out of academia and into new industries. She has been principal investigator (PI) or co-PI for a variety of studies, and has been funded by the NIH, DOD, and SSRC. Moira’s publications focus on gender and identity construction, organizational culture, substance use, and doctor-patient communication. Her faculty appointments have included positions at George Washington University and Whittier College. She received her PhD in cultural anthropology from The University of Texas at Austin, and has post-doctoral training from the University of California-Berkeley and the University of California-San Francisco in medical anthropology.

Why Saving Work for Tomorrow Doesn’t Work

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Harvard Business Review:

As we all know (but often try to forget), procrastination is a professional killer and a personal stressor. Whether it’s that nagging pile of essays that need grading or that essay submission that needs reviewing, the impulse to put it off usually causes more problems than it solves. This piece by Elizabeth Grace Saunders in the Harvard Business Review provides some important perspective, as well as two useful strategies for keeping your inner procrastinator at bay.

Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:

Do you frequently tell yourself that you’ll do better “next time” and then don’t change when the time comes? Do you often decide to do something “later” only to find that it never gets done?

If you answered “yes” to either one of these questions, you’re probably ignoring the fact that your behavior today is a strong indicator of your behavior tomorrow.

You’re not alone. In The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal shares how, in a research study, participants were much less likely to exert willpower in making healthy choices when they thought they would have another opportunity the following week. Given the option of a fat-free yogurt versus a Mrs. Field’s cookie, 83% of those who thought they’d have another opportunity the following week chose the cookie. In addition, 67% thought they would pick yogurt the next time, but only 36% made a different choice. Meanwhile, only 57% of the…

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Give your students the gift of unplugging!

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So, the academic term has just started. How many students have you found texting in your class already? Or checking e-mail, doing social media, or hitting the Candy Crush?

Most of us, to our chagrin, have encountered this hassle frequently — and a recent study in the Journal of Media Education reveals that the number of students who admit to using their phone during class time for non-class stuff exceeds 90%! We also have a good sense that the student defense of “multitasking” is largely bunk; study after study reveals that student multitasking with phones or computers while engaged in class or studying results in degraded academic performance.  But the lure of the digital distraction is pervasive, as many (most?) of us can attest if we’re being honest with ourselves (who here hasn’t gotten through at least part of a long meeting without a furtive phone check or two… or more?).

Louise Katz from Columbia State Community College may have found an answer, at least for her students. While some chafe at the idea of providing rewards for behavior students should be performing anyway, Katz argues in the Chronicle that a well-executed extra credit assignment might yield some valuable lessons for the digital addicts in our classrooms. So consider giving your students the gift of unplugged class periods! Some of them just might thank you for it.

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Today’s Lesson: Life in the Classroom Before Cellphones

Although I had taught for more than 20 years, I didn’t realize that I had forgotten what it was like to teach in a classroom without cellphones until I came up with a plan to relive those halcyon days. It was near the end of the semester, and I offered one point of extra credit per class period for my psychology students who turned off their cellphones before class and put them on the front desk.

I was sure that no students would part with their phones for such a meager offering. Wrong: Virtually all my students did. They even said they loved the idea, so the next semester I offered all my classes the same deal for the entire semester, and participation continued unabated. In fact, much to my surprise, after the first few days, when I walked into my classes all the cellphones were already on the table in the front of the room.

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Don’t let your students fall off the concept map!

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Maps can be amazing things — they can not only reveal what is there, and how things are connected, but also how to navigate and master a terrain. Of course, some maps are more amazing than others…

For high-impact pedagogy that can apply in a variety of situations, though, the concept map can be hard to beat. A “concept map” is defined by Cañas and Novak of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in this way:

Concept maps are graphical tools for organizing and representing knowledge. They include concepts, usually enclosed in circles or boxes of some type, and relationships between concepts indicated by a connecting line linking two concepts. Words on the line, referred to as linking words or linking phrases, specify the relationship between the two concepts.

If you’re unfamiliar with concept maps and their potential uses for student brainstorming, classroom discussion, and assessment of learning, check out this brief, useful video by Karen Rohrbauck Stout from Western Washington University’s Center for Instructional Innovation and Assessment.

I experimented with concept mapping in my Rhetorical Theory class last year. While I found it a great tool for guiding class discussion in a way that helped students define tools and shape the key ideas of a theoretical perspective, I had less success helping students use concept mapping independently to study course material.

If you’re unsure about incorporating concept maps in your classes (especially if you’ve tried, crashed and burned before, or heard of someone who has), Maryellen Weimer‘s advice might help you rethink how to use this potentially powerful tool for student learning.

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Keeping Students on Board with Concept Maps

Written by: Maryellen Weimer, Ph.D.
Published On: August 25, 2014

The benefits of concept maps are well established. They encourage students to organize knowledge and do so in ways meaningful to them. They help students sort out, prioritize, and understand relationships between terms, concepts, and ideas. Students can also use concept maps to forge relationships between new knowledge and what they already know.

But students don’t always see these benefits when first introduced to concept maps, and as the authors of the article referenced below discovered, how concept maps are used in a course directly affects student perceptions of their value.

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Can professors work 9 to 5? (Clean up the coffee you just spit out.)

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Compared to most folks, we work weird jobs. Now, that’s true for lots of reasons, but one of them is the bizarre relationship we have with time. On the one hand, we are usually blessed with a flexibility in our professional schedule that our friends and loved ones who work 9 to 5 would kill for.

On the other hand, we are constantly complaining about being overworked. And that’s not an unreasonable complaint — late-night lesson preps, weekend grading binges, committee meetings that are never scheduled at convenient times… The issue of work/life balance is a constant in academia, it seems, and the goal envisioned in this discussion is one few people seem to achieve… unless, of course, in the estimation of some of us, that lucky sot is obviously letting something slide.

So when I started reading Trish Roberts-Miller’s piece in Inside Higher Ed this morning, I had to clean up the coffee I spit out. Her claim — that yes, we academics can manage the average pace of a 9 to 5 schedule — is at once audacious and uncomfortably on point for those of us who revel in how “busy” we always are.  (Please bear in mind that this article is not being shared by one who has mastered this discipline! I am digesting this food for thought myself, and considering how to implement her advice to tame my own crazy work rhythms.) It might not be a bad idea to try timing our work like lawyers to see where our productivity waxes and wanes, so that one day we can work more like bankers and rest and play like real people.

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August 25, 2014

Recently, I told a group of graduate students that it’s possible to finish a dissertation and have a happy scholarly career while working 9 to 5. I think they were cheered and shocked, and I only later realized there might have been a lot of confusion. It’s hard to talk about working hours and academics partially because we have what others have called a culture (perhaps even cult) of “busyness,” partially because of the collapse of the 40-hour work week, and partially because academic work is a gas that will expand to fill all the time available.

So here is an attempt to clarify.

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Can we move our students from consumers to realistic achievers?

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The scenario is a painfully familiar one…

For the last two decades the scholarly study of “academic entitlement” and its relationship to the higher education experience has yielded some important insights. While defining the concept is tricky, Singleton-Jackson et al. (2011, p. 232) identify the following facets of the phenomenon:

a) a belief that some reward is deserved that is not justified based on one’s actual academic achievement; 2) that a high academic entitlement disposition implies a diminished role for personal responsibility in actual academic achievement; and, 3) that a high academic entitlement disposition also implies expectations about the role of instructors that are above and beyond their obligation of providing educational opportunities and effective, quality instruction.

These tendencies should come as no surprise to us, as we have been and will continue to teach the Millennial generation — and their expectations based in part on an educational consumerist perspective — for the next six years. First year college students, in particular, are vulnerable to experiencing a system shock as the work patterns that yielded high achievement in their K-12 past don’t seem to cut it in the bigs. So is the answer to provide toughlove and get them used to lowered expectations?

We don’t want our students to be demoralized, and to settle for lower expectations for their performance in our classes.  Indeed, a healthy body of research confirms that establishing high expectations for students can be a powerful means of achieving effective student learning outcomes.

Maryellen Weimer of The Teaching Professor Blog addresses an important dilemma we all face as college teachers:

Unrealistic expectations present teachers with a conundrum. We want students to believe in themselves. We want them committed to doing well. But we need them to be realistic about what success demands.

Her useful recommendations bear some attention as we start our courses this year — how can we use the first day, the first week of class to set expectations that are both realistic and aspirational for students? How can we use the first few weeks of the term to provide formative feedback that helps students adjust their expectations while maintaining their morale? And how should we respond to the first big exam or essay to help keep students motivated and on the right track? Your suggestions and conversation are welcome in the comments below!

Singleton-Jackson, J.A., Jackson, D.L., and Reinhardt, J. (2011). Academic entitlement: Exploring definitions and dimensions of entitled students. The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, 5(9), 229-236.

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AUGUST 20, 2014

Reality Check: Helping to Manage Student Expectations

By: in Teaching Professor Blog

It’s not until the day of the test, as they’re confronted by a number of questions they can’t answer, that the anxiety sets in. They will sit staring at the questions and guessing at far too many answers, before turning in the test and then persuading themselves that chances are still pretty good for a B. Most students begin college, the academic year, and new courses motivated and optimistic. Many first-year students expect to do well because they were successful in high school. Some are right, but others will only find similar success if they work much harder than they did in high school. Yet most start out expending the same level of effort. They will talk with their classmates and convince each other that an exam covering three chapters can’t be that hard, so they put off studying and then “look over” the chapters the night before—happily dealing with any and all interruptions and distractions.

A lot of students continue to hold unrealistic expectations throughout the course even in the presence of mounting evidence to the contrary. A student can be going into a cumulative final exam with a solid C, but she believes she is going to ace that final and come out of the course with a high B. That may be possible in a few courses, but it’s a long shot in others and is simply not going to happen in most courses.

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