I have heard a frequent refrain from friends and colleagues about election day this year, “I am ready for this to be over.” It rings true for even those of us who love politics. The Presidential campaign is 19 months old; if it were a child it would be climbing on things and learning new words every day. However, as I often suggest, we also need to consider this from a student’s perspective. For the vast majority of our students this is their first time voting in a Presidential election, let’s not dampen their enthusiasm with our exhaustion regarding the election cycle. Student voices matter:
This year the First-Year Experience program partnered with the Civic Engagement office to register and inform student voters at Chico.
Today there are signs and people all over campus urging voting in general or supporting particular candidates.
Our own student groups have been present and visible on campus throughout the election season.
Across the nation we saw students engaging in dynamic ways. College Republicans were split on their support of Donald Trump this year, so an enthusiastic group formed StudentsforTrump with pop-up groups all over the nation. The group is even mentioned by Trump in speeches, which is a testament to the power of the student voice.
Students often emerge from events like an election with interest in a specific topic, but without a clear path to activism. One such outlet on campus is Civic Engagement which was made a Strategic Priority last year. The campus is looking for a new Director of Civic Engagement right now and it is a great time to get involved. Even if you are not interested in the leadership position, it is worth keeping an eye on the office to learn how to get your students involved in the community. Civic Engagement is not for other students in other classes only during the election, it is for all of us, all the time.
Dr. Sara Cooper has provided additional Book in Common Material. Check out this section of the CELT page for regular synopsis updates, discussion questions, and other resources.
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Finals are just around the corner and many of us are sprinting/struggling to the finish line. In many courses grading is the thing standing between us and a change of pace during the summer. There have probably been semesters when you moved through grading efficiently and others when you are wondering how serious those requirements on timely grade entry from the Office of the Registrar really are. Those different experiences were probably driven by different habits. Take a minute to think of your best and worst grading habits.
My best habit has always been preparation. This was the time in the semester when I would be motivated to focus in the evenings and clear my schedule of lingering grading, manuscripts in need of attention, and other projects. This allowed me to focus on grading final papers or exams when they came in without having other work to do. When I executed well I would be done with grading on Wednesday of final exam week. My worst habit was the mini-reward. I would be proud of myself for grading one or two papers and take a minute to read ESPN or check facebook, then that minute turned into 10, then I needed a cup of coffee, soon 30 minutes had passed without additional progress.
Despite commonly held beliefs, you do not have enough time to create a new habit before final exams and papers come in, but you do have time to get started. The least we should do is commit to being conscientious of our habits so we can make note for the future. This can be a challenge as habits, by their nature, are often automatic.
This tip was inspired by one of my better habits, listening to the Teaching in H
igher Ed podcast by Bonni Stachowiak and her episode on habits.
Her guest Natalie Houston is a regular contributor to the Chronicle and said something
that hit home for me, “habits save us tremendoustime and energy, but they can also lead us to doing a lot of things mindlessly.” It made me think about the things I do mindlessly which are not that productive.
Got feedback on this tip? A bad habit to disclose? Leave a comment or email it to us. Got an idea for a tip? Send it along.
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Stress seems everywhere this time of the semester. The academic year is close to an end which means student concerns about grades and graduation, too many meetings crammed into the day, celebrations that sometimes feel like obligations, and this year we are all making sense of the strike and what it might mean for ourselves and our students. Speaking of students, the stress of the end of the year can be even greater for them as they deal with a host of transitions many of us moved on from years ago.
I once worked with a graduate student whose motto was “low stress-high success” and while I have never been able to live the slogan quite how he did, the merits of limiting stress in our lives are well documented and substantial.
This week’s tips for reducing stress are brought to you by the School of Nursing. They authored the attached sheet and want to encourage you to stop by their table outside Butte Station this week to pick up a stress kit. Please encourage your students to stop by as well.
On Monday I did something uncharacteristic and came to work unprepared. I was caught up on emails and had not missed any deadlines, but I had the wrong socks. I bike to work whenever I can and keep clean clothes in my office to change into. However, on Friday I took home all my dress socks and forget to pack in more. Alone, I was left to face the horror of wearing white athletic socks with blue dress pants and brown shoes.
It was not quite on the level of Harry Potter staring down Voldemort, but it was close.
My clever wife suggested I buy some socks at the bookstore and my day was saved, but the episode gave me a moment to reflect on the things I do to stay prepared on campus (most of which I have borrowed from others) that have saved me classroom embarrassment more than once.
Here is my checklist:
A neutral change of clothes. This way if something tears or stains you can swap out things that will work with most of what you are wearing.
Shout wipes. These are essential and help salvage clothes with stains until they can be washed and keep clothes clean on campus. They even get Flamin-Hot Frito dust out of white dress shirts…or at least that is what I have heard.
Something nutritious to eat. I like high-protein granola bars for the occasional forgotten lunch or late night. You really need to have something in your desk or backpack.
A toothbrush. This was a more recent addition to my stash but a welcome one for anyone I work with who does not want to smell my coffee breath all day.
What are your must-have supplies for campus? Let us know so we can add them to the in-construction Tuesday Tip repository.
Soon to be on your list will be an audio device so you can listen to an exciting podcast. Check out this collaborative podcast on “Adulting” I put together with some campus partners. We will be doing a new podcast on life at Chico State every two weeks. Stay tuned for an upcoming episode on Greek Life, or better yet, subscribe so you never miss a podcast!
This time of the semester it is easy to think our experiences at work are unique to us. Nod in silence if you have said or overheard a colleague recently say
“I am so busy.”
“There is so much grading.”
“I don’t think (person X) understands how much work I have.”
“Why do I get so many annoying emails from CELT?”
These things might all be true, but it is important to remember they are true for everyone. Your colleagues are stressed and busy, students are scrambling to finish projects and study for exams, your chair and dean are grappling with their own issues, and the administrative assistant you work with all the time is probably getting the worst of it from all sides. Ask yourself how you would treat people if everyone were as busy as you are, and then do that, because they probably are.
Related to this piece of advice, here are a few more for the end of the semester.
You would probably advise your students to abstain from ranting about their employers or coworkers on social media so take your own advice and do the same. What is posted on twitter lives forever in the memory of the internet. Think about how the student you are venting about would feel if you read your facebook post aloud in front of them.
Yes it is the end of the term and ridiculous excuses are a part of our lives, but they can also be true. People do get sick during finals week and people we care about do go to the hospital. The fact that students may have been untruthful before does not mean the student who is emailing you asking for an extension is lying.
Do something nice for someone. Bring your class donuts or ask your administrative support person how his/her day is without immediately cutting them off to ask for a rush order copy job. Sometimes simple kindness gets us through the most challenging times.
Looking for some help and a quiet place to grade during finals week? Check out the Faculty Grading Oasis in MLIB 458. We are open 8-5 with hot coffee, snacks, and student support to help alphabetize exams and data entry (as long as it is FERPA compliant). There may even be spontaneous “Hotline Bling” inspired dance-offs, you just never know.
Thanksgiving break is so close you can taste it, and the students can too. This can be a difficult week for substantive instruction as you are probably inundated with emails like “my mom booked a flight for me six months ago and I need to leave town on Wednesday” or “why are you giving an exam this week? Can I take it online?”
Students have lives and we don’t want to be dismissive of them, but how do we balance that with the needs of our other students and our schedules?
I have usually taken a hard line with issues like this, and I have encouraged other instructors to do the same. This week is a scheduled school week and it should be treated as such. If students miss an exam this week then it is the same as if they miss it in the 2nd week of the semester. Some instructors may feel the need to be more flexible, and at times I have been as well.
Regardless, I would encourage you to be clear. Set expectations early in the week or even earlier in the semester about your adherence to the course calendar and expectations for student involvement. Then when you need to break some bad news to a student, it has some context. Nothing softens the blow of bad news like a healthy dose of “I told you so.” Maybe not, but it is still a best practice to keep everyone informed.
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You’ve heard of running with scissors? At this point in the semester it can feel more like spinning with butter knives: So much activity, so few things actually completed. The relative of autonomy of faculty schedules is something we should be thankful for every day, but it can also make it challenging to distribute our energy to the right things in the right proportions. Having spent literally hours on a PowerPoint presentation for a single, not-that-complicated class session (thank you, Google Images), and then wondered why I never finished that grant application, I wear my own scarlet P for Procrastination, or maybe Prioritization-ineptitude.
Here are three tips for getting a grip on time management.
Identify your biggest time vacuum and find a way to fix it. For instance, if each incoming e-mail chime is a Pavlovian stimulus, silence the alerts while you’re working on important tasks. Or try limiting your attention to e-mail to one or two blocks of time each day. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review calls this approach “e-mail budgeting” and offers good advice for how to make it work. Maybe your biggest time sink is, like mine, class prep. Try setting a time limit on that, too. When time is up, it’s time to teach, ready or not. Odds are, you really will be ready, even if the more perfect PowerPoint graphic has to wait for next semester’s iteration.
Protect at least 15 minutes a day for the work that fuels your passion for your discipline. Truly, just 15 minutes. That’s the theory behind Laura Belcher’s Write Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, currently in use by two faculty writing groups on campus, and it appears to be working. Whether it’s writing a book or article, developing a grant proposal or conference paper, or working on a project with disciplinary colleagues across the country, set aside inviolable blocks of time to attend to it, even if the longer blocks are few. Just opening the file every day will keep your head in the project and nourish this vital but easy-to-lose aspect of your professional identity.
Do your students know your marital status? Your pets’ names? Whether or not you’re vegan? Most of us have used stories from our personal lives to help illustrate a concept and know the power those stories can have to build trust, make connections, and revive student interest in a boggy lecture. I’ve also seen warm and personal video introductions in online courses—including several with cats—with similar effects.
But these narratives can also create danger zones of vulnerability and discomfort for both the instructor and the students. Where’s the line between the self-disclosure that creates genuine human relationships with students and the over-sharing that becomes counter-productive, awkward, or inappropriate?
Turns out there’s research on this that supports clear and sensible guidelines, as reported in this recent post on Pedagogy Unbound. Student learning is positively linked to faculty self-disclosure so long as (1) we don’t do too much of it (browse Rate My Professors for evidence that students may not find our personal lives quite as fascinating as we do); (2) we observe boundaries (no sexual exploits, no religious proselytizing); and (3) we keep it relevant to the course material. This last one, I think, is the key. Last weekend I got to offer a workshop for a campus group and told a story about a recent event at my kids’ high school as the basis for a quick case study. It was by far the best part of the presentation. The story was real, local, and personal; the subject pertained directly to the workshop; and the students got to make connections to their own experiences and the mission of their organization. Win, win, win.
Also, brevity is a virtue. Please note the 329 word count for today’s tip.
Yes, that faint whooshing you hear is the sound of another semester slipping past us. There’s a certain inevitability to this point in the semester, for us and our students. After this (long!) week and the Thanksgiving break, those last two weeks of the semester will move at breakneck speed and we’ll find ourselves in the world of exams and is-there-any-extra-credit-in-this-class and who’s hosting the holiday party, anyway?
Seize this moment! Before the grading, the reckoning with piles of unattended laundry, and the renewed commitment to work-life balance, do a 10-minute diagnostic on each of your classes. You will never be better attuned than you are right now to what worked, what flopped, and what needs to be tweaked. Try creating a “Notes for Next Time” file, or simply mark up a copy of the syllabus indicating what topics needed an extra session, what readings should be updated, or due dates shifted to protect your sanity. Beyond logistics, are there new pedagogical moves you might try? Consider making a commitment to adding one new tool to your kit—a Blackboard feature, a classroom activity, a creative new assignment. There are innumerable resources to help you with these—check out upcoming TLP and CELT workshops, or let me know about a topic you’d like us to add to the roster. CELT can also offer department-specific “we come to you” workshops on topics of interest to particular units.