Gone Fishing…

This is my last post for this school year. Even though we are not going on vacation this year I decided to devote August to rest, relax and rejuvenate. As I have a feeling that this upcoming school year is not going to be a walk in the part. Usually, in August I spend all of my time with my family and feeding my brain by reading only things that make me grow. For me and my family, August is a big month as we have lots of celebrations. It is the month I got married to my wonderful husband and it is also the month our son was born as a result I always take this month off.

So, because of that, I make sure to finish everything I need to do for September. I start sending emails about all sorts of things so I can make sure that my prep for the fall is complete no later than July 31. From editing my syllabi, making sure that my courses are updated to reflect the changes I want to make, creating new e-lectures to completing my AFR’s (Annual Faculty Reports).  Besides needing a break so I can spend the majority of my time with my family the other reason I do it is because I actually need some time for my brain to relax and decompress.  It helps me go back to teaching ready for the new school year. I have learned from past experience that if I don’t take the time off, I am miserable all year. By May I feel extremely burnt out and I can’t be the best educator, wife, mother, and friend to anybody. I just don’t perform to full capacity and it shows in my work. I don’t do a good job teaching, writing, or anything else I do professionally. This then seeps into my personal life because I become stressed out, annoyed, and irritated causing my personal life to not be good either. As a result, I then tend to not have a lot of patience and tolerance. What is more, the people around me can tell. Thus, for my sanity and others who have to live, work, and have to listen to me teach for three hours a week  I spend as much time as possible throughout the year decompressing and August is one of those times.

The other thing I like to do during my time off is plan early and brainstorm on blog posts or e-lectures for example among other things because if don’t do that ahead of time I am constantly playing catch up and it is not my best writing if I don’t. Like I make sure that my courses are completed and uploaded long before the semester begins as there is not possible to teach and design/create a course while it’s running. It’s too stressful and mistakes are bound to happen, which is not how I want my students or anybody else to think of me. Also, I teach around 80 students a semester and there are some weeks I have so many papers to grade that it is impossible for me to write anything when my brain is completely fried. So I came to the conclusion that I work better when I take August and January off and take care of myself.

I hope everyone has the opportunity to take some time off even if he/she stays home this year. Enjoy the last month of the summer with your loved ones as this year is bound to be a tough one since COVID-19 is still raging. With any luck by the end of 2020, the hard-working scientists and doctors around the world might have some sort of solution for this pandemic so can stop feeling so stressed out and that we are out of control!

This is where I wish I was for August but maybe next year:

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See you all in September!

 

Katherine

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Thinking, Reflecting…

This week has been super busy as I was trying to finish grading final exams, final papers on my summer courses, as well as posting grades. So, besides the actual reading and grading, I spent a couple of days just thinking and looking at students’ grades. When I am doing it, it makes sense, but I when tell someone that I actually take a couple of days to spend time just thinking about the students and their grades they look at me surprised. I guess in other professions this type of process does not occur.

It is also an activity that most in the education field don’t talk about. I am not sure why, but we don’t. During this time, for starters, I want to make sure that all of the grades are entered, and I have not missed anything. The other reason is that I look at how much a student has progressed in a few months or weeks and if that is reflected in his or her final grade. As I am looking at their grades I am wondering if what I set out to do during the semester or summer session, occurred. What I mean is, I always have a set of goals as I begin designing and then teaching a course. It becomes evident if those objectives were met when I look at my students’ grades.

This is the time that I take a lot of notes for myself so I can remind myself if what I used for the semester worked or not. By “worked” I mean, did online tools like VoiceThread, or a homework assignment fulfill its objective?  How did the students react? Did they do well? Did they have the knowledge I was hoping for? If not, why not? What can I change to make this so I can make their learning experience better? Or they can absorb the material better?

So, thinking about grades and performance objectives at the end of a course is extremely important in order to begin the process of redesigning an upcoming course. I see it as a way to measure if what I am doing in the classroom virtual or face-to-face is important. Of course, there are those students that register for my course that they are not ready for it or those that are taking, but have no interest in learning because they believe that the course is a waste of their time and they need to take it to graduate. I don’t usually take most of those into account because how can look at a student that doesn’t have the prerequisite knowledge in order to do well in my course. It is those students that I have a hard time failing because the majority of them work extremely hard to pass and even though they have progressed a lot it still isn’t enough. On the other hand, the students that think have nothing to learn are the ones I that I cannot be concerned about because there is always something to learn, and instead of approaching that way, they close themselves up to all sorts of opportunities.

These and many more thoughts go through my mind during this period of reflection. Of course, there is a lot more to it than just thinking and re-evaluating for a couple of days, but this is how I begin the process of working and thinking for the upcoming courses I will be teaching in the fall or spring semesters.

Do you think about how your students did while taking your course? How do you go about designing and then teaching a course?

 

Katherine

 

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Giving Grace…

Last week I was talking to one of my grad students on zoom because she had missed the deadline to submit a homework assignment. As I was listening without speaking the student proceeded to tell me everything that happened to her and the reasons behind this. I hadn’t had the opportunity to turn the video on and as I listened to the student I decided not to. The student was super nervous, and I did not want to add to it by showing up on her computer screen, but I could hear her voice. She was upset and worried. Not adding the video actually made me listen to the student more carefully because there was no video to distract me.

As I am sitting there, I am thinking why is the student so upset? I haven’t even spoken yet. Once the student finished explaining I asked so, “What can I do for you?” The student was so anxious she couldn’t bring herself to actually ask for permission to complete the work she had missed. So, I had to nudge her along. Finally, I decided to put her out of her misery and give her permission to submit the late homework. Now, this is not an undergrad that just forgot or procrastinated to do her work. This is a graduate student in the MBA program. The majority of these students are working professionals, type A with extremely driven and determined personalities.

While we are talking the stunned student kept thanking me for understanding and being flexible because her other professor had said no even though the student had a good reason for being late. I cannot of course the particulars of the student’s reasons because of FERPA laws and protecting my student’s privacy nor are they important.

Once the zoom call was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Not because this is my first time talking to a student who is asking for an extension for a homework assignment.  After 16 years of teaching at UMB, I have had numerous encounters with students, especially because I teach the dreaded business communications courses that all undergrads need to take in the College of Management in order to graduate.

I was thinking about how as educators we have a lot of power over our students. We teach them all of these courses and try to transfer our excitement and love for the topic we spent years learning about. I have spent about 8 years in higher ed just learning with multiple professors. They were all great and brought their experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm to the classroom, but the majority were distant and unapproachable. Of course, you don’t realize it until you meet the one professor that will change everything for you. For me it was, Pepi Leistyna he was everything a true educator should be passionate, kind-hearted, and welcoming. As a student, I never felt worried about going to his office. It always felt like chatting to a friend, not my professor.

So, as I kept thinking about my student and I was wondering about how we can positively and negatively impact a person’s life with one yes or one no. Then I was reflecting on all of the work we as educators put into a course. If we spend all this time envisioning, researching, designing, and teaching courses, why can’t we include compassion, kindness, and grace as part of our teaching practice as well? Who says we need to be distant, cold, and closed up in order to teach? Why do people need to be scared to ask for an extension to a homework assignment? That’s not how education should work. Students should not be scared to talk to me or any other professor. I am not saying that I am going to not have deadlines or have students follow them, but why is it so wrong to bend the rules once in a while? Why is frowned upon to give students grace?

At the end of the day, my course is going to be one of many that a student will take in their lifetime. I would consider myself blessed if they leave my class having learned the material that the course was designed for and think of me as a nice person, they got to spend some time with during a semester in their second or third year of college.

How would you like to be remembered by your students?

Katherine

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Thoughts on Teaching, Taking Stock…

Since my last post I have been thinking a lot about my students that are finishing up the semester and if how I taught them, or should I say facilitated their learning because I really don’t think of myself as a teacher in a traditional way. You know, the kind that sits in front of a classroom and lectures. I actually abhor that kind of teaching because it makes students lazy and comatose. Most of the time they are so bored that they end up looking at more interesting things on their laptops, tablets, or phones. The way I like to teach is when I am off-center i.e. when I make the students take center stage. As a dear friend and colleague used to say when I was a new professor, the lazier the instructor the more active the students. At the time I didn’t understand what she meant, but almost 20 years later I do because with teaching and experience comes understanding.

Of course, she didn’t mean that I should work, what she meant is that I shouldn’t lecture so much and let them do active work. When I say I don’t lecture I mean I don’t sit in front of a group of students and explain how prepositions work in a sentence (although in some instances I have been known to do that as well). Because part of teaching business communications includes quite a bit of grammar instruction since many of my students are ESL and International students that many have a hard time writing a cohesive sentence.

When I teach on campus I begin the week by laying out what the week is going to be about as well as the type of work they are required to do, but I don’t lecture in the traditional sense and that is why I like hybrid courses because they allow me and my students the flexibility to expand the number of activities and learning because there is so much information that you can squeeze into a 50 minute class period. So, a lot of my lecturing happens online via e-lectures for it allows them to view it as many times as they like or practice with the interactive grammar exercises that I have created.

The other thing that I do during this time of the semester especially after I have posted final grades is trying to see if my students have been able to meet the goals, I set out for them. To that end, I use the backward design model by Wiggins & McTighe which believes that learning experiences should be planned with the final assessment in mind. One starts with the end i.e. the desired results or goals and then designs the curriculum from the evidence of learning called for by the standard and the teaching as well as the material needed to equip students to perform’ (Wiggins and McTighe, 2000, page 8)

So finally, as the semester winds down I take time to think about everything that happened and look at my notes and see what worked and didn’t work this time around. How do you end the semester or year?

Katherine

 

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Are we meeting student expectations?

This morning I was reading the morning news and saw an article on how Northeastern is being sued by students for inferior online teaching. I am not going to take a position on what Northeastern is doing as far as teaching online goes and how prepared or not their faculty were when they asked them to transfer their courses to online because I am not familiar with the university’s online platform. From what I understand, Northeastern is one of the many universities being sued by their students.

The question is why? Why are students suing their universities? What are their expectations? Are faculty not working up to their usual standards?

I have no doubt that the majority of faculty if not all of them have been working a lot more than they usually do to compensate for having to transfer and teach online in order to assist students in successfully completing the semester because as educators this is what we do help, educate, and guide students. So, have their teaching standards dropped? No, it has not dropped, it changed to accommodate the online modality. You cannot go from a high standard of teaching on campus to a low one because you are teaching online.

So, what is wrong? Why do students feel that they are not getting what they paid for? The article I read did not say. I think that many students like faculty and administration do not understand that teaching online versus on campus is not the same thing.

As far as the faculty are concerned, I believe that when they transferred their courses online, they did a great job and all of the material is there that they were going to teach in class. But in what format? You cannot use the same teaching tools online that you used in-class. It doesn’t work trust me I have tried. In the early years of online teaching despite my best efforts, I did have a few teaching fails and learned from them but unlike my colleagues, throughout the US I had time to hone my online teaching skills.

Also, you cannot just use zoom and lecture non-stop until the end of the semester as the students will be exhausted from all the live online lectures.  There must be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities such as zoom lectures with online activities and e-learning lectures. Something that most faculty did not have time to create as you need to search to find the software you think might work, learn how to use it, and then design and create the material. Time instructors did not have.

That is where the administration comes in. As they didn’t understand the amount of work it takes to create and set up an online course. Two weeks is not a realistic amount of time for faculty that are starting from scratch to be able to design and create an online course let alone several. At this point, I think that the majority of admins are finally understanding what it takes for faculty to go online as I am sure they have heard back from their faculty about the challenges they are facing.

Finally, let me talk about the students, most have no idea what it means to be taking a full load of courses online. Sure, they have taken an online course a few times. That’s different. So that is why they probably feel that the work their professors are doing is an inferior job. Taking a full load of courses online means that the students need to step up and be responsible for a lot more than they ever had to. Why? because now they need to log in and find things as there is no professor at the front of the class to answer questions as they are looking at their phones checking their social media status and how many likes they got on Tik Tok. They need to remember to get on zoom, make sure they have a good working computer, fast internet connection, and actually take notes. When they have a question, they need to log in to their online platform to post a question that might take their professor more than twenty-four hours to respond. This creates stress and tension for students because they think that they should get a response immediately, they don’t realize that their instructor might also be overwhelmed by the fact that s/he was not planning on teaching online for half a semester and is now trying to figure out how to teach in this new platform while teaching. So, suddenly life became a lot more complicated than it was before the quarantine.

The bottom line is that students have to take charge of their own learning and work independently and figure things out on their own. Of course, that is easier said than done. It is difficult for them because they are not ready. This is not how they were taught in K-12. I say this because as a mother of a nine-year-old boy 4th grade has been a difficult year for him long before COVID-19. The teachers realized that children are not able to be more in charge of their own learning and day as a result for the last few years they have begun asking students to use agendas to write down their schedules. So, since September I watched my son struggle to figure out how to remember to write things down in his agenda and to also make sure to look at his agenda. This has been painful for me and him, but I had to let him fall on his face several times in the hope that he will learn and become more responsible for his own learning. These are life skills that many of my students do not have. One reason for this could be that they came from a different country or their school system just didn’t think it was important enough at the time. But like everything else education and curricula evolves and changes to reflect the needs of the students to help them succeed hence the change in my son’s school.

The other problem most college students are facing is that it is hard to have to go from an in-class learning experience to an on-line learning one and be expected to perform the same. Which are my grading standards have eased and it is easier to get a pass/fail this semester.

Let’s not forget that students are locked up in a house with their parents which cannot be easy nor stress-free for them as they also had to leave their dorms or apartments and their friends behind. Physiologically they are stress out and tired of this new way of living and going to school. Their lives have changed, and they don’t know when they are going back to school. For now, everyone in higher ed will stay online for the foreseeable future and that is not easy for college students to accept. Eventually and hopefully by the fall semester, we will all be on-campus teaching and learning, but it won’t be the same. I don’t think that we can ever go back to the pre-quarantine time.  I see education evolving and changing in ways we never thought it would.

What do you think?

 

Katherine

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New Normal? What has my life become?

I know that you might think that my title sounds a little dramatic, but our lives have changed to such a degree that I am not sure if we could ever go back to where we were before the quarantine. So, everyone is talking about a new normal without actually defining what that means for us.

Workwise for educators especially those teaching at the university level our working hours have increased dramatically. For one thing, we were asked to transfer our courses online within 10 days. The other issue that came up was that the majority of instructors and professors besides transferring their courses online had to learn all these new tools while teaching in a new environment. In addition to trying to calm down their students who are having an ever-harder time going online to finish up the semester.

The other issue is the endless zoom meetings. Studies and many news articles claim that it is good for us to meet online with colleagues as it makes us feel more connected. At this point, I am so zoomed out that I would like to disconnect, and the majority of my students feel the same way.

To add insult to injury many of us have to homeschool our children while working. You would think that as college professors we would know how to do that, but we don’t, not because we can’t teach but because the curricula and tools, we use in our courses are different from what K-12 teachers use in their classrooms with our children. Which in my book means more work for me because now I need to figure out what and how to teach my child ELA and Math while he would rather be online talking and playing Fortnite with his friends.

Is that our new normal? For me yes, because even if the state reopens for business, my child will be home until September since schools in Massachusetts closed for the rest of the year. Our district says that the buildings are closed not the school and this is a great motto, but the reality is that 1 hour a day for a morning meeting does not keep schools open. This means that if I want the school to be open, I need to do the work.

How do I adapt to this new normal?

For one thing, I rearranged my study to allow my child room to work with me. So, while I am grading student papers, responding to questions, emails, and so on, he has to log into his iPad and work on his homework. This set up helps with me being able to keep track of what he is doing as well as being available to answer any questions he might have.

The other thing I am trying to negotiate is time for myself and away from work, so I don’t burn out. This has happened to me in the past because as a professor I work a lot from home, and I have a hard time separating work and home life. So, I am making a conscious effort to do that. Which for me means that I need to wake up at 6 am to work out. Take time to make and have lunch with my child. Go for a walk or a bike ride with my child, whenever the weather permits, because he is also going stir crazy from being home all the time.  Writing my blog every week. Which I am currently doing wearing my headphones and listening to ocean sounds on my Alexa device to block out the noise my family is making so I can be able to concentrate. I also take breaks throughout the day to talk to my friends and family on the phone or to do a quick chat on facetime.

What is your new normal?

Katherine

 

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