The Committees

What’s the one thing that the University runs on? Committees, you say? No, it’s actually money. But I’m glad you brought up the committees.

The workload of tenured/tenure-track academic faculty is expected to be 40:40:20 (teaching:research:service). That is, 40% of work time should be spent on teaching/prep work, 40% should be spent on research, and 20% should be spent on “service.” When I was first starting out, I didn’t know what that meant, either. Then someone told me it meant “volunteering,” which I thought meant, like, joining Uncles at Large or picking up litter in the river valley. Er, no.

In academic jargon, “service” means volunteering your time to participate on internal university committees (among other things). Without this volunteer work, the university would come to a standstill. Yup, even if we had so much money that we could build a Butterdome out of actual butter, everything would come to a crashing halt.

Here are some examples of committees on campus and what they do:
  • Department Council: every teaching department gets together on a roughly monthly basis to discuss changes and updates to courses, the curriculum, the Calendar, programs, and admissions. In the Department of Psychology, all Academic Faculty belong to this, as do Faculty Lecturers, some administrative staff, and there are also undergraduate and graduate student representatives.
  • Undergraduate Curriculum Committee: how does the Department Council make decisions about curriculum? Proposals are brought forward for a vote by this group within a department (instructors and admin staff) who look at current and future course needs, recommend the use of learning objectives in teaching, and do things like kill off popular courses (ahem).
  • Department Screening Committee: if a Department is going to hire someone, this group has to go through the applications and narrow down the choices to a select few, who are then referred to a separate Hiring Committee, which will be involved in a formal interview process. You wouldn’t believe the qualifications of some of the people who apply for a position in psychology.
  • Arts Council for Technology & Innovation: this group is “an advisory body to the Dean [of Arts], with broad representation, that guides the direction of how technology will support the teaching, learning, research and administrative needs of the Faculty.” Members also share information about IT needs. (ACTI is not to be confused with the Information Technology Committee (ITC), the Information Technology Enterprise Committee (ITEC), or the Information Technology Advisory Committee (ITAC), which are associated with the VP IT. LOL!)
  • InSciTE/E visioning committee: This Faculty of Science committee is, well...I dunno. I don’t know what “InSciTE/E” stands for. Innovation something, science something, teaching something. This committee hasn’t met yet.
Well, anyway, all these committees have something in common. They’re all made up of volunteers, giving their time to ensure that the University continues to move forward, innovates, and deals with challenges and opportunities at many different levels--from departments, to faculties, to central administration, and even cutting across those levels.

Oh, there’s one more thing those committees I listed above have in common: I’m on all of them--even though I don't have to be (my contract does not explicitly require service, but I like to contribute anyway). Now, I gotta go and prep for an upcoming meeting.

Why aren't you studying?

Update 3/26/2014: OK, now this is getting out of hand. In the past week, I've now been placed on two more committees: Intro Psych Textbook Review Committee and SCI 100 Future Planning Committee.

The Business Trip

Earlier this year, Nelson Education Ltd. invited me to join their Digital Psychology Editorial Advisory Board (no, it’s not called the “DPEAB”). There are now about a half-dozen of us psychology types, from universities across the country who belong to this group. It works like this. Nelson gives us some money, and in return, we give them our considered opinion about technology, products, and education. (Yeah, like I need someone to pay me to give my opinion!)

I realize that students may have...certain opinions about publishers. The way I see it, publishers are not really trying to sell their textbooks to students. They’re trying to sell their textbooks to instructors. Some companies do a better job than others. And these days, being a textbook publisher is not just about dead trees anymore; it’s about applying the best ways to enhance student learning.

I’ve had a really good relationship with Nelson over the years. Need proof? A while ago, they gave half of the students in my perception class a free etextbook so I could run a study on student achievement comparing the use of an ebook with a printed textbook. (The result? No statistically significant difference in marks. The takeaway: Using an ebook probably won’t lead to lower grades.) Need more proof? Read my post on how Nelson dropped the price of the textbook I’m using in one course by $45. That’s right: Forty. Five. Dollars. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a consultant for Nelson for over 10 years, working on website content for 18 of their Canadian psychology textbooks. Also: I do not get any commission, money, or free pens from any publisher for choosing their textbook.)

Here’s more evidence that Nelson is really dedicated to helping students. Over Reading Week, they brought members of the psychology (and biology) Digital Advisory Boards to Toronto to pick our brains about some of their new digital products, and directions for future products. It was great to talk with other passionate instructors about technology, teaching, and learning. I’m pretty impressed with the ways people are innovating in education. And Nelson wants to tap into that passion and innovation; there are some exciting new products on the horizon. No, I won’t tell you about them. (It was also nice to finally meet some people from Nelson in person--previously, I had only been in email contact with them for years. Oh, and some Twitter stalking, too.)

Yeah, the hotel was nice, but it was all of 1 day. In Toronto. In February. So don’t get images of a week in Cancun or anything. What did you do on Reading Week?

Why aren’t you studying?

The New Prep 6: Wrap Up

It’s been a long haul for me these last 2.5 years, developing, prepping, and delivering my new PSYCO 282: Behavior  Modification course. (Officially, it’s not spelled “Behaviour” with a U--hey, don’t blame me!) Agreeing to teach a new course in 2010 was easy enough to do. But as the real deadline of Fall term hit, I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Nervouscited!

Starting in the summer, my workload increased exponentially. Not only did a have a new prep, I had also plunged into another time-intensive project--a research project on mobile learning and student engagement conducted as part of teaching intro psych. (Data analysis from that is ongoing, by the way.) It feels like I didn’t even have a summer--madly working away, even while on family vacations. (Sample experience: someone asked me if I had a good summer, and I replied, “Huh? What summer?”)

Now, after having taught the “b-mod” course once, I’ve got a list of hits and misses. First, I know that I have to develop more content. Cancelling three classes in a row is way too many. (No, that wasn’t by design.) Over the holiday break, I madly rejiggered the carefully planned structure of the course, changing what material is covered on what exam, and adding another lecture on token economies. I had also planned to add another one on behavioural contracts, but it looks like there won’t be time for that.

Second, I’ve rekindled my love/hate relationship with eClass/Moodle. Ultimately, online assignments are the way to go (thanks to Cheryl, my TA, for dragging me in that direction), but Moodle is Confusingstupid. And slowkillingme.

It was really eye-opening to read all the behaviours that students worked on changing as part of the self-management project. Many were expected (decreasing smoking, improving studying, increasing exercise), but there were also a lot of unique ones (stopping spitting, reducing swearing, and eating more nuts). If you were in my class and are reading this, drop a line in the comments below about how things are going.

Reading the research on behaviour modification and applied behaviour analysis was a pleasant surprise. I was concerned that I’d have to get up to speed on an elephant-ass amount of jargon. Most scientific papers are nearly impenetrable, even for someone with a Ph.D. But the papers I read were brief, understandable, and (largely) jargon-free.

Although I’ve written before about doing self-management on myself, in seeing all the hard work that students were putting into changing their behaviours, I decided to change another set of behaviours. I’m a notorious snacker (pretzels, chocolate, and sometimes pretzels+chocolate), so for two weeks I changed my environment to reduce my snacking after dinner. It seemed to work: I lost 2 pounds.

There’s one final thing. After I finished writing the last lecture for the course, I decided to, er, reinforce all of my good behaviours, so I went out and bought myself an iPad Air. Yeah, it’s a pretty substantial reinforcer, but I did some pretty substantial work. (Plus, the Arts Resource Centre wanted their loaner iPad back.)

Now, I’m going to put that iPad to use: I’ve got a lecture on token economies to write.

Why aren’t you studying?

The James Bond Movies

As I wrote in an earlier post, I’ve used some behaviour modification procedures on myself, as I was creating my behaviour modification course. My reward for finishing a lecture was to allow myself to watch a James Bond movie. I had to write 21 lectures, and there are 24 movies. What’s that you say? There have only been 23 movies to date? Don’t forget Never Say Never Again. (But please leave out the silly 1967 version of Casino Royale.)

I was asked about my favourite James Bond. In thinking about this, the best answer I can come up with is: yes. (Wait, what?) I think there has been an interesting match between actors and the time in which they played Bond. Sean Connery was great in establishing the character; a hard-edged portrayal of Bond in the depths of the Cold War. George Lazenby’s one-film tenure and Connery’s reluctant return for “one last film” reflected the turmoil of the 1960s, an era grappling the fallout from the Summer of Love. Roger Moore’s softer-edged, more humourous portrayal fit well in the era of d├ętente. However, as the political climate shifted from doves to hawks, Moore’s Bond seemed increasingly out of sync with the world. I think this is where a lot of the criticism of Moore comes from--despite the fact that Moore has won several “Best Bond” polls.

By the late 1980s, the world was ready for a grittier Bond, ready to deal with a global stage in turmoil in which there was no longer any Soviet Union or East Germany. Timothy Dalton wanted to return Bond to his roots, to show him conflicted by killing and less reliant on gadgets and gags. Trained in Shakespearean theatre, Dalton is arguably the best pure actor ever to fill the role. After legal wrangling (and the pretty awful Licence to Kill) led Dalton to bow out, it was Pierce Brosnan’s turn at last. Often described as “born to play Bond,” Brosnan struck the perfect balance, easily moving from deadly seriousness to one-liners. But then, after 9/11, the ground shifted again.

It’s no secret that Brosnan was disappointed at being dropped from the Bond role, but just as the events of 9/11 required a fundamental change in the way we viewed the world, they also created the need for a new James Bond who could deal with the new threats on their own terms. Hence, Daniel Craig: rough, tough, uncompromising. I think it’ll be interesting to see who follows Craig--and what world events will shape the choice for the next James Bond.

OK, so long answer short, I don’t really have a favourite Bond actor. But I do have some favourite films. I’m not going to do a collection of movie reviews--others have done that to death. (Hmm, possible Bond movie title: Done to Death.) Instead, here are my favourite James Bond movies of each decade:
  • 1960s: Goldfinger. Of course, right? It’s got gadgets, great lines, and lots of action. Also, Sean Connery.
  • 1970s: The Spy Who Loved Me. Roger Moore’s best Bond. Isn’t he the most handsome man? (Yeah, man-crush.) The Lotus Esprit submarine-car. (Too bad it wasn’t really a functioning submarine. Love what you find out in the behind-the-scenes featurettes.) Exotic locations. It was also the first Bond movie I actually got to see in the theatre.
  • 1980s: The Living Daylights. Not the strongest decade for Bond movies, TLD is a high point. Timothy Dalton’s Bond is grim and focused as, in real life, the Iron Curtain was falling. Too bad the next movie, Licence to Kill, went too dark and grim.
  • 1990s: Goldeneye. Finally, Pierce Brosnan gets to be Bond. The title comes from the name of the estate in Jamaica where Ian Fleming wrote the Bond novels. Great stunts and action. Bond + tank = fun!
  • 2000s: Casino Royale. Welcome, Daniel Craig--welcome to a ton of criticism about you playing Bond before anyone even got to see a frame of film. Also, way to blow people away, with your hard-edged, no-nonsense portrayal of 007. It’s difficult to watch the torture scene. The ending is classic: “The name’s Bond. James Bond.”
  • 2010s: Skyfall. Flawed, with an outrageous villain and convoluted, ridiculous plot. It still hits the right notes that you’d want in a popcorn movie.
Other random things:
  • The 2006 James Bond Ultimate Collector’s Set, containing the first 21 movies on DVD (except Never Say Never Again) is amazing. I love behind-the-scenes stuff--it’s one of the reasons I started this blog. And this DVD set is packed with behind-the-scenes extras. There are often multiple commentary tracks--Roger Moore even gives his own separate commentary on every one of his movies. I have over 50 hours of commentary loaded onto my digital audio player.
  • Because I’m cheap, I borrowed each movie from the Edmonton Public Library (except Never Say Never Again, which they didn’t have). Just go online to place a hold, and a few days later, you’ll usually get the DVD. All this for $12 a year.
  • 1983 was a weird year, with two competing Bond movies: Octopussy vs. Never Say Never Again. People often forget the latter. It was a remake of Thunderball, but failed to match the original’s success. Octopussy ended up earning more at the box office.
  • The so-called “Bond-girlformula (apparently good girl turns out to be bad, and apparently bad girl turns out to be good) is not true. Yes, there are many examples of “bad girls” that Bond manages to turn “good” (just by sleeping with them!), like Pussy Galore and Holly Goodhead. But, although there are “bad girls”, they don’t start out seeming good. And not all Bond movies have both good and bad girls (like Diamonds are Forever, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service).
  • It’s also surprising how seldom Bond finds himself up against the Russians/Soviets. It’s usually a ruse by SPECTRE (From Russia with Love), for example, or a rogue Russian general (The Living Daylights). Heck, Bond usually teams up with Russians--if they’re beautiful women, that is (see The Spy Who Loved Me, and Goldeneye).
  • The movies are so different from Ian Fleming’s books, sometimes there’s no resemblance at all. (For example, Moonraker the novel has a villain named Hugo Drax, but otherwise is completely different from the movie.)
Why aren’t you studying?

The New Prep 5: The Lectures

In my previous post in this series, I described the process of writing lectures for my new PSYCO 282: Behavior Modification course. It turned out that I did actually complete writing all my lectures in time. My trick of reinforcing the writing of a lecture by allowing myself to watch a James Bond movie might have helped. (I haven’t actually, er, finished watching all the Bonds yet. I’m only at the Brosnans. That’s actually because my lecture-writing has outpaced my movie-watching. I’d rather have that than the reverse!)

In doing the actual writing, some lectures that I thought would be easy to write turned out to be difficult to write. And others that I thought would be really difficult to write turned out to be really difficult to write. Do you see the theme here? It’s not an easy thing. Imagine writing a term paper that’s going to be read and marked not by one instructor, but by 300 people. That’s sort of what writing lectures is like. If I make a mistake, there are 300 pairs of eyes that will see it. In fact, there was a bit of information in a lecture on in vivo desensitization that directly disagreed with what was in the textbook (not a mistake, per se: my source differed from that of the textbook). I got about two dozen emails about that. This is not a complaint, by the way; this kind of feedback only serves to improve the lectures.

Some lectures were so fun to write, I was a bit sad when I finished writing them. Others, I approached knowing that they weren’t going to be fun and that I’d have to struggle through them. I tried making things easier on myself--and students--by sticking closely to the material in the textbook, deviating on things that I was more confident in, knew more about, or am personally interested in. My favourite of these is willpower; no, that research is not directly related to b-mod, but yeah, I can do that.

When I did encounter a lecture topic that I wasn’t particularly fond of, I tried to find something in it that was interesting. Maybe there was a particularly fascinating research study, or some neat behind-the-scenes information. For example, B. F. Skinner had done research using pigeons to guide missiles, which is a very memorable way to present the process of shaping. (Unfortunately, I remembered this research too late to include it in the course this term, but it’ll be there next time.)

Some topics, however, thwarted me. There just wasn’t a lot of interesting material, no cool YouTube videos to show, or funny anecdotes. That meant I just had to just get through them. This, naturally, led me to not just get through them. Instead, I was struck by the scourge of the self-motivated, the common cold of studentdom, motivation’s evil twin: procrastination. Of course I need to alphabetize my DVD collection right now. Of course I have to see what’s up on Facebook. Twitter needs me, and I need it. Sigh.

(Are you a procrastinator? Sure; we all are. Check out MindTools’ article Overcoming Procrastination. It includes a link to their interactive Are You a Procrastinator? quiz. Take a few minutes, go ahead. Done? Now, if the results of the quiz showed that you’re not a systematic procrastinator, congratulations. But wasn’t the act of taking the quiz a form of procrastination? Psych!)

One strategy I used to counter procrastination was to use something that keeps my motivation up: applying technology. In my case, it was using the iPad 2 loaned to me by the Arts Resource Centre. At first, I didn’t think it would be of any use in creating my lectures, but I quickly changed my mind. I loaded it up with ebook versions of the behaviour modification books I needed and took it with me wherever I went. On vacation. Killing time while one of my daughters was in dance class. While driving. (That last one was just a JOKE, people.) I didn’t even use any fancy, elaborate, or paid apps: Adobe Acrobat, the default Notes app, and textbook apps (e.g., CourseSmart, Pearson eText). That’s it. The simplicity of these apps worked in my favour: I didn’t have to learn how to use a million unnecessary features, so there were no distractions, just writing. Although I didn’t create my lecture slides on the iPad, for first-pass content creation, it was great. Although I love my desktop and laptop, they can’t touch the iPad for portability. So I was surprised how sad I felt when I was asked to return my loaner.

So I went out and bought an iPad Air the day it came out. Um, as a reward, for all my hard work. Yeah, that’s it. B-mod!

Why aren’t you studying?

The Radio Silence

Yup, it's that time of year again. The last day of classes; time for me to have my traditional end-of-term eggnog latte. It's been a long, hard term. Maybe even the hardest ever, what with my "secret project" and new prep. Then there was the psychology MOOC project (which has since been decommissioned even before it was, well, commissioned) and the usual stuff like serving on committees, teaching actual classes, completing my consulting work for Nelson Education, and trying to make sure my family sees me every now and then so they don't forget who that guy sitting at the computer all the time is. And all of this under the cloud of the Government of Alberta's devastating budget cuts. I've still got a couple of blog posts up my sleeve about my new course prep, but that'll have to wait.

Now it's time for radio silence--I'm going to be hunkered down in a warm sweater with a red pen, marking term papers. I hope to learn a lot, and I hope the pen still has red ink in it when I'm finished--that's always a good sign. I'll allow myself to check email, but not as frequently as usual. Only eight times a day, I swear.

Why aren't you studying?

The Awards: 9

The results are in, and once again based on student evaluations I’ve been placed on the Department of Psychology’s Honour Roll with Distinction for all eight courses I taught from Fall, 2012 to Spring, 2013. Thanks!

Here’s a great article on course evaluations, from University Affairs: Course evaluations: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Now, here are selected comments from students. As always, sarcasm filters are off. Beware!

From PSYCO 104:
- focus on textbook is unhelpful, your [sic] the teacher to teach the students we shouldn’t have to teach the majority of the class to ourselves
Heavy reliance on both textbook/notes is hard to cope with, please pick one
(So in a university-level course, you don’t want a textbook. Seriously? Is that how all your other courses are run?)

It would be a lot easier if we got our tests back or if they were posted online.
(Because some of the exam questions are copyright, I am not allowed to release them. You do know that you can have a look at your exam during the exam viewings, or during the TA’s office hours, right? You do have to make the extra effort of schlepping all the way to the BioSci Building, however.)

(Thanks. But STOP SHOUTING.)

Loepelmann, you got some mod swag brah
(Thanks...I think.)

I took this course because my friend told me Dr. Loepelmann was a great prof and I am so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed this class and found it way more interesting than I expected! Really enjoyed the teaching style. Great class!
He is a really nice prof and treat his students with respect. He cares for our welling (When I e-mailed his about my sickness he was very understandable and asked me how I was doing)
I believe that he is one of the most engaging and helpful professors at this University and we (students) are very lucky to have him.
(Thanks. Thanks. Thanks--but don’t call me professor).

- felt as though class was absolutely unnecessary to attend, felt like a waste of time. Class time was not efficiently used at all...exams were essentially straight from the textbook and did not include class notes...
(That is not true. The exams include a substantial number of questions from lectures.)

- I don’t appreciate your explanations and teaching method
- notes are vague
- I hate psychology, changing my program
- textbook is crazy [sic], I don’t get how much we need to know
(Sorry about the negative experience you had.)

I enjoyed the use of iClickers to help engage students in an interactive, group oriented manner.
Taking part in the research participation studies is an enjoyable part of the course.
(Glad to hear about the positive experience you had.)

- Fantastic course!
One of the best courses/instructors at the U of A
However, please curve it.
(No, I won’t curve it.)

I feel as if you [sic] questions are too wordy, like you are trying to trick students not test their knowledge. I also do not like fill in the blanks because if you miss day there is no way to fill them in.
(What do you do in your other classes if you miss a day? Can’t you ask someone else in class if you can borrow their notes? You do know that I will send you the fill-in words if no one else will help you, right?)

The Instructor was good and tried to explain concepts clearly. He made the course fun and I enjoyed his sense of humour. I thought the fill-in-the-blank notes were very good and provided an incentive to come to class.
(Hey, you should have shared your notes with the other person above.)

For a first year course that isn’t curved...too much mindrape
(OK, I’ll cut down on some of the mindrape. Thanks for the feedback.)

From PSYCO 365: Advanced Perception:
Of my 5 years of post secondary, & both 267 & 365 w/ Loepelmann, he was by far my favorite professor. With a desire & passion for what he does, he is on another level from any other UofA prof I have had.
(Gee, thanks!)

It would be nice to get better lectures [sic] slides.
(I keep telling my Mom to update them, but she wants way too much money.)

There is a lot of info in the notes so studying was a bit overwhelming but it was nice having readings & quizzes, though it made me stressed out every Thursday morning! Great instructor, makes learning very interesting, & the course was probably the most interesting one I’ve taken so far!
(Glad you liked it. Thanks for the feedback on the quizzes.)

Karsten is awesome and probably the best prof I have ever had in my 4 years at this university. However this was the hardest class I’ve ever taken and it destroyed my GPA and any chance of getting into grad school.
(Gulp--sorry about that. If you’re struggling with the material, please come and see me for help. I’m not trying to destroy anyone’s GPA, or their future.)

- If the midterm is “historically difficult,” why not make it less difficult, or even break it up into 2 midterm?
- The weekly quizzes, despite the extra workload, were a huge help.
(With 130 students, 2 midterms would kill me--and the TA. The nature of the material is challenging; oversimplifying it or the midterm would not do it justice. Thanks for the feedback on the quizzes.)

- 2nd half of course was much more interesting than 1st half.
- Dr. Loepelmann is one of the most prepared + organized instructors I had ever had. He is enthusiastic, cheerful and his sense of humor is always welcome.
(Thanks. I’ll try to work on making the first half of the course more interesting.)

Loepelmann is an absolutely fantastic professor who is enthusiastic and knowledgable [sic] about the course material which is appreciated. Thank you for making this an enjoyable class.
Dr. Loepelmann is a very enthusiastic, intelligent, passionate and creative professor. I have had him for several psychology classes now, and his teaching style is very consistent and effective.
(Thanks, but don’t call me professor.)

From PSYCO 494: Human Factors & Ergonomics:
Loved this class! :) I’m actually thinking of incorporating human factors into my future career!
Dr Loepelmann is an amazing professor. I thoroughly enjoyed this course--the subject matter was fascinating and I know that what I’ve gained in the class can be used in my future endeavours. I would refer both this class and the instructor anyday. Thank you Dr Loepelmann.
Professor Loepelmann was such a wonderful professor! He was always excited about topics and watned for us to understand fully the course content. He was very accessible and helpful outside of class. I really hope I can take another course with him. I enjoyed this class very much, would highly recommend this professor to everyone!
(Aw, gee, thanks a lot! But don’t call me professor.)
I was disappointed with this class. I wish we didn’t have to know some of the discrete information like association names & numbers. It didn’t contribute to my learning in this course. Why couldn’t the Grant Mac assignment be at a different location? I expected better from this course especially since Dr. Loepelmann’s psych 104 class is why I majored in psychology (science) and this will be my last undergraduate psychology course.
Dr. Loepelmann on the other hand, thank you! You are a prof I will remember. I will continue to visit your blog--please update it more often, why aren’t you studying? :)
Why aren’t you studying?

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