The Conference

On Friday, I was away at a conference. I don't go to conferences often. (OK, so I was away 11 months ago. But I called that a "business trip.") It wasn't a scientific conference--that is, it was not organized by a professional organization like the Association for Psychological Science or the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. (I'd really love to go to one of those conferences--but I've have to cancel a lot of classes. APS is in May, and HFES is in October. It was bad enough that I had to cancel my intro class on Friday. I feel so guilty...)

At a typical scientific conference, a lot of researchers present their findings as talks or posters. Plus, there are opportunities to meet with the researchers and with students. Usually, a notable person delivers a keynote speech. This conference was organized by a publisher (like my business trip last year), but it was filled with scientists (psychologists, mathematicians, and physicists) and people from the publishing company, Pearson. The conference was billed as a "Digital Innovation Summit."

Instead of presenting research papers, people discussed their teaching, with an emphasis on how digital technology is changing pedagogy. There were opportunities to talk with others over breakfast and lunch (I bumped into a colleague who, like me, is teaching in Science 100 this year), so that was nice. And the keynote was given by Professor Eric Mazur, who is on the forefront of innovations in teaching. (He is "author or co-author of 288 scientific publications, 36 patents, and several books" and has contributed to a number of startup companies, like Learning Catalytics.) He was amazing to hear, and I think his talk on changing how we assess students made all of us think about teaching in a different way.

There wasn't a lot of time for fun, but I did get tickets for Flyover Canada with my hotel room, so I checked that out. (Verdict: Fun; much like Soarin' Over California. The older ladies sitting next to me sure had a hoot.) Beyond that, though, there wasn't time for anything else. I had to zip back home for one daughter's soccer game (they won, and are now in city finals, yay!), and another daughter's birthday party. Still, if you're jealous, it rained. A lot. Like a 90-mm-severe-rainfall-warning lot.

Here's a photo out the window of the plane, and a crummy shot of Canada Place, where the conference was held:

Part of the conference was slanted toward the publisher showing us that they are serious about changing education for the better using digital tools, which is good to know. Will going to this conference influence me, making me more likely to pick their textbooks in the future? I try to be objective in selecting a textbook.

Full disclosure: although the conference--including breakfast and lunch--was free, I had to pay for my own airfare, hotel, and transportation. (I didn't have the breakfast.)

Why aren't you studying?

What I Did on my Winter Vacation (2014 edition)

In Fall term, the stars aligned and my finals were scheduled to be finished relatively early. As soon as my wife heard that, she said, "Hawaii." So my family went to Hawaii over the holidays. (Yup, again. Hey, it's been three whole years.)

There's a joke that every tour guide in Hawaii tells. If it's your first time to the islands, you're a malihini. "That means you're a newcomer," the tour guide says. If it's your second time to the islands, you're a kama'aina. "That means you're rich," the tour guide jokes. Har har. (Kama'aina actually means "child of the land," but it usually refers to someone who is a resident of Hawaii.) The joke isn't too far off the truth: it's expensive--expensive to go, expensive to stay, expensive to do anything. And the Canadian dollar being worth USD$0.85 also hurt. Ouch.

Here's the lagoon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village:

I love the flavours of Hawaii. Macadamia nuts. Having Kona coffee and a papaya for breakfast. And check out the cool flavours of yogurt (haupia is like coconut pudding):

I'm also a sucker for cereal--there are all kinds of wacky ones. Cap'n Crunch Oops! All Berries! Peanut Butter Toast Crunch! Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme!

 My wife liked going to the beach, but the kids preferred the pool (no sand between your toes; no salty seawater getting in your mouth--yuck!). Me? I'm more of an iced-coffee-and-a-book-in-the-shade kind of person. What I like best, though, are the cultural experiences--the opportunity to learn about different cultures and showing that to my kids. In Hawaii, there's no better place for that than the Polynesian Cultural Center (having great food and enjoying an amazing show are great, too!):

Finally, there was Pearl Harbor, a poignant reminder of the human consequences of war:

How did you spend your winter vacation?

Why aren't you studying?

The eUSRIs

USRIs, of course, stands for Universal Student Ratings of Instruction. You know, the paperwork you fill out near the end of term, evaluating and giving feedback to the instructors of all of your courses. Until this year, that is. Hence, the “e” in eUSRIs.

After a limited trial of online evaluations, General Faculties Council approved the move to online-only evaluations on September 22, 2014. (That’s why my course outlines for this term still had a date set aside for evaluations to be completed in class. I created those syllabi in August. Warm, sweet August.) The trials took place in Spring, Summer, and Fall terms in 2013. The results are available at the VPIT's website.

This abrupt change caught a lot of people off guard--we were officially told only on October 7. Instructors received a curt email with a link to a very limited FAQ and an attached technical document that was of no use or information to anyone who does not have backend administrative access to IT systems. (No, most instructors do not get backdoor access to Bear Tracks, PeopleSoft, or any other system. I wouldn’t want it anyway--it smells like more work.)
So what’s driving this move to online evaluations? Although you won’t see it anywhere, the idea is to reduce costs. No more printing forms, scanning them, and (in some cases of very small classes) transcribing students’ written responses. The rumour mill has whispered that it’s actually costing more to do online evals this term; the software platform (CoursEval) isn’t free, and people have to be trained how to use and modify it.

The biggest downside to eUSRIs? Lower response rates. Online evaluations are notorious for having significantly lower uptake than paper forms that are distributed during class time. Which brings me to my point.

Please please please please please please please please please complete your eUSRIs! Please? The results of USRIs are important for things like promotion (of tenure-stream faculty) and rehiring (of contract academic staff). Written comments are tremendously useful feedback; I look forward to them every time. Plus, sometimes they’re, you know, interesting.

So won’t you take a few minutes to evaluate your instructors this term--please?
Here’s the link: eUSRIs. Thank you in advance.

Why aren’t you studying?

The Awards: 11

The Department of Psychology released the Teaching Honour Roll for Spring and Summer 2014 courses, and I am pleased to say that I earned Honour Roll with Distinction for both of my courses >blush<.

On the one hand, "intersession" courses are easier because they're smaller, and full of awfully motivated students. I mean, you've gotta be motivated if you're taking classes when the weather's great and you could be working to earn money for next year's tuition.

But on the other hand, they're also tougher to teach, because they're compressed into 6 weeks. That's why I decided not to teach my behaviour modification course--the self-management project I designed requires students to collect data for a total of 4 weeks, in addition to other assignments. Reducing the length of the observation period would decrease the likelihood of success of any behaviour change procedure.

Anyhow, on to the comments. As usual, sarcasm filters are off!

From PSYCO 258:

Dr Kloepelm is great =)

(Aw, thanks. You're great, too, pandasnuggles69!

I didn't have any problem with the course except I wished Dr. Loepelmann could speak a little louder.

This course was a pleasant surprise with how interesting and informative it is. The Instructor (Karsten L.) made this class! I have heard that it is a very difficult and dry class from others. He provided a lot of time to speak to him after class which was very appreciated!
Dr. Loepelmann was awesome as usual - passionate, clear, helpful and engaging. I really appreciated all of the engage activities throughout lecture.
Karsten explained everything very well, but his jokes made me angry. Best dressed prof for sure though.

Karsten is a great prof and obviously is very passionate about psychology. I would take another class with him. The only complaint I have about this course was the textbook. It is very dry and boring. Karsten is also very well dressed and I appreciate his shirt and tie combinations.
(Hey, thanks, I really appreciate the--wait, what? You like my clothes? I'll be sure to tell my wife, who picks them out for me. My jokes made you angry? Which one? "A Jewish person, a Polish person, and a visible minority person walk into a bar..."? I must be telling it wrong.)

From PSYCO 367:

You're a gem


This is my 4th class w/ Lopelmann, by far my favourite prof so far in university!

(Take one more class, and maybe you'll be able to spell my name right!)

Teacher was enthusiastic but sometimes spoke to us like 5-year olds.

(Aww, what's wrong pumpkin? You wanna have a lollipop? Oops, sorry. Though I was speaking to my 5-year-old.)

- I like the practical case studies you presented (eg: colours of hockey jerseys or detergent colour)
- update on the McCollough Effect: 2 weeks and going strong

(Call me when you get to 2 years. Maybe we'll write a paper.)

You were a blast when I had you in into psych in like 2003. You are still a blast. Thanks for being so enthusiastic about teaching. It was swell.
(2003? Whoa, that takes me back.Thanks for sticking with me for, er, 11 years. Are you going to graduate soon?)

Give the man a raise

(Hey, I do this for the love of it--not the money.)

Did a great job explaining concepts, but sometimes it is hard to hear him or he talks too fast.


I understand why you have fill in the blanks, but please explain + show them at the same time during lecture. Some people learn best with audio AND visual cues at the same time. I know you want people to pay attention but please consider this.
(Thanks for the feedback.)

Thank you for taking your time to make the course interesting. Your efforts definitely made an impact on my motivation to learn and pay attention in this class (=
(My pleasure.)

Great prof


Why aren't you studying?

The Weekend

The weekend is never long enough, right? On the Thanksgiving long weekend, my wife had a medical conference in Jasper, so we all stayed at the Jasper Park Lodge. That doesn’t happen often, so we enjoy that opportunity whenever it arises. But it still wasn’t long enough. Here’s a look at my past weekend:


I come home from work, and pick up my kids from daycare. Everyone’s excited: my wife and I are going out for dinner, just the two of us. My daughters are happy to have their Oma and Opa come and babysit them.

My wife and I go out to dinner at least once a year, for our anniversary. And, usually, that’s it. Yup. Once a year. So for us to do this is definitely out of the ordinary. But I recently had my contract extended for another year, and that’s as good a reason as any to go out to dinner. Destination: Violino.

We’re at the restaurant 15 minutes late, but it’s still pretty early and it’s not busy yet. Our food comes fast--really fast: 10 minutes. (Waiter: “It’s pasta. How long does that take?”) We linger over dinner, but it’s still early. If we return home now, the kids will wail at us for coming home too soon. What to do? Eh, let’s hit the mall. (Listen, if you have kids, this is considered an indulgence, okay?)

After the kids are in bed, my wife and I watch part of a movie. We’re tired, and it’s getting late, so we only manage to watch the middle third of Her. Yeah, it takes us several days to watch a movie. It feels like such an indulgence. See above, re: kids.


I get to sleep in, which means about 9:30 (yay!). By that time, the noise level in the house is enough to wake up any sleepyheads. I make a cup of go-juice, which helps my eyelids to open, and I grab the newspaper. A funny thing happens, which is: nothing. Nobody’s hollering for me because somebody hit somebody else, or they need this lid off of that jar, or...anything. So I keep my head down and keep reading the newspaper until I’m finished it.

That never happens. I mean, never. I’ve never read the whole weekend newspaper in one day before--much less in one morning. Typically, it’s still sitting there unread on Monday morning. Feeling somewhat guilty, I check and answer my email for the first of a half-dozen or so times, and then start work on my consulting project.

I’ve got a hard deadline coming up, and I’ve barely started my work. It’s consulting; nothing to do with the university at all. So that means I can’t use my university computer, electricity, or Internet--I’ve got to do it all at home. But home is where the family is, and that means interruptions and noise. Taking advantage of the blanket of calm that has mysteriously descended, I dive into my work until it’s time to come up for lunch.

Naturally, everyone in the family wants something different for lunch. Sigh. The kitchen is now open!

After lunch, my eldest daughter has a friend’s birthday party to go to. The first part of the party is at the friend’s house, but then it moves to a local hall for a Halloween party. In the middle, I have to chauffeur my daughter to her soccer game on the opposite side of town. So I drive her back and forth across the city, grabbing dinner at a drive-thru on the way. (At least the Whiplash won their game, and my daughter scored a goal. Yeah!)

After the hall party ends, it’s time for bed. My wife and I watch the last third of Her. (It’s original, but in the end, I felt like I had just spent the whole time looking at Joaquin Phoenix’s face while listening to a radio play.)


Another day, another birthday party in the afternoon, so I should have some more quiet time then. My wife’s at brunch with a friend when I get a call--would my girls like to come over for a playdate? Um, sure. I walk them over to the playdate, and then it’s back to work for me. In the silent, empty house I finish my consulting project. And then I start updating my lecture notes. There’s an exam coming up, which means I’ve got to post the next set of notes online. First, however, I’ve got to make a couple of dozen changes--updating, correcting, clarifying things. Oops, nope--first, it’s another round of email.

I’m halfway done, when the peace and quiet disappears. My wife’s back, and so are the kids, who now want lunch. Then it’s off to the birthday party for my youngest daughter. I do a bit of work here and there, in between doing loads of laundry. I’m feeling pretty good about everything I’ve gotten done and decide to reward myself. Kaffeezeit! As I’m making my coffee, I look out the window and am momentarily puzzled by the fact that I can’t see past the end of the yard--there’s all this white stuff in the air. No, it’s actually falling. Snow!? Sigh. That must mean Halloween is coming soon. Looks like everyone will have to bundle up again this year.

It’s time to start making dinner, then lunches for school, bath time for my daughters (made much more enjoyable by the presence of foam soap), then it’s time for bed. But...but...there was so much more I wanted to do!

No, the weekend is never long enough. Need more evidence? I’m writing this on Monday morning.

Why aren’t you studying?

The Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo (2014 edition)

Last weekend was the annual Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo. Some people were disappointed with the celebrity "guests". Surely there was someone there who would make you geek out, no? Alice Cooper? Summer Glau? J. August Richards? (Ok, I admit. There weren't the same calibre of guests as the Calgary Expo gets--no offence to anyone. Why can't we get the reunion of the entire cast of Aliens? *sigh* OK, I really need to shut up--after all, I did have the opportunity to go to the pinnacle of nerd-dom. Yeah, I could have gone to the San Diego Comic-Con this year and turned it down. *sigh*)

Still, it was fun to go to panels and meet some cool celebs. Like Kunal Nayyar and Simon Helberg. I had to get their autographs. No, really: I had to. My wife insisted. And seeing as how she was looking after the kids all weekend while her husband got to go to the Comic Expo, how could I say no? You can really judge the status of a celebrity by how much they charge you for their autograph. Each of these gentlemen charged $70. I guess when you're on the top TV show, you can do that. (I've heard that Sigourney Weaver was asking $175 in Calgary. Yikes!)

I also got a couple of Tiny Titans comics, that were autographed by Art Baltazar. No, he wasn't at the con; I scored these out of a bin--only $5 each.

I also got an autograph from Dirk Benedict. It's hard to convey how much impact the original Battlestar Galactica had on me. As a kid, it was like having Star Wars every week on TV. We all ran around and recess pew-pew-pewing at each other, and everyone wanted to be Starbuck. He had a great panel discussion with Dwight Schultz. Those two guys could have gone on talking about The A-Team, Hollywood, and their lives for the rest of the day. I wish they could have.

Man, the Expo has grown. I've been going to it for a few years, and every time it's just bigger and bigger. More exhibitors, more fans, more costumes, more everything. (No, I don't dress up. What would I go as? No, really, I need suggestions. One person has suggested that I look Bruce Boxleitner-ish. Should I get a Tron costume? A skin-tight, body-hugging suit that lights up? See, this is why I don't dress up.)

Ooh, here's a cool thing (above). It's now one of my most prized nerd possessions. Anyone know what it is? (And do you get why there's a Superman logo on the box?) Hint: here's some info that comes with it:
Warning: Ring does not allow wearer to fly, does not protect wearer from adverse environmental conditions, provides no tracking or navigational aids, does not come with communication or recording capabilities
However, owning one does contribute to an enhanced sense of well-being, because, well, you have this awesome ring

Like last year, as a VIP I was lucky enough to get a bag of Expo merchandise, including an Edmonton Expo shoulder-strap bag, water-bottle thingy (never used), T-shirt (size medium, never worn), Telus World of Science drink holder, comic book, and blue dice (?). If you would like to win this package, leave a comment below describing your particular brand of nerdliness. I will pick one commenter on Thursday, October 9 at noon, and after successfully answering a skill-testing question, that person will be the proud owner of this cool swag.)

Why aren't you studying?

The Research Project: Results

Last year, I worked on a research project in my PSYCO 104 classes. (I've referred to it as the "Secret Project", only because I didn't want to influence students too much.) One class was a control, the other was the experimental group. The latter group had to do a lot of extra work.

I made students go to a website (or two). Some websites had students do experiments online, like taking a left-brain/right-brain "test," or making judgments of stimuli that comprised a visual illusion. Next, students had to go online and discuss their findings with other members of their 5-person group. Finally, one person was chosen by the group to submit a summary of the discussion, which was marked. There were 10 of these assignments. These assignments were intended to foster greater engagement with the material: students didn't just go to class and read the textbook. Rather, they had to try and apply what they knew to these online examples, and compare and contrast their findings with that of other students.

The experimental class also used a different textbook that came with a rich set of online tools. The platform, from publisher McGraw-Hill, is called Connect. It included an adaptive testing tool called LearnSmart (which is also available as an app for iOS and Android). LearnSmart asks you questions about things you've read in the textbook, but it also asks you how confident you are before you answer. It's assessing your metacognition: your knowledge of how much you know. One of the things new learners have difficulty with is knowing that they don't know everything. That is, they are overconfident they know it all. LearnSmart was designed to give feedback on your actual learning--not just your perception of it. I chose these resources to make mobile learning easier. That is, you can pull out your phone and do a bunch of LearnSmart questions, which can help you identify the things that you need to work on understanding better.

At the end of the course, both the control and experimental classes were given questions about their experiences. The results are in--and they're posted on the APRIL website. You'll see that, on some questions, there were no differences between the classes. (For example, "Reviewed your notes prior to class" showed no difference--no surprise.) However, other questions related to engagement showed a statistically significant difference (e.g., "Discussed ideas based on your readings or classes with others outside of class (students, family members, co-workers, etc." increased in the experimental class).

I also looked to see if students in the experimental class fared better on exam questions based on my lecture notes. Nope, no difference. (There was a difference in exam means, but there was a confound: The control class used a different textbook than the experimental class. The experimental class's averages were higher, but many exam questions were drawn from the textbook, which was not as "high-level" as the book I used in the control class.)

It's important for me to send out a thank-you to all of the students in my classes who were involved in this project. It wouldn't have been possible without you! I'm still pondering the implications of the results. I think they may have led to one change already: the new textbook adopted by the Department of Psychology this year is published by McGraw-Hill, and includes Connect and LearnSmart. I found it to be very useful (and students have informally told me that they liked it, too.)

Why aren't you studying?

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