The Awards: 18

I am honoured to have achieved the Department of Psychology’s Honour Roll with Distinction for my Spring, 2017 PSYCO 367: Perception class. Wait, what? Spring? That course ended 8 months ago! Did I just forget to post this? Am I too humble to post about winning an award? Nope and nope. The admin person who crunches the numbers for these department awards left and didn’t get around to this. And the new person had no idea there were awards or anything. It almost makes it seem like these awards are not that important. Well, it’s not like there’s a cash prize or anything. (But after I win one, I do take my family out to dinner.)

Warning! I may be a sarcastic jerk in making my snide little remarks. Comedy! If you are easily offended by overeducated, middle-aged white male privilege, turn back now. But if that’s your thing, read on!
The instructor made the information easy to learn and if students had any questions he was very good at explaining concepts in a different way. In a spring course, where some students are taking another course and/or working at the same time, it is difficult to keep up with the textbook readings and the lecture. It might be better to have lecture material cover 75% of exams and the textbook cover 25% rather than the 50/50 split. I'm not sure why so many students say this course is so hard, maybe it was the instructor that made this course better! I found the material to be fairly consistent with any other 300 level psych course. I really liked how the instructor had examples of illusions and concepts covered in class, and that he posted those and extra helpful material on his website. He was very organized!
(Thank you for the kind words and taking the time to write so much. There’s a lot of important information in the textbook, and you’re paying a lot for it. That’s why I make it worth a substantial amount on the exams.)

The final is too close to the last date of lecture. Not enough time to be fully 100% confident going into the final.
(I know--it really sucks to have the final the day after the last day of classes. Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do about that. You should give your feedback to the Office of the Registrar - Exams and Timetabling.)

Course was very fast-paced. Maybe less topics would be better
(It’s because Spring courses are packed into 6 weeks. I do not want to compromise the nature of content of the course, because it’s supposed to be the same as Fall/Winter courses. At least it wasn’t a 3-week course.)

Good course with a very interesting topic. It would however be nice if there were some assignments associated with the course. I do not tend to perform well on exams in general, and prefer classes where assignments are a part of the final grade
(Here’s where I have compromised the course. When I taught it in Fall/Winter, I had 10 “lab” assignments that students did. They were done on computer outside of class time. They were pretty highly regarded, fun, and helped students to understand concepts. But running these in a 6-week course is a nightmare, so I’ve had to cut them out.)

I really appreciate that the instructor presented some different material in the lecture than was in the text. Too many professors simply teach from the textbook, but the additional material in lecture helped to clarify concepts and made it more interesting. I also appreciated how animated the instructor was. This makes it so much more fun to be in class.

Dr. Loepelmann is a fantastic professor. I love his enthusiasm and humor, and I hope he continues to teach for many years

The iClicker questions were very useful in knowing what was to be expected on exams.
(Thank you for noticing that. I get a lot of complaints about there not being “sample exams,” but the clicker questions are basically that.)

Course was great. University making students pay for textbook they can't afford to pass the course is "a dick move." Still really good instructor
(It’s not the University, it’s me. I’m the one who makes the decision to have a textbook in a course. I’m sorry if you think I’m being a dick about that. I believe that the textbook covers a lot of important material that is essential to an understanding of perception. There’s no way I could cover that much material in lectures. I choose the same textbook being used in Fall/Winter terms, so there should be lots of used copies available. And I do make sure that there are copies of the textbook on reserve in the library--you can check those out for 2 hours at a time if you are unable to afford the (admittedly expensive) textbook.)

Hmm, all done and barely any sarcasm. Maybe next time!

Why aren’t you studying?

The Lecture Notes & Copyright

If you look at the bottom of each page of my lecture notes, you'll see a copyright notice, and a link to a more elaborate copyright agreement. Essentially, if you use my lecture notes, you are agreeing to certain conditions. One of those conditions is that you do not post my lecture notes online anywhere. The notes are not your property to do with whatever you wish. You are definitely not permitted to post them to an online notes-sharing website in order to earn credits or money. If you do so, you are in violation not only of copyright law, but also the Code of Student Behaviour. Whoa, that's pretty harsh, right?

Why am I being so sticky about this? Here's what happened a couple of weeks ago. I got an email from a student who had a question about something in the lectures they didn't understand. But the question they were asking was weird. They were asking about lecture material that was not in my lectures. At least, not any more. I thought for sure I had taken this particularly confusing section out, years ago. I double-checked, and confirmed that it was indeed gone. So I asked the student where they got my lecture notes from. Oh, an online lecture note sharing site, they said.


This unfortunate student had stumbled upon long-outdated notes posted without permission by a student in my class a few years ago. The student had missed a few days of class and instead of asking another student in that class (or me) for notes on what they had missed, they just Googled it instead.

This is why I copyright my lecture notes.

I don't want anyone coming across old, outdated notes posted on some random website. Yes, they may be filled in with all the blanks you missed when you were unable to come to class. But you could potentially be doing yourself a disservice--learning material that you don't have to, or even misunderstanding something important.

Yes, I do want students to take responsibility for themselves. If you miss a class, my policy is to get you to ask another student in the class for the notes. Why? Lots of reasons. You will get to know someone else. Many students complain that even though the university is filled with people, they feel alone--because they are not forming new relationships. There are loads of smart, like-minded people all around you. It wouldn't hurt to get to know someone new. You could, say, share lecture notes if one of you is sick. Smart students will make additional annotations to my lecture notes--not just filling in the words. These students tend to do better on exams. Although I can give you the blanks if you miss a class, that's all I can give you. It would be better to get annotated notes from a fellow student.

Even worse than posting lecture notes, I have found students posting their old assignments and papers online. This is a dumb thing to do. Not only can I download these papers too, I have electronic records of all assignments, going back more than 10 years. If a current student is dumb enough to submit your old assignment, it's a trivial matter to bust both of you for plagiarism. Yes, both of you. See, it's against the Code of Student Behaviour to provide material to another student. How would you like the University contacting you after you've graduated, telling you that your degree is being revoked? Yes, it's that serious.

So I've had to spend hours over the past couple of weeks writing takedown letters to multiple online note-sharing websites, which is a major drag. I'd rather be doing almost anything else.

If you feel my policies are too restrictive (and your social anxiety prevents you from talking to strangers), I've come up with a compromise. I am willing to set up a note-sharing forum on eClass. You can ask for notes or share your notes. I don't have a problem with this because it's under my control. If there are errors in the notes people post, I can fix that. I don't have control over websites that profit from my hard work--and, yes, it's hard work. I spend hundreds of hours developing my lecture notes. In many ways, my notes are the sum total of my work as an instructor.

Please don't give them away.

Why aren't you studying?

The Red Pens

Happy marking season! It’s so festive these days, what with all the red ink splashed everywhere. No? Well, it is for me: term papers and exams mean red ink. But is there a problem with using the colour red for marking? Let’s go to the evidence (what there is, anyway).

Using a red pen seems to make people pick out more writing errors, and cause them to grade more harshly resulting in lower scores, compared with using a blue pen (Rutchick, Slepian, & Ferris, 2008).

Another study found that corrections in red ink are interpreted by students as being harsher than those made in “aqua” (what, water?), because red is an emotive (“arousing or able to arouse intense feeling”) colour (Dukes & Albenesi, 2013). The corrections are also more likely to be interpreted by students as “shouting,” which leads to emotional loading and anxiety, and a potential rejection of the feedback on the paper.

Even before this evidence appeared, there have been suggestions that teaching mark using purple or pink pens. (That’s the ink colour, not the colour of the barrel. No research on that yet.)

I remember getting term papers back, and seeing the red ink. It didn’t make me feel good. If I had known that there was a typo or a lapse in logic, I would have corrected it before handing it in. See the red made me want to be a better writer. I was getting valuable feedback from professors, and I would be dumb not to learn from it. I can still remember some of the corrections, advice, and feedback I received decades later. Did it hurt my feelings? Sure. Did I let it stop me from improving? No way.

So I use red ink. Yes, it can trigger emotions. But maybe it’s supposed to. In (literal and figurative) contrast with blue (or even black) marks on the paper, red draws your attention. It says, “Hey, this is important.” Maybe it elicits an emotional reaction; maybe it acts as punishment (in the operant conditioning sense of the word). If I have emptied a red pen marking your term paper, it clearly needs improvement. Learn from all the scribbles I make on your paper. I’ve spent time reading, thinking about, and analyzing your writing. It’s customized, one-to-one communication, and it’s what you’re paying for when you take a course. I wouldn’t spend all the time I do if I didn’t think it would help.

I’ve used a lot of red pens over the years. Here are some I’ve tried recently.

Staples 1.0
It’s a pen. A red pen. Nothing special. But they’re cheap: You can get 864 of them for $252.69 at Staples.

Zebra Sarasa 0.7
This used to be my go-to pen, but even with gel ink the 0.7 mm tip is a bit too sharp. Often dies with ink left in it. (And what’s with the name? Is it made from zebra blood?)

BIC Velocity Gel 0.7
The name grabbed me right away: I need a fast pen. But it has a too-sharp tip, and also dies with ink left. Grr!

PaperMate Profile 1.4B
Now we’re talking. A nice big fat 1.4 mm ballpoint gel ink pen. It’s smooth and doesn’t require a lot of pressure to write with, which helps prevent tendonitis. Makes an inconsistent line though, so I only use it to mark exams.

PaperMate InkJoy 300RT 1.0M
My new favourite pen, the InkJoy series features amazingly quick-drying ink. Super smooth and fast, it’s what I use to mark term papers.

So, how do you feel about red ink?

Why aren’t you studying?

Rutchick, A. M., Slepian, M. L., & Ferris, B. D. (2008). The pen is mightier than the word: Object priming of evaluative standards. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 704-708. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.753

Dukes, R., & Albanesi, H. (2012). Seeing red: Quality of an essay, color of the grading pen and student reactions to the grading process. Social Science Journal, 50, 96-100. doi:10.1016/j.soscij.2012.07.005

The Comic Reading List (Fall, 2017)

What to do during Reading Week, but read. (OK, get a bunch of work done, too. But everyone needs a break.) Every so often, I like to share my reading list. It's been a while since my last one. Not only has it been a while, but I noticed that I haven't included any comics on the lists. I'm not a snob who looks down on comics; I love comics. And not just in the I-love-the-comics-that-I-read-as-a-kid way, but in the I-still-love-reading-comics way. I just forget to include them in my reading lists. Since I profess to being a geek, here's the evidence--some of my favourite comics from recent years.

I have to start with Saga. I can't bear the time between individual issues, so I wait to get the trade paperbacks (oh, fine: "graphic novels") every six months. It's the story of a couple from two warring worlds (the science-based planet Landfall and its only moon, the magic-infused Wreath), written by Brian K. Vaughan. It's moving, and thrilling, and heartbreaking. The art, by Calgary's Fiona Staples, is amazing: she can make you empathize with anthropomorphic meerkats. Or aristocratic humanoids with TVs for heads. Yes, it is deliciously weird and different. And good: It's won a dozen Eisner awards, and will win many more.

Matt Fraction (writer) and David Aja's (artist) widely acclaimed run on Hawkeye ended a couple of years ago, but I still come back to it. Yes, it's that Hawkeye from the Avengers (and also another Hawkeye from another Avengers). But if you think it's just some dumb, loud punch-up comic book, you are oh-so-wrong. It's a smart superhero book. Care for a wordless story about a dog who loves pizza? Yes, please. It defies expectation in every issue. Aja's spare lines meld perfectly with Fraction's show-don't-tell scripts. It won five Eisners, but deserved more. Be warned: you will have to read and re-read these stories, or you will miss much of the nuance.

If you've seen the movie, you might be interested in the original manga of The Ghost in the Shell. I recommend the deluxe edition, which is read right-to-left as it was originally published. It will bend your mind, but only just a little bit. And author Shirow Masamune's behind-the-scenes notes are totally worth it. Yes, it's (mostly) in English. Influenced by (and influencing) cyberpunk, this work has had an effect on movies (notably The Matrix, Avatar, and Ex Machina), and video games (Deus Ex, among many others). It was ahead of its time in the late 1980s, and--amazingly--much of it still is.

I'm way, way too young to have seen the original run of Batman in the 1960s, but I caught reruns after school. A goofy, silly Batman is better than no Batman at all. Right? Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case perfectly capture the zany and ridiculous aspects of the smash hit TV show--right down to Cesar Romero's Joker wearing makeup over his mustache. A grim, brooding Dark Knight this ain't. Anyway, nostalgia! Highlights include crossovers with The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Green Hornet, and even the 1970s Wonder Woman. (My favourite? When they encountered the Legion of Super-Heroes. Woot!)
Why aren't you studying?

The Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo (2017 edition)

A few weeks ago, I went to the Edmonton Comic & Entertainment Expo. I notice that I didn't write about it last year (even though I went). And my post from two years ago was less than glowing. Could it be that my enthusiasm for pop culture and various forms of geekery is waning? Er, no. Rogue One and Twin Peaks: The Return were fantastic. (I even bought the extra-super-special Rogue One Blu-ray set--only offered by Target in the US--off eBay. And, of course, this past summer was the summer of Twin Peaks.) Nothing against this year's "media guests." I don't really watch Daredevil, but I'm a fan of Charlie Cox because Stardust. It was inspiring to hear Alberta's own Eugene Brave Rock. And Shatner, of course.

But the guest list does not have the depth of other cons, like the Salt Lake Comic Con (sadly, held the same weekend as Edmonton Expo). Don't follow the link to see who was in Salt Lake, I implore you--you will weep. Maybe I'll skip the next Expo, and saving my money to go to Salt Lake, or Toronto, or (cough) Calgary. Eep!

In the meantime, I once again have some swag to give away. But not just give away. This time, I will give my loot to the person who pledges to give the greatest number of items to the Campus Food Bank. That's right, to get something, you have to give something. Submissions will be accepted (in the form of comments below), up until 12:00 MDT on Monday, October 16, 2017. At that time, the selection will be made. To receive your swag, you have to bring the items you pledged to donate to my office, so that I may confirm your generous donation, and bestow upon you the merchandise:
  • Edmonton Expo messenger bag ($25 value)
  • Edmonton Expo T-shirt (size M, never worn! $25 value)
  • Edmonton Expo Bluetooth earphones ($40 value. A warning: I was not able to get these to work with my Windows 10 computer.)
  • Edmonton Expo lanyard/badge ($5 value)
  • Edmonton Expo souvenir program
  • and more!
That's a total (claimed) value of over $100. Even if you do not win, I would kindly ask you to donate to the Campus Food Bank. This contest is now open!

Why aren't you studying?

Edit: Added closing date. Oops!

What I Did on my Summer Vacation (2017 Edition)

Every year when I write these summer vacation posts, I try to come up with a theme. Last year was easy; I even had two themes. It’s usually a struggle, though. Part of it is that my summers are pretty routine. I teach a Spring term course. Then I spend the summer working on my courses and take a few vacation days with my family. Am I getting boring and predictable? Probably. Anyway, on to my summer vacation!

After teaching PSYCO 367: Perception in Spring term (which was a lot of fun, as I hadn’t taught it in two years), we planned a moderately sized vacation this year: Penticton, BC. Not a huge, elaborate thing (just eight days) but nonetheless a big trip for us, with two kids. Penticton is over 1,000 km away. Our neighbours own a condo in Penticton and go every year; they drive there in one day. Yikes. Knowing my family, that would be a recipe for disaster. Instead, we took a much more leisurely approach, stopping overnight in Banff, Vernon, and Kelowna.

Did you know that, in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, you could get a Parks Canada pass for free? That’s what we did--along with several million other people, apparently. I’ve never seen it so busy in Banff. Traffic was very heavy on all the highways through Banff National Park. Naturally, we had to go through six construction zones. Yes, there are only two seasons in Canada: winter and construction.

Stopping in Vernon was a good idea, because we had time to visit the Planet Bee Honey Farm. It’s worth a stop. If you’re a science nerd (we all are), pay a bit extra for the PowerPoint presentation (squee!) about bees. Informative! Plus, you get some free honey. Not only do they sell dozens of kinds of honey in the gift shop, they also make their own mead (honey wine) and give out free samples. Don’t mind if I do! (We bought two bottles.)

Now for an interlude. When we started out on our trip, I had no idea that it would end up being the worst trip I’ve ever taken. A few days before we were due to leave, I started feeling…not so good. Not wanting this illness to affect our long-awaited vacation, I went to see my doctor. He prescribed me a round of (very) strong antibiotics, and warned me that I would experience “some stomach upset.” Well, that was right on the money. Initially, I had no problems, giving me the impression that I have superhuman powers to deal with strong medicines. However, over time my stomach felt worse and worse. Five days into our vacation, I could only tolerate one tiny meal per day, and couldn’t be away from a bathroom for more than an hour or so. (I have to point out that through all of this, my original illness did not improve. At all. It took another round of antibiotics after coming home to finally fix that situation. Thankfully, this antibiotic did not upset my stomach at all. What was my original ailment? I’m not going to tell you. I hardly know you. Maybe after we’ve gone on a few more dates. Suffice it to say, it had something to do with not being able to sit without a great deal of pain. And this started right before the longest car trip I’ve made in over 20 years.) But hey, I didn’t want to disappoint my family, so what to do but grit my teeth and man up.

In Kelowna, we met up with my wife’s old friend/colleague, and visited one of the area’s many (many!) wineries: CedarCreek Estate Winery. We got a (brief) tour of the vineyard and aging barrels--cut short because of the all the loud, dusty onsite construction. We were in the warehouse for literally seconds. Included in the tour at the end is, of course, a wine tasting. My wife sure enjoyed it--she got to drink my samples, as all I could tolerate was the same sparkling apple juice that my kids got (in fancy wine glasses, though; they felt really fancy!). Sigh.

Sadly, Lake Okanagan experienced flooding earlier this year, which was evident in the erosion of the beach at Okanagan Lake Beach in Penticton. (There were sandbags still scattered around many lakefront properties.) And, as you know, this year has been the worst ever for wildfires in BC. The smoke was thick almost every day, and got worse the farther south we traveled. Check out our lovely (?) day at Skaha Lake Beach: the picture looks like it was taken at sundown, but that was the middle of the afternoon. You could hardly see across the lake to the mountains on the other side. At times, the smoke was choking; my heart goes out to all those people affected by the wildfires this year.

My wife had fond memories of going to the beach in Penticton as a kid, but between the erosion and the smoke, it was a big letdown. At least we could still go cherry picking, as she had also done with her family. Why pick cherries yourself? It’s cheaper, my wife explained, and they taste better. The price at the U-pick in Penticton: $2.99. The price for Okanagan cherries at Walmart after we returned home to Edmonton: $1.97. Sigh. Did I mention that, the day after we returned home, the winds blew BC smoke into Edmonton? Yeah, that happened.

I’ve spent a lot of time describing one brief trip (Worst. Trip. Ever.), and still haven’t come up with a theme for this post. Was there one thread that ran through my whole summer? Come to think of it, there was. All summer, I waited in eager anticipation for Sunday night, when a new episode of Twin Peaks: The Return would air. I don’t watch much TV, but this was a show I couldn’t miss. Back in the day, I was a huge fan of the original Twin Peaks. (How huge? I joined the official fan club, and rewatched seasons 1 and 2 with friends complete with coffee and cherry pie). I watched The Return as suggested by co-creator and director David Lynch: in the dark, with headphones. Then I’d spend the rest of the week listening to hours of podcasts that would recap, theorize, and try to explain what happened--and I’d wait impatiently for Sunday.

Now the show’s over, and summer is over, too--and I’ve got mixed emotions about both. I won’t give out any spoilers, but I will strongly recommend Twin Peaks: The Return; it’s a rare piece of entertainment that can also be considered art. It made me feel all of the feels: happy, angry, sad, disgusted, surprised, and frightened. I guess summer did, too.

Why aren’t you studying?

The Contract

I spend every summer on pins and needles, waiting for the Faculty of Science to renew my contract. I’ve been on a two-year rolling contract ever since I became a Faculty Lecturer in 2000. Two-year rolling works like this: the contract is for two years (originally from 2000 to 2002), but after the first year, it rolls over for another year (that is, in 2001 it was extended to 2003). This rollover happens in the summer after I submit my Annual Report, which is a summary of everything I’ve done over the past academic year. This report is reviewed by the Chair of the Department, who sends it to the Vice Dean of Science, who decides whether or not to renew my contract.

So typically by the end of the summer, I get a letter from the Faculty of Science, letting me know that, yes, I will actually be teaching this year, and the year after. When the letter comes in, I take my family out for a nice dinner to celebrate. (There is also a clause in the Contract Academic Staff: Teaching (CAS:T) contract that allows the university to terminate my contract with two weeks’ notice. But I try not to think about that.) This year, though, things were different. A lot different.

Starting July 1, 2017, there is no more “Contract Academic Staff: Teaching.” This contract has been replaced by a completely new one; even the name is different: Academic Teaching Staff. (I kinda liked the old name. We referred to ourselves as “CAS:T members,” which made it sound like we were either part of a theatrical troupe or worked for Disney.) Among the many changes in the contract is the creation of a new kind of appointment: Career. There’s no increase in pay or benefits (the ATS contract is not about that), but instead of having a rolling contract that’s extended every year (as in Science) or that is renewed every five years (as in Arts), the contract assumes that you will be rehired the next year.

The Career appointment in the ATS contract meets Objective 2 in UAlberta’s Institutional Strategic Plan For the Public Good (“Stabilize long-term investments in contract academic staff by offering career paths that include the possibility of continuing appointments based on demonstrated excellence in teaching.”). However, although President Turpin has talked about having tenured teaching positions, the Career appointment is not a tenured teaching position--it’s a continuing position.

What’s the difference? Wikipedia says that a tenured appointment is defined as, “an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency or program discontinuation.” It’s a common misconception that tenure means, “a job for life.” You can have tenure and still be fired. Becoming a Professor and achieving tenure means that you have consistently made substantial contributions to teaching, research (or other creative works), and service (the academic term for volunteer work). In my case, my job will continue from year to year--as long as I do a good enough job. That’s a pretty low bar; all through my career I’ve tried to do way more than “a good enough job.”

The second issue is that, although this new appointment category has been created, no Faculty is obligated to actually put anyone in these categories. They could continue to appoint “sessional” teaching staff as Term, which could mean that they are hired in September and let go at the end of April--a reality for many contract academics on campus. So far, it appears that the Faculties of Arts and Science are moving Faculty Lecturers to the Career appointment. Many other ATS members will see no improvement to their working lives, unfortunately.

Although I am happy with this new appointment, UAlberta still has a ways to go to catch up with other institutions in Canada that actually have a tenured teaching track, like UBC and UToronto. I don’t need to have the title “Professor.” I don’t need a yuge increase in salary (I will never be on the “Sunshine List”, but I do okay). It would be nice, though, to have the kind of job stability my tenured colleagues have.

Anyway, upon getting the news from the Vice Dean of Science that I will no longer have to wait for my contract letter to come every summer, I took my family out for a really nice dinner to celebrate. I guess now I won’t have to take them out every year!

(I would like to acknowledge and thank the incredibly persistent and dedicated members of the CAS:T (now ATS) committee that put literally years of effort into this landmark accomplishment. There was talk about renegotiating our contract way back when I was a member of the CAS:T committee--before my youngest daughter was born. That’s a long time ago. Thanks for all your hard work and time!)

Why aren’t you studying?

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