The New Prep 7: The Evaluation

This is the final post in my series on my new course. My previous post was titled Wrap Up, but I'm not quite finished yet. Here is a selection of student comments from the Fall, 2013 class--the first time I ever taught PSYCO 282. My responses may be sarcastic, for your amusement. Be warned!

“I like your website overall and the blog is especially interesting and entertaining”
(Yeah, ain't it? And now you're contributing to it!)

“Considering that this was the first time this course is being taught, there is still room for improvement”
(Yeah, I agree.)

“I wouldn’t recommend this course to anyone unless they had an interest in psychology behavior mgmt.”
“I only wish there were more higher level courses specifically dealing with Behavioural Modification techniques”
(So, the theme here is: You can't please everyone. Or anyone?)

“Dr. Loepelmann is very good with time management.”
“- Used class time inefficiently
- Gave no feedback
- Objectives and expectations were vague
- Telling jokes does not equate to being a good teacher”
“The best organized course I have ever taken in my 3+ years of post-secondary. If Karsten was the bar at which all other instructors needed to meet, the UofA would be in serious trouble. It’s so nice to have an enthusiastic extremely knowledgeable prof who isn’t riddled with cynicism and sarcasm.”
(OK, people, you're giving me a headache. It's hard to know what to take away from this...)

“This was a good course, + I learned a lot from it. However, it wasn’t extremely challenging, which was nice, but also made it easier to make this class less of a priority.”
(You gotta do what you gotta do.)

“Overall, I loved Dr. Loepelmann. He was really enthusiastic and I greatly looked forward to class. I have received knowledge on a practical way to improve my life through this course.”
“You’re a very enthusiastic prof, you make class a lot more interesting”
“The teacher could be a lot more enthusiastic. He seemed tired and did the bare minimum to explain concepts. Try to be more creative!”
(O...kay. I' more...[yawn]...enthusiastic.)

“I liked the many videos shown in class and the numerous case studies and research projects incorporated into the notes; they made it easier to see how material taught in this course can be applied in practical, real-life situations”
“The self-management project was a terrific addition to the class. I was a little stressed about it, but once I got into it I realized how valuable it was helping bring all the theory we were learning to life.”
“Ultimately, I thought the course material was great. I applied some shaping and fading when I taught my piano students some techniques. For me, this is probably one of the many classes that I have taken that I can apply to life.”
“Much of the material in class was not applicable to real life situations. I found that when I left class, little of the material could be translated to situations outside of a lab or classroom.”
(Thanks. It's these kinds of comments that make me think I've got the best job in the world.)

“If anything could be changed I would suggest making the self-management project out of more % towards the final grade.”
(Thanks for that feedback; I am considering changing that.)

“This course makes me want to drink at 11am. Prof is good though”
(Drink? Drink what? Red Bull? Coffee? Oh, that kind of drinking. Is that a good thing? Party on!)

“We need to watch more videos of animals doing tricks”
“Some videos we watched in class seemed like a waste”
(Wait, was it the videos of animals doing tricks that was a waste? Or was it the videos of my last vacation? Please be specific.)

“You’re so cute”
(No I'm not. I have zero chili peppers on Therefore, I am not cute. Well, at least, I'm not hot. And I'm okay with that. I wouldn't want my dazzling hotness to distract anyone.)

“Who was the fattest knight at King Arthur’s Round Table? Sir Cumference”
(A math joke? It'll do. Here's one for you: Where do math teachers go on vacation? To Times Square!)

“Will you merry [sic] me?”
(Because merry is not a verb, I'll assume you mean marry. My wife wouldn't like that. But thanks for the thought, dude.)

“Yo dawg, you be straight flexin’”
(Thanks to Google, I understand your meaning. I mean, Word!)

Why aren't you studying?

The Awards: 10

I am--once again--humbled to have been named to the Department of Psychology's Teaching Honour Roll (with Distinction) for all six of the courses I taught in Fall, 2013 and Winter, 2014.

I was also named to the brand-new Faculty of Science Instructors of Distinction Honor Roll. This award is decided upon by a secret cabal within each Department in Science. Or nominated by their peers, or something like that. You can check out my name (spelled correctly!) on the wall outside of CCIS 1-440, along with my Department of Psychology colleague Anthony Singhal and instructors from other Science Departments. Or  just check out this photo:

On the wall are also names on the new Students' Choice Honor Roll which is based on student evaluations. (The median student rating for every item on the USRIs must be at or above the 75th percentile--wow!) Congratulations to Sheree Kwong-See, Crystal MacLellan, and Anthony Singhal. No, I did not get on that honour roll, which shows that I still have work to do!

The new Lifetime Honor Roll included Prof. Charles Beck from psychology. Congratulations!

Why aren't you studying?

The Klawe Prize (Update)

OK, so you know how I say I'm not bragging about the awards I get? And if I were bragging, I'd show you a picture of my awards? Well, here's a picture of my Klawe award!

It's really hard to get a good picture of it, being all transparent and reflective. (Who wants to see my mug reflected in this beautiful award?)

It turns out that the award presented to me at the awards ceremony had two errors--and they weren't misspellings of my name (shock!). The original misspelled Kathleen W. Klawe's name (as "Kathlene"), and was apparently for "Outstanding Qualities in Graduate Mentoring" (as opposed to "Outstanding Qualities of Teaching Large Classes"). Oops.

It's taken a month to get a replacement, but it's all good now. In fact, they're letting me keep the original, incorrect award ("Use them as bookends" the nice lady at the Faculty of Science told me. LOL!) Nah. Maybe if I win another award, then I'll use them as bookends.

Why aren't you studying?

The Klawe Prize

I am honoured to be the 2014 recipient of the Kathleen W. Klawe Prize for Excellence in Teaching of Large Classes. Kathleen W. Klawe was a Professor of economics at UAlberta who taught many large classes. This teaching award was established by Prof. Klawe’s daughter, Maria Klawe, in honour of her mother, as explained in this article. (Dr Maria Klawe is a renowned academic in her own right.)

The Klawe prize is awarded in alternating years to instructors in the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Science. In Science, it had previously been won only by instructors in the Department of Chemistry.

Awards like this are very competitive; that is, many people apply. You have to submit a package, making the case why you think you deserve the award. I want to thank Prof. Elena Nicoladis and Kerry Ann Berrisford (Undergraduate Advisor, Science) in the Department of Psychology for putting together my application. I merely contributed my story--that is, my teaching philosophy document. (It sounds high-falutin’, but it just describes what I do, how I do it, and why.)

I’ve taught a lot of large classes in my career. How many, I don’t know. (What do you consider a “large class”? Over 100 students?) I never wanted the size of a class to be a barrier to learning. As a student, I took a lot of large classes. Some of those were good; some were great. I learned that it was possible to have a great in-class experience with an instructor who maybe took chances, pushed the limits of what they could do, and really loved what they were doing.

That’s not to say I’m a big risk taker, living on the edge; I talk (lecture) a lot. But I also do try to have hands-on experiences--even in big classes. For example, I assign self-management projects (in behaviour modification classes) and “virtual” computer-based labs (in perception, and cognitive psychology classes). Of course, these all have to be marked, so I also want to send out big thank-yous to the TAs who’ve dived in to the deep end and done a ton of marking this year (especially Jeffrey, Amelia, Yang, and Cheryl, with assistance from Cory and James).

I’m not a big spotlight hog, so it’s good that I don’t get to make an acceptance speech. I just want to say, thanks!

Why aren’t you studying?

Update: That's Associate Dean Glen Loppnow and me in the photo. I'm hoping some of his skill in teaching rubs off on me!

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.

Coming up next: The New Prep 7: The Evaluation.

Why aren’t you studying?

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