The Baby

This is to announce the birth of our family's second child, our second daughter, Madison. She was 7 lbs, 12 oz (if baby stats are your thing). She and her mom are tired but healthy. Big sister thought that the baby looked funny (ha-ha funny, not weird funny) and liked her hair best of all. Dad is slowly floating back to Earth, pondering things like more My Little Pony toys, weddings, and the cost of tuition in the year 2026.

How is this a behind-the-scenes kinda post? Here's how: I don't get paternity leave. Sure, I could go to my Department and tell them I won't be teaching come January--but that would violate the terms of my contract. And even if they did let me go, they probably would have found a replacement for me, so it'd be unlikely that I'd be rehired. And even if I got rehired, I'd lose all of my seniority (meaning my salary would drop down to lowest rung of the pay scale).

That means I'm stuck between the demands of work and home, struggling to juggle both so that no disaster happens. Like running out of diapers, or forgetting about an exam. So if I seem tired, cranky, and always in a hurry, you know why.

Why aren't I sleeping?

The Begging

Usually, I like to get email from students. It's great to have the chance to help explain a concept or idea that someone's having trouble with (or to correct an error I might have made--oops!). Sometimes, I get links to interesting websites that relate to a course. I even get some from students after they've finished I course I taught. So they're still thinking of me. >snff<


I really loved your course, u r a great instructor. I just wanted to wish you a nice holiday.

BTW, I was just wondering about how you round up the marks. I have a total of 54.2%. Would it be possible to get that rounded up to an A+? I really want to get into medical school--it's been my dream since I was a fetus, and the only thing standing in my way is my mark in your course, which is an F- right now.


Now, it seems like the person just wants to know about how marks get rounded up. (I apply standard rounding, also known as the common method.) But, er, it's not just asking about that, is it? It's begging.

There are two main problems I have with this. First, no. No, nyet, nein. I'm not going to change your mark because you asked. That's not how it works. It's embarassing for you to ask. So I'm not going to respond. If you've got a legitimate concern about the calculation of your grade, that's one thing.

Second, by the time the final is over, it's too late. There are so many things I could do to help you during the term. Did you come to my office hour to get help with things you didn't understand? Did you look over your midterms? Did you spend time checking out my study resources? Did you at least send me questions by email? No? Why not? It sure looks to me like you're either doing so well that you don't need any help, or you're not particularly engaged in the course.

After the final is over, there's nothing more I can do. If you fail the course, you can apply to rewrite the final, which you know if you've read the Calendar. But no, I can't simply bump you up a grade.

OK, so I don't want to be mean. I realize that in this age of instant gratification, after seeing your final exam mark, many students just want to know their grade in the course. It does take quite a while to get from me, through all the bureaucracy, and into your transcripts online. But you should be able to calculate your grade yourself: Just get your overall weighted total, and look up in the syllabus what grade that corresponds to. No curve--what grade you get simply depends on your overall percentage. Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to send marks/grade information over email. So you're going to have to be patient.

Why aren't you studying?

The Term Papers

I'm up to my eyeballs in term papers. Marking them is an intensive process, and takes a surprisingly lot of time. I try to spend no more than 2 hours with each paper, otherwise things spiral out of control, and I won't have all my marking done by the final exam. (That's my deadline; I must have term papers marked by the time the class has their final exam. It's been close a few times--I've still been marking while they've been writing their exams.)

Let's do the math: if I have 27 term papers to mark and spend 2 hours on each one, that', carry the one...that's 54 hours of marking. And that's crammed into 10 days. I don't have a lot of free time during those 10 days. That's why I'm not in my office, unless I have to be--no sense spending an hour commuting back and forth when I could be (have to be?) marking.

The papers so far this year have been pretty good, so I've been able to keep up a pretty good pace. Awful papers take a lot of time to mark, because I feel compelled to correct Every. Single. Error. This includes spelling, grammar, style, logic, and breadth/depth of coverage of the topic.

Now don't feel too sorry for me. Or, you know, at all. Term papers are great because I usually learn something new. I get to (have to?) read a few dozen papers on topics I might not ordinarily read about. The hardest part is keeping up my motivation do get through just one more paper. It's easy to procrastinate, and feel the sudden compelling urge to alphabetize my DVD collection by the director's middle initial, or finally get around to cleaning the shower,, post a message to my blog.

I know, I know: Why aren't you marking?

Why aren't you studying?

The Memory: 1

I've been lecturing on memory recently. It's a great topic because you can apply the results of research to your own memory and studying.

First, if there's anything the research tells us, it's that memory isn't one thing. As I've talked about before, we can remember specific memories (called verbatim traces), but we can also store more general information related to the memory (called gist).

This gives us an important clue about memory: it's not just about the memory--it's also about things related to the memory. It suggests that memories in our heads are very different from those in a computer. In a computer, each memory occupies a lonely little memory location on a chip--whichever one is available. In our heads, in contrast, incoming memories look for a good place to land. They want to stick to things that they are similar to. This is why it's hard to remember things if they don't make sense to you: the memories have nowhere to land.

Second, there's a neat effect known as context-dependent memory. It's the fact that where you are will influence your ability to remember things you learned in that location. If you come to class, you'll learn all kinds of neat psychology-flavoured bits (at least, if you're in my class you will). The words I say and the words that appear on the big screen do no exist apart from their context; rather, they are a part of the context (clever, innit? ;-) This is good reason to come to class--especially if the exam is held in the classroom. If you're just mooching the lecture notes off someone else, you're missing that experience. (Real keeners are known to study the textbook in the classroom as well.)

Again, this tells us that memories are more than just random bits that get stuffed into your brain. Yes, they do get stored, but the situation matters. Why? Recent research has used brain scans to analyze the brain while it's learning (or encoding memories) and again when it's remembering (or retrieving memories). The patterns in both cases are remarkably similar. If you learn something in one environment and then try to remember it in another environment, it will be more difficult because the patterns of brain activity (partially produced by your environment) will be a bit different.

So, here are the upshots. First, if you're trying to commit a definition to memory, try to remember an example of that as well. If you want to remember that episodic memories are about your personal life events, think of some significant event from your own life--like the last party you went to (if you can remember it).

Second, go to class. Maybe your final exam isn't in the classroom (although mine are--that's my choice), your midterms are. Wouldn't it be nice to have a bit of a free memory boost when you're writing an exam?

Why aren't you studying?

The Student/Faculty Ratio

There's a pretty clear trend in the student/faculty ratio that's been happening since the 1980s: it's increasing. In other words, there are fewer instructors to deal with more students. That means class sizes are increasing, right? Possibly yes, but not necessarily.

Huh? How can that be? The key word above is "faculty." This term is defined as (technically): "Full Time Equivalent continuing faculty." Don't worry about the Full Time Equivalent business--the "continuing faculty" part is the most important. This term means tenured or tenure-track faculty (in other words, Professors). This term does not include contract academic staff (in other words, me).

Although I don't have specific data, I know that the number of contract academic staff (CAS) has increased substantially over the past decade or two. Here's the situation, using last year's data. There are about 2,200 continuing faculty at the UofA. There are over 800 CAS--who are not counted in the student/faculty ratio.

I've read that the student/faculty ratio this year is around 22.2:1. So, for every professor, there are over 22 students. But if you factor in CAS, that number goes to 16.3 or so. The University, however, does not count me or my CAS colleagues--we don't exist. Literally, I don't count. (To be fair to the UofA, no institution counts their contract/sessional staff in the s/f ratio. Why not? I dunno.)

Despite the fact that I'm a nobody, I'm not too depressed. Students talk to me as if I actually existed. Plus, I get paid actual money. But I wish I were more valued. I've got a solution to this, by the way: get rid of CAS. No, don't fire us--give us continuing positions (called "conversion"). Until then, I will continue to haunt the hallways and classrooms as a ghost...

Why aren't you studying?

The Office Hour

I had my office hour yesterday, and I got a lot of work done. Oh yeah, I also had a student stop by to ask questions.

I used to have a lot of office hours, but then I also used to have a lot of students coming to ask questions. Gradually, however, the flow of students became a trickle, and I started to cut back on my office hours. So why the change?

The answer is probably the Internet. Email is one factor. I've put my email address on the syllabus for every course I've ever taught, going back to 1994. Every year since then I've gotten more and more emails (I got a grand total of 1 in '94--now it's more like 1 an hour). It's easier to fire off a message whenever you want, than to arrange to meet with an instructor at a mutually convenient time. I teach a lot of classes, and it can be tough to find time to meet with a student outside of my regular office hours. Sometimes I do, and then the student doesn't show up. Hey, at least call and leave a message so I can do something more productive with my time than catching up on I Can Has Cheezburger?.

Another factor is the web. Used to be, if you wanted to know how you did on a midterm (or even to get your final grade), you had to actually go to the department and look up your mark on a sheet of paper posted to a bulletin board. Since you had to walk all the way there in the first place, maybe you'd also stop by your instructor's office and talk to them. But if you can look up everything online, why bother traipsing all the way to the Biological Sciences Building? Some people don't even know where the Department of Psychology is!

Anyway, if you actually make the extra effort to come and see an instructor in person, that's probably going to stand out in their memory. And that, usually, is a good thing.

Why aren't you studying?

The Review Class

I don't do review classes.

Why not? Because reviewing is an individualized process. It's not really something that can be done in a classroom for a hundred or more students simultaneously.

Think of it this way. You might have trouble understanding a certain concept. Does everyone in the class have similar difficulty? If so, then a review might be warranted. But how do I know what students don't understand? I don't.

OK, I actually do--but to a very limited extent. If I get email from someone asking me to explain a concept again, I'll know that that person didn't get it the first time. But I almost never get questions on the exact same concepts from different students. If I did, I'd realize there were problems connecting the teaching to the learning. (That's probably my fault, in that case.)

Still, if I try to review a concept that, say, 50% of the class doesn't get, it might be beneficial. But the rest of the class--who got it already--are sitting there, yawning, chatting, texting, sleeping, kissing, etc., because they're bored out their minds. This isn't a great use of class time.

From my point of view, I've taught the material already. I've tried to do my best job to make it understandable--despite the complexity of some of the things I cover. If I just go over everything again...well, if no one understood it the first time, how are they going to understand it if I go over the exact same things again? Again, it's not worth the time.

Now, I'm not pessimistic about things. I have some hope that classroom response systems ("clickers") can help. Students bring these gadgets to class, and answer questions that the instructor puts into his or her PowerPoints. This is a great way of assessing learning because it's so immediate. I can present a concept, and right after, test to see if anyone is getting it. There are downsides, too: the clickers are an extra cost for students, and it's a real pain to come up with great testing questions.

I've done a research study on clickers, which found that students like them (when they're free). So there's still some work to be done. Maybe if more classes used clickers, I'd be more willing to use them in my classes. Answer in the comments: How many of your courses currently use clickers?

But back to the topic of reviews. If I as an instructor don't do review classes, what are students to do? Easy answer: do your own review. You should know the concepts you're having trouble understanding. Then what? Ask me for help, or ask the teaching assistant. That's what we're here for. This actually takes more of my time, because I'll be meeting students outside of class time, or answering email. But you'll end up with a greater understanding and probably a better grade.

Why aren't you studying?

The Faculty Lecturer

In writing about Fair Employment Week, a student asked a good question: "What exactly are sessionals?" From a student's perspective, I can understand the question--you come to class and trust that the person doing the teaching is qualified. The thing is, there are different kinds of university teachers...

I am a "Faculty Lecturer." This is a particular title that described my position. That means I work for the Faculty of Science, teaching a certain number of courses for them (in the Department of Psychology) to fulfill the terms of my contract. (Er, except when I teach Arts courses.) Speaking of contracts...

Faculty Lecturers (and "sessional" instructors) at the UofA are known as "Contract Academic Staff" (CAS). This term means that we work under a contract that may be renewed every so often, say every 5 years, every year, or even every term (or "session," hence the word "sessional"). It's stressful to work in a job that doesn't have any guaranteed security--if student enrollments drop, fewer instructors will be needed, and CAS will not have their contracts renewed.

So what? In these uncertain economic times, doesn't that apply to anybody--that they could be laid off at any time?

Let me contrast CAS with "Faculty members." These are the people who hold the title "Professor." (One can be an Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor, by the way.) This term denotes academic rank, and may be called a tenured or tenure-track position. Tenure is the academic version of ultimate job security: you've reached the highest rank, the highest levels of pay, and--unless you do something criminal or otherwise horribly bad--you've got a secure job. No one can come along and tell you that because you haven't published enough papers this year, for example, you're fired. Their workload consists of teaching and research. I have great respect for my colleagues; they work hard to get tenure, and even when they achieve it, they continue to work hard.

Sessional teaching jobs were originally intended to be temporary--you would hire, say, a recent Ph.D. graduate who gained valuable teaching experience while filling in for a professor on sabbatical. (A sabbatical is an academic sort of partially paid hiatus from work, when profs write books or do research.) That has changed, partly due to greater student enrollments; there's a need for warm bodies to do all that teaching! As a result, many "sessionals" work on contract for years--even decades. (I've been a contract academic since 1995--that's quite a few sessions ago.)

Tying this back to where I started... Fair Employment Week is an attempt to recognize the positive impact that contract academics have on students, and to toot our own horns a little bit. Sadly, the capital-U University barely acknowledges our contributions officially in public. And, um, I better shut up now. I'd like my contract to be renewed...

Why aren't you studying?

The Exam Structure

You know that it's important to look at your midterms to see where you went wrong, don't you? Just sayin'...

When you look at your exam, there are things you should look for:

  • On how many questions did you have to guess the answer?
  • Which lectures/chapters give you problems?
  • Did you devote less time to studying those? (Were you absent for those lectures?) Maybe a neuroscience chapter was particularly challenging, because of all the anatomical terms. On the other hand, maybe you got those questions all correct because you spent so much time on them--at the expense of other material.
  • What kind of questions gave you the most difficulty?
Let me explain what I mean by "kind of question." There's a way of categorizing different multiple-choice questions called Bloom's Taxonomy. I use a slightly less complex version that has three categories of questions:
  1. Factual: assess your knowledge of definitions, terms, and other facts. Answering these questions requires remembering of learned information. For example:

    Who wrote The Principles of Psychology in 1890?
    (a) Wilhelm Wundt
    (b) Sigmund Freud
    (c) William James
    (d) B. F. Skinner

  2. Application: evaluate your ability to apply learned factual knowledge to a new situation, or to solving a problem. You'll have to have the background knowledge, but also the ability to see how it relates to a previously unseen example. For example:

    Assuming the Weber fraction is 0.03, given a 1,000 g weight, what is the JND?
    (a) 1,000 g
    (b) 3 g
    (c) 30 g
    (d) 0.03 g

  3. Conceptual: tests your capacity to see patterns, relate knowledge from different areas, evaluate evidence. Not only do you have to have the background knowledge, you've got to be able to analyze it, synthesize it with new information, and evaluate what you know. For example:

    Which of the following phenomena of operant conditioning contains within it a form of classical conditioning?
    (a) latent learning
    (b) overjustification effect
    (c) secondary reinforcement
    (d) delay of gratification
Multiple choice exams usually contain a large number of factual questions. There will be a few application questions, and also a few conceptual ones. It's hard to write good conceptual questions, and they can be quite challenging to answer. If you're not doing well on the factual questions, you're probably going to struggle with the other kinds as well.

But problems just with application and conceptual questions reveal that your understanding isn't as...deep as it could be. You may be great at memorizing definitions, but that's not all there is to taking a (well-designed) multiple choice exam.

(BTW, Bloom's Taxonomy can also be used in short-, medium-, and long-answer exams. In fact, I use it in mine. For example, in my "medium-length" questions, I ask students to 1. define a term, 2. give an example, and 3. explain why it's important or what other concepts it relates to. See? Bloom's Taxonomy.)

In case you must know, the answer to all the questions above is (c). When in doubt, pick (c), right? ;-)

Why aren't you studying?

The Exam Marking

And...done. Done marking midterms, that is. No, not the multiple choice ones. Actual long-answer, hand-written, sweat-stained essay exams. Exam on Thursday, done marking on Saturday. Not too bad. I once finished them in one day. Ah, but I was younger then, with eyes that focused and no daughter who always wants to play My Little Pony with me (I get to be Pinkie Pie!).

I try really hard to get exam results back as quickly as I can. As soon as a multiple choice exam is over, I walk it over to TSQS (Test Scoring and Questionnaire Services, of course). Many instructors just go back to their office and have their administrative assistant schlep them off via campus mail. Me, I prefer to have results back as quickly as I can. My best time ever was 2 hours, from exam over to results posted online.

I've heard that there should be a "cooling-off" period, but I don't know exactly why. Heck, I know a prof who has exams on which you scratch off your answer, like a lottery ticket. If you're right, you get full marks. If you're wrong, you get to scratch off another answer. Get that one right, and you get part marks. It's pretty cool, but it's apparently expensive to get the exams made up that way.

I like the nice people at TSQS. They've even helped me out of tight spots, when I've needed results back in a hurry. Normally, they promise 24 hours, but they regularly beat that, except at busy times, like during final exams.

Do you care either way? Would you like to have scratch-and-win exams? Or do you prefer to wait, even if you know the results have been posted?

Why aren't you studying?

The Celebration

I'm a member-at-large (no, I'm not that large) and vice-chair of the Contract Academic Staff committee of the AASUA (the University of Alberta's staff association). Every year, we like to mark Fair Employment Week. (Partly, we do this because we'd like to have employment that's more stable--not just year-to-year, as it is for many "sessionals." More on this in another post...) To highlight the importance of contract academic teachers, we ask students to nominate an outstanding contract instructors for a "celebration" we're holding on October 27th. 

Have you had an instructor who has made a difference in your life--one who is a sessional? Maybe they inspired you, guided your career options, provided helpful references or contacts, or otherwise just made a difference in the way you think of yourself and your life as a student or in general.

If so, how about writing a short paragraph about how that person made a positive impact on your education? Not sure if your favourite instructor is a contract academic staff member? Just ask them! Then, send your paragraph to with "Contract Academic Recognition" in the subject line. The deadline was October 15, but nominations will still be accepted. Your paragraph won't be marked for spelling or grammar! Contract instructors work hard for their students; why not spend a moment to see someone get recognized for that?

As a Faculty Lecturer, I am also a contract academic staff member--but I am not posting this to get anyone to nominate me. (In fact, if someone does, I will turn it down.) I was "celebrated" last year, and I'd like to see other excellent contract teachers to get recognized this way.

Why aren't you studying?

The Exam Aftermath

So, some midterms are over. When I was a student, I would try to reward myself after every exam. I'd often go and buy a stack of comics, or get a big bowl of Smartfood and watch a TV show I'd taped on the VCR.

What do you do after a big exam is over?
And then...

Why aren't you studying?

The Exam Prep: 1

Midterms are fast approaching. Here's some advice that's a bit obvious, but maybe also helpful:

  • Do read the textbook. Stunningly obvious, no? Unfortunately, some first-year students don't realize that at university, you're expected to actually read the textbook. In my course syllabi (academic word for "course outline"), I have a table which lists my lectures by week. There's a separate column for assigned readings. Typically, each lecture topic corresponds with a textbook chapter.
  • Do read the textbook in the right environment. TV on? Rockin' your iPod? Tickling your sweetie? No. No. No. All of these things use up your attentional resources and distract you from reading your textbook. Sweetie will have to wait.
  • Don't use a highlighter. Take a look at past chapters: have you just been "painting" your textbook? Highlighting is laziness; you're just going, "This looks important. I better remember to actually learn that--later." If there's an important term, it's already in bold.
  • Do take active notes. After reading a section of a textbook, try to summarize what it was all about in your own words. Don't just copy definitions word-for-word. Yes, this takes a lot of time and effort. Know what? The learning takes place not when you review these notes, but when you make them. If you also have time to review them, so much the better.
  • Do review your lecture notes. Sometimes things make perfect sense when you've just heard my explanation of it in class. But a month later, you might look at the same stuff and go, "What?" If you don't understand something, your instructors (or the teaching assistants) can help--if there's enough time left before the exam.
  • Do make up flashcards. You may feel like an x-treme keener, but it works. On one side of a card, write an important term. On the other, write the definition. Shuffle the cards, and pick one. Do you recognize the term? Can you write down the definition on a separate sheet of paper? You may be able to do both of these things, and conclude that you're wasting your time. Not so: you added to your learning when you made the flashcards.
  • Do get enough sleep. There are so many studies that show how important sleep is to learning (and other things), it's not even funny. And why are you pulling an all-nighter anyway? Aren't you keeping up with the assigned readings?
These should be enough tips to keep you busy until your midterms. Tips for writing exams are coming up!

Why aren't you studying?

The Exam Writing: 1

Midterms are approaching like a freight train, like a airplane coming in for a landing, like a puppy whose leash has broken. Here are some quick exam writing tips, for multiple choice exams mostly:

  • If noise bothers you, wear earplugs at the exam. (No, not earphones, sorry.)
  • Read the question--no, seriously. Don't skim it, you're bound to miss an important word.
  • Think about the answer. Don't read the choices, not yet--they are sure to distract you. Jot your answer on the exam booklet, if possible. Then look at your choices.
  • Rule out obviously incorrect distractors. (That's what the incorrect choices on multiple choice exams are called. They're there to distract you. Seems kinda mean. Still, it's better than the term, "this'll-fool-'ems")
  • Can't decide on the correct answer? Is it eating you up inside, like last night's extra spicy four-bean chili? Are you starting to obsess over it? You're wasting time. Move on to questions you can actually answer. Come back to more difficult ones later. You can guess on them if you can't figure them out--that's better than leaving them blank (yes, I've seen this happen).
  • Take extra care when questions have negatives; you have to spend more time working out the negatives, or even double negatives.
  • Be careful when deciding to change your answer. Research has shown that changed answers are frequently wrong.
  • Put your name on the exam.
Why aren't you studying?

The Fuzzy Trace Theory

When students come to see me after after doing badly on an exam, I ask, "Did you feel you were familiar with the material?" The response is usually, "Yeah, I thought I knew it." (Students who bomb an exam they didn't study for don't come to me for advice on what went wrong ;-)
So the student clearly studied--what happened?

The answer must lie in either the quantity or quality of studying. Let's start with quantity: the more you study, the better you'll tend to do. But there are only so many hours in a day. You have a bunch of courses to study for, you want to have some downtime, you want to sleep. Telling students to just spend more time studying is disingenuous.

What if you could study better?

Fuzzy trace theory (Brainerd & Reyna, 2002 [pdf]) was originally about the development of children's memory, but it can also be applied to adults. It says there are two parallel memory representations formed in your mind:

  • verbatim traces: remembering things exactly, word-for-word, and
  • gist traces: remembering the general meaning of things
For example, if you hear the word spaniel, a verbatim trace would consist of actually remembering the word "spaniel"; a gist trace would be things that you know about spaniels (e.g., spaniels are hunting dogs, with long coats and drop ears). So, generally, verbatim memories are more specific than gist memories.

What does this have to do with studying? If you study, say, the definition of "structuralism" so that you form a verbatim memory, you will be able to write down the complete definition. However, a gist memory of "structuralism" would be more vague, like "something about consciousness," "an approach in psychology," or even "a word from my psych class." Which of these two memories would you prefer to have during an exam?

If you're studying for an essay/long-answer exam, you will work to form verbatim traces so you can put down the actual definition. You may use flashcards, or even practice writing the definitions of important terms and concepts.

When it comes to multiple-choice exams, however, there's a tendency to be more complacent: "The answer will be right in front of me, all I have to do is recognize it." Unfortunately, multiple-choice exams tend not to have gist questions like this:
1. Do you recognize this word from the textbook: structuralism?
a) yes
b) no
Instead, questions are designed to test your verbatim traces:
1. What is the fundamental basis of structuralism?
a) Analyzing abnormal conscious processes to treat clients.
b) Focusing on observable behaviours, and how they are modified by the environment.
c) Decomposing conscious processes into basic elements.
d) Studying the purpose of certain mental processes.
Forming verbatim traces requires more intensive study. That means making your own notes as you read the chapters, and using aids like flashcards. Now you've got a conceptual understanding of why familiarity with material is not as good as actually, thoroughly knowing it. (By the way, the answer is "c." UWO has some resources about "when in doubt, pick c" under Relying on Myths and Misconceptions on their Writing Multiple Choice Tests page.)

Why aren't you studying?

Reference: Brainerd, C.J., & Reyna, V.F. (2002). Fuzzy-trace theory and false memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11(5), 164-169.

The Awards: 1

I found out that I was named to the Department of Psychology's Teaching Honour Roll (with Distinction) for the two summer courses I taught this year. Yay!

The Department gives out these awards (no, they're not cash--not even a certificate!) based on the end-of-term evaluations that students fill out. Specifically, it hinges on the one item, "Overall, this instructor was excellent" which is filled out on a five-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. If the median rating is at least 4.0, you're placed on the Honour Roll. If at least 45% of students also indicate "strongly agree," then you get on the Honour Roll with Distinction.

I've won the Honour Roll award 18 times, and with Distinction, um, 71 times. Now, I'm not just tooting my own horn (toot!); I have to say that many of my colleagues in the Department also receive these awards: 5 on the Honour Roll, and 4 others with Distinction for Summer, 2008 term. If those numbers seem small, it's because there aren't a lot of classes offered in the Summer term. (Actually, it looks like every instructor achieved Honour Roll or with Distinction! That's pretty good.)

If you think filling out those forms is pointless, let me tell you it's not. Things like promotions, raises, and even contract renewals are based partly on student evaluations of instructors. Unfortunately, a lot hinges on responses to that "instructor was excellent" question. What if the instructor was merely very good? Would you put "strongly disagree"?

The Teaching & Learning Committee of the staff association is looking at other ways that instruction can be assessed, beyond focusing on the "excellent" question. Turns out, it's a really difficult thing, and it's been studied for quite some time. In the meantime, I still read the comments that students make, and I take those very seriously. I feel the need for constant improvement. Speaking of which...

Why aren't you studying?

The Typical Busy Day

I really should get going. Today's a busy day for me--start to finish. But I just had to post this. I'm gonna type fast...

Took my daughter to daycare a bit early today, a miracle.

Got home in time to see the Office Depot truck about to drive away, because my wife didn't hear the doorbell. Luckily, the driver saw me and I get to help him lug the pieces of my new desk up a flight of stairs. Yay.

Printed out some pages I need later in the day, answered a couple emails, and grabbed some breakfast (a big bowl of Boo Berry that I ordered off eBay; it was my favourite as a kid, but it doesn't taste the way I remembered. They had better artificial flavour back in the olden days!). I'm out the door 15 minutes early.

I've got to be early today, because I'm dropping off some midterms to be printed before I go to class. I like to get them in before the rush later in the term. But what happened to my extra 15 minutes? Now, I gotta rush off to my first class of the day.

Right after my class, I have a meeting of the Contract Academic Staff committee of the staff association. It goes for 2 hours, and I somehow get elected Vice-Chair. No need to congratulate me; I have no power and my term ends in 4 weeks. I'll have to take over the world later. Bwah-ha-ha!

Run to another class and I'm not late. Another miracle. After, I dump some assignments into the teaching assistant's mailbox, and notice that I've got 30 minutes before I have to leave for dinner--an old friend from university days is in town from Chicago.

OK, some time to breathe and crank out this blog post. I'm going to try not to rush dinner, but I do want to get home and see my daughter before she goes to bed. As much as I like my job, the reason I work is to support my family--not buy DVDs. It's great to come home and have someone yell, "Daddy!" and squeeze your neck with a great big hug. Especially if it's my daughter.

Today is not a typical day, but a typical one for a busy day. There's not a lot of time to just do nothing, or do something just for me. I know the typical day for a student is a lot like my busy day: you're rushing from class to class, trying to make time for friends and family, studying. Speaking of which...

Why aren't you studying?

The Introduction

So, why write a blog? (It's not because I've got too much free time--honest.) It's because I love DVDs. Let me explain.

I often wish I could get together with students less formally. Like sitting and having a coffee in HUB mall together. Yeah, that's (probably) not going to happen. So maybe instead I could write about some stuff in a blog. A lot of things in education are going virtual, why not talking to your prof?

That brings me to DVDs. I love DVDs that have behind-the-scenes stuff: deleted scenes, director's commentaries (except for directors who don't do commentaries--yeah, I'm lookin' at you Spielberg), camcorder footage of the shoot. You get to find out what was on the creators' minds, and maybe gain new insights. That's pretty cool.

So I'd like to make this blog a behind-the-scenes approach to the teaching of psychology. But not just that. I also want to give tips to my students (and anyone else who reads this) about how to study better, based on what we know from psychology.

Finally, I want this to be a conversation. I'd love for students to respond to what I've written, asking questions, offering suggestions, criticisms, whatever. You can post anonymously if you wish, it doesn't matter to me. I'm not going to track you down and drop your grade a notch if you offer me some valid criticism.

I'll post on an irregular schedule. Not too many, or too long. Hey, we all have other things to do, right? I hear there's a new DVD of The Breakfast Club that's got a new retrospective documentary... Anyway, why are you reading this?

Why aren't you studying?

Find It