The Construction

I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty tired of all the construction on campus.

It's been going on since late 2006. Since that time, I've had to detour around the construction sites, walk through mud, choke on diesel fumes, and endure all sorts of loud noise--including that incessant beep-beep-beeping of the mighty machines (does that really increase safety if they're beeping all the time?)

Because my office is in the Biological Sciences Building, there's no way for me to get to any class (or anywhere else on campus) without going through the construction; I can't go around it. Sure, the new CCIS building will be swell and all, with its shiny new lecture halls and energy efficiency. But still: Tired. Of. Construction.

On rainy days, there's mud all over. And there is literally no way for me to get to or from my office without walking through mud. I've pretty much ruined my dress shoes, because I've had to repeatedly wash them to get the mud off (I'm not keen on tracking mud into my office). And it's guaranteed that I'll have to do a batch of laundry because of the mud on my pants. Argh!

How much longer will this go on? Until 2010. That means some students will have spent their entire 4-year undergraduate time here dealing with construction. Ah, what memories! In contrast, during my time as a student (10 years in total), not a single new building was put up north of 87 Avenue.

Why aren't you studying?

(Photo by Bill Burris.)

The Homework

Not a lot of posts lately, because I've had to do a lot of homework. (What, you think you're the only one?)

Part of my homework is normal course prep: creating, adding to, or modifying my lectures. But this term, I've also had to do a lot of other homework. Students this term have been really grilling me about the things I've been talking about in class. These questions have led me to stand and go, "Umm...hmm., don't know" a lot.

This kind of response is unsatisfying, both to students and to the little voice in my head which then tells me to go and find out the answer to the question. At this point, I wisely ignore the little voice and try to finish the lecture, gamely continuing on as if I really know something about psychology. Oh, but first, I mumble something about trying to find the answer for next class.

Promising to find the answer for next class is troublesome. Walking back to my office after class, I've found myself listening to the chirping birds, watching the mighty machines at the construction site surrounding Bio Sci, and otherwise forgetting anything and everything I promised to anyone over the past 70 minutes (give or take 10 minutes).

The other problem is that, even if I do remember, I've got to actually try and find the answer. For next class. Which is the next day. Because this is Spring term, when everything comes at you at 100 km/h and you don't have time to take a breath or listen to chirping birds and such.

So I spend an hour or so a day looking for answers to the (really good, intelligent, and insightful) question(s) I've been asked. I often have to go back and re-read research papers, which takes a while. Not that I mind, really. All of this work helps me to explain things better to students this term, and ultimately improves the course as a whole for future students. How? Homework.

If there's something that doesn't make sense in my lecture, or that doesn't mesh with what's in the textbook, I make a note of it, and try to fix the problem. That's part of my normal-course-prep homework. And there's an annoying little voice in my head that won't shut up about whether children or adults have better verbatim trace recall, so I better go look that up.

Why aren't you studying?

The Spring Term

OK, so it's not exactly palm tree weather in spring. But it's sure nicer than fall or winter term.

Spring term and Summer term together make up "intersession." If you've never taken an intersession course, this is what it's like: take a course that normally runs 14 weeks and concentrate it down by having class every weekday so it fits into 6 weeks. Add a bit of sunshine, and you've got intersession.

When I first taught an intersession course, my opinion was informed by 80s movies like, well, Summer School. That is, "summer" courses are filled with losers, failures, and screwups. Er, no. Like so many things taught to me by 80s movies, this was wrong. Students in intersession actually tended to be the better students--the ones who were deadly serious about learning (deadly serious, but wearing shorts and flip-flops). I started handing out little cards, asking students to tell me why they chose to take an intersession course. The reasons included:

  • I want to finish my degree early (!)
  • I want to take this specific course but it won't fit into my timetable in fall/winter.
  • I'm just interested in this material.
So, wow.

I'd like the experience students have in intersession courses to be as similar to that of fall/winter term as possible. But that's just not possible. I often assign CogLabs in the "regular" term. Unfortunately, there just isn't time enough in intersession to get 10 of these labs done in 6 weeks. Beyond that, I don't really do much else different: same lecture notes, similar structure of exams, same old jokes.

You've got to be highly motivated if you want to succeed in an intersession course. You've got temptations like sunny warm weather, jobs that pay money which is good for things like paying bills, and cool movies opening every weekend. But you've got to focus, because exams come every couple of weeks. Skip class one day, ignore the textbook for a couple more days, and suddenly you're way behind. It's time to put down the sunblock, finish the last of your margarita, and, well...

Why aren't you studying?

The First Day of Class

The first day of class is one of the most stressful days of the year--for students, and for instructors, too.

Students find out how impossibly much the instructor wants them to read and know by the bitter end of the term.

As an instructor, I have to be completely organized and ready. Got enough copies of the syllabus? (I hope so.) Remembered to get the secret codes that let me log on to the classroom computers? (Check.) Have the keys to unlock the drawer to get the keyboard and mouse out. (Yup.) Updated everything in the course for a new term? (Er, well, I'm working on it...)

Just the syllabus alone represents hours of work. It's the blueprint for the whole term, dictating deadlines for things like papers and exams. That means I have deadlines, too: I've got to get the exams to printing well before the exam date (weeks ahead during busy times of year, in fact). I've got to make updates to my lecture notes in time to put the notes online. (Yeah, I could just leave the lectures as they are, but then they'd get stale, like a day-old donut.)

Because of the stress on all sides, I don't start lecturing on The First Day of Class. I like students to have the lecture notes printed out first, for one. And even the textbook, if possible (even though you don't have to bring it to class). And then there's all the rampant course-shopping that often occurs. (I hate having to repeat my whole First Day of Class schpiel on the second day of class to people who won't be back for the third day of class anyways.)

After the exhausting First Day of Class, all that's left is...the rest of term.

Why aren't you studying?

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