The Seminar

When I started teaching, this is what I knew about teaching: Nothing. Impressive, huh?

Fortunately, University Teaching Services puts on great teaching seminars throughout the year. These seminars are typically presented by my peers: other instructors at the UofA. They have helped immeasurably with my teaching--from structuring a course, to incorporating technology, to creating better exams.

The last seminar I went to a few weeks ago, however, was off-campus, and was sponsored by Nelson Education--a textbook publisher. Why would they want to improve teaching? Of course, they're motivated by profit. They were actually promoting a new concept called Nelson Education Testing Advantage, or NETA. They've hired an educational expert in testing and exam construction to help revamp the multiple-choice questions that are provided to instructors with textbooks. The seminar was a gentle marketing event which allowed Nelson to promote their textbooks. I say, "gentle" because it was not a hard sell. Rather, they flew in the expert from Brock University to tell us (about 75 college and university instructors from the Edmonton area) how to improve our own multiple-choice questions. Attending a lecture like this, presented by a renowned expert, is pure gold.

First, I got a lot of great information, which I'll use over the summer to revamp the multiple-choice questions I've written for use in my courses. That means rewriting some (most?) of about 500 questions. It could take a while. So I'm not just going to be sitting out on a patio with a cold drink all summer--no, I've got a huge list of things to do before classes start for me again in September. In addition to revamping my m/c questions, I also have to read two newly updated textbooks and modify my lectures to reflect changes in the content. I've also got a big digital "pile" of research papers that I haven't had time to read, because I've been teaching for the past 12 months in a row. I'm also a bit of a bookaholic, so I've got a pile of those to read.

The other great thing about attending a seminar is that I'm on the other side of the lectern, sitting in a classroom, listening to an instructor, and thinking about things that enhance (or detract from) the classroom experience. I am also instantly turned back into a student, a learner, and I realize that learning never stops.

For those of you who are graduating, the university experience is over--and you're now facing the Real World. Others are gearing up for more classes in Summer term. Some of you are working, and won't be coming back to campus until the fall. But for all of us, learning will never stop.

Why aren't know.

The Donation

I've been buying Wired magazine since issue 1.1 back in 1993. For some reason, I decided to keep every issue instead of tossing it out after reading. I have every single issue, every subscriber-only special issue, every special supplement, and every issue of Test magazine (put out by Wired's test lab before Christmas for the past few years). Actually, I should say, "I had..." A few weeks ago, I donated all my Wired magazines to the UofA library.

You know, you keep a few issues of a magazine around and eventually they start to make some pretty big piles. Then you put them in a box and the box fills up. So you get another, bigger box. And then you'll need another box, and so on. Soon, your wife is bothering you about all those boxes of magazines you're collecting and are never going to read again. Right, good point. But it seems such a shame to just...throw them out.

A few years ago, someone sold their whole collection of Wired magazines on eBay. I heard they got over $700 for them. (The photo here is of that person's collection--I never thought to take a picture of all my Wireds.) Now, it would be nice to make some cash, but the shipping would be killer: those boxes weighed several hundred pounds. (I told you I had a lot of magazines--a 16-year collection of magazines printed on heavy weight paper adds up.) So, what to do?

I noticed that the UofA library had a partial collection of Wired, but there were some gaps--especially in the first year. Hmm, why not donate them? Now I realize that the contents of Wired are available online. But not everything is online; when you read the articles online, you're really missing the impact made by the radical (and award-winning) design and layout of the magazine, especially in the early years. They used bright fluorescent and metallic inks; the magazine really stood out from everything else. And the print ads are not available online--the ads themselves are worth the price of the magazine. Why not give back to the library, so that others might one day have the chance to flip through these actual dead-tree things?

So a few weeks ago, I loaded up all my boxes and took them to the Book And Record Depository (sadly, the magazines are not on the shelf on campus). I was surprised to find that I'm going to be getting a tax receipt for my donation. Score!

Now I have to ensure that my wife doesn't start eyeing my comic book collection. I have, er...about 10,000 comics.

Why aren't you studying?

The Evaluations - Comments

I've spent some time recently reading the comments made by students on the teaching evaluations done for my classes last semester. I'm happy to see that no one has criticized me for being lazy or uncaring. Say what you will, I'm not that. However, some of the comments are strange, bizarre, and even just wrong.

So I'd like to reply to some of them (mostly the negative ones). Check it out. (Warning: extreme snarkiness ahead--both on my part, and on the part of those writing the comments.)

From PSYCO 104: Basic Psychological Processes:

"Switched my major to psych - enough said"
Hey, don't blame me.

" was impossible to know everything from the book, so therefore, I think he should give us topics he wants us to know from the textbooks."
So I should tell you what things you should skip--the things that won't be on the exam? Seriously? Look, just come right out and ask for a copy of the exam.

"Practice questions available...might be helpful."
How about the ones on the textbook website? Or the ones on MyPsychLab?

"I felt he 'dumbed down' most of the course by speaking like we were in elementary...would have preferred 'neurotransmitter' to 'little tiny chemical messenger' as we had all been taught the correct terminology + should learn to use it. I felt almost less intelligent when leaving the class."
I didn't realize that my using these terms would result in such a profoundly negative experience on your part. Next time, I shall forgo the use of any and all colloquialisms in favour of technical jargon. Enjoy!

"He is...incredibly patronizing. So patronizing I felt this class exemplified everything that is wrong with contemporary university. An expensive textbook going out of date that is 'not his fault.' Crude jokes and entertain an absence of genuine understanding of themes. Instead he collects a group of discrete facts. But, mostly, I felt patronized by the method in which the class was conducted. I read a book suggest that university are daycare centers for adults, and this class epitomizes that phenomenon."
I fixed all of your many spelling mistakes. But I left your grammatical errors in. Didn't want to be too patronizing. Wow--I can't believe I actually succeeded in exemplifying or epitomizing anything. I want to thank my mom and dad, the academy, and everyone who voted for me!

From PSYCO 267: Perception:
"You were late by up to 15 minutes for every! class. I do not respect that at all! If you are here to teach and we pay for this course then we deserve your full attention for the full time each week."
I was not late for every class; that is false. I was late to this class by 15 minutes; I admit this is true. But I was not late for every! class. Did I have to cut out some lecture material? No. Any lecture material? No. Did I have to race through every lecture to be able to finish all the material? No.

"...the textbook was almost not worth reading because a) there was much overlap between the lecture and the text and b) the exams did not really test the text. Perhaps more exam questions based on the text."

"...exam content was based on [the textbook] and not lectures which made it seem like coming to class was useless."
Hey, would you like me to introduce you two? I think you'd have a lot to talk about.

"Assigned readings in the textbook would be nice."
Er, I thought I did that. In the syllabus. Where it says, um, "Assigned readings." Are you saying the fact that I put this in the syllabus was nice? Um, you're welcome.

"[Long verbatim quote from Hannibal Lecter to Clarice Starling, but with 'Agent Starling' replaced with 'Professor Loepelmann.' You can listen to the Lecter quote here.]
PS. You're so vain you probably think this questionnaire is about you."
They have all kinds of really great drugs that can help you. I hope you feel better. I sincerely do.

From PSYCO 365: Advanced Perception:

"The quizzes were helpful to keep up to date with the readings."

"...the weekly quizzes were a waste of time..."

"I enjoyed the quizzes because they helped my grade."

"I like the idea of quizzes and I did well on them but they were kind of stressful."

"M.C. [multiple-choice] component should be added"

"I was glad to finally have a psych course with long answer written exams."

"...the material should be made less abstract."

Can you see the trouble I have in trying to make everyone happy? It's impossible. How about I try this: I will structure my course in such a way that you'll be able to learn things, which you may--or may not--enjoy. This will mean employing means of assessment that you may--or may not--enjoy. I will cover material important to an understanding of advanced topics in the area of perception which might be philosophical and/or abstract which you may--or may not--enjoy.

"You rock! Don't change a thing..."
Well, now you're just confusing me.

Why aren't you studying?

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