The Heads-Down

OK, I've got my eggnog latte, a red pen, and my big stack of term papers. That means I'm going to go heads-down for the next 6 days; my goal is always to have the term papers marked for the final exam. I've never had so short a window to mark term papers before (who makes up the exam schedule anyway? Hmm, sounds like a topic for another post.), so there's a lot of pressure.

I do have an office hour today, but after that, you're not going to see me around. You can contact the teaching assistant, or if there's something urgent, there's always email--but I won't be checking it as frequently. Why? Interruptions like email have a prolonged effect on task flow. You check your email, but then you might as well check Facebook, and the news, and play "just one game" of Poppit, and make a snack, and...

Wait, where was I? Oh, right. Heads down.

Best of luck on your final exams!

Why aren't you studying?

The Importance of Sleep, Yet Again

Here's an interesting research finding about sleep: if you exercise, chances are that you'll sleep better. If you do an average of at least 150 minutes per week (about 20 minutes per day) of "moderate to vigorous" exercise, you will likely experience an increase in sleep quality, and decrease in sleepiness during the day. Walking briskly counts as moderate exercise, so even rushing from one class to another counts. Bonus!

On the other hand, The Gateway has a silly feature about an editor's attempt at getting more stuff done by dividing the week into six 28-hour days. I think it's telling that the story concludes with the line, "I might try it again sometime...but not until I sleep for a day to catch up." That's pretty conclusive evidence that this kind of lifestyle is not sustainable. If you want to be more productive, maybe you should be thinking in terms of better quality of work, not quantity. More than once, I've been handed a term paper by a bleary-eyed student who mumbled, "I was up all night writing this." You know what? I can tell.

I've posted about the importance of sleep before, and then again. I'm going to be lecturing on it in intro psych, so I't on my brain. Even, like, fantasizing about it. Not dreaming about it, however--that would require actual sleep. I don't want to name names, but someone is still waking me up every night.

There was a blissful period of a few weeks when she decided to sleep through the night, but now she's at the age when she needs more than zero naps, but less than one. (Yeah, try to do the math on that one.) If she takes an afternoon nap, she won't go to sleep until 11:00. But if she doesn't have a nap, it's Miss Crankypants for the rest of the day. Oh, and she'll also fall asleep on the floor in the evening, which means she won't be tired at bedtime. Sigh.

Anyway, in sum: Sleep is good.

Why aren't you studying?

(HT: PsychCentral.)

The Fall Term Reading Week

Argh! I'm up to my neck in a major consulting project, and the deadline is stomping toward me like a rancorous rancor. I appreciate having a couple of days--Fall Term class break and Remembrance Day--to devote to this project, but what if we got a whole week off? The Fall Term reading week idea received 55% approval in a plebiscite in March, 2011. But just because students are in favour of something, doesn't mean admin is going to pay any attention to it. (Lower tuition fees, anyone?) So it's a bit amazing that the fall reading week proposal is actively being considered by UofA administration, a subject of some discussion on the Whither the U of A? blog. There are four possibilities under consideration:

1. Classes start a week earlier, keeping the same number of instructional days. For example, classes would have started August 31 instead of September 7 this year.
: This is a bad idea. Classes would start before the Labour Day long weekend, disrupting many vacation plans. And students who rent apartments would have to pay rent for the whole month of August--or just miss the first day of class. (Guess which one students would pick.)

2. Start classes a day earlier, there would be one fewer day between the last day of classes and start of the exam period (so-called "study break"), and instructional days would be decreased by one.
Evaluation: This is better--less disruption of summer. But I think students wouldn't like one fewer day to prep for finals, and I wouldn't like losing one class in Fall Term.

3. Like option #2, classes would start one day earlier, but there would be no reduction in study break days; instead two instructional days would be lost.
Evaluation: I would not like to lose a classe. Either I'd have to talk faster, or cut out some content. But what to cut? It's all important; otherwise it wouldn't be in the course. Also, if I teach the same course in both Fall and Winter terms, due to the different number of instructional hours, I'd have to have two different sets of lectures and two different sets of exams. Confusing much?

4. Start classes on the same day as always, and just cut out three instructional days.
: WTF? Why is this even on the table? Having a break is not a good tradeoff for losing that much in-class time. Bad, bad, bad.
Interestingly, even the Edmonton Public School Board is considering a week-long fall break. This is an intriguing possibility, as I have two kids and don't like to pull them out of school just to go on a vacation. So if the UofA has a week-long break at the same time that my kids are out of school, we could go on a guilt-free family holiday that is not during the most expensive time of year (e.g., Christmas, summer), for once. But if the two fall breaks are at different times, or if the EPSB decides to implement a break and the UofA doesn't (or vice-versa), that would suck.

Which of the four options do you prefer?

Why aren't you studying?

The End of Perception

I'm sad to report that at the last Department of Psychology council meeting, despite my arguments, my colleagues voted to kill PSYCO 365: Advanced Perception. Not only that, but PSYCO 267: Perception is also not long for this world. A moment of silence, please.

I like to think of Advanced Perception as "my" course. One year, I took it as an undergraduate (it was PSYCO 466 back then); the next year, I was a graduate student and TA for that same course. Back then it was taught by Dr Charles Bourassa. When he retired, I was assigned to the course. Since 1995, with only two exceptions in 1999 and 2000, that course has been mine, all mine. At first, it looked very much like Dr Bourassa's course (steal from the best, right?), but I gradually shaped it into something that I wanted, adding topics like face perception, synesthesia, and perception and art. It wasn't easy--there's no textbook that's really appropriate for a 300-level course. I tried using one, but it was generally loathed by students, so over several years I assembled readings here and there to support my lectures. I like to think that I was successful in shaping Advanced Perception: my evaluations steadily improved from "meh" when I first started out, to Honour Roll with Distinction in the past three years.

Unfortunately, with a reassessment of the "streams" of courses available in psychology, it was proposed that, because no 400-level course in perception existed, Advanced Perception had to go. The motion passed by a wide margin.

But--wait. There is a loophole. I can teach the course (modified a bit--maybe including a term paper requirement) as a "special topics" PSYCO 403 course. Not only that, but the Department has a policy that any special topics course that is continually taught over a number of years will get rolled into an official numbered course, and put into the UofA Calendar. Heh heh. So maybe it's not dead after all--maybe the hundreds and hundreds of hours I put into doing secondary research won't all be wasted. There is a downside: instead of being able to accommodate 125 students (with lots more wanting to get in), I'll only have 30. Sorry, everybody.

And what of PSYCO 267? The Department wanted to do away with the perception course stream, so that means that Perception is also a goner. But--wait. It's not being killed outright, it's being renumbered to PSYCO 367. That means it will have to be modified--no multiple-choice-only exams, and I'll have to review appropriate textbooks--but it will live. It seems a bit strange to retain this course, because it's sort of "stranded": there's no 200-level perception course (the prereq will be PSYCO 275 or PSYCO 259 258, the newly renumbered Faculty of Science Cognitive Psychology course), and there's no (official) 400-level perception course. Oh well, whatever. The other change will be to downsize it from 200+ to 125. I generally like teaching smaller classes, but there's no way to accommodate the strong demand that PSYCO 267 currently generates. Sorry, everybody.

If you're reading this and freaking out about your course planning for next year, relax. These changes first have to be approved by central admin, and then they won't go into effect until 2013-2014. So I still have a bit of time left with two of my favourite courses.

Cherish your loved ones, you don't know when they may be taken from you.

Why aren't you studying?

Update: These changes won't take effect until the 2013-2014 Calendar year, so Advanced Perception will still be offered as PSYCO 365 in Winter, 2012 and Winter, 2013.

Update: The Faculty of Arts course PSYCO 258: Cognitive Psychology will NOT be renumbered to PSYCO 259, but starting in Fall, 2013 it WILL be a Faculty of Science course.

Update: PSYCO 403 (LEC B2): Advanced Perception is offered in the Winter, 2014 term.

The Open Comments: 3

It's midterm time, and that means it's also time for me to ask you for your comments. Feedback is a really important component of improvement. And it makes no sense to wait until the end-of-term evals if there's something I can be doing better now. (Yeah, I know my intro psych clicker "experiment" is not going like I'd planned. I'm working on it...)

So, how are things going this term? Got a handle on things? Can you hear me in class?

Why aren't you studying?

The Right Way to Study

Do you know how to study? Yeah, that's obvious. But do you know the best way to study? Here's a quiz, from Chris Chabris' and Dan Simons' The Invisible Gorilla blog:

Imagine you’re taking an introductory psychology class and you have to study for your first test. You’ve read the assigned text, and now you three more days to prepare. What should you do?
1. Re-read the text once more each day.
2. Spend each day studying the text to identify critical concepts and the links among them.
3. Quiz yourself the first day, reread the text the second day, and quiz yourself again the third day.
Before you answer, don't try to guess what the right answer is, think about what you actually do. OK, now make your choice. (The answer is below.)

Do you know what you know? That is, are you able to make an accurate assessment of what you know (and what you don't know)? Let me explain. Take an intro psych course. You go to class, you read the textbook, you learn stuff. But how well have you learned it? With your gradually coalescing knowledge about psychology, do you have the ability to assess that knowledge? It seems like a paradox. Chabris and Simons call this the "illusion of knowledge": you believe that you have a better understanding of something than you actually do. This false sense of security is given by your feeling of familiarity with what you've read (and can be explained by fuzzy trace theory).

There are two ways are to get around this illusion. One, you take an exam. No, seriously. Exams (especially midterms) are not meant to be completely evaluative (judging your understanding), but are also formative (indicating what things need more work). Not surprisingly, students focus on the former at the expense of the latter. But exams can provide you with valuable feedback on your progress--as long as you actually check out your exams, going over each question to see what you did. If you just check your marks online, you're limiting yourself to the evaluative side of it.

The other way is to do what it says in choice 3 above. If you quiz yourself (before the exam) by trying to answer learning objectives or sample multiple choice questions, you are shifting the balance from evaluative to formative; you are giving yourself a chance to improve on weak areas before you get evaluated by an exam. Multiple quizzing can help you determine what's working, and what's not. Unfortunately, students tend to go with choice 1, even though it's more work with less of a payoff.

To put the quizzing together with the studying, you can apply the SQ4R method (survey, question, read, recite, relate, and review).

(HT: The Invisible Gorilla and research by Karpicke and Blunt, 2011.)

Why aren't you studying?

Exam Prep I: "Do I have to know this...?"

At this time of year, students are starting to prep for exams, which is good. How do I know students are prepping? By The Question I get asked. The Question is: "Do I have to know this...?" This is not a stupid question. I'd love to say that there are no stupid questions, but one like "Is this going to be on the exam?" is close. Er, why don't I just give you a copy of the exam so you can see what's on it?

Sorry, sorry. Sometimes I get snarky when that one comes up. Don't take offence at my snarkiness. It's just that I'm tired of answering certain questions over and over. That's why I've decided to write a post about it--so I don't have to answer it over and over. I hope.

And don't think that I'm writing this post because you were the one who asked me The Question. Lots of people have asked me The Question over the years. And lots have asked it already this term. In fact, I planned on writing about The Question this week a long time ago. So get over it.

I know what's happening when The Question starts to form in a student's mind. They're reading the textbook and increasingly getting overwhelmed by all the names and dates in the first chapter. There so much stuff--most of it not even mentioned in lectures. "Gosh, I'm getting tired. It's going to take me a long time and a lot of effort to commit all of this information to memory, and to understand all the different names for things. Hmm, maybe I'd be wasting my time learning about all of this. I better check with the instructor and see." Aaaand The Question is born, and gets sent off through the Intertubes to me, landing in my inbox. Ping!

Can you see my frustration with The Question? There are a couple of things. First: No, there will not be exam questions on everything--that's impossible. I cannot test every single concept presented in the textbook and in lectures. The test would be thousands of questions long. The best I can do is take a random sample of those questions. If you've learned everything in the course so far, it shouldn't matter what content the questions address. On the other hand, if you've been a bit...intellectually lazy and skipped over things that were long, complicated, or hard, there will be gaps in your knowledge. Exams should be designed to reveal those gaps, in order to differentiate among students' learning.

Second, the little vignettes and stories at the start of every chapter will not be on the exam. But that doesn't mean you should ignore them. Why did the textbook author spend time writing them? To help you understand the context and reason for the chapter? To illustrate an important concept? So, do you need to know that specific story or not? Probably not. But by reading it, you'll better understand the concept it's trying to teach you.

Third, names and dates. Yes, I'm deliberately wasting your time, sir. Or, wait. Am I? Is an important part of learning about psychology to know the contributions made by philosophers, scientists, and psychologists? To know their names? And to know when in history those contributions were made? If you want to become a psychologist, is all of that important? In the science biz, the way that we refer to important research is not by where it was done (although the media love to report the institution for some reason), but by who did it, and when. One psychologist will sling around names like "Smith, Shoben, and Rips", "Treisman and Gelade", and "Ramachandran and Hubbard, '07" and another psychologist will know instantly what the other is talking about. But then, psychologists know all about psychology and you don't. Not yet. You get to know a lot about psychology by reading and remembering it, not by skipping over a bunch of it. On the other hand, from a pedagogical standpoint, is there value in evaluating students on their ability to rote memorize what seems like a meaningless string of names and numbers?

So, in answer to The Question, "Do I have to know this...?"

No. No, you don't.

You also don't have to pass the course, or get an A. Students who do, will know...

Why aren't you studying?

The Syllabus Poll - Results

The results (from last week's poll) are in. It looks like the majority of you like to have not only the online PDF of the course syllabus, but also a hardcopy. OK, that's good to know. The last time I ran this poll, the results looked a bit different. Only 7% wanted online only, 6% liked hardcopy only, 80% preferred both (and there were 6% who were psychic--yeah, right). There are interesting trends: decreasing preference for paper and an increasing trend towards preferring soft copies online.

There is also a caveat: out of the approximately 600 students in my classes this term, less than 100 votes were cast. A possibility is that those who were strongly motivated to vote were the only ones who did so. That is, this sample is not representative. *sigh* Any stats majors out there care to do an analysis?

Still, maybe I can use these numbers to show that some students do want to get a piece of paper handed out in the first class. And maybe they can find some funds. (How 'bout if I put the exams online? That would save a ton of paper.)

Why aren't you studying?

The Syllabus Poll

Because of the University’s recent budget woes, the Dean of Arts has “strongly encouraged” instructors to post their syllabi online. This will 1) save money, 2) save trees, and 3) “save face”. (I think that last one means “move into the 21st century, already!”) It’s not like the copying budget has officially been cut; that’s for individual Departments to decide. (I haven’t heard of any policy changes from the Faculty of Science, but Psychology is mostly funded by Arts.)

I’ve been posting my syllabi online for, well, a while--ever since the third course I taught, in 1995. That’s not a big deal. But cutting out a hardcopy syllabus...I don’t know.

This year, I decided to help out my Department--I went to Staples to copy and pay for the syllabi myself. (Meh, it’s no biggie: it took an hour and $140.38 for about 600 syllabus copies across three courses.)

So, I’ve continued to provide a hardcopy of the syllabus on the first class. But is it still necessary? I’d like to get your opinion on this. Is it good enough if I just go over the syllabus in detail in the first class (which I do now anyway)? Or do you think it’s still valuable to have a piece of paper to look at on that first day?

I'd like your opinion (but, please, vote only once):

(Poll is now closed. Thanks for voting. Results are here.)

In January, 2010, I ran an online poll asking my students about their preferences. I don't want to give the results here, because that may bias the voting. I'll post those numbers after I close the current poll.

Why aren't you studying?

The September 11th

I remember September 11, 2001. My wife was out of town with her sister, and I was alone at home working on (what else?) lecture prep. I don’t turn the TV or radio on when I’m working--don’t want any distractions--but I was working on the computer. I needed to get some information, and went to Google.

I distinctly remember an unusual thing on Google’s home page: a picture of the World Trade Center towers on fire, and a link to more information. I followed the link, thinking it was a promotion for a movie or something, but then I quickly realized what was Really Happening. That’s when I turned on the TV...needless to say, I didn’t get any more work done that day. And I was much relieved when my wife got home that evening.

I recently found a screenshot of Google’s actual home page on 9/11. It did not have a picture of the towers, but it did say, “Breaking news: Attacks hit US” and there were links to several news sites. How could I have misremembered something that seemed so clear to me?

Many people report having very vivid memories of a highly emotional event--not just of the event itself, but also of their personal experience (where they were, what they were doing, who they were with, etc.) when they first heard about the event. (These are called “flashbulb memories”, as if these memories are seared into our minds by the bright flash of emotion.)

But research has shown that these memories are not as veridical as we feel they are. 9/11 provided a unique opportunity for psychological scientists to do a sort of natural experiment on flashbulb memories. For example, Dr Elizabeth Phelps and her colleagues found that people did remember significant things about the 9/11 event quite well (80+%, even though these eroded over time), but only remembered about half of their personal details surrounding the event correctly. This means that you would swear you saw a picture of the burning towers on Google’s home page even though that never happened.

Incidentally, I did have a class to teach in the late afternoon of 9/11. I went and taught the class and didn’t say a word about the attacks. I felt that, as long as students were showing up, I’d teach them; I’d do my job. If they hadn’t heard about what was happening, I didn’t want to be the one to tell them. I imagined that would make it hard to concentrate for the rest of the class.

Now that I have children, though, I think I would handle things differently. I’d probably cancel my classes, take my kids out of school/daycare, and just hug them for the rest of the day. In fact, I think I’ll go hug them right now.

Why aren’t you studying?

What I Did on my Summer Vacation (2011 edition)

In no particular order, here's a random assortment of my summer experiences...

  • On a sad note, one of my teaching assistants from last year, Matthew Ian Helgesen, died suddenly over the summer. My condolences to all his friends and family both here and back in Minnesota.
  • Took the family to Calaway Park for the first time ever. Was it fun? Well, if you like going on the Egg Ride over and over and over... The weirdest activity is the fishing pond (barely mentioned on their website), where you can catch real trout, have them cleaned, and take them home. Yup, at the end of your day of going on rides, seeing magic shows, and eating cotton candy, you can take a dead fish home. Has Disney heard about this!?
  • Calgary Zoo again. You know, I’d really like to see a polar bear one day. Just sayin’.
  • Oh, and Sylvan Lake of course. Sadly, there seems to be less and less beach every time we go. (Maybe it was just all the snow melt this year?) At this rate, there won’t be any beach next year and I’ll just have to sit in the Big Moo drinking iced cappuccinos. Which, come to think of it, doesn’t sound too bad.

  • Festivals, of course. But it’s tough to plan, say, going to the Heritage Festival when someone (not to name names) has to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon. Sustainival at the Fringe was something new. And I learned two things: 1) my eldest daughter loves the Tilt-A-Whirl, and 2) it makes me nauseous. Really nauseous. Where’s the iced coffee?
  • Which reminds me: Had way too many of those $1 iced coffees from McDonald’s. There must be something, like, addictive in those. I mean, apart from the sugar, cream, and caffeine.
  • Swatted mosquitos. A lot of mosquitos. Had to mow the lawn wearing heavy jeans, long socks, T-shirt, jacket zipped all the way up, and a hat--then sprayed Deep Woods Off all over. And: not a single bite! But when I went inside to take a shower what happens? A mosquito lands on me. Slap! Grr!
  • Got a new custom desktop computer. (Geek alert: ASUS P8Z68-V PRO, Core i7 2600K, 8 GB 2000MHz DDR3 Kingston RAM, EVGA GTX 570, 2TB Seagate Barracuda HDD, 240GB OCZ Vertex 3 SSD. Not cutting edge, but then I’m not Fatal1ty.) On the plus side: SSD (Solid State Drive--kinda like a hard drive made up of flash memory) is wicked fast; on the minus side: SSD drive caused BSODs (*sigh*). Flashing the firmware was a bit hair-raising, but it fixed the problem and I didn’t even lose any data.
  • Was so impressed with the SSD, I installed one (OCZ Vertex 2) in the empty drive bay of my laptop (Geek alert: Dell XPS 17 L701x). It didn’t work--the BIOS wouldn’t let me change the boot drive from HDD to SSD (*sigh*). Called tech support (How’s the weather in Chennai?). They didn’t know how to change the boot order either, so I had to tell them: the boot drive has to be the one in drive bay 1. They were very grateful for the info. I didn’t even charge them.
  • I’d like to get a new computer for my office now. My current Core 2 Duo E6400 is a bit slow. (I know there’s a budget crunch, but if UAlberta can afford $250,000 for a new website, can’t I get a new computer every 4 or 5 years? Please? I’ll install it myself--no charge.)
  • Ate a few of Fat Frank’s cheddar jalapeno dogs, tried Filistix’s pulled pork bun, and had an Eva Sweet waffle--all on campus. Allowing food carts on campus was a great idea. Will they still be around in January?
  • Oh, and I made cake pops. And a cherry pie--with cherries from the Evans cherry tree in our backyard. And avocado-lime ice cream. (How was it? Meh. Green. See below.)

  • And of course, did a lot of work, including: went to seminars on Moodle and i>clickers, enhanced the branding of each course website for greater consistency and esthetics, and went through all my lectures to improve the flow and increase understandability.
  • The branding I did means that each course will have a consistent visual style, from website to syllabus to exams. Getting everything to look right on my Website was the most difficult. Although I downloaded some cool Javascript to render custom fonts, I couldn’t get the font drop shadow to work inside of a rounded-corner/drop-shadow CSS3 element. I banged my head against the wall for a week or so on that until I gave up. Still, I think it looks OK (example here).
  • Got Honour Roll with Distinction (modestly) for teaching the two courses I taught in Spring Term. No separate post for that because I don’t think I did the best possible job with one of the courses. I updated my lecture notes extensively, but my Web notes didn’t match the PowerPoints in class a few times. I’ll do a better job next time.
  • Analyzed the research data I collected earlier this year. Hmm, looks like using ebook-textbooks shouldn’t have a negative impact on your grade
Yeah, that’s all. Now I’m craving an iced coffee. What did you do over the summer?

Why aren’t you studying?

The Research: The Results

In this series, I've been describing my latest research, looking at how ebook use affects academic outcomes. In my previous post, I described the process of data collection. The next step: analyzing the data and seeing the results for the first time.

As a graduate student, I took a lot of advanced statistics courses (in a couple educational psychology stats courses, I even had to learn APL. Eep!). This fact does not mean that I am in love with the field of statistics, and the mathematical process of analyzing data. It's just a means to an end. Still, it's an important means to an end. Not all science relies on quantitative research, but a lot of it does. If you don't know how to analyze your data, er...then what? All you've got is a big file full of (meaningless) numbers. Bottom line: It's important to know how to adequately analyze your data.

Here's a story. From 2001 to 2003, I was the statistics advisor for students in the Department of Psychology's Internship Program. After working out in the Real World collecting data, students would come to me with a file full of (meaningless) numbers. Many students were up to speed on their stats, had planned their data collection and analysis in advance, and just wanted to run their stats by me to make sure they were on the right track. Some others, however... Others...oh dear.

Others had not planned their data analysis in advance. They just went about their jobs, collecting data here and there--like they were meandering through a field picking daisies whenever and wherever they wanted. They'd come to me, give me their data, and expect me to work a miracle. This, not surprisingly, did not go well. You can't perform any kind of meaningful, valid analysis on 15 data points collected from one participant over various different time periods. With no independent variable (other than time, sort of). Yes, you've got a file with numbers. That's...great. But numbers do not statistics make. The moral of the story is: Take a statistics course. Then, take another one. Then, take one more.

I'm happy to say that a large majority of students in my class opted to allow their data to be included in my analysis--almost 200 people. Unfortunately, I had to exclude data from a small number of students (they were randomly assigned to receive an ebook, but chose not to use it; that kind of self-selection may throw off the results). I collected a lot of different kinds of data, which will require a more sophisticated analysis, so what I'm going to present is a bit of a "cheat", but I couldn't help myself--I really wanted to see the bottom line right away. So here it is: r = -.035. Neat, eh?

Er, OK, so here's an interpretation of the results: students who used the ebook got lower grades than students who used the printed textbook (negative correlation). But look at the size of the correlation--it's basically zero. The analysis also shows that there was no statistically significant difference between ebook and printed textbook users (p = .620). This means that, all other things being (hopefully) equal, using an ebook should not cost you any marks; or, reading material on a screen does not impair outcomes, at least in this perception course.

I'll need to sift through the data some more, to see if that's because ebook users spent more time studying than textbook users, or if there are other variables that also account for the results. In the meantime, I won't have any trouble recommending that students use an ebook instead of a textbook--and hey, seeing as ebooks are typically cheaper than paper textbooks, you'll even save some money. You're welcome.

Why aren't you studying?

The Research: The Data Collection

After my project passed ethics, it was time to design the data collection. While waiting (and waiting...and waiting...and waiting...) for ethical approval, I was able to fine tune the survey questionnaire that I would have students fill out. I got some great advice from people who know way more than I do about this kind of research; it helped tremendously. (One of the best things about the UofA is the amount of specialized knowledge that exists on campus. It's truly staggering how many academics there are here with top-notch knowledge. It's easy to take it all for granted.)

You don't always know what to ask on a questionnaire. What factors are relevant? (Did you use the online etextbook or printed textbook?) Which ones might matter? (Have you used etextbooks before?) What kinds of things are probably irrelevant? (Are you male or female? Better ask that one anyway.) There has to be a balance between asking for enough information, and making the survey as short as possible. Ever done an online survey that just seems to go on, page after page? Fill out this big long page, click "next" and the percent completed graph ticks up by only 1%? To get as many participants responding as possible, you've got to keep it as short as possible.

To keep everything in line with ethics guidelines, I didn't work on the online form until everything was okayed. Although I could have coded the forms myself (my websites are all hand-coded, thank you very much), but I didn't have a lot of spare time. Fortunately, the Department of Psychology has a great resource available: the Instructional Technology and Resources Lab. This lab is staffed by an undergraduate student who is enrolled in our internship program. (Plug: If you want to get hands-on experience doing a real psychology job before you graduate, look into it. You actually get paid for it, too.) Lauren McCoy coded the entire questionnaire for me. (Thanks, Lauren!)

Next, via Bear Tracks, I sent out a mass email to all the students in my class asking them to participate. Nothing to do after that but wait. It was hard to be patient, waiting for the data to roll in. And, according to ethics, I couldn't even look at it until the course was over. Argh!

Why aren't you studying?

The Research: The Ethics

In previous posts, I described the beginnings of the current research project. But before any research can be conducted, it has to be vetted through the research ethics approval process.

The major research granting agencies in Canada (CIHR, NSERC, and SSHRC) have come up with a (recently updated) policy document outlining ethical treatment of human research participants, called TCPS 2. If you want to do any research funded by one of the "tri-council" agencies, you must follow this policy. TCPS 2 has also trickled down to the university in general; research on campus is overseen by the Research Ethics Office. The REO has established a number of different Research Ethics Boards or Panels that review all research applications (whether funded by tri-council or not), and give their approval. Different boards oversee different kinds of research, like a typical psychology experiment, versus medical and clinical kinds of research.

It's important to me to make sure the willing participants in my research are (at the very least) not harmed, are treated properly, have their rights and human dignity respected, and (where appropriate) have their individual research results remain private and confidential. The process of obtaining ethical approval, though, is not trivial.

It used to be pretty easy to get ethics approval for research. Five years ago, I'd have to fill out a form indicating what I'd be doing (having students fill out a survey), whether there were any known risks to participants (um, maybe getting a paper cut?), and what I'd do if there were (rush them to the hospital). I'd talk to my colleague down the hall who would look over the application, make suggestions, and give his verbal okay. Now, it's a different story.

My Department requires that any Contract Academic Staff have their research sponsored by a professor (tenured or tenure-track staff). Luckily, a colleague of mine was able and willing to sign off on my project. It's really just a formality, which makes me question why it's necessary. Don't they trust me? And, isn't my research going to be overseen by the University?

This brings me back to the REO, which has switched to an online application process, using a system called HERO (Human Ethics Research Online--cute, eh?). Although it's now online, the process is very involved (sorry, I mean thorough) with many, many pages of questions that I have to fill out. Things like, how am I going to maintain security over the data to ensure privacy and confidentiality? (256-bit triple DES.) Will I be retaining an sensitive information, like student ID numbers? (Temporarily, yes.) Do I expect participants to come to any harm? (Er, no. Unless someone drops their computer on their foot.) The good thing was that all these questions forced me to think about ethical issues that I hadn't considered. Like, what if someone withdraws their consent--even after completing my online form? All of this really helped in designing the study itself.

Unfortunately, my ethics application was...misplaced (lost? forgotten? ignored?) for six weeks. Because this was my first experience with HERO, I didn't know how long the process would take. But after a month and a half of waiting, I asked my colleague who told me that approval should come after six days, not six weeks, and that I should "scream" about it. I didn't scream, but I was firm and persistent until my application was found, reviewed, and approved. Altogether, applying for and getting ethical approval for my project took two months. Piece of cake.

Next time: Data collection!

Why aren't you studying?

The Research: The Opportunity

As I wrote in my last post, I do research. But doing research is not easy if you aren't allowed to apply for major research grants. Sometimes, though, you get lucky.

I've got a good relationship with Nelson Education--the Canadian imprint for Cengage Learning, publisher of a number of textbooks I use in my courses, and also my employer (I do consulting for them on their Canadian psychology websites). So late last year, the local rep asked if I'd be interested in helping them evaluate the CengageNOW platform (which includes online etextbooks and interactive study guides). Oh, and they'd provide free access codes for students in my Perception class--but unfortunately, only for about half the class.

OK, I've just been designing this kind of experiment for a couple of years: Does using an etextbook cause students to do better, worse, or exactly the same in a course? I jumped at the chance. Half the class would get a free access code to the etextbook, the other half would use a regular printed textbook. At the end of the course, I could compare the two groups in terms of the dependent variable of final grade. Perfect! But who would get the free etextbook and who would have to pay for a textbook? How would that be decided? And is it fair that some students get something for free, and others don't?

These are important questions to consider. Obviously, the fair thing to do (and also the most obvious, from a statistical point of view) would be to randomly assign students to the etextbook and printed textbook groups. However, some students may not want to use an etextbook--even if it's free. In that case, I would have to exclude them from the study data, but then I could use their access code to give to students who registered late. The issue of free, though, I couldn't overcome. Nelson was not willing to pay for free printed textbooks for the other half of the class (about 107 students). Rats! This means I've got a confound that I couldn't overcome: students who got the etextbook would also be getting it for free, whereas students who bought and used the printed textbook would be paying for it.

If there are any difference in grades between these two groups, it could be because of the resource used (maybe reading an etextbook is more fatiguing so students spend less time reading, compared to a printed textbook--or maybe it's easier to read). Or it could be because of the "free" aspect (students feel less "invested" in the free etextbook, so don't read it as much as they would a printed textbook that they had to pay money for). Argh! Not so perfect. But it was the best I could do under the circumstances; I'd need almost $20,000 to buy textbooks for half the class!

There still were many more hurdles to overcome. Next: research ethics and the maze that is HERO.

Why aren't you studying?

The Research: Primary vs. Secondary

As a scientist, I do research. The first thing the word “research” brings to mind is probably experimental research. But this is only one method under the broader umbrella term of empirical research, which can include other methods like surveys, for example.

Another way of dividing up research into different kinds is into primary and secondary. In primary research, you collect original data; you’re discovering something no one else has ever known (you hope!). In secondary research, you are going through data that has already been collected. Maybe you are looking for something specific, or maybe you want to do a (formal, statistical) meta-analysis. (This doesn’t mean that every time you do a Google search, you’re doing secondary research--but secondary research might employ an Internet search now and then. More likely, I’ll use PsycINFO or MEDLINE.)

I do a lot of secondary research in prepping my courses. For example, when I created my lecture on synesthesia, I did a lot of secondary research--searching for studies, reading and analyzing them, and synthesizing the information in a systematic, coherent way. (At least, I hope it’s coherent! ;-)

I also do some primary research. It’s not something that I’m required to do in my role as Faculty Lecturer (but it can be a lot of fun to do). In fact, the University makes it hard for contract academic staff to do primary research: we are not allowed to apply for research grants. As you can imagine, having no money makes it kinda hard to do research. Unless: a) you’re rich, b) you have a sugar daddy, or c) a publishing company comes to you with a bunch of free stuff and asks if you’re interested in using it to do a study.

Late last year, I had the opportunity for option c). In the next few posts, I’ll describe the steps in the research process, ending up with a summary of my results.

Why aren’t you studying?

The Awards: 5

I've been named to the Department of Psychology's Honour Roll with Distinction for all three courses I taught last term. Thank-you to everyone, and special thanks to those who went to the trouble of giving written comments. I'm not going to post "best-of" student comments this time because (a) I've done that before, (b) there weren't many comments that, er...cry out for a response (most were constructive and helpful, which is great!), and (c) I don't want to reinforce anyone trolling for their comments to be posted in this blog (getcher own blog, eh?).

This time, I want to congratulate my colleagues who were named to the Honour Roll:

  • Brown, N. (PSYCO 405 X5)
  • Dixon, P. (PSYCO 258)
  • Friedman, A. (PSYCO 212)
  • Hurd, P. (PSYCO 400/409)
  • Masuda, T. (PSYCO 241 B1, PSYCO 305)
  • Passey, J. (PSYCO 105 B1, PSYCO 233)
  • Schimel, J. (PSYCO 105 B4)
  • Spalding, T. (PSYCO 105 B3, PSYCO 405 B2)
  • Snyder, M. (PSYCO 403 B2)
  • Westbury, C. (PSYCO 339)
  • Wylie, D. (PSYCO 267 B2)
And those who were named to the Honour Roll with Distinction:
  • Busink, R. (PSYCO 436)
  • Caplan, J. (PSYCO 403 B4)
  • Colbourne, F. (PSYCO 403 B1)
  • Gagne, C. (PSYCO 532)
  • Hurd, P. (PSYCO 414/505)
  • Kuiken, D. (PSYCO 415)
  • Lee, P. (PSYCO 105 S1)
  • Mou, W. (PSYCO 403 B3)
  • Mullins, B. (PSYCO 104 B2)
  • Nicoladis, E. (PSYCO 323)
  • Noels, K. (PSYCO 300)
  • Passey, J. (PSYCO 241 S1, PSYCO 405 B1)
  • Singhal, A. (PSYCO 377)
  • Spetch, M. (PSYCO 485)
  • Todd, K. (PSYCO 475)
  • Varnhagen, C. (SCI 100)
  • Watchorn, R. (PSYCO 323)
  • Wylie, D. (PSYCO 405 B3)
Quite a list, isn't it? I think the criteria are pretty stringent (see below for details); that means the Department has a lot of great teachers. I am humbled to be included among them.

Here are the criteria for the awards:
1. The course section median response was equal to or greater than 4.0; for Honors with Distinction, the course section median response was greater than 4.0 and at least 45% of the students agreed strongly that the instructor was “Excellent;” For classes with fewer than 10 students enrolled, the majority of students responded “Agree” or “Strongly Agree”; for Honors with Distinction, the majority of the majority responded “Strongly Agree”;
2. At least 60% of the class responded to the questionnaire;
3. There were no abnormalities in the grade distributions (e.g., distributions skewed too high or too low);
4. Instruction was conducted in accord with the ethical standards of teaching as outlined by the APA and CPA.

Why aren't you studying?

The Value of Your Degree

I’ve posted about The Best Job in the World, according to a number of metrics. Now, a new study has been released, looking at the earnings of people who hold a bachelor’s degree.

Researchers at Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analyzed US Census Bureau data on over 3 million bachelor’s degree-holders who graduated over the last 40 years. Specifically, they recorded the median salaries they earned in 2009; this means that they took a cross-section of people currently in the workforce (it didn’t just look at people who graduated in 2009).

I’m sad to report that the field with the lowest median salary is Psychology and Social Work (P&SW) at $42K (range: $29K to $53K). Sob. Below is the breakdown within P&SW (from The Chronicle of Higher Education):

The lowest is counseling psychology, ringing in at a paltry $29,000 per year. At the top of P&SW is I/O psychology (those who work in large companies, measuring and improving performance and/or wellness). I guess those companies pay pretty well; the pay is almost double that of the poor counseling psychology graduates.

But wait--what are those lowly counseling psychology-degree-holders actually doing? They’re not working as counseling psychologists. Why not? Generally, you can’t, not with just a Bachelor’s degree. Maybe they just got their BA and are now working in retail. On the other hand, you can work in I/O psychology with “just” a bachelor’s degree.

Also, the US economy isn’t in great shape. The data came from 2009, when the job situation was pretty grim--not that it’s great today. It’s possible that some people had their salary cut, or at least not increased recently. Still, the numbers above are based on full-time, full-year workers with a Bachelor’s, not part-time workers.

Finally, those who hold higher-level degrees like a Master’s or Ph.D. earn more. According to the report, median earnings of those with a graduate degree in P&SW was $60K, moving P&SW up to the third-lowest field.

So, did you make a bad choice of major? Should you have taken engineering (overall median: $75,000)? Or computing science (overall median: $71,000). Maybe we’re just all in this for the love of it.

Why aren’t you studying?

The Random Facts 2

No, still no Twitter account. Why? I can't come up with a good name. Is “Sh*t my prof says” taken? So, more random facts (and some questions).

  • First, the Taco del Mar by my house closed, then the Taco Bell closed. What have I done to offend the taco gods? I am currently leaving offerings of money at the nearby Mucho Burrito...
  • never get three dental fillings a couple of hours before teaching a class
  • Me: “What are you watching?”
    My wife: “Um, Keeping up with the Cardassians.”
    I wonder to myself, hmm...Elim Garak, or Gul Dukat?
  • Is a public toilet seat still warm from the previous occupant gross, or kinda nice?
  • Oh, and don’t hold anything over a toilet that you want to keep.
  • Have Cadbury Crème Eggs gotten a lot sweeter since I was a kid, or have I just gotten more sensitive? That’s what I thought.
Do you have any random facts or questions?

Why aren't you studying?

The Spring Term, 2011

I've written about Spring Term before, describing my misconceptions about the kind of students who take courses in Intersession (Spring and Summer Terms), and about their reasons for taking them. This time, a little bit about one of the greatest challenges in taking an Intersession course: time.

Courses in Spring (and Summer) Term last for 6 weeks. Unless you've signed up for a 3-week Spring or Summer Term course. That's right: first day of class to final exam in 3 weeks. I've taught 3 weeks courses before, at another institution. It's 3 hours of lecture every day, Monday to Thursday. Then on Friday there's a midterm and another lecture to round out the 3 hours. It's brutal. Don't even think about taking two of these monsters at the same time. Your social life will go out the window and you'll have to catch up on your favourite TV shows later. It's just go to class, read the textbook, go to class, read the textbook. So, in contrast, a 6-week course doesn't sound too bad.

In 6-week courses, there's "only" 70 minutes of class every day, and an exam "only" about every 2 weeks. Let's compare (labs aside, assuming a full course load):

  • "regular" Fall/Winter Term: 770 minutes (about 12.8 hours) per week in class (five courses)
  • Spring/Summer Term: 700 minutes (about 11.7 hours) a week (two courses)
For me, here are my in-class teaching hours (not counting prep work, of course):
  • Fall/Winter: 7.8 hours/week
  • Spring/Summer: 11.7 hours/week
(Net result? I have to work harder in Intersession.)

The point of all this silly number crunching? Don't take Intersession courses lightly. Be prepared to devote your time appropriately--these courses still count toward your GPA. It's tough to concentrate on the yada-yada of your instructor when the sun is shining and the birds are chirping. *sigh*

If you've taken Intersession courses before, what are your tips for making it through?

Why aren't you studying?

The Earth Day

Happy Earth Day, Earth! And to everyone on it! (Sorry, astronauts on the ISS, you don’t count. But hey, you’ve got an awesome view out the window. Of the Earth.) It's good to have a reminder about the value of the Earth, our environment, and ways to protect it.

At work, I strive to be environmentally friendly:

  • No recyclable paper gets thrown in the garbage. Any paper that goes into the recycling almost always has both sides used. I admit that I do use a lot of paper--exams, mostly. You wanna help me recycle exams? Heh, nice try. They all go to be shredded and then recycled.
  • Dead batteries from the wireless mics I use get dropped off in an ECOS box, along with my empty printer cartridges.
  • I turn off the lights in my office when I go to class; I also turn off the lights in the bathrooms in Bio Sci when I leave. (Sorry about leaving you in the dark that one time, guy in the stall. Oops!)
Am I a paragon? Of course not. Apparently, I’ve committed the worst kind of enviro-crime possible, twice: having kids. Um, sorry?

Speaking of family, here are some things we do:
  • We don’t buy bottled water; every family member has their own reusable aluminum bottle (so no fighting over the one with zoo animals on it!).
  • In my house, I’m famous for eating food that’s past its expiry date. Long past. Hey, I hate to waste food. What's a little borborygmi?
  • Every garbage day, I put out more blue bags than garbage bags--in fact, no one else on my block puts out as many blue bags as I do. It takes me over an hour a week to clean, rinse, sort, and otherwise prep all of my family’s recyclables.
Here’s a funny story. Before the City of Edmonton’s Blue Bag curbside pickup recycling program, there was the blue box curbside pickup recycling program. Not only did you put your recyclables in a, box, you had to sort everything, too: cardboard vs. plastic vs. clear glass, etc. So when the recycling-pickup person came, they tossed the cardboard into one compartment of the truck, plastic into another, and so on. One recycling day, the recycling-pickup person had (oddly) left behind a large piece of cardboard. When I picked it up, I saw that they had written me a note of appreciation, thanking me for the good job I had done sorting and arranging my recycling. Aww! Thanks, recycling-pickup person!

Could I do better? Absolutely. I could bring my own rechargeable batteries to use in the wireless mics. I could try to always remember to shut off the computer and turn off the lights in my classrooms, if it’s the last class of the day. I could buy products with less packaging to reduce my recyclables.

What are you doing to help save the Earth?

Why aren’t you studying?

The End of Term

Just a quick reminder, in case you've forgotten: the end of term is approaching.

Yeah, yeah--terms papers this, studying that, yada yada. But there's another reason to remember the last day of term. I ask that, if you have any concerns about the marking of any assignment or exams in the course, you bring them to me or the TA before classes end. I'm going to be heads-down marking term papers, and your TAs are students with exams to prepare for, too. Although I've asked them to keep their usual office hours up until the final, they may just have to write an exam during one of their office hours.

Yes, according to Department of Psychology policy, it is your right to wait up until some unspecified time before the day of the final exam to bring your concern forward:

"With the exception of term work for which students did not receive feedback before the posting of final grades, students must initiate a request for reevaluation of term work with the instructor prior to the day of the final exam or in the case of courses without final exams, before the posting of final grades."
So on or after the day of the final exam, however, pfft! that's it. Even if we made a marking mistake, we are not allowed to change it after that day. If there is a significant concern, please don't wait until the last minute. Note that this doesn't apply to simply asking questions to clarify something; you can do that at any time--even after the course is over.

Why aren't you studying?

Teh Wrnog Mnoth

Only a week into this month, and already this isn't my month. It must be someone else's month. Let's see what's gone wrong so far...

  • Major virus scare: I thought a rootkit had infected all of my computers. This happened to my office computer in 2008, so it's not unprecedented. My email app was very slow, so I got a packet sniffer to check out my IP traffic. What are all these connections to!? (Oh, um, I get it. "1e100" means a 1 with 100 zeros behind it: a googol. Get it?)
  • So, no virus, but Gmail is insisting on rebuilding my All Mail folder every time I start Thunderbird, downloading 30,000+ messages. That'll slow things down a bit. Darn you, Gmail!
  • Wrote an important email, and misspelled the address. It didn't get bounced back until hours later. Darn you, Gmail!
  • Getting my coursepack together for spring term, I photocopied a couple of chapters of a book. Then, instead of emailing me the results as a PDF, the photocopier ate everything. Twice.
  • Due to an apparent glitch in HERO (the UofA's online ethics submission/review platform), my ethics application was not reviewed. Instead of taking 5 days, it took 5 weeks. In the meantime, my hands are tied, and I can't get started on my research project.
  • Ordered a couple of things online--both companies sent me the wrong item. Grrr!
  • My PVR stopped talking nicely to my TV over HDMI. Banged my head against the wall (actually, the floor) for hours on that one. Decided to switch to digital cable and get an HDPVR. It didn't talk nicely to my TV over HDMI. The good-humoured tech who came to take a look at it liked the fact I knew what "HDMI" was. But he still couldn't fix it.
  • Tried to get a delicious Nestea from a vending maching right before class and was denied. I got my money back, but it wouldn't give me any delicious Nestea. (And no, I don't want that Brisk crap.)
  • Daughter #1 made me spill my coffee this morning. Oh, the humanity!
Notice a pattern? (OK, except for the last one.) Yup, technology is giving me fits. I'm not superstitious. But if this is your month, you can have it back.

Why aren't you studying?

The New Logo

You may not have noticed, but the University of Alberta has quietly changed its logo. The changes in the "shield" and "wordmark" are subtle, but they're there: compare the new one (top image) to the old one (bottom Linkimage). Without any fanfare, the new logo appeared on the UofA home page on March 7, 2011 (heh, they even remembered to change the l'il favicon, too). This change came after a staggering 100,000 people (me included) participated in research to evaluate the new visual identity.

It's odd that there was no big press conference about this. I don't think it's because they're not proud of the new art scheme, but rather because they don't want to draw attention to the old one. I mean, lookit it! It's got Times Roman font--yuk! That's almost as ubiquitous as Helvetica. Times Roman is so, you know, authoritative (maybe even authoritarian). And you don't want a university looking too, like, authoritative or whatever.

So, why the change? Rumour is that some people thought the old logo was too stodgy for university-choosing kids coming to the UofA homepage; it should be updated to be more distinctive on the web. But hold on, who starts by going to homepages anymore? And what about all the existing (old-logo) letterhead? (We're assured that it won't be thrown out, but used up and then replaced with the new design.) OK, but there are also a lot of electronic documents that will have to be updated.

I'm not opposed to change, as long as there's a good reason for it. But I didn't see a pressing need for change here. On the one hand, the logo (which has been around for ages--anyone know how long?) is being changed (sorry, "refreshed"). On the other hand, administration is going back to 1908 and promoting Henry Marshall Tory's assertion that, for the University of Alberta, "The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal."

I thought we were in the middle of a budget crisis. Why go to all this trouble and expense? This doesn't look like belt-tightening, it looks like a way to spend a bunch of extra dollars. Will this attract significant numbers of new students, who otherwise would have presumably gone to Waterloo because of its spiffy new logo?

What do you think? Is the new logo sufficiently kewl? Is it not kewl (or different) enough? Did you even notice?

Why aren't you studying?

The Gmail (update)

I’ve been having a problem using the Mozilla Thunderbird (“Tb”) email client to access Gmail via IMAP. I don’t want to delete a message and sent it to [Gmail]\Trash, because any message in there will be deleted after 30 days. Instead, I want to archive deleted messages in another folder, [Imap]\WebTrash but this hasn’t been working. I can set Tb to do this correctly, but after a restart, deleted messages will end up in [Gmail]\Trash. Grr! Turns out this is because Tb has a bug.

Tb bug 533140: “Cannot specify custom trash folder using Gmail IMAP ([Gmail]/Trash is always used regardless of trash folder selection at Server Settings, because Tb currently ignores trash folder selection if Gmail IMAP in order to avoid unwanted problems)” since 2009-12-05.

Here’s a solution from Gmail engineer RyanTaylor:

The first step is to create your own Trash folder:
1, In your Thunderbird, create a new folder under your GMail account for your own Trash, let's call it "MyTrash" for now.
2, Go to your account settings (Right click on the account / Settings...) and then select Server Settings.
3, Set the "When I delete a message", "Move it to this folder:" and select your MyTrash folder.
4, Click OK.

Then make sure that you unsubscribe the GMail Trash folder:
1, Go to your subscription settings (Right click on the account / Subscribe...)
2, Find the Trash folder under [GMail], select it and click on "unsubscribe".
3, Click OK.

At the last step, you need to restart Thunderbird. When the trash icon is appearing in your newly created label, then it should to be working.
It works for me now, yay! (AICT sent me the fix, but HT to Dr Connie Varnhagen for finding it first and telling me about it!)

Finally, here’s one more resource from the MozillaZine Knowledge Base on “Using Gmail with Thunderbird and Mozilla Suite (Troubleshooting and Gmail Quirks)”. That's right: "Gmail Quirks"!

Why aren’t you studying?

The Guest Lecture

I gave a guest lecture on Wednesday. This is not something I do very often--because no one asks me, that's why. It's a strange feeling, stepping into "someone else's" class, taking over like you own the joint. There's a whole class of students who are used to a certain way of doing things, then suddenly there's some new person who does things all differently. Like using PowerPoint, or something else very strange. And maybe those students are taking that class because they certainly don't want to take my class. (Potential nightmare: walking into the classroom and everyone groans and says, "not that guy".)

This time, I filled in as a favour to Dr Elena Nicoladis. She had a graduate student's candidacy exam to attend, so she couldn't make it to her PSYCO 323: Perceptual and Cognitive Development class. (That's a pretty good reason for missing a class. Not like my reasons: because I gotta go pick up my laundry, or because my fish has the hiccups.) So she asked me, and I couldn't say no. See, she's currently the Department of Psychology's Associate Chair (Undergraduate Program), which makes her...well, kinda-sorta my boss. What, I'm gonna tell her, "Naw, why should I? Help you? What's in it for me? Forget it."? Because when it comes time to renew my contract, she might tell me, "Naw, why should I? Help you? What's in it for me? Forget it."

There's another reason why she asked me--besides the fact that I'm her minion--and that's because I once taught PSYCO 323. Well, twice, actually, way back in 1996 and 1997. OK, that's not exactly true either. I co-taught it twice, with Dr Katherine Robinson. (Co-teaching, that's another strange experience--sometimes one instructor shows up and teaches, and sometimes the other one shows up. It's like flipping a coin, but you never lose. Sorry, I had to say that. Kathy bought me a coffeemaker as a wedding present, so I wanted to say something nice about her!)

Digging up those old lectures was not easy. They were 14 years and many word processors ago (my dearly beloved Ami Pro 3.0). Turns out, Ami doesn't like current versions of Windows, and Windows doesn't like Ami much either. I spent a lot of hours looking for filters that I could shove down Word's throat so it would be able to read my old files. After spending far too much time, I got it to work. A-ha! Now I didn't have to create any lectures from scratch. Except...those old lectures? Crud. Utter crud. Totally outdated. And boring. Rats!

After way too many hours of updating my knowledge of perceptual development, I finished my new lecture. Now it was slightly less cruddy, and no longer totally outdated. (Of course, this is sort of a violation of my self-imposed moratorium on creating new lecture material this year, but it's technically for someone else's class. I love finding loopholes in my own rules.) I had to fill an 80-minute class, because I was told that my lecture was on the 10th of March. wasn't. At the last minute, Dr Nicoladis told me that the lecture was actually on Wednesday the 9th, which means a 50-minute class. But--but--but! That means I'd have to cut my lecture down by almost half! It's really hard to cut out material--almost as hard as creating it in the first place. So I took a hard look at my lecture. What to cut? Ironically, I cut out the only remaining bits from my original 14-year-old lectures. *sigh*

Why aren't you studying?

The Gmail

Because of my awesome specialness, I've been chosen to transition to Gmail. OK, maybe I was randomly selected, I dunno. Anyway, I had finished marking my pile of midterms and was waiting to swap with my TA, so I had a bit of time and decided to go ahead and activate my UofA Gmail.

I'm not new to Gmail; I've been using it since the summer of '04. Back then, Gmail was in beta, and you could only get an account with an invitation which was very highly prized by Googlers. (Yup, I'm bragging: "I've been on Gmail since you were in elementary school, la-la-la.")

I got my invitation by promising to send a postcard about Edmonton to whoever sent me an invite. I sent out two postcards; one person stiffed me, but the other sent me an invitation. And...big whoop. It's email. I've been doing email since, well...I sent my first email in 1989 ("since you were in diapers, la-la-la"). I'm not crazy about Gmail's odd way of labeling messages instead of physically putting them in different folders. The concept of archiving everything and actually deleting nothing was novel, and getting a whopping 1GB of storage free at that time put Hotmail and Yahoo! to shame. But then there's the fact that it's web-based, and I'm pretty fond of my desktop email client (I love me my Thunderbird--the software, not the wine) because of its customizability and extensions.

Anyway, here's how my transition went: hair-pullingly bad. You have to change your password, which is a nuisance--now I've got to update account info and passwords in all my password-management software, argh! Next, I (apparently) wasn't able to change or update my existing account in Thunderbird--I had to set up a new one. That's a hassle. What about all of the email messages in my old account? (Turns out, you can request that they transition all of that over to your new Gmail account, but it could take "days or weeks".)

So OK, I set up Thunderbird to use IMAP, tried logging on, and got an error message. WTF? Did I not enter my new password correctly? Did I not enter all the server settings right? Argh! Turns out, I had to go to a Google webpage and enter a CAPTCHA, I guess to prove my human-ness. That would have been good to know in advance, AICT. So it's working, but now I have to sync all of my computers with Gmail's IMAP servers to download and reindex 25,000+ messages. That takes a little while. Like, hours.

If you don't or can't use an standalone email client, you can use the Gmail web interface. It's no different than regular Gmail. It is a bit of a pain if you already have a Gmail account, because now you have to log out of one account if you want to log in to the other account. And don't forget to update the info in your password-management software, which tends not to understand what's going on if you have two logons to the same website, argh!

Finally, after you change over to Gmail, there's no going back. You won't be able to log in to the old UofA webmail--it will fail. Eventually, though, everyone will have to transition; it's just a matter of time.

Is this a fabulous new experience? No. I had my email setup just the way I liked it, and now I've got to chase down bugs and get used to Gmail's weird labeling-instead-of-filing process. But this process was about saving money in the first place. And now we also get cool Google Apps like Calendar, Docs, and more. I've been using all those already ("since before you hit puberty, la-la-la"), but now everyone else gets to as well. Maybe we'll all be more productive. FYI, "Google ate my term paper" is not an acceptable excuse.

Why aren't you studying?

The Awards: 4 (part 2)

So many good comments, I had to split them into two posts. Last time, I covered my perception class. This time, let's hear from students in my 100-level course.

(Warning: As always, remember that snarkiness and sarcasm filters are now OFF.)

Intro psych:

"created a sort of a sexist environment that made a lot of people in class think it was ok to say things that were even more inappropriate. For example, _such_ gendered language e.g., always 'Mom, Dad, husband, wife instead of spouse, parent', encouraging ppl to shout out stereotypes like 'Women are always pmsing, crying, talking, getting what they want.' Saying that the fluffy light Psychology magazine was aimed at Women & that he would never read it."
(I'll go one better. How about I just say "persyn"? Sure, it'll lead to confusion, but it's better than me talking about my wife all the time. And I will ensure that everyone in class submits their responses in writing for my approval before they are allowed to speak in class. Oh, and Psychology Today is closer to Modern Bride than Car & Driver. I know, I measured it on the rack. But I still do actually read Psychology Today.)

"...made me not pay attention in class, he is not good with keeping my attention. I resorted to doing crossword puzzles and checking twitter."
(I'm so proud! The Behaviourist Approach crossword is a good place to start. Mind Hacks has a great list of psychology and neuroscience on Twitter. Glad I could stimulate your desire to learn more about psychology, using new media!)

"We always had interesting and interactive things to do in the classes. It was really helpful and made the classes enjoyable to attend."
(And if you get bored, you could always check Twitter.)

"I feel as though it would be very difficult to pass this course without reading the text"
(Your feelings serve you well, Padawan. Plus, I kept saying how the majority of the exam questions come from the textbook. But a Jedi has no use for such things.)

"I refuse, on principle, to read the entire textbook to do well in this class."
(What a coincidence: I refuse, on principle, to give a good mark to anyone who doesn't read the entire textbook in this class.)

"I didn't like the fact that every chapter was assigned for reading instead of assigning pages, which would have been more helpful."
(That's not helpful. I'm going to assign individual words. Now that's helpful.)

"Only include questions from notes because not everyone can afford to purchase textbook."
(Then why assign a textbook? I'm not going to teach a class that doesn't have any form of required reading. Hey, I know! To save you money, I could have put a copy of the textbook on reserve for you.)

"Also, the textbook that was on reserve in Cam library was very useful. I would have failed the course without it. It also helps students who are more 'economically conscious'"
(Oh right. I did put the textbook on reserve for you. Too bad I'm not currently allowed to do that. Don't be mad at me--it's not my fault. Direct your concerns to UofA administration. Thanks.)

"Don't make the infolit assignments due on a Friday or Saturday."
(You can do the assignments on a Thursday. Or Wednesday. Did you know that? You don't have to do them on the exact day that they are due.)

"The tutorial was out of date for Assign #3 and VERY difficult to follow. The instructor should have notified students that the tutorial did not match teh new library database & given written updated instructions."
(Unfortunately, I can't access the infolit assignments. I have nothing to do with them; I am required by the Department of Psychology to have them in my intro psych course. But good thing you waited until the end of term evaluations to bring this up, though. That way, there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.)

"Lecture moves way too fast for those of us who don't want to print off an entire novel of fill-in-the-blanks and are instead taking notes manually."
(So for the three of you, I should slow way down so you can copy the notes? OK, but only as long as it doesn't bother the other 261 students in the class. I don't want them tuning out and checking Twitter.)

"I would describe this course as a mile wide and an inch deep."
(That's a 100-level course for ya. Well, that's a "survey course" for ya. I have added material that goes into greater depth, but then I can't cover everything in the textbook, too.)

"not a big fan of the textbook/lecture content differences"
(Not a big fan of the vague, unhelpful comments. Do you mean the textbook contradicted the lectures? Or the fact that I don't just read out of the textbook to you, and instead include topics that many think are interesting, like the psychology of happiness?)

"Have a clicker for miniature in class assignments, not graded, and inexpensive, used as a learning tool"
(... That's actual, serious, pedagogical advice for me. I will strongly consider that. Thank you.)

"Stop with the lame jokes. Not everyone is 4 years old."
(OK, I'll try to aim higher: 6-year-olds. I've got one I can practice on. Fart sounds are popular.)

Why aren't you studying?

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