The Changes

So far, 2012 has been a year stuffed full of changes. My wife moved her practice to a different clinic. My oldest daughter switched to a different school. We have a new neighbour. Our basement is in the process of being developed. (You never realize how much stuff is in your basement until you have to move it all into the garage.) My sister-in-law got a new dog. (OK, so maybe that last one isn’t a big impact on my life.)

At work, too, there have been more changes this year than in the last decade. The Department of Psychology General Office has seen a major changeover in admin staff. (See The Cuts for more.)

I’ve had to adapt to some pretty major changes in my teaching schedule, too. Each Department makes up a “master schedule” of all classes, which includes information on who’s teaching what course, when each courses is being taught (term and time of day), and in which classrooms. Starting this year, some longer-range planning has been implemented. Now, people within each “area” of specialization in the Department of Psychology have to agree on who is going to teach which courses for the next 2 years. In principle, this is good planning. Unfortunately for me, as a teaching-focused Faculty Lecturer, my courses fall into three different areas: Cognition (PSYCO 258 and 494), Behaviour, Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience (PSYCO 267 and 365), and Comparative Cognition and Behaviour (PSYCO--whoops, that hasn’t been announced yet).

So far, not so bad. But there has also been a change in policy about when classes are offered. An analysis showed that most PSYCO courses were being offered between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., and most of them were on Tues/Thurs (“TR”), making it hard for psychology majors to register for all of the classes they needed to complete their degrees. As a result, a new policy was introduced, requiring 200-level courses to be 50-minute classes offered on Mon/Wed/Fri (“MWF”), 300-level courses on TR (meaning 80-minute classes), and 400-level courses to be on MWF (again, 50-minute classes).

This term, all of my courses were flipped. My PSYCO 104 was moved from MWF to TR; I haven’t taught it as an 80-minute class since 1997. I’ve designed, tweaked, and adjusted it to be a 50-minute class for 15 years, and now had to change it--syllabus, lectures, exams--to fit into 80 minutes. In addition, my usual 80-minute classes--PSYCO 267 and 494--changed to 50-minute ones. I’ve never once taught 267 as a 50-minute class, and the last time I taught 494 in 50 minutes was 2004. I’ve never been so busy prepping “old” classes before.

Lastly, even where classes are being held has changed for me this year. This term, one of my classes is scheduled in my least favourite room, and the others are slotted in rooms that are just slightly too big. Here’s the problem: If the room holds 413 people, and enrollment is capped at 390, there will be empty seats. Students come to class and see a certain number of empty seats every time, and go, “Huh. Not everybody is showing up to class. Why should I?” As a result, attendance drops steadily during the term. This general effect is called “social proof” (HT: Jennifer Passey). So I’ve actually asked for enrollment in most of my classes to be maxed out to room capacity. Bigger isn’t always better.

On top of all these changes, and the extra work they entail, I’ve also got to work on a new prep (academic lingo for “new course”). But that’s another post.

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