The New Prep 3: The Self-Management Project

In the previous post in this series, I described more behind-the-scenes of the new PSYCO 282: Behavior Modification course, and how I chose the textbook for it.

Now that I had finally decided on the textbook for PSYCO 282, there was something I had to do: contact Keyano College. Wait--some background first.

When any institution in Alberta makes a curriculum change, there are consequences that affect other post-secondary institutions. You may have heard the term “Campus Alberta” recently. It’s actually something that’s been around for a while, most notably in the form of the Alberta Council on Admissions and Transfer. At the ALIS (Alberta Learning Information Service) website you can find out if a course you took at institution A can be transferred for credit to institution B.

In killing PSYCO 281 and replacing it with PSYCO 282, the UofA made a change that would affect all other post-secondary institutions that taught PSYCO 281. All institutions work closely together to ensure that students can transfer courses smoothly (if anyone claims that it’s too hard for students to transfer credits from one institution to another in Alberta, well, he’s wrong).

And that brings me back to Keyano. Our Department received an email from Keyano College in Fort McMurray, asking for more information about the course (admittedly, course descriptions are fairly vague). This request had been passed on to me in November, 2012, and I worked hard to ignore it--mostly because I didn’t have much to show yet. No syllabus or learning objectives; I hadn’t even chosen a textbook. But by January, 2013, I had a textbook, at least.

I finally replied to Keyano and set up a meeting with the psychology instructor who was going to be teaching Keyano’s version of PSYCO 282, Jady Wong. You know, there’s nothing like a deadline to motivate you to get your act together. Especially if you’ll end up looking like a fool if you miss the deadline. By the end of February, I had a syllabus and a long (incomplete) list of learning objectives to show Ms Wong.

In our meeting, we both decided that it would be interesting to include a self-management project for students as part of our courses. Other people, from my teaching assistant to the Department Chair talked fondly about having done a self-management project in a b-mod course. OK, so it wasn’t an original idea, but it was still a good one. Not only would students gain book-learnin’ about b-mod, but they’d also apply those principles to one of their own behaviours, FTW! This could work on a number of levels:
  • students put principles and procedures into practice, instead of just passively hearing/reading about them (active learning!)
  • students have to apply what they’ve learned, which is another kind of educational skill (Bloom’s taxonomy of learning objectives!)
  • students submit written reports on their progress (enhancing writing skills!)
  • students apply b-mod to their own lives, not a hypothetical client (elaborative encoding!)
  • students can improve their lives by decreasing an undesirable behaviour or increasing a desired behaviour (improving your life!)
The possibilities are endless: stop smoking, exercise more, greater duration of sexua--stopstopstop. What? Er, maybe the possibilities shouldn’t be quite so endless. I’d like to say that I came to realize this on my own but I have to credit Dr Peter Hurd, the Associate Chair (Undergraduate), with giving me the figurative tap on the shoulder. Also, thanks to Dr Tom Johnson for looking over the ethical considerations I worked into the project and Kerrie Johnston for helping with the legal aspects. (Legal. Yikes.)

There was just one more thing. Shouldn’t I, too, apply b-mod to my own life? To demonstrate that it works on me, too? To show that it’s safe, and won’t turn you into a lunatasdfsiruth20010110101001--

Heh. But seriously. Wouldn’t it be neat if I could show my students that even I could apply b-mod to my own life? And how about: in the making of the course itself? Yeah, very meta.

Coming up next: The New Prep 4: The Writing.

Why aren’t you studying?

The New Prep 2: The Textbook

In the previous post in this series, I described the rationale behind the new PSYCO 282: Behavior Modification course, and how I came to be involved.

PSYCO 282 was introduced to replace PSYCO 281: Learning and Behaviour, but it also obviated PSYCO 385: Applications of Learning. This latter course was interesting in that it wasn’t all theoretical, but was about, well, application. Here’s the official course description: “An examination of the ways in which principles of conditioning and learning have been applied to areas of human concern. Biomedical and behavioural implications of learning principles will be examined in terms of the empirical foundations of the principles, and the successes or problems encountered in applying the principles to the understanding or treatment of human behaviour.”

Behaviour modification, although based in scientific principles of the science of learning, is all about application of those principles in procedures of behaviour change. A key word in that, for me, was “application.” I have always been interested in the application of scientific psychology--this is the basis for my PSYCO 494: Human Factors and Ergonomics course. Maybe that’s another reason why I was asked to teach the new b-mod course: my background in learning theory along with my interest in application. Plus, y’know, my inability to say no.

This “new course” is really a reintroduction of an old course. In the 1970s, the Department of Psychology offered a course in behaviour modification, titled “Behavior Change Techniques.” This course eventually evolved into PSYCO 281, which, over time, gradually placed a greater focus on the experimental analysis of behaviour, rather than its application. Now, in a weird twist, PSYCO 282 is replacing PSYCO 281.

With PSYCO 282: Behavior Modification becoming an actual new course, one of my first challenges was choosing a textbook. After a few emails to various different publishers, I had a box full of books. Yay! Er, wait. I’m going to have to go through all of those books. In detail. *sigh*

It was pretty easy to whittle the textbooks down to a shortlist of about six books. But how to narrow them down further? I took my box full of books to Prof. Chris Sturdy’s office and asked him to help me pare them down further. After all, part of the rationale for PSYCO 282 was to reduce overlap with PSYCO 381, which is Prof. Sturdy’s course. He helped immensely, giving input on which books were stronger, and which books overlapped too much. Takeaway tip: When you have a hard job to do, ask someone else to do it for you. No, wait--that can’t be right. Cooperation--yeah, that’s it.

In late 2012, I finally decided on a textbook written by two professors in Manitoba (Canadian content!), published by an American educational publisher. It was a relatively thin book at 400 pages, but the price was attractive: about $125, plus the inevitable Bookstore markup. However, a few days after selecting this textbook, I had a meeting with a rep and the Senior Regional Sales Manager of Nelson Education, a Canadian textbook publisher. I mentioned my textbook choice, and lamented the fact that their textbook was nice, but was much more expensive (about $180) compared to the other textbook.

The Sales Manager immediately said, “What if we match the price?” What the--? Match the price? A $45 price drop? How could they offer that? (I don’t know, but the fact that there will be around 600 students taking PSYCO 282 every year has something to do with it.) I did like their book--it was more substantial and included a free companion website with flashcards, glossary, and multiple choice quiz questions. After considering the offer, I decided to switch textbooks, choosing Raymond G. Miltenberger’s Behavior Modification: Principles & Procedures (5th edition). Yay! Except...

I forgot about the Bookstore markup. The “shelf price” at the UofA Bookstore is not based on the list price (like MSRP) of the textbook; it’s based on the net price (divided by 0.75). In other words, it didn’t matter that the publisher had offered to cut their list price, because the Bookstore price would be based on the net price. Argh!

Here’s the hero part. After I explained this situation to Nelson Education, they still managed to find some way to cut the cost of the textbook. (If you’re not impressed by this, let me tell you: it’s like magic + rainbows + unicorns.) Although the shelf price won’t be $125 (remember, the Bookstore would have added their cut to that number anyway), it will be pretty decent: $135.30. Plus GST.

See? I care about the high cost of textbooks--a lot. (Switching textbooks meant that I had to throw away a couple of months of work and start over.) And, I work really hard to get you the best deal possible. (You’re welcome.)

Coming up next: The New Prep 3: The Self-Management Project.

Why aren’t you studying?

The New Prep 1: The New Course

A few years ago, I developed a new lecture on synesthesia for my Advanced Perception course (formerly PSYCO 365, currently offered as a  PSYCO 403 “special topics” course). To give some insight into the lecture development process, I wrote three posts describing the behind-the-scenes making of that lecture in a three-part series of posts called Anatomy of a Lecture.

Now, I want to go behind the scenes again--not into the making of one new lecture, but twenty-one lectures. That is, an entirely new course. Or in the lingo of instructors, a “new prep.”

In June, 2010, I was asked by then-Department Chair Doug Grant to meet to discuss a new 200-level course that Faculty members in the Comparative Cognition and Behaviour (i.e., “learning”) area were considering. They thought I might be “a very effective instructor for this course.” At the time, the Department of Psychology had another Faculty Lecturer in the learning area, so this was quite a flattering offer.

Here’s the rationale for the new course. The proposed PSYCO 282: Behavior Modification course would replace PSYCO 281: Learning and Behaviour. That course included a lot of material that overlapped with PSYCO 381: Principles of Learning, usually taught by Prof. Chris Sturdy. Students would keep telling him how they already knew everything he was talking about, because they learned about it in the prerequisite class. (Yeah, I can understand how that would be frustrating--for both instructor and students.)

I met with Professor Grant, and found out more about the course: it was to be about behaviour modification, or “b-mod” for short. Although I had taken courses in learning as an undergraduate student (including some taught by Prof. Grant), this is not exactly my area of expertise.

Because I work on contract, it’s not in my best interest to say no to people who play an integral role in getting my contract renewed. Also, I enjoy a challenge (er, don’t I?). So I said yes. It’s easy to say yes to things that won’t actually take place for several years.

Immediately after my meeting, this is what happened: nothing. Hey, administrative things can move pretty slowly, and there are procedures that have to be followed. The next major milestone was at the Department of Psychology Council meeting on October 19, 2011. That was a significant meeting for me. Not only was PSYCO 267: Perception (I course I regularly teach) renumbered to 367 and eliminated as a core requirement, but PSYCO 365: Advanced Perception--my Advanced Perception course--was killed. And the new course was approved. Here’s the official course description:

PSYCO 282 – Behavior Modification
*3 (fi 6) (either term, 3-0-0).
A study of applications of learning principles and laboratory findings to behavior problems in educational, clinical, and social settings, with emphasis on empirical research demonstrating the effectiveness of behavior modification and cognitive/behavioral techniques. Prerequisites: PSYCO 104 or SCI 100.

The course would still have to be approved by higher levels of administration, but that would be basically a rubber-stamp. For me, approval by Council meant the course had gone from being a concept--something in the far-off future--to a real, actual course that would be taught to real, actual students in Fall, 2013. (Like I said, things move slowly; procedures have to be followed.)


Coming up next: The New Prep 2: The Textbook.

Why aren’t you studying?

What I Did on my Summer Vacation (2013 edition)

Typically, when students hand in their final exams at the end of term, they say, “Have a good summer!” Ha! If only.

Because of the Provincial Government’s disastrous budget, I had a lot of worry about my contract being renewed over the summer. The relief I felt when my contract was renewed for another year was short-lived, because it’s not looking good for next year--even more budget cuts are on the way. And some of my colleagues have already been laid off. So any joy I got from my contract renewal was diminished by seeing the toll the cuts are taking on the post-secondary education system--on people, and on the quality of education. Thanks, Government of Alberta: way to invest in the future.

Assuming that I had a job to return to in the fall, there were two major projects I had to complete over the summer. Not only did I have a secret project (OK, not so secret any more) to work on, but I also had a new prep. “New prep” is instructor-speak for “having to write lectures and develop an entirely new course from scratch.” This is the kind of thing that takes over your entire life for months and months like a face-hugging, multi-tentacled monster. Any spare time I had, I was prepping. In fact, here’s a picture of me at the beach, prepping on my (Faculty of Arts-issued) iPad:
Beach? What beach?

(This new prep has been such a massive endeavor, I’ve got an upcoming series of posts about it in the next few weeks.)

My family did expect me to spend some time with them, too (I know: selfish!). Usually, our summertime holiday routine includes going to Sylvan Lake. Unfortunately, the water level is so high and the beach has eroded to the point where, well, there really is none. (If you’ve got young children, a lake has to have three things: a beach, a playground, and ice cream--usually in that order.) Faced with the prospect of only two out of three, we explored some other central Alberta lakes.
  • Miquelon Lake. Did you know that the lake is high in sulfur? Yup, it smells like a skunk eating garlic during a natural gas leak. And farting. My younger daughter gagged whenever the breeze blew in off the lake. Also: no ice cream. Okay, cross that one off the list. Next!
  • Gull Lake. I remember going here as a kid when I lived in nearby Lacombe. The lake is shallow and has a nice big beach--and a really nice concession stand. Too bad we arrived right as some ominous black clouds rolled in. Who expects an extreme thunderstorm at 11:00 in the morning? Obviously not us.
  • Ma-Me-O Beach. On the way home from Gull Lake, we stopped here--at the “summer village,” unfortunately, not the actual beach. (We should have gone to Pigeon Lake Provincial Park.) I blame my wife, who was driving. And me, who was supposed to be navigating--but was actually nose-down in my iPad, prepping.
  • Gull Lake (again). We tried Gull Lake again on another weekend with better weather. This time, the extreme thunderstorms held off until right before bedtime. We watched helplessly out the window of our motel in Lacombe as hail came down on our vehicle in the parking lot, and winds ripped branches off trees. The next day, we checked out my old home, school, and the storefront that held my dad’s Thriftway grocery store. Enough nostalgia, let’s find us another nice beach-playground-ice cream stand!
  • Alberta Beach (Lac Ste. Anne). Consistent with our luck all summer, the beach was almost nonexistent; our sandbox at home had more sand than Alberta Beach. My older daughter stepped on some broken glass that littered the beach. Also: blue-green algae advisory. Sorry, but Alberta Beach is now crossed off our list. (The restaurant across from the beach did serve excellent pizzas, though.)
  • Rochon Sands (Buffalo Lake). Advisory: swimmer’s itch. Of course. No ice cream. Next!
  • Ol’ MacDonald’s Resort. Hmm, this is also on Buffalo Lake, but they told us there was no swimmer’s itch. It was fun to spend the day with some of my daughters’ friends and their families. Nice beach, but they never opened the concession stand or the ice cream stand.
In between beach trips and prepping, I managed to fit in some other summer activities:
  • my cousin and her family visited from Germany for a few short days, before they all jumped into a motorhome and drove to Vegas. They loved the World Waterpark. It’s my kind of beach: no sand, no swimmer’s itch, and no blue-green algae.
  • volunteered to help out on a fieldtrip to the zoo my younger daughter took with her daycare. You don’t know cute until you take a bus full of 4-year-olds to the zoo.
  • got stuck in my office for a few hours during a tornado warning 
  • spent an afternoon on the midway at K-Days (Seriously, does anyone like that name? It’s Konfusing.)
  • Heritage Festival, as usual. The German pavilion even offered leberk√§se this year, yum!
  • inspired by UAlberta's new DINO 101 MOOC (massive open online course), we went to Drumheller:
  • put up a couple of sheds and, in a mad scramble before summer finally ran out, my wife and I painted our deck--whew!
But mostly, prepping. But maybe a good summer after all. What did you do on your summer vacation?

Why aren’t you studying?

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