The eUSRIs

USRIs, of course, stands for Universal Student Ratings of Instruction. You know, the paperwork you fill out near the end of term, evaluating and giving feedback to the instructors of all of your courses. Until this year, that is. Hence, the “e” in eUSRIs.

After a limited trial of online evaluations, General Faculties Council approved the move to online-only evaluations on September 22, 2014. (That’s why my course outlines for this term still had a date set aside for evaluations to be completed in class. I created those syllabi in August. Warm, sweet August.) The trials took place in Spring, Summer, and Fall terms in 2013. The results are available at the VPIT's website.

This abrupt change caught a lot of people off guard--we were officially told only on October 7. Instructors received a curt email with a link to a very limited FAQ and an attached technical document that was of no use or information to anyone who does not have backend administrative access to IT systems. (No, most instructors do not get backdoor access to Bear Tracks, PeopleSoft, or any other system. I wouldn’t want it anyway--it smells like more work.)
So what’s driving this move to online evaluations? Although you won’t see it anywhere, the idea is to reduce costs. No more printing forms, scanning them, and (in some cases of very small classes) transcribing students’ written responses. The rumour mill has whispered that it’s actually costing more to do online evals this term; the software platform (CoursEval) isn’t free, and people have to be trained how to use and modify it.

The biggest downside to eUSRIs? Lower response rates. Online evaluations are notorious for having significantly lower uptake than paper forms that are distributed during class time. Which brings me to my point.

Please please please please please please please please please complete your eUSRIs! Please? The results of USRIs are important for things like promotion (of tenure-stream faculty) and rehiring (of contract academic staff). Written comments are tremendously useful feedback; I look forward to them every time. Plus, sometimes they’re, you know, interesting.

So won’t you take a few minutes to evaluate your instructors this term--please?
Here’s the link: eUSRIs. Thank you in advance.

Why aren’t you studying?

The Awards: 11

The Department of Psychology released the Teaching Honour Roll for Spring and Summer 2014 courses, and I am pleased to say that I earned Honour Roll with Distinction for both of my courses >blush<.

On the one hand, "intersession" courses are easier because they're smaller, and full of awfully motivated students. I mean, you've gotta be motivated if you're taking classes when the weather's great and you could be working to earn money for next year's tuition.

But on the other hand, they're also tougher to teach, because they're compressed into 6 weeks. That's why I decided not to teach my behaviour modification course--the self-management project I designed requires students to collect data for a total of 4 weeks, in addition to other assignments. Reducing the length of the observation period would decrease the likelihood of success of any behaviour change procedure.

Anyhow, on to the comments. As usual, sarcasm filters are off!

From PSYCO 258:

Dr Kloepelm is great =)

(Aw, thanks. You're great, too, pandasnuggles69!

I didn't have any problem with the course except I wished Dr. Loepelmann could speak a little louder.

This course was a pleasant surprise with how interesting and informative it is. The Instructor (Karsten L.) made this class! I have heard that it is a very difficult and dry class from others. He provided a lot of time to speak to him after class which was very appreciated!
Dr. Loepelmann was awesome as usual - passionate, clear, helpful and engaging. I really appreciated all of the engage activities throughout lecture.
Karsten explained everything very well, but his jokes made me angry. Best dressed prof for sure though.

Karsten is a great prof and obviously is very passionate about psychology. I would take another class with him. The only complaint I have about this course was the textbook. It is very dry and boring. Karsten is also very well dressed and I appreciate his shirt and tie combinations.
(Hey, thanks, I really appreciate the--wait, what? You like my clothes? I'll be sure to tell my wife, who picks them out for me. My jokes made you angry? Which one? "A Jewish person, a Polish person, and a visible minority person walk into a bar..."? I must be telling it wrong.)

From PSYCO 367:

You're a gem


This is my 4th class w/ Lopelmann, by far my favourite prof so far in university!

(Take one more class, and maybe you'll be able to spell my name right!)

Teacher was enthusiastic but sometimes spoke to us like 5-year olds.

(Aww, what's wrong pumpkin? You wanna have a lollipop? Oops, sorry. Though I was speaking to my 5-year-old.)

- I like the practical case studies you presented (eg: colours of hockey jerseys or detergent colour)
- update on the McCollough Effect: 2 weeks and going strong

(Call me when you get to 2 years. Maybe we'll write a paper.)

You were a blast when I had you in into psych in like 2003. You are still a blast. Thanks for being so enthusiastic about teaching. It was swell.
(2003? Whoa, that takes me back.Thanks for sticking with me for, er, 11 years. Are you going to graduate soon?)

Give the man a raise

(Hey, I do this for the love of it--not the money.)

Did a great job explaining concepts, but sometimes it is hard to hear him or he talks too fast.


I understand why you have fill in the blanks, but please explain + show them at the same time during lecture. Some people learn best with audio AND visual cues at the same time. I know you want people to pay attention but please consider this.
(Thanks for the feedback.)

Thank you for taking your time to make the course interesting. Your efforts definitely made an impact on my motivation to learn and pay attention in this class (=
(My pleasure.)

Great prof


Why aren't you studying?

The Weekend

The weekend is never long enough, right? On the Thanksgiving long weekend, my wife had a medical conference in Jasper, so we all stayed at the Jasper Park Lodge. That doesn’t happen often, so we enjoy that opportunity whenever it arises. But it still wasn’t long enough. Here’s a look at my past weekend:


I come home from work, and pick up my kids from daycare. Everyone’s excited: my wife and I are going out for dinner, just the two of us. My daughters are happy to have their Oma and Opa come and babysit them.

My wife and I go out to dinner at least once a year, for our anniversary. And, usually, that’s it. Yup. Once a year. So for us to do this is definitely out of the ordinary. But I recently had my contract extended for another year, and that’s as good a reason as any to go out to dinner. Destination: Violino.

We’re at the restaurant 15 minutes late, but it’s still pretty early and it’s not busy yet. Our food comes fast--really fast: 10 minutes. (Waiter: “It’s pasta. How long does that take?”) We linger over dinner, but it’s still early. If we return home now, the kids will wail at us for coming home too soon. What to do? Eh, let’s hit the mall. (Listen, if you have kids, this is considered an indulgence, okay?)

After the kids are in bed, my wife and I watch part of a movie. We’re tired, and it’s getting late, so we only manage to watch the middle third of Her. Yeah, it takes us several days to watch a movie. It feels like such an indulgence. See above, re: kids.


I get to sleep in, which means about 9:30 (yay!). By that time, the noise level in the house is enough to wake up any sleepyheads. I make a cup of go-juice, which helps my eyelids to open, and I grab the newspaper. A funny thing happens, which is: nothing. Nobody’s hollering for me because somebody hit somebody else, or they need this lid off of that jar, or...anything. So I keep my head down and keep reading the newspaper until I’m finished it.

That never happens. I mean, never. I’ve never read the whole weekend newspaper in one day before--much less in one morning. Typically, it’s still sitting there unread on Monday morning. Feeling somewhat guilty, I check and answer my email for the first of a half-dozen or so times, and then start work on my consulting project.

I’ve got a hard deadline coming up, and I’ve barely started my work. It’s consulting; nothing to do with the university at all. So that means I can’t use my university computer, electricity, or Internet--I’ve got to do it all at home. But home is where the family is, and that means interruptions and noise. Taking advantage of the blanket of calm that has mysteriously descended, I dive into my work until it’s time to come up for lunch.

Naturally, everyone in the family wants something different for lunch. Sigh. The kitchen is now open!

After lunch, my eldest daughter has a friend’s birthday party to go to. The first part of the party is at the friend’s house, but then it moves to a local hall for a Halloween party. In the middle, I have to chauffeur my daughter to her soccer game on the opposite side of town. So I drive her back and forth across the city, grabbing dinner at a drive-thru on the way. (At least the Whiplash won their game, and my daughter scored a goal. Yeah!)

After the hall party ends, it’s time for bed. My wife and I watch the last third of Her. (It’s original, but in the end, I felt like I had just spent the whole time looking at Joaquin Phoenix’s face while listening to a radio play.)


Another day, another birthday party in the afternoon, so I should have some more quiet time then. My wife’s at brunch with a friend when I get a call--would my girls like to come over for a playdate? Um, sure. I walk them over to the playdate, and then it’s back to work for me. In the silent, empty house I finish my consulting project. And then I start updating my lecture notes. There’s an exam coming up, which means I’ve got to post the next set of notes online. First, however, I’ve got to make a couple of dozen changes--updating, correcting, clarifying things. Oops, nope--first, it’s another round of email.

I’m halfway done, when the peace and quiet disappears. My wife’s back, and so are the kids, who now want lunch. Then it’s off to the birthday party for my youngest daughter. I do a bit of work here and there, in between doing loads of laundry. I’m feeling pretty good about everything I’ve gotten done and decide to reward myself. Kaffeezeit! As I’m making my coffee, I look out the window and am momentarily puzzled by the fact that I can’t see past the end of the yard--there’s all this white stuff in the air. No, it’s actually falling. Snow!? Sigh. That must mean Halloween is coming soon. Looks like everyone will have to bundle up again this year.

It’s time to start making dinner, then lunches for school, bath time for my daughters (made much more enjoyable by the presence of foam soap), then it’s time for bed. But...but...there was so much more I wanted to do!

No, the weekend is never long enough. Need more evidence? I’m writing this on Monday morning.

Why aren’t you studying?

The Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo (2014 edition)

Last weekend was the annual Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo. Some people were disappointed with the celebrity "guests". Surely there was someone there who would make you geek out, no? Alice Cooper? Summer Glau? J. August Richards? (Ok, I admit. There weren't the same calibre of guests as the Calgary Expo gets--no offence to anyone. Why can't we get the reunion of the entire cast of Aliens? *sigh* OK, I really need to shut up--after all, I did have the opportunity to go to the pinnacle of nerd-dom. Yeah, I could have gone to the San Diego Comic-Con this year and turned it down. *sigh*)

Still, it was fun to go to panels and meet some cool celebs. Like Kunal Nayyar and Simon Helberg. I had to get their autographs. No, really: I had to. My wife insisted. And seeing as how she was looking after the kids all weekend while her husband got to go to the Comic Expo, how could I say no? You can really judge the status of a celebrity by how much they charge you for their autograph. Each of these gentlemen charged $70. I guess when you're on the top TV show, you can do that. (I've heard that Sigourney Weaver was asking $175 in Calgary. Yikes!)

I also got a couple of Tiny Titans comics, that were autographed by Art Baltazar. No, he wasn't at the con; I scored these out of a bin--only $5 each.

I also got an autograph from Dirk Benedict. It's hard to convey how much impact the original Battlestar Galactica had on me. As a kid, it was like having Star Wars every week on TV. We all ran around and recess pew-pew-pewing at each other, and everyone wanted to be Starbuck. He had a great panel discussion with Dwight Schultz. Those two guys could have gone on talking about The A-Team, Hollywood, and their lives for the rest of the day. I wish they could have.

Man, the Expo has grown. I've been going to it for a few years, and every time it's just bigger and bigger. More exhibitors, more fans, more costumes, more everything. (No, I don't dress up. What would I go as? No, really, I need suggestions. One person has suggested that I look Bruce Boxleitner-ish. Should I get a Tron costume? A skin-tight, body-hugging suit that lights up? See, this is why I don't dress up.)

Ooh, here's a cool thing (above). It's now one of my most prized nerd possessions. Anyone know what it is? (And do you get why there's a Superman logo on the box?) Hint: here's some info that comes with it:
Warning: Ring does not allow wearer to fly, does not protect wearer from adverse environmental conditions, provides no tracking or navigational aids, does not come with communication or recording capabilities
However, owning one does contribute to an enhanced sense of well-being, because, well, you have this awesome ring

Like last year, as a VIP I was lucky enough to get a bag of Expo merchandise, including an Edmonton Expo shoulder-strap bag, water-bottle thingy (never used), T-shirt (size medium, never worn), Telus World of Science drink holder, comic book, and blue dice (?). If you would like to win this package, leave a comment below describing your particular brand of nerdliness. I will pick one commenter on Thursday, October 9 at noon, and after successfully answering a skill-testing question, that person will be the proud owner of this cool swag.)

Why aren't you studying?

The Research Project: Results

Last year, I worked on a research project in my PSYCO 104 classes. (I've referred to it as the "Secret Project", only because I didn't want to influence students too much.) One class was a control, the other was the experimental group. The latter group had to do a lot of extra work.

I made students go to a website (or two). Some websites had students do experiments online, like taking a left-brain/right-brain "test," or making judgments of stimuli that comprised a visual illusion. Next, students had to go online and discuss their findings with other members of their 5-person group. Finally, one person was chosen by the group to submit a summary of the discussion, which was marked. There were 10 of these assignments. These assignments were intended to foster greater engagement with the material: students didn't just go to class and read the textbook. Rather, they had to try and apply what they knew to these online examples, and compare and contrast their findings with that of other students.

The experimental class also used a different textbook that came with a rich set of online tools. The platform, from publisher McGraw-Hill, is called Connect. It included an adaptive testing tool called LearnSmart (which is also available as an app for iOS and Android). LearnSmart asks you questions about things you've read in the textbook, but it also asks you how confident you are before you answer. It's assessing your metacognition: your knowledge of how much you know. One of the things new learners have difficulty with is knowing that they don't know everything. That is, they are overconfident they know it all. LearnSmart was designed to give feedback on your actual learning--not just your perception of it. I chose these resources to make mobile learning easier. That is, you can pull out your phone and do a bunch of LearnSmart questions, which can help you identify the things that you need to work on understanding better.

At the end of the course, both the control and experimental classes were given questions about their experiences. The results are in--and they're posted on the APRIL website. You'll see that, on some questions, there were no differences between the classes. (For example, "Reviewed your notes prior to class" showed no difference--no surprise.) However, other questions related to engagement showed a statistically significant difference (e.g., "Discussed ideas based on your readings or classes with others outside of class (students, family members, co-workers, etc." increased in the experimental class).

I also looked to see if students in the experimental class fared better on exam questions based on my lecture notes. Nope, no difference. (There was a difference in exam means, but there was a confound: The control class used a different textbook than the experimental class. The experimental class's averages were higher, but many exam questions were drawn from the textbook, which was not as "high-level" as the book I used in the control class.)

It's important for me to send out a thank-you to all of the students in my classes who were involved in this project. It wouldn't have been possible without you! I'm still pondering the implications of the results. I think they may have led to one change already: the new textbook adopted by the Department of Psychology this year is published by McGraw-Hill, and includes Connect and LearnSmart. I found it to be very useful (and students have informally told me that they liked it, too.)

Why aren't you studying?

What I Did on my Summer Vacation (2014 edition)

It would be nice if I had some kind of theme to these “Summer Vacation” postings, wouldn’t it? Hmm, I’ve got it! This summer was The Summer of Soccer.

Both my girls played soccer this year, which meant that almost every evening from May to June was a mad rush to scarf down dinner and zip off to a game or practice.

It was worth it, though, to see my girls having fun on the pitch. (Full disclosure: Yeah, it's super fun for me too!) I’m especially proud of my elder daughter and her team, “Whiplash!” They won gold at the Slurpee Cup (U10 Girls Pool D), and went on to pick up a silver medal at the City Finals (U10 Girls Tier 5).

On a perfect evening at Commonwealth Stadium, the girls and us parents watched a couple of U-20 Women’s World Cup matches. My favourite was watching Germany beat the USA. (It was amazing to see Germany play and win the quarter final here, too! And then go on to win gold. But in Montréal, sigh.) I can’t wait to take my girls to the Women’s World Cup matches that are going to be played here next year.

But the highlight of the summer (of the year? of the past 24 years?) was watching the Men’s World Cup. I don’t watch much TV--except every 4 years. Then I go on a major soccer binge, with hope in my heart that Die Mannschaft will earn another star on their jerseys. Which, of course, they did. The day of the final, we were on a weekend beach vacation. But my eldest daughter and I went back to our hotel to watched the game. (I wonder if any other guests heard some insane cheering coming from one of the rooms during the game.)
(I feel a bit sad for Brazil. And Argentina. But not too sad, eh?)

So, yeah, I'm a big fan of Germany. But don't get me wrong: I'm Canadian, born and raised, and I do cheer for Canada first. (Do I cheer for German teams in hockey? Er, not so much. Let me put it this way: If Canada gets eliminated in a tournament, then I'll cheer on the German side. But hey, how often will that ever happen? *crickets chirping*)

Somewhere among all the soccer, I managed to win the Klawe prize (yay me!).
(Recipients of Faculty of Science teaching awards posing with the Dean of Science
Photo courtesy of the Faculty of Science.)

The family went to K-Days. Here, I’m about to enjoy a deep-fried Twinkie. (Hey, I only indulge like this once a year!) It was surprisingly good. I’m looking forward to having one again next year. Or maybe I’ll try the deep-fried Mars bar...
(I like this photo because it looks like there's an amusement park ride coming out of my head.
Which would be really cool.)

And we had the requisite beach vacations, at Aspen Beach on Gull Lake. We like it because it fulfills our three criteria: beach, playground, and ice cream. Check, check, check. Our usual destination has been Sylvan Lake, but sadly, the water level is so high there’s really no beach anymore. We did pass through, but we only stopped at the Big Moo for an ice cream.

After that, we visited Ellis Bird Farm, where we saw purple martins, mountain bluebirds, and baby ducks, and enjoyed a nice lunch at the teahouse when it started to rain.
(Guess which kind of bird this is. If you said baby duck, you're wrong.)

I bought a new car--my first in over 10 years--this summer: a hybrid. It was an expensive buy; good thing I still have a job after what happened last year. So far, I like it a lot. It has all-wheel drive, so I'm expecting to like it even more when the snow falls and I don't get stuck in the snow outside of my house again. And miss a midterm. That was embarrassing.
(Photo from No, I didn't get it in Plasma Green Pearl. My wife hated it.)

And, of course, I spent every spare moment in between working. On what? Doing data entry/data analysis from my student engagement and mobile learning project. Writing lectures and going to team meetings for Science 100. Reading textbooks and going to meetings for the intro psych textbook committee. And updating the rest of my other courses.

What about you? What did you do on your summer vacation?

Why aren’t you studying?

The New Textbook

Earlier this year, I discovered that the intro psych textbook I’ve been using (Psychology: The Science of Behaviour, 4th Canadian edition by Carlson et al.) was no longer going to be updated. That book has a copyright date of 2010, which means it was published in 2009, which means that the content dates back to 2008. I could no longer keep using this (now really outdated) book. I also noticed that several other major textbooks (including the one used by many other psychology instructors, Psychology, 2nd edition by Schacter et al.) were being released in new editions. You know what that means? A phrase that strikes terror into the hearts of instructors: textbook review.

Contrary to what you might think, we instructors do not love spending time reading through dozens of introductory psychology textbooks. In fact, the Associate Chair (Undergraduate) was having none of it; something to the effect of “over my dead body.” Yeah, no one loves doing a textbook review. However, there was growing sentiment in favour of looking at new textbooks; this included some pressure from the publishing company representatives (“textbook reps”) who we often deal with, and also their bosses. (There were Marketing Managers and Vice Presidents of publishing companies flying out from Toronto to talk to us.) Next thing I knew, an intro psych textbook review committee was struck, and I was on it. And the Associate Chair is (to the best of my knowledge) still alive.

Our first step was not to gather together every intro psych textbook that’s still in print. Over my dead body. No, literally--that would kill me. That many books would outweigh me by 10 times. And I’d probably retire before I finished reading all of them. (Hint: There are a lot of intro psych textbooks.) No, our first step was to figure out how to reduce the number of books to something manageable.

Plus, we were on a tight deadline. Our committee was put together in early March. Plenty of time to get ready for September, right? But consider this: How long does it take you to read a textbook? Exactly. And then, after the book has been chosen, many of us who teach intro psych change our lecture notes to reflect the content of the new book, make up new exams, and so on. That takes time. So: The sooner we could decide on a book, the better.

But could we even all agree on a single book? For the longest time, there have been two books used by intro psych instructors. It would be ideal if the decision were unanimous, but usually there has been a dissenter going his own way, picking the book he liked best, even if the rest of the committee didn’t. Um, that would be me.

Moving ahead, we decided to narrow the field by asking each major publisher for their best book. That means, among other things, their highest-level book. See, not all intro textbook are created equal. Some are aimed at the community college/high school market. (No, we’re not interested in that--UAlberta is one of the top “Medical Doctoral” universities in Canada.) There are also abbreviated textbooks that fit what we would teach in two single-term courses into one. (That’s not for us, either).

That left us with a shortlist of nine books, from McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Nelson/Cengage, Pearson, W. W. Norton, Wiley, and Worth. Wait, six publishers and nine books? Some publishers submitted multiple entries; some publishers had a new textbook written by American authors, but also a “Canadianized” version of the same book updated by Canadian authors. (A Canadian edition would be nice, but was not an absolute requirement for us.)

Armed with our stacks of books, we cracked them open and started to read. The books are provided to us for free, although many publishers encourage us to read their books online at CourseSmart (an online platform for ebooks).

This, we all decided, would be our criteria for selecting our textbook: The content. Not whizzy cool interactive online this, or shiny neat adaptive testing that, or pedagogically relevant student-tested learning management system the-other. Just the content. Books started to fall by the wayside. All things being equal, we do like to see Canadian content. Many committee members (myself included) required a chapter on genetic and evolutionary influences on behaviour. (Many American textbooks leave evolution out, for fear of alienating potential customers whose religious views would be offended by any mention of Darwin. Tsk.) One committee member made up a list of all the errors that one book had. Not typos, but egregious problems with the content. Yikes.

By early June, we had our list down to, well, one book. Yeah, for the first time since the late 1990s, we were unanimous. It’s a high-level, Canadianized book that’s been around a while. It’s got an interactive online platform (Connect), and an interactive study tool that uses adaptive testing (LearnSmart). The company has even done research to demonstrate the effectiveness of these tools. I’m really happy with our choice: Psychology: Frontiers and Applications (5th Canadian edition), by Michael Passer, Ronald Smith, Michael Atkinson, John Mitchell, and Darwin Muir, published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson. (See the custom edition covers at the top of the page.)

And price? Yeah, we got you covered. Instead of just ordering the hardcopy textbook (half of which is used in PSYCO 104, the other half in PSYCO 105), we asked for a custom edition that split the book in half and is softcover bound; this brings your on-the-shelf price down. In fact, it should be about $80 at the Bookstore, which is about half of what it would be for the full hardcover textbook.

You’re welcome.

Why aren’t you studying?

The New Prep 7: The Evaluation

This is the final post in my series on my new course. My previous post was titled Wrap Up, but I'm not quite finished yet. Here is a selection of student comments from the Fall, 2013 class--the first time I ever taught PSYCO 282. My responses may be sarcastic, for your amusement. Be warned!

“I like your website overall and the blog is especially interesting and entertaining”
(Yeah, ain't it? And now you're contributing to it!)

“Considering that this was the first time this course is being taught, there is still room for improvement”
(Yeah, I agree.)

“I wouldn’t recommend this course to anyone unless they had an interest in psychology behavior mgmt.”
“I only wish there were more higher level courses specifically dealing with Behavioural Modification techniques”
(So, the theme here is: You can't please everyone. Or anyone?)

“Dr. Loepelmann is very good with time management.”
“- Used class time inefficiently
- Gave no feedback
- Objectives and expectations were vague
- Telling jokes does not equate to being a good teacher”
“The best organized course I have ever taken in my 3+ years of post-secondary. If Karsten was the bar at which all other instructors needed to meet, the UofA would be in serious trouble. It’s so nice to have an enthusiastic extremely knowledgeable prof who isn’t riddled with cynicism and sarcasm.”
(OK, people, you're giving me a headache. It's hard to know what to take away from this...)

“This was a good course, + I learned a lot from it. However, it wasn’t extremely challenging, which was nice, but also made it easier to make this class less of a priority.”
(You gotta do what you gotta do.)

“Overall, I loved Dr. Loepelmann. He was really enthusiastic and I greatly looked forward to class. I have received knowledge on a practical way to improve my life through this course.”
“You’re a very enthusiastic prof, you make class a lot more interesting”
“The teacher could be a lot more enthusiastic. He seemed tired and did the bare minimum to explain concepts. Try to be more creative!”
(O...kay. I' more...[yawn]...enthusiastic.)

“I liked the many videos shown in class and the numerous case studies and research projects incorporated into the notes; they made it easier to see how material taught in this course can be applied in practical, real-life situations”
“The self-management project was a terrific addition to the class. I was a little stressed about it, but once I got into it I realized how valuable it was helping bring all the theory we were learning to life.”
“Ultimately, I thought the course material was great. I applied some shaping and fading when I taught my piano students some techniques. For me, this is probably one of the many classes that I have taken that I can apply to life.”
“Much of the material in class was not applicable to real life situations. I found that when I left class, little of the material could be translated to situations outside of a lab or classroom.”
(Thanks. It's these kinds of comments that make me think I've got the best job in the world.)

“If anything could be changed I would suggest making the self-management project out of more % towards the final grade.”
(Thanks for that feedback; I am considering changing that.)

“This course makes me want to drink at 11am. Prof is good though”
(Drink? Drink what? Red Bull? Coffee? Oh, that kind of drinking. Is that a good thing? Party on!)

“We need to watch more videos of animals doing tricks”
“Some videos we watched in class seemed like a waste”
(Wait, was it the videos of animals doing tricks that was a waste? Or was it the videos of my last vacation? Please be specific.)

“You’re so cute”
(No I'm not. I have zero chili peppers on Therefore, I am not cute. Well, at least, I'm not hot. And I'm okay with that. I wouldn't want my dazzling hotness to distract anyone.)

“Who was the fattest knight at King Arthur’s Round Table? Sir Cumference”
(A math joke? It'll do. Here's one for you: Where do math teachers go on vacation? To Times Square!)

“Will you merry [sic] me?”
(Because merry is not a verb, I'll assume you mean marry. My wife wouldn't like that. But thanks for the thought, dude.)

“Yo dawg, you be straight flexin’”
(Thanks to Google, I understand your meaning. I mean, Word!)

Why aren't you studying?

The Awards: 10

I am--once again--humbled to have been named to the Department of Psychology's Teaching Honour Roll (with Distinction) for all six of the courses I taught in Fall, 2013 and Winter, 2014.

I was also named to the brand-new Faculty of Science Instructors of Distinction Honor Roll. This award is decided upon by a secret cabal within each Department in Science. Or nominated by their peers, or something like that. You can check out my name (spelled correctly!) on the wall outside of CCIS 1-440, along with my Department of Psychology colleague Anthony Singhal and instructors from other Science Departments. Or  just check out this photo:

On the wall are also names on the new Students' Choice Honor Roll which is based on student evaluations. (The median student rating for every item on the USRIs must be at or above the 75th percentile--wow!) Congratulations to Sheree Kwong-See, Crystal MacLellan, and Anthony Singhal. No, I did not get on that honour roll, which shows that I still have work to do!

The new Lifetime Honor Roll included Prof. Charles Beck from psychology. Congratulations!

Why aren't you studying?

The Klawe Prize (Update)

OK, so you know how I say I'm not bragging about the awards I get? And if I were bragging, I'd show you a picture of my awards? Well, here's a picture of my Klawe award!

It's really hard to get a good picture of it, being all transparent and reflective. (Who wants to see my mug reflected in this beautiful award?)

It turns out that the award presented to me at the awards ceremony had two errors--and they weren't misspellings of my name (shock!). The original misspelled Kathleen W. Klawe's name (as "Kathlene"), and was apparently for "Outstanding Qualities in Graduate Mentoring" (as opposed to "Outstanding Qualities of Teaching Large Classes"). Oops.

It's taken a month to get a replacement, but it's all good now. In fact, they're letting me keep the original, incorrect award ("Use them as bookends" the nice lady at the Faculty of Science told me. LOL!) Nah. Maybe if I win another award, then I'll use them as bookends.

Why aren't you studying?

The Klawe Prize

I am honoured to be the 2014 recipient of the Kathleen W. Klawe Prize for Excellence in Teaching of Large Classes. Kathleen W. Klawe was a Professor of economics at UAlberta who taught many large classes. This teaching award was established by Prof. Klawe’s daughter, Maria Klawe, in honour of her mother, as explained in this article. (Dr Maria Klawe is a renowned academic in her own right.)

The Klawe prize is awarded in alternating years to instructors in the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Science. In Science, it had previously been won only by instructors in the Department of Chemistry.

Awards like this are very competitive; that is, many people apply. You have to submit a package, making the case why you think you deserve the award. I want to thank Prof. Elena Nicoladis and Kerry Ann Berrisford (Undergraduate Advisor, Science) in the Department of Psychology for putting together my application. I merely contributed my story--that is, my teaching philosophy document. (It sounds high-falutin’, but it just describes what I do, how I do it, and why.)

I’ve taught a lot of large classes in my career. How many, I don’t know. (What do you consider a “large class”? Over 100 students?) I never wanted the size of a class to be a barrier to learning. As a student, I took a lot of large classes. Some of those were good; some were great. I learned that it was possible to have a great in-class experience with an instructor who maybe took chances, pushed the limits of what they could do, and really loved what they were doing.

That’s not to say I’m a big risk taker, living on the edge; I talk (lecture) a lot. But I also do try to have hands-on experiences--even in big classes. For example, I assign self-management projects (in behaviour modification classes) and “virtual” computer-based labs (in perception, and cognitive psychology classes). Of course, these all have to be marked, so I also want to send out big thank-yous to the TAs who’ve dived in to the deep end and done a ton of marking this year (especially Jeffrey, Amelia, Yang, and Cheryl, with assistance from Cory and James).

I’m not a big spotlight hog, so it’s good that I don’t get to make an acceptance speech. I just want to say, thanks!

Why aren’t you studying?

Update: That's Associate Dean Glen Loppnow and me in the photo. I'm hoping some of his skill in teaching rubs off on me!

The Committees

What’s the one thing that the University runs on? Committees, you say? No, it’s actually money. But I’m glad you brought up the committees.

The workload of tenured/tenure-track academic faculty is expected to be 40:40:20 (teaching:research:service). That is, 40% of work time should be spent on teaching/prep work, 40% should be spent on research, and 20% should be spent on “service.” When I was first starting out, I didn’t know what that meant, either. Then someone told me it meant “volunteering,” which I thought meant, like, joining Uncles at Large or picking up litter in the river valley. Er, no.

In academic jargon, “service” means volunteering your time to participate on internal university committees (among other things). Without this volunteer work, the university would come to a standstill. Yup, even if we had so much money that we could build a Butterdome out of actual butter, everything would come to a crashing halt.

Here are some examples of committees on campus and what they do:
  • Department Council: every teaching department gets together on a roughly monthly basis to discuss changes and updates to courses, the curriculum, the Calendar, programs, and admissions. In the Department of Psychology, all Academic Faculty belong to this, as do Faculty Lecturers, some administrative staff, and there are also undergraduate and graduate student representatives.
  • Undergraduate Curriculum Committee: how does the Department Council make decisions about curriculum? Proposals are brought forward for a vote by this group within a department (instructors and admin staff) who look at current and future course needs, recommend the use of learning objectives in teaching, and do things like kill off popular courses (ahem).
  • Department Screening Committee: if a Department is going to hire someone, this group has to go through the applications and narrow down the choices to a select few, who are then referred to a separate Hiring Committee, which will be involved in a formal interview process. You wouldn’t believe the qualifications of some of the people who apply for a position in psychology.
  • Arts Council for Technology & Innovation: this group is “an advisory body to the Dean [of Arts], with broad representation, that guides the direction of how technology will support the teaching, learning, research and administrative needs of the Faculty.” Members also share information about IT needs. (ACTI is not to be confused with the Information Technology Committee (ITC), the Information Technology Enterprise Committee (ITEC), or the Information Technology Advisory Committee (ITAC), which are associated with the VP IT. LOL!)
  • InSciTE/E visioning committee: This Faculty of Science committee is, well...I dunno. I don’t know what “InSciTE/E” stands for. Innovation something, science something, teaching something. This committee hasn’t met yet.
Well, anyway, all these committees have something in common. They’re all made up of volunteers, giving their time to ensure that the University continues to move forward, innovates, and deals with challenges and opportunities at many different levels--from departments, to faculties, to central administration, and even cutting across those levels.

Oh, there’s one more thing those committees I listed above have in common: I’m on all of them--even though I don't have to be (my contract does not explicitly require service, but I like to contribute anyway). Now, I gotta go and prep for an upcoming meeting.

Why aren't you studying?

Update 3/26/2014: OK, now this is getting out of hand. In the past week, I've now been placed on two more committees: Intro Psych Textbook Review Committee and SCI 100 Future Planning Committee.

The Business Trip

Earlier this year, Nelson Education Ltd. invited me to join their Digital Psychology Editorial Advisory Board (no, it’s not called the “DPEAB”). There are now about a half-dozen of us psychology types, from universities across the country who belong to this group. It works like this. Nelson gives us some money, and in return, we give them our considered opinion about technology, products, and education. (Yeah, like I need someone to pay me to give my opinion!)

I realize that students may have...certain opinions about publishers. The way I see it, publishers are not really trying to sell their textbooks to students. They’re trying to sell their textbooks to instructors. Some companies do a better job than others. And these days, being a textbook publisher is not just about dead trees anymore; it’s about applying the best ways to enhance student learning.

I’ve had a really good relationship with Nelson over the years. Need proof? A while ago, they gave half of the students in my perception class a free etextbook so I could run a study on student achievement comparing the use of an ebook with a printed textbook. (The result? No statistically significant difference in marks. The takeaway: Using an ebook probably won’t lead to lower grades.) Need more proof? Read my post on how Nelson dropped the price of the textbook I’m using in one course by $45. That’s right: Forty. Five. Dollars. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a consultant for Nelson for over 10 years, working on website content for 18 of their Canadian psychology textbooks. Also: I do not get any commission, money, or free pens from any publisher for choosing their textbook.)

Here’s more evidence that Nelson is really dedicated to helping students. Over Reading Week, they brought members of the psychology (and biology) Digital Advisory Boards to Toronto to pick our brains about some of their new digital products, and directions for future products. It was great to talk with other passionate instructors about technology, teaching, and learning. I’m pretty impressed with the ways people are innovating in education. And Nelson wants to tap into that passion and innovation; there are some exciting new products on the horizon. No, I won’t tell you about them. (It was also nice to finally meet some people from Nelson in person--previously, I had only been in email contact with them for years. Oh, and some Twitter stalking, too.)

Yeah, the hotel was nice, but it was all of 1 day. In Toronto. In February. So don’t get images of a week in Cancun or anything. What did you do on Reading Week?

Why aren’t you studying?

The New Prep 6: Wrap Up

It’s been a long haul for me these last 2.5 years, developing, prepping, and delivering my new PSYCO 282: Behavior  Modification course. (Officially, it’s not spelled “Behaviour” with a U--hey, don’t blame me!) Agreeing to teach a new course in 2010 was easy enough to do. But as the real deadline of Fall term hit, I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Nervouscited!

Starting in the summer, my workload increased exponentially. Not only did a have a new prep, I had also plunged into another time-intensive project--a research project on mobile learning and student engagement conducted as part of teaching intro psych. (Data analysis from that is ongoing, by the way.) It feels like I didn’t even have a summer--madly working away, even while on family vacations. (Sample experience: someone asked me if I had a good summer, and I replied, “Huh? What summer?”)

Now, after having taught the “b-mod” course once, I’ve got a list of hits and misses. First, I know that I have to develop more content. Cancelling three classes in a row is way too many. (No, that wasn’t by design.) Over the holiday break, I madly rejiggered the carefully planned structure of the course, changing what material is covered on what exam, and adding another lecture on token economies. I had also planned to add another one on behavioural contracts, but it looks like there won’t be time for that.

Second, I’ve rekindled my love/hate relationship with eClass/Moodle. Ultimately, online assignments are the way to go (thanks to Cheryl, my TA, for dragging me in that direction), but Moodle is Confusingstupid. And slowkillingme.

It was really eye-opening to read all the behaviours that students worked on changing as part of the self-management project. Many were expected (decreasing smoking, improving studying, increasing exercise), but there were also a lot of unique ones (stopping spitting, reducing swearing, and eating more nuts). If you were in my class and are reading this, drop a line in the comments below about how things are going.

Reading the research on behaviour modification and applied behaviour analysis was a pleasant surprise. I was concerned that I’d have to get up to speed on an elephant-ass amount of jargon. Most scientific papers are nearly impenetrable, even for someone with a Ph.D. But the papers I read were brief, understandable, and (largely) jargon-free.

Although I’ve written before about doing self-management on myself, in seeing all the hard work that students were putting into changing their behaviours, I decided to change another set of behaviours. I’m a notorious snacker (pretzels, chocolate, and sometimes pretzels+chocolate), so for two weeks I changed my environment to reduce my snacking after dinner. It seemed to work: I lost 2 pounds.

There’s one final thing. After I finished writing the last lecture for the course, I decided to, er, reinforce all of my good behaviours, so I went out and bought myself an iPad Air. Yeah, it’s a pretty substantial reinforcer, but I did some pretty substantial work. (Plus, the Arts Resource Centre wanted their loaner iPad back.)

Now, I’m going to put that iPad to use: I’ve got a lecture on token economies to write.

Coming up next: The New Prep 7: The Evaluation.

Why aren’t you studying?

The James Bond Movies

As I wrote in an earlier post, I’ve used some behaviour modification procedures on myself, as I was creating my behaviour modification course. My reward for finishing a lecture was to allow myself to watch a James Bond movie. I had to write 21 lectures, and there are 24 movies. What’s that you say? There have only been 23 movies to date? Don’t forget Never Say Never Again. (But please leave out the silly 1967 version of Casino Royale.)

I was asked about my favourite James Bond. In thinking about this, the best answer I can come up with is: yes. (Wait, what?) I think there has been an interesting match between actors and the time in which they played Bond. Sean Connery was great in establishing the character; a hard-edged portrayal of Bond in the depths of the Cold War. George Lazenby’s one-film tenure and Connery’s reluctant return for “one last film” reflected the turmoil of the 1960s, an era grappling the fallout from the Summer of Love. Roger Moore’s softer-edged, more humourous portrayal fit well in the era of détente. However, as the political climate shifted from doves to hawks, Moore’s Bond seemed increasingly out of sync with the world. I think this is where a lot of the criticism of Moore comes from--despite the fact that Moore has won several “Best Bond” polls.

By the late 1980s, the world was ready for a grittier Bond, ready to deal with a global stage in turmoil in which there was no longer any Soviet Union or East Germany. Timothy Dalton wanted to return Bond to his roots, to show him conflicted by killing and less reliant on gadgets and gags. Trained in Shakespearean theatre, Dalton is arguably the best pure actor ever to fill the role. After legal wrangling (and the pretty awful Licence to Kill) led Dalton to bow out, it was Pierce Brosnan’s turn at last. Often described as “born to play Bond,” Brosnan struck the perfect balance, easily moving from deadly seriousness to one-liners. But then, after 9/11, the ground shifted again.

It’s no secret that Brosnan was disappointed at being dropped from the Bond role, but just as the events of 9/11 required a fundamental change in the way we viewed the world, they also created the need for a new James Bond who could deal with the new threats on their own terms. Hence, Daniel Craig: rough, tough, uncompromising. I think it’ll be interesting to see who follows Craig--and what world events will shape the choice for the next James Bond.

OK, so long answer short, I don’t really have a favourite Bond actor. But I do have some favourite films. I’m not going to do a collection of movie reviews--others have done that to death. (Hmm, possible Bond movie title: Done to Death.) Instead, here are my favourite James Bond movies of each decade:
  • 1960s: Goldfinger. Of course, right? It’s got gadgets, great lines, and lots of action. Also, Sean Connery.
  • 1970s: The Spy Who Loved Me. Roger Moore’s best Bond. Isn’t he the most handsome man? (Yeah, man-crush.) The Lotus Esprit submarine-car. (Too bad it wasn’t really a functioning submarine. Love what you find out in the behind-the-scenes featurettes.) Exotic locations. It was also the first Bond movie I actually got to see in the theatre.
  • 1980s: The Living Daylights. Not the strongest decade for Bond movies, TLD is a high point. Timothy Dalton’s Bond is grim and focused as, in real life, the Iron Curtain was falling. Too bad the next movie, Licence to Kill, went too dark and grim.
  • 1990s: Goldeneye. Finally, Pierce Brosnan gets to be Bond. The title comes from the name of the estate in Jamaica where Ian Fleming wrote the Bond novels. Great stunts and action. Bond + tank = fun!
  • 2000s: Casino Royale. Welcome, Daniel Craig--welcome to a ton of criticism about you playing Bond before anyone even got to see a frame of film. Also, way to blow people away, with your hard-edged, no-nonsense portrayal of 007. It’s difficult to watch the torture scene. The ending is classic: “The name’s Bond. James Bond.”
  • 2010s: Skyfall. Flawed, with an outrageous villain and convoluted, ridiculous plot. It still hits the right notes that you’d want in a popcorn movie.
Other random things:
  • The 2006 James Bond Ultimate Collector’s Set, containing the first 21 movies on DVD (except Never Say Never Again) is amazing. I love behind-the-scenes stuff--it’s one of the reasons I started this blog. And this DVD set is packed with behind-the-scenes extras. There are often multiple commentary tracks--Roger Moore even gives his own separate commentary on every one of his movies. I have over 50 hours of commentary loaded onto my digital audio player.
  • Because I’m cheap, I borrowed each movie from the Edmonton Public Library (except Never Say Never Again, which they didn’t have). Just go online to place a hold, and a few days later, you’ll usually get the DVD. All this for $12 a year.
  • 1983 was a weird year, with two competing Bond movies: Octopussy vs. Never Say Never Again. People often forget the latter. It was a remake of Thunderball, but failed to match the original’s success. Octopussy ended up earning more at the box office.
  • The so-called “Bond-girlformula (apparently good girl turns out to be bad, and apparently bad girl turns out to be good) is not true. Yes, there are many examples of “bad girls” that Bond manages to turn “good” (just by sleeping with them!), like Pussy Galore and Holly Goodhead. But, although there are “bad girls”, they don’t start out seeming good. And not all Bond movies have both good and bad girls (like Diamonds are Forever, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service).
  • It’s also surprising how seldom Bond finds himself up against the Russians/Soviets. It’s usually a ruse by SPECTRE (From Russia with Love), for example, or a rogue Russian general (The Living Daylights). Heck, Bond usually teams up with Russians--if they’re beautiful women, that is (see The Spy Who Loved Me, and Goldeneye).
  • The movies are so different from Ian Fleming’s books, sometimes there’s no resemblance at all. (For example, Moonraker the novel has a villain named Hugo Drax, but otherwise is completely different from the movie.)
Why aren’t you studying?

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