The Awards: 15

It's that time again, the Department of Psychology's Spring and Summer Teaching Honour Roll--er, six months after the course ended. (To be fair, it's only--er, four months after summer term ended.) Okay, whatever. I'm just happy to be nominated, etc., etc. Oh, and I'm also happy to have gotten on the Teaching Honour Roll with Distinction. Woot!

Thanks to those who do complete the online form. If you think doing so is a waste of time, I would ask you to reconsider. Teaching evaluations form an important core of the evaluation of instructors every year. If there's no data, it can affect future teaching.

Important note: The Department of Psychology will no longer be offering courses in Summer term. Only Fall, Winter, and Spring. Adjust your plans accordingly.

Here are some selected comments (danger: some replies may contain sarcasm!):

“The course was fun and interesting. However, the note taking was tricky. Sometimes, I wished the Professor had the words that we needed to copy down underlined. I would often find myself deeply engrossed in the material being taught only to realize that I had missed a few words.”
(Yeah, I hear this a lot. I've tried underlining the fill-in words in my PowerPoint slides, but this had the unintended consequence of students paying attention only long enough to fill in the word. Then they went back to chatting, or doing unrelated stuff on their laptops and phones. Later, when they realized they didn't actually understand anything, they wanted me to explain it all to them. Which I already did in class. That kind of takes a lot of the fun out of teaching. So look, if you miss a word or two, come up at the end of class and I'll give you the words you missed. I'm not going to be grouchy about it or anything. That's why I end class a couple of minutes early, BTW.)

“Perhaps make clicker participation worth a bit more? Sometimes the pace was a bit slow, so it was easier to get distracted, but otherwise this was an excellent course and
(Thanks for the feedback on clickers.)
“I honestly really did not like the textbook for this course. It overlapped with the lectures maybe 30% of the time. So we had to teach ourselves at home the material in the textbook which I understand is fair but it should at least overlap with lectures a lot more than it did. It made the workload for this course double which made it hard to focus on what to study for the exam.”
The issue of having to teach yourself textbook material is a separate issue (but an important one). The class rated the textbook 4.1 out of 5. This edition has an average rating in my classes of 4.25. Although it's not the highest-rated textbook I use (the one I use for PSYCO 367: Perception), it's a strong rating. The overlap is not (all) the textbook's fault. Sometimes it's lacking important research and theories (tsk!) which I feel obligated to make up for in class. Other times, though, there are just things I'd prefer to talk about that are not the in textbook. Anyway, you wouldn't want me to just duplicate textbook material in class. Trust me on this.

“I think its a lot of material. Maybe the last section of cognitive engineering could be removed especially because the course pack section of notes is very outdated and was really hard to get through. Maybe instead the section of AI/Human intelligence could be expanded instead.”
I'm looking for a more recent coursepack reading on HF/E, but nothing at the right level so far. I'll keep looking. It's important to me to keep this section in the course: it's my area, and it's all about the direct relevance of psychological research to the designed world we live in.

“Dr. L is one of the best professor at the U of A and should be in the running for next year's Last Lecture. He is the only reason I took this course. This course was NOT a requirement for my degree and was taken for pure entertainment and enjoyment. Instead of watching TV or sleeping in, I thought taking this class with Dr. L would be more fun and a great reason to get out of bed in the morning! Even though I am an average student at best, Dr. L presented the material in a way that I could understand and apply to everyday life. This is the sign of a great teacher! I could get a "D" in this class and I would still be happy with what I learned from Dr. L's entertaining teaching style. Like the old cliche goes...he could read the phone book and it would still be an awesome experience!”
(Wow, thanks. Is there anything you didn't like about this class?)
“The only thing I didn't like about this class...”
(Hah! I knew there was something!)
“...was the last set of readings on Applied Cognitive Psychology. It was dated and absolutely painful to read. The author was horrendous! Another bad thing that happened (which had nothing to do with Dr. L) is having the first midterm near a construction zone. It was absolutely distracting and definitely threw my first midterm grade off.”
(First, do NOT nominate me for Last Lecture. No thanks. Those lectures are amazing. Like the 2016 one. Wow. But there's no way I could talk for an hour. I mean, I can teach a course and go on and on and on. But talk to a general audience? Nope.

Yeah, the worst thing about this class was that construction business. Many of us have...issues with the building manager (who was not only unable to find the source of the construction noise, but was unaware that there was construction happening at all--even though the people at Classroom Bookings new about it). My sincere apologies for the disruption.)

“I feel like more assessment could be added to the course (small assignments etc) in order to provide more testing. Some practice exams would also be useful. For me, this course was a bit too dense and long to be offered as a spring course; I find it would be much better in the fall or winter terms.”
(It's hard for me to reconcile your comments: 1) the course is too dense and long, and 2) you would like a greater workload. Um, those are mutually exclusive. This is something that I've struggled with. It's still a 3-credit course, and there are the same number of classroom hours as a Fall/Winter course. So the course should be academically rigorous, and not watered down in any way. But then--it is offered over 3 weeks, which severely curtails the kind of work I can expect from students (one of the reasons why I do not teach PSYCO 282: Behavior Modification in Spring--it's impossible).

“The class was enjoyable - not boring at all. Lopelmann's silly humor and videos served as a nice diversion. Overall, this is a course and prof I highly recommend!”
(It's spelled L-o-e-p-e-l-m-a-n-n. And I'm not "silly." Hmph. I'm more...goofy.)

Hm. Not so much sarcasm after all. Must be the eggnog. (More nog than egg.)

Why aren't you studying?

The Lost Exam

In 22 years of teaching, I’ve maintained a perfect record: I have never lost anyone’s exam, quiz, or assignment. Until last week.

There have been some close calls. More than once--despite pleas and instructions--students have tucked their Scantron sheets back into the exam booklet. When the proctors, TAs, and I are madly scrambling to accept everyone’s exams when time runs out, we sometimes miss separating the sheets from the booklets. The student will later complain that they wrote the exam, but there’s no mark for them. That’s when we start digging through the bookets, one by one.

I make the proctors count the number of students at the exam. I don’t want anyone coming to me claiming that they certainly did write the exam, yes indeedy, and the absent-minded prof must’ve lost it, yup, uh-huh. So far, no one’s tried pulling this one on me, but I’ve heard urban legends...

Typically, after multiple choice exams come back from Test Scoring, I carefully go through the results, and note which students are lacking exam data. Maybe they were sick, or maybe they wrote their exams at SAS (Student Accessibility Services). If students write an exam at the SAS office, I have them hand-deliver their exams back to the Department of Psychology General Office. (Don’t worry, the exams are sealed in an envelope to prevent monkey business.) Sometimes, students don’t deliver their exams back until the next day. This is awkward, because I try to get exams scored as soon as possible (I walk them over to Test Scoring myself immediately after the exam). If I wait for exams from SAS, that delays the results for everyone.

Last week, I sent out notices to the students who were lacking data from Test Scoring, reminding them that I need documentation for any absence. One notice went out to a student who wrote the exam at SAS--and they replied right away, saying that they had delivered their exam immediately. I went back to my mailbox to check; nope, no exam. Strange. Was the student lying? Nope--the student had a return receipt with the signature of one of the Psych Department’s admin assistants: the exam had been delivered. It was just...lost.

I scanned instructors’ mailboxes in the Psychology Office. Maybe the student’s exam was put into the wrong mailbox? Nope, nothing in the boxes beside, below, or above my box. Drat. Then I started looking through everyone’s mailboxes: profs, instructors, grad.students, staff. One prof had a big stack of envelopes from SAS in her mailbox. I looked at them, but they were all addressed to her, not me. Double drat.

I went back to my office, where I had three other envelopes of exams from SAS. Was there another envelope stuck to the others? Stuck inside another envelope? On the floor? I spent half an hour scouring my office. Lots of dust bunnies on the floor. But no exam. Triple drat. My mind raced as I considered what I would tell the student. “Someone lost your exam, but it wasn’t me.” “Would you mind writing the exam again?” (Not allowed.) “Your final is going to be worth an extra 22.5%, is that OK?” (Ouch.)

These thoughts led me back to the Psychology Office. If the exam wasn’t in my office, maybe it was somewhere in the General Office. But where? Logic dictated that I look again in everyone’s mailboxes. But I looked already--didn’t I? I decided to look again, more closely this time. What about the prof with all those SAS envelopes in her mailbox?

I pulled the stack of envelopes out, looking closely at them. I saw one envelope had a sticker with the name of the student I was looking for, and then another one envelope from the same student. Both envelopes were hand-addressed to the other prof. Wha--? This one student couldn’t possibly have written two exams for that prof at the same time. Looking more closely, I saw the sticker on one envelope had a different course number on it, and the sticker on the other envelope had my course number on it. There is was: the lost exam.

Whoever had hand-addressed the envelopes at SAS had put the other prof’s name on the envelope containing the exam meant for me. It was simple human error. I was just relieved it wasn’t my errror.

My record still stands: 22 years without a single lost exam.

Why aren’t you studying?

The Reading List (Summer, 2016)

I'm always reading something. Over the spring and summer, there's more time to read. I'm trying to make a dent in the stack of books I have. I thought ebooks were great (less clutter in my office!), but they have a downside (more clutter on my iPad!). Although I usually listen to podcasts when I'm commuting, sometimes it's nice to change it up and listen to an audio book. The Edmonton Public Library has a great selection at low cost.

Steven Levy has been one of my favourite technology writers since I read Hackers (1984) about the early computer counterculture, which he released online for free. Insanely Great (which is not free) is his account of the development of the Apple MacIntosh. I haven’t used a Mac in 25 years, so why would I bother reading this? First, it’s like stepping into a time machine back to the early 1990s, remembering what computers were like. Floppy disks--ha ha! Plus, Levy tells a great story, and he was there--interviewing insiders at the time.text
Think Like a Freak collects some of the most interesting stories from the Freakonomics podcast. Author Stephen J. Dubner is a great storyteller, even if I have heard the stories before. (Er, twice before. Not only did I hear the stories in the podcasts, I ended up reading this book two times for some reason. It seemed awfully familiar...) Don’t believe the title: it won’t "retrain your brain" or change the way you make decisions or solve problems, but you’ll encounter fascinating stories about the hidden side of eating contests, Van Halen’s strange M&M’s requests, and the bizarre research on stomach ulcers. haven’t I been aware of Jim Gaffigan before now? I mean, his dad-humour is right up my alley. Heck, I could help him write his material. (Or, well, I could just steal his jokes. Whatever.) I played the audiobook (read by Gaffigan himself) in the car and my kids loved it--starting with the title: Dad is Fat. Ha ha! Funny! (I wasn't sure if my kids were referring to me or not.) You may not find this book funny if you’re not a dad, or if you’re not a kid, or if you never were a kid. But you should at least watch his Hot Pockets routine on YouTube.
I’ve said before that Neil Gaiman is probably my favourite fiction author. The Graveyard Book was published way back in 2008, but I wanted to wait until at least one of my kids was old enough so that I could read it to her. The beginning is a bit grim (the best fairytales are, and it is Gaiman after all), but it’s not a horror book. It’s about kids being resilient and not giving up in the face of adversity. The Graveyard Book won a bunch of literary awards, and deservedly so; it is not a book just for kids. My 11-year-old loved it.
The Brain: The Story of You is the companion book to the PBS series The Brain with David Eagleman. You might be wondering what I’m doing reading a popular book about the brain. Don’t I know all this stuff already? OK, yes I do. But I want to see what neuroscientist Eagleman is up to, and how he presents the workings of the brain to a general audience. It’s not bad, but it’s not revolutionary, either. There’s a bit too much of “your brain does this” and “your brain does that.” Um, I am more than just my brain. Maybe it’s a subtle distinction between “I woke up” and “my brain woke up”, but it’s a meaningful one. Let’s not reduce ourselves to just being our brains. (Would you say, “my brain was eating lunch” or “my brain was having sex”?)
Tony Biglan is a behavioural scientist with decades of experience working in prevention research and public health. With so many seemingly overwhelming problems facing society, it’s enough to make you think that finding solutions is hopeless. This book will convince you otherwise. The Nurture Effect shows that behavioural sciences research has proven effective (both in terms of efficacy and cost) in reducing antisocial behaviour and substance dependence. It will take changes in individuals, families, and social policy, but there are evidence-based solutions.
Have you read anything good lately?

No? How about reading your textbooks then?
Why aren't you studying?

What I Did on my Summer Vacation (2016 edition) Part 2

Last time, I wrote about part of my summer vacation in Florida. This time: Disney World. (Hey, it was a big, long, expensive trip. I’ve got to get at least two posts out of it.) Did I mention it was expensive? The poor exchange rate really hurt my wallet. Add to that the fact that Disney tries really, really hard to separate your money from you. Whatever Disney-related item you desire, you can get it--clothes (including costumes and all kinds of hats), mugs, toys, kitchen utensils, cookies, decorations, and various miscellaneous collectibles. I’m pretty cheap, but the huge Disney Store in Disney Springs managed to break me down: two Star Wars ties and a pair of, er, boxer shorts. I'll be wearing the ties this term; they're not too flashy, so you'll have to look closely. No, you won't be seeing the boxer shorts, sorry.


Our hotel (Art of Animation) was nicely themed, including our small Little Mermaid-themed room. Unfortunately, being a cheap room, it was far from the main building and bus stop. How far? My Fitbit calculated it to be 0.6 km away. That’s Disney World: lots and lots of walking.

A pretty typical day in Disney World.

I was looking forward to the Star Wars attractions in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We waiting in long lines to meet “Kylo Ren” and “Chewbacca”. Maybe they were the real thing, I dunno. (I called Kylo Ren a big jerk before running out the door.) Character greetings and autographs are a big thing these days. There are long lines for princesses, especially Anna and Elsa. But the worst was Joy and Sadness, from Inside Out. We waited over 90 minutes to meet two oversize stuffies in a lineup full of impatient, screaming children (not my kids, incidentally). My favourite movie of the year so far is Zootopia, but aside from a Nick Wilde character in a parade, and a small display of character sketches in Animal Kingdom, there was nothing to see. (Marketing opportunity, Disney!)

 This is one of the nicest pics I took.

There are always ups and downs when you travel with kids. Especially if one is a really picky eater, who doesn’t like scary (read: all) rides, and develops a pain in her leg so bad that you have to rent a toddler stroller in the Magic Kingdom. OK, so mostly downs. Luckily, I have another child who is a real trooper, eats almost anything, and has energy, patience, and tolerance. And is probably a better parent than me. So why bother traveling? You hope that by escaping your usual surroundings you see the world differently; you share experiences (for better or worse) that bond you together as a family. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, there are moments of joy and wonder--like watching your kids’ tired eyes light up when the Main Street Electrical Parade goes by.

Sadly, this parade is ending in October, 2016.

Of course, I didn’t spend the entire summer in theme parks (thank goodness). After spending so much time and money on our big holiday, we cut back on other things--not as many trips to the lake as we usually take. (Upside: pleased to see that Sylvan Lake has an actual beach now again. Downside: Aspen Beach at Gull Lake is overrun by wasps--avoid.) We were going to skip K-Days completely--how can that compare to Disney World? Except Rachel Platten was a featured performer this year, and I have two daughters who completely love her. So we had to go after all--in the rain. At least I got to have my annual deep-fried Twinkie. (All photographic evidence of that has been destroyed.)

Because you'd rather see a picture of Rachel Platten than me eating a Twinkie.

All of these fun things were squeezed in between work, of course. I’m not on vacation from the end of Spring term to the start of Fall term; I’m just not teaching. As usual, I updated all of my courses based on feedback from students last year. I spent a lot of time clarifying things that the data (from assignments and exams) indicated were particularly difficult to understand and apply. (See? Your term work does more than just contribute to your final grade.) I also did two textbooks reviews for publishers, giving them feedback on what I liked and hated in new textbooks they’re working on. I also applied for and received a grant to do...well, that’s a post for another day.

There were a couple of things that made me a little grumpy over the summer. I’m trying to get over that, I really am. I’m excited--a new term is starting, my classes are full of enthusiastic, energetic, hardworking students. What could go wrong? Well...I guess the Internet flaking out, freezing the classroom computers on the first two days of class...that could go wrong. Aaaaand, I’m back to being grumpy.

I'm a little grumpy. Get it?

Why aren't you studying?

What I Did on my Summer Vacation (2016 edition)

I guess the biggest news is that my eldest daughter, being of the appropriate age, went to Hogwarts. Well, actually, the whole family did--to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at The Universal Orlando Resort, that is! (Oh, and we went to that other resort in Orlando, too.) A big trip like this takes a lot of planning (and money, ouch!), but making it even harder was the fact that my wife and I tried to keep it a secret. We worked up "invitation letters" to Hogwarts for both of our daughters, and only delivered them a month before we left (not by owl, sadly).

The dragon breathes fire every 10 minutes. Nice and warm!

If you're any kind of fan, the Harry Potter-themed areas of Diagon Alley/London (in Universal Studios Florida), Hogwarts/Hogsmeade (in Islands of Adventure), and the Hogwarts Express train going between the two are mind-blowing. The attention to detail is amazing. Of course, we all had (frozen) butterbeer. Frozen, on account of the temperature being around +40 C every day. I'm not used to that kind of heat, whew!
There goes USD$7.00!

Naturally, my Potter-obsessed daughter had to do the wand-choosing ceremony in Ollivanders Wand Shop. A small group of people are allowed into a back room of the shop, and there's a brief spiel with some special effects in which the wizard guide randomly chooses one member of the group, who then tries to match the person with the right wand. If you are chosen, you do NOT get the wand for free; you still have to pay for it. It told my family that, if anyone in the family is picked, we are, under no circumstances, going to pay USD$50 for a plastic stick. And what happens? My Potter-obsessed daughter was chosen. She looked up at me with big puppy-dog eyes, and my heart melted, and I said, "No!" (It didn't melt all the way.) Lucky for her, my wife allowed her to buy the wand. Goodbye money!
They have surprisingly many expensive plastic sticks.

Of course, there are so many other cool attractions. Men In Black Alien Attack. The Simpsons. Dr. Seuss. The Hello Kitty store. I have a particular fondness for the Terminator 2: 3-D ride, formerly called T2: Battle Across Time. My then-fiancee, now wife saw that attraction when we were last in Florida 20 years ago. The Despicable Me-themed Minion Mayhem ride was really cool. One of the Universal hotels has a character breakfast with Gru and a minion. You can see that Gru is very happy to meet me! (I do a pretty good Gru voice. I told him that I was Steve Carell. He was impressed.)
Gru with "Steve Carell".

I'm also a huge Back to the Future fan, and was happy to see a DeLorean time machine on display. It is not, as is reported in some places, the B-car. It is one of several stunt cars. How can you tell? Check out the Mr. Fusion. See how tall it is? That was never in the movies--it was part of a botched restoration attempt years ago. Still looks pretty cool, though. (I contributed to the Kickstarter-backed OUTATIME documentary. If you love DeLorean time machines, you have to watch it.)
When this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you're gonna see some serious shit.

Aside from the extreme heat, and even more extreme cost (did I mention that everything is expensive?), there was another thing I didn't like: crowds. Wow, it was elbow-to-elbow everywhere. To mitigate this, however, I relied on the super-useful Touring Plans website (and their appropriately named app, Lines). There a lot of data and science behind it: the travelling salesman problem, bin-packing problem, evolutionary algorithms. Really cool stuff. They predict how busy each park will be, and also give you an estimated wait time for each attraction. I found it to be a lot more accurate than anything reported by the theme park itself. Totally worth the small amount of money they ask for a 1-year subscription.

Looks like I have to get to class. See part 2 for the rest of the trip. (As if you aren't jealous enough already!)

Why aren't you studying?

The Classroom Software (or, IST Screws Up Again)

In late May, I got into a snit over IST’s decision to revoke University licensing for Adobe software, including Acrobat DC, which I constantly use on a daily basis. (Brief summary: the decision was done without consulting end users, gave 4 days’ notice, and was announced in the middle of term at the end of a Friday; I had to shell out several hundred dollars to buy software again that I had just bought.) I complained loudly and bitterly. (This led to an discussion with the VPIT--well, until he ignored the email I sent him on May 30th. Am I that big of a pain in the butt?) My hope in raising a fuss was that IST wouldn’t make a blunder like this again.

Guess what?

With 8 days to go before Fall term starts, a message from IST was included in an Employees-digest email that everyone gets. It announced some relatively minor updates, but ended with this:
-All centrally managed university lab and classroom computers were updated to Microsoft Office 2016, except when teaching requirements prohibit the ability to upgrade.
In other words, basically all classroom computers have already been upgraded from Office 2010 to Office 2016. No warnings, no announcements, nothing. IST has a listserv, called ITpulse. This lists just about every IT-related update on campus, from UWS to servers to front-end systems. I went back through it to see if I missed any announcement on this. Nope, nada.

What’s the big deal? Let’s go back a few years, to August 27, 2009. Here’s an announcement made by AICT (Academic Information and Communication Technologies, the precursor to IST):
This is a notice that we will be installing Microsoft Office 2007 on all
the Smart Classroom computers effective Friday, August 28.
Sound familiar? With less than a week before classes started, they foisted an unannounced upgrade on end users. Worse, PowerPoint 2007 broke almost all of the media embeds in my presentations, which were created in PowerPoint 2003. I only discovered this breakage in class, trying to get my slides to work. I must’ve seemed like a clueless newbie, futzing with the computer, trying to get things to work. On at least one occasion, I had to end class early because things were so broken. I had to go through every single one of my slides, testing to ensure they worked. That’s thousands of slides, and many hours of work. Thanks for nothing, AICT.

Why did I have such problems? Here’s the thing. The software installed on my computers is exactly the same as that running on classroom computers. That’s why I currently run Windows 7 with Microsoft Office 2010. If something works on my computer, it should also work on the classroom computers. If anything breaks, I figure out how to fix it on my computers first, so that I can also fix it in class as quickly as possible. This way, I minimize disruptions and wasted time in class.

This exact situation happened in September, 2015. An update to Adobe Flash ( broke PowerPoint presentations with embedded Flash. I reported this problem to Adobe, but I couldn’t wait for them to bring out a fix. Fortunately, I was able to find an independent way to fix the problem and the impacts on my classes were minimal.

When I’m up to my eyebrows prepping for the extremely busy Fall term at the end of August I don’t have time to buy and install new software on all my computers, and check all of my (thousands and thousands of) slides again. Some advance warning would have been nice. Not 8 days warning, mind you. Maybe, “We’re going to upgrade Office. Here is the timeline so you can prepare.” Or even asking opinions in the first place, like, “We’re thinking about doing this. What do instructors think?”

Maybe I should be more proactive? How’s this: on April 29, 2015, I sent the IST helpdesk an email asking if they were planning on updating classroom computers to Windows 10 and/or Office 2016 (support ticket RITM0065916). The result? No plans to upgrade Windows or Office. Maybe I should send that request every year?

“IST” stands for Information Services and Technology. Once again, they’ve shown that they are having difficulty with the “information” aspect of their name. Open? No. Transparent? No. Responsive? No. More than anything, they--once again--remind me of Mordac, the Preventer of Information Services.

I'm not, by nature, a cranky person. Or an inveterate complainer. I work hard--really hard--and spend a lot of time creating a certain level of in-class experience. I like using technology, but I don't ever want it to get in the way. IST, perhaps despite their best intentions, is getting in the way. When there's a technical glitch in the classroom, they don't have a face a class of 300 students--staring at them, disengaging, losing interest--I do.

Just to prove I'm not all about the complaining, I have a constructive solution. Maybe IST could set up some kind of committee or consulting group about these kinds of classroom issues. I'm assuming they don't have one now, if they do, they need to work on consultation and communication. I make a lot of use of classrooms, typically teaching eight courses per academic year. I'd be the first to apply for a position on such a committee.

Update: 8/25/2016 @2:53
IST has responded. This was part of the response:
In regarding to the timing of the communication, efforts were initiated earlier this summer to develop a communication plan and inform campus of the upcoming changes. The intent was to communicate the changes in early July to allow professors to test and adjust course material accordingly. Clearly, IST did not effectively communicate these changes in a timely manner. Please accept our sincere apologies.

The Awards: 14 (part 2)

I appreciate the feedback you give, and I read all of your comments carefully and think about them deeply. Then, I have a stiff drink and write this blog post. (OK, I read a funny article about evaluations first.)

I’ve got so many comments, I had to split them up into two posts. I’ve already done part 1. Here we go with part 2, for Winter term, 2016. All three of my courses were awarded Honour Roll with Distinction (in the Department, 6 undergraduate courses were placed on the Honour Roll, and 18 on the Honour Roll with Distinction--congrats!). Thanks!

I copy-n-paste your responses from the PDF summary I get (soooo much easier than typing in all your hand-written scribbles in previous years), and I don’t correct spelling or grammar. Well, not unless someone's paying me to correct spelling or grammar. Careful: someone may have written some sarcastic replies below.

PSYCO 104:
“With the reading the whole text book, it gets very overwhelming and almost impossible”
(Well, there’s your problem. In this course, I only assigned 9 chapters (plus the appendix), not all 17. No wonder it was almost impossible.)

“Very thorough material coverage, and easy to follow. The instructor is obviously good at what he does :)”
(Thanks :-)

“U rock lopelman”
(Oh, come on! You spelled it wrong! It’s y-o-u, not U. Also, it’s L-o-e-p-e-l-m-a-n-n.)

“Kirsten was an awesome instructor! He kept me engaged with his humour, while still exhibiting his knowledge. He was born to do this job. Very impressed.”
(Thanks, I’ll pass your comments along to Kirsten.)

“This instructor does not cover much stuff in the textbook during the class notes, but his exam has 50% knowledge that comes from the book. That is unfair to some students who dont purchase the expersive textbook. Also, he does not give any practice questions for midterm and final. I have no ideas what will be on the test. Unbelievable instructor.”
(So, “unbelievable” in a bad way? Yeah, the textbook is expensive. You could buy it used. I also put a copy in the reserve reading room for you--that’s free. I actually do expect students to read the textbook; it is a “required” reading. So I can understand that, not having the textbook, you have no idea what will be on the exam.)

“The proff is good at explaining the concept and is quite hilarious sometimes but his exams are hard and you have to have a throughly understood the concept to be able to apply but if you looking for an A it might be hard to get”
(What? An ‘A’ might be hard to get? What is this university coming to?)

“The instructor was very condescending in his lectures which decreased my motivation for the class.”
(That is a pretty serious accusation. I would agree that my responses to students’ comments on this blog are condescending--duh. But in my lectures? Except perhaps when I am deconstructing pseudoscience, I do not show patronizing superiority. Instead of a vague claim, I challenge you to support that with clear and specific evidence.)

“Also the instructor looked like a comedian who was bombing for the majority of the semester as most of his jokes received silence.”
“The instructor is unbelievable funny and expands on concepts well!”
“The prof was really funny and made lectures more interesting.”
“I believe that the course was interesting and the instructor was great and funny and made re learning easy.”
“he was funny, charming, and obviously knowledgeable and enthusiastic about Psychology, and his lectures were informative and entertaining.”
“Loved the course and the Prof! The jokes and different things during lectures such as memory tests or videos in class was great!”
“I loved all of his jokes (most of which are "dad" jokes- but good ones).”
“Appreciated the enthusiasm, videos, interesting anecdotes and jokes.”
“Dr. Loepelmann was an amazing professor and made a lot of jokes to keep you interested in the material, I would highly recommend him.”
(So...the silence must mean that everyone was laughing internally. Also, I’m not a professor.)

“Posting powerpoint notes would help”
(Would help what? Help make it easier for you? Try Googling “desirable difficulty.” Oh here, just read this Psychology Today article. Now I’ve turned it into a teachable moment.)

“Please make the midterms cover all the material.”
(OK, so you want 1,000 questions on the midterms and a 10,000-question final exam? Agreed.)

“If the required reading from the textbook were made clearer that would be helpful, so we know which information is important for the exams.”
(Well, there is a list of “Required Readings” on the syllabus. Or do you mean that the textbook is unclear? If it’s the latter, I’ll just make sure they rewrite the textbook.)

“Not providing any practice exams on which students can base their expectations and tailor their studying is a cruel joke. It should be mandatory for every professor to provide at least one practice exam per test for every course. It is ridiculous to expect students to magically know how a test is going to be presented and study appropriately for it without any outside knowledge on the format, or style of potential questions, of a midterm or final exam.”
(Yes, it IS a cruel joke. I cackle all the way back to my haunted lair, and then I caper about gleefully some more. Of course, I do tell you about the format of the exam, both in the syllabus and in class. And I tell you that the clicker questions are representative of the questions on the exams. There are also those thousands of practice questions on the McGraw-Hill Connect website. And lastly, by the final exam, I hope you would have seen the two midterms, and gotten some gist of what the questions are like from that.)

“The professor seems very robotic in his teaching, as though he is reading off of a teleprompter. Sometimes it is hilarious in its rigidity, sometimes it is mindbogglingly boring. It would immensely improve the professors teaching if he introduced some spontaneity into his lectures.”
(OK, next semester, no PowerPoints! In fact, no lectures! I’m just gonna talk about whatever enters my head. Kind of a stream-of-consciousness thing. Should be high-larious. Oh, but the exams are also gonna be like that, too. Buckle up!)

“Maybe allow for questions during cl****time
* Inappropriate words were found and removed from this response.”
(Er, wow. You really don’t like clickers, do you?)

“It would be nice if you had more than 1 viewing of the exams once they were marked.”
(You can view your exam during the TA’s office hours, too.)

“Don't give me fill in the blanks online. I payed for the course and you should give me the course that I payed for, regardless if I can come to class or not. Punishing students for getting pneumonia and skipping class isn't helping me come to class, it just stressed me out.”
(Your paid for the course, so if you get pneumonia, I should come to your house and bring you soup. And lecture notes. Or maybe you should ask someone else in class--there were almost 400 other students. Or should just ask me for the lecture notes and I’ll give them to you.)

“Dr. Loepelmann's notes for the course were very informative and clear. He used information from the textbook, and I believe that his exams were fair for what he taught us. He was very interesting to listen to, and I enjoyed going to his lectures”

“I do not believe that the final should be cumulative because it seems ridiculous because we have many other exams to study for and much of the material would have already been tested on the other two midterms so I believe it's a poor choice and adds stress for students who are already stressed out enough”
(After you graduate and have become a doctor, or lawyer, or engineer, do you think that your patients, or clients, or customers won’t ask very much of you? Will your boss worry about all the stress that you’re feeling? I could make the final exam non-cumulative. Heck, I could do away with the final completely. Heck, I could do without exams altogether--no, wait, I can’t. GFC policy says so. Nevermind.)

“Prof is so great! Super funny, engaging, and keeps the matter interesting. Would love to grab a beer & converse w/him outside class (in a very very "youre interesting and I think our conversation will be interesting" kind of way)”
(That’s the only way I would want it to be. I’m a married man.)

“If this doesn't work out he should narrate Children's movies.”
(If that’s a job offer, I accept!)

PSYCO 282:
“This guy is a beauty! one of the better pysch profs I've ever had. Clear notes and engages us in class by leaving blanks to fill in. Keeps it interesting with funny videos and jokes are corny but appreciated. GIVE THIS GUY AN AWARD”
(OK, OK, tone it down. Someone is going to suspect something, mom.)

“The notes for this course weren't made available to us unless we came to class since they were filled in the blanks. And it was hard when you'd miss a class or you'd just miss a section just because you looked down for a second and by the time you realize you missed it, he turned to the next slide. I feel he should make the notes available (blanks all filled in) after each class so we have them to study for. Especially because it can be hard and causes immense anxiety having to ask someone beside you for multiple blanks.”
(As I explained in the first class, I leave time at the end of class for students to come up and get any words they missed here and there.)

“The lights being low in the class was frustrating and made it difficult to focus, read, write.”
(This was the worst thing about teaching this class. There was an almost even split between those who wanted all the lights off and those who wanted the lights on. I realize that if you’re writing notes on paper you need more light, and if you’re using a laptop you prefer less light. Turning on all lights also washes out the slides and makes them harder to read. My plan is to talk to somebody about rewiring the lights to turn off more in the first couple of rows, but leaving the rest on. Thanks for your feedback on this.)

“Overall, a pretty effective class, the couple of complaints I has is that one time when I emailed the proff, I was asking for clarification on how that first part of the selfmanagement project should be completed, and he replied back with saying he can't mark it before hand. I felt less comfortable to talk to him after that. I also wish that proff would give some type of reminder's to complete assignments during class, when classes get really busy, even when I am organized and have all my due dates written out, they can sometimes slip my mind.”
(Some students send me email with their answers to the self-management project, asking, “Is this right?” In all fairness to the other 299 students in the class, I cannot “pre-mark” your answers, telling you what’s right and what’s wrong. If I do that for you, then I’m obligated to do that for everyone else, too. Not only do I not have time for that, but everyone will just keep sending me their answers until they’re perfect, which makes the assignment meaningless. And I DO give you reminders: I set up a Google Calendar (and an eClass calendar) with all the assignments. It will send you an email or text (your choice) before it’s due. But you have to subscribe to the calendar for that to work. You’re welcome.)

“I really loved that you (Prof. Loepelmann) showed us examples of products and services that could be used to apply behaviour modification principles. I personally bought the Kitchen Safe and it has helped me immensely to decrease how often i perform certain behaviours.”
(Argh. I knew I should sell some of those Kitchen Safes in class.”

“So I waited till the end of class, to fill in this survey even though you gave us 15 minutes to do it. Just to see how it really turns out. So on Monday, which is today, the course ended with half a video, you simply turned off the projector without any thing to say, like as in "we will finish the video next class" or "see you next class". I observed that you were upset that there are people leaving class early, which might have given you the feeling that students are not interested and were disrespectful. But the fact is, people still sitting in that class till the end, either are interested in the video or is respecting you. Simply, turning it off without saying anything feels like you dont give a sh*t because the surveys are in. Just because some students disrespect you does not make it reasonable to disrespect everyone in your class. Every class would have students needing to leave early because they might have another class which starts with a quiz or a test, or some just have to leave because of personal reasons. Of course, there are some that leave because they just dont care. But as a professor, you are required to keep a better attitude. Its a part of being professional.”
(Hmm, cagey of you. Look, as soon as your surveys are done, I don’t suddenly turn into a jackass. I wanted to show as much of the video as I could, trying to fit it all in (it sucks if I have to split it up between classes). I went up to the last possible second, and then turned it off. Usually, I would say something like “We’ll stop there for today” but most of the class was already on the way out. If this bothers you so much--and makes me appear unprofessional--I’ll make it a point to have a wrap-up comment.)

“Please pick me for W.A.Y.S. Blog comments :)”
(No. Stop asking.)

“For the self management assignment, I found it difficult to figure out a good reward system to use.”
(What about a chocolate-chip cookie? Everyone likes chocolate-chip cookies.)

“Give us practice exams.”
(But in the textbook, there are over 400 practice test questions, and over 700 multiple-choice quiz questions--not to mention the 240 additional multiple-choice questions that I put up on eClass. There are only 50 multiple choice questions on each midterm and 120 on the final. You want more practice questions?)

“Dr. Loepelmann is able to take something very complicated and simplify it so that anyone can understand it and then slowly build it back up to allow you to understand it clearly even in its most complex form. His approach to teaching is obviously very finessed and professional. Everything was so organized and planned that at times it even felt like we were laughing at his jokes on cue.
The only thing I did not like is that he would take about 10 minutes from about 70% of our classes to do iClicker questions which were not worth any marks. They were pretty easy and covered material that we had just learned moments ago. This might be more effective if he asked questions about the class prior to refresh our memory rather than the current class if he insists on keeping his iClicker portion of class. Even with the time set aside for those questions, he still covered everything we needed to without rushing so it wasn't a huge deal.”
(Laughing on cue? I’d call it antecedents-behaviour-consequences. The thing about applying active learning is that it does take away from valuable class time. But if cutting down lecturing and doing something else instead helps some students learn some of the material better, I’m willing to do that.)

“The best professor I've ever had. He kept the material interesting, even the drier subjects, and he answered any questions I needed answered in a very clear and respectful manner. I would take another class with him in a heartbeat. I felt the mid-terms were fair and the self-modification assignment was beneficial for this class as well as my own life. The class reached far past merely elarning information for tests and actually helped my own health and life.”
“One of the best Psychology professors I've had over the years. Use of iClicker was very helpful and I wish more professors would use this technology so they might be able to better gauge exactly where the class is sitting in terms of understanding the course material and even more it is helpful for students to gauge exactly how well we understand the course material.”
“Keep doing what you're doing Loepelmann. It is refreshing to have an instructor who is enthusiastic in their lectures and enjoys talking about them. The iclickers are also a great way to interact with a class as large as this one and can really help clear up confusion on some of the finer details covered in the lecture. In many ways, I think a lot of other instructors should probably sit in and perhaps take a lesson from your style since it is both enjoyable and a well structured learning environment. The tests are incredibly fair as well, focusing on how to differentiate and apply the concepts we've covered in class, when and where not to use em as well as how. This is a much preferred test format (in my opinion) to straight up memorizing tiny details from various sections. Keep up the good work.”
“I took PSYCO 104 with Dr. Loepelmann and loved the class and of course, the instructor. I've decided to take PSYCO 282 with him again and it really has all the features of a great course: 1. Very interesting topics, even for students with minimum Psychology knowledge. 2. Simple content yet require a good to great understanding to score high in the exam. 3. Great assignment project - applies concepts from the course and research. 4. The textbook is very interesting with so many examples that are easy to understand. 5. integration of videos and iclicker participation to make the class less dull (mental break?) 6. Learning objectives are SO GREAT. Students know exactly what they should focus on and expect in an exam. (Unlike so many other courses) 7. THE BEST INSTRUCTOR EVER.”
“I really enjoyed this class, the professor cared about his students' success and placed an effort into simplifying the course material and making the class a fun and enjoyable class.”
“I HAD SO MUCH FUN IN THIS CLASS. I would miss it soooooo much. It's highly applicable and I literally use it in so many situations. I was able to cope well in this class even though it's a 200 level class, and I'm in my first year. The project was amazing and useful and I benefited from it. A lot. The prof explains things so clearly, and those fill in the blank notes are great, I wish all my classes could have them! He's fair in marking.”
“Dr. Loepelmann is a great professor! He was very enthusiastic and intriguing while lecturing. I enjoyed the material taught and how there were blanks missing, this made it somewhat easier to pay attention in class. Also, I believe the self-management project was a good addition to the workload because it helped me learn how to apply material learned in this class. I didn't like how the textbook readings were a requirement, but the textbook was a good resource for additional explanations and examples if there were any uncertainties.”
“Congratulations Dr. Loepelmann, you singlehandedly dethroned the current "top psych professor and class" in my books. I have no words but praise, this class provided me with learning tools in the most enjoyable and engaging manner. I have never tried to access you outside of the lecture, so I cannot really comment on your availability outside of class. Although I'm sure there would be no issues, if I did need help outside of class. It was a pleasure, I'd take more of your classes if I could. May the force be with you and your future classes.”
(Aw, you guys! Thanks! Also, I’m not a professor.)

PSYCO 494:
“This course has a greater workload compares to other 400 level psychology courses. It contains two assignments (one in-field assignment and a research paper with a min. of 12 pages), midterm, and final exam!”
“The work is hard, but it ensures that you get a full understanding of the material. As much as I disliked the way I had to study for the exams and also the amount of work the papers took, it definitely helped me learned the material in a way I have not been required to through the rest of my University education.”
(I agree with both of you.)

“The paper for the course was due on the last day of class and it's very easy to procrastinate since it seems like forever away until the day actually comes. Maybe have a midpoint deadline where you have to have half of your paper done by that date or something like that to motivate us to start it earlier.”
(Learning to avoid procrastination is an important skill that will serve you well for the rest of your life. You really need to work on that. Try Mindtools’ Beating Procrastination page. Based on your feedback--and what’s been happening--I am going to do things differently in the coming term, requiring students to formally submit their term paper topic to me halfway through the term.)

Why aren’t you studying?

The Awards: 14 (part 1)

It’s taken a while, but the Department has finally gotten around to posting the Honour Roll with Distinction for Fall, 2015 and Winter, 2016 terms. (Better 8 months late than, er, never?) This post just covers the Fall, 2015 term.

All three of my Fall courses somehow managed to be placed on the Honour Roll with Distinction. For context, there were 10 undergraduate courses awarded the Honour Roll, and 17 on the Honour Roll with Distinction. Clearly, there are a lot of really great instructors in psychology; I’m honoured to be in such good company--even if it did take this long to find out. Anyway, I have a backlog of comments to go through. (Beware: my replies just may be #unfiltered.)

PSYCO 282:
“Dr. Loepelmann is awesome! Highly recommend him.
However, sometimes wastes class time to show videos that aren't all that relevant/important to the material. I don't need to watch 5 min videos of screaming children or how to toilet train a cat.”
(The screaming child video was 2 minutes and 10 seconds. I did not show a video how to toilet train a cat. I have standards, you know.)

“I trained my cat to use the toilet with the knowledge from this class”
(Sure, but what about your screaming child?)

“Course was okay. Format of notes was kind of annoying. Concepts are dry at times. Please show more videos in class.”
(OK, I have a whole bunch of screaming children and how-to-toilet-train-a-cat videos.)

“Though the tests were difficult, I was very grateful that the instructor was very understanding and accessible, answering questions promptly and made me feel more comfortable and confident for doing better in the course, thank you!”
(You’re welcome!)

(That’s all? Just “yes”?)

“Where does that course pack come into play for the course? You haven't really mentioned it when you were teaching the chapters.”
(The ethics coursepack reading ties in to my lecture on ethics. The willpower reading ties in to my lecture on willpower. If you read the syllabus, you’ll see that they are both “Assigned Readings.”)

“It was a little bit scuzzy to take the mandatory text from a company he works for.”
(I do make a full disclosure about that in the first class. I also reveal that I do not get *anything* from the publisher for choosing that book: No money, gifts, nothing. Not even a pen or a coffee mug. I chose that book because I believe it is the best book available for this course.)

“Also, while I really liked the course website, I wish commonly referenced things like the syllabus was on eclass as well, in order to make it a bit simpler to get to and find.”
(Getting to my website and the syllabus takes two clicks from the eClass page.

“You're course website is very well setup and helpful”

“I found that the use of examples using people with disabilities sometimes portrayed those people in a negative and incompetent light. It made it seem like all of those people need to be fixed or trained to comply using behaviour modification, which at some times I found inappropriate and frustrating. Both the in class content and the text had issues with this for me.”
(I understand. The goal of behaviour modification is to help people improve their lives, by giving them skills and abilities that allow them to lead more independent lives. If you work with people who have a significant disability, you’ll see how much of an improvement this can make.)

“The course markings I believe are unfair. There are multiple instructors teaching the course in the same semester and their marking styles are very drastically different. I enjoyed my teacher and the class structure however, the class average for my midterms was 10% lower than the other 282 class taught this semester. As the tests are made by the profs therefore this difference does not reflect that one class in on average smarter than the other. It reflects that one prof made the examinations more difficult than the other prof. I truly believe that my prof taught the material very well but his examinations were at a higher level and therefore does not make the faculty of psychology look fair and regulated. It allows certain students to reap the benefits of a non curved class based on their schedule availability to get in a class with an 'easier' professor. In my opinion, this does not help students learn and frankly is unacceptable for a university as a lot of other courses and departments regulate the midterms in a more academic and advanced way. Events like this make me unlikely to encourage prospective students to enter the faculty of psychology.”
(The instructor of the other 282 section was teaching it for the first time. We are not allowed to grade on the curve, so it is difficult to set the cutoffs for grades--especially the first time. I've only taught this course five times myself, which is not a lot. The class median grade has been B+ four times (and a B once). When you took the course in Fall, 2015, the median was B+. GFC wants the median in second-year courses to be B. If anything, I should be worried about grade inflation--not that I'm being too harsh in the grading.)

“The marking for the self-management assignment wasn't very fair... There was a 20% class average difference between two different markers every time, yet Dr. Loepelmann didn't do anything about it”
(In calculating interrater reliability (yes, I actually do that), there were only trivial differences between the markers--certainly not a 20% difference. I addressed every student concern that was brought to my attention. In many cases, the student’s mark increased, although on two occasions I deducted more marks.)

“I would love if the notes were able to be downloaded in PDF format and available on eclass. I would also like the notes to have more colourful, visual pictures.”
(I specifically do NOT use PDF format, because it is less flexible than HTML. You cannot resize text, for example. I limit colour because of previous complaints that my notes were costing students too much in terms of coloured ink refills.)

“More time should be spent on the self-management assignment. I felt really unprepared because we were given ZERO instructions on how to do it.”
(In the lectures, I explain what a target behaviour is and how to measure it. I explained how to find research papers. I explained dozens of different kinds of behaviour modification procedures, what they are, and how to apply them. I explained how to create a bmod graph (and provided instructions online explaining how to create a graph in Excel). I explained all about antecedents and stimulus control. I explained self-management, as well as generalization and maintenance. All of these things I explained directly apply to the self-management project. With these tools, it’s up to you to apply them to your behaviour; I’m not going to hold your hand. That said, I did answer literally *hundreds* of emails during the term, helping students with their project.)

“I had Dr. Loepelmann for PSYCO 104, and was very excited to have a course with him again. He did not disappoint. He is very thorough in his coverage of the material, and is good at explaining it in ways I understand. It's clear he is very knowledgeable about what he is teaching because he is able to explain it simply. He seems to really care about the quality of instruction we are receiving, and tries - and succeeds - at making the material fun and relatable. I appreciate the amount if effort he puts into his lectures and the amount of additional background research he does instead of just repeating the textbook. His exams are challenging but they are very fair. I really appreciate the many opportunities to assess my knowledge outside of exams with all the various practice quizzes and review questions he provided. I'm really excited to learn more about behaviour modification and apply it to my own habits. I heartily recommend him to other students”

“I find that I am demotivated to write notes further then the fill in the blanks. It's more helpful when I am consistently writing during class because it keeps me focused and engaged. So in the future leave more information out of the notes to encourage students to make more notes”
“I found that blanking out his notes was incredibly insulting. It's juvenile. Instead of paying attention to what he is saying we are scrambling looking for the "fill in the blank" in his notes, and that really takes away from the course”
(You don’t *have* to use my fill-in-the-blank notes, you know. You can write down as much or as little as you like--it’s up to you.)

“The time it took to mark assignments was excessive (Sometimes 20+ days after the submission date). Receiving feedback one day before the next assignment is due is not acceptable. How are we supposed to grow and learn from our mistakes in one day?”
(I agree. The next semester after you took the course (Winter, 2016), I changed the way the marking was done to decrease the feedback cycle time. Feedback time was much improved.)

“Great job on making a somewhat dull course and dry material interesting with many videos and real world examples. It is evident how much effort you put into creating this course. You are the type of instructor that makes me proud I study at the U of A.”

“Terrible style of teaching. I really hope you do something about this prof. You can't read slides for a term and think students will learn anything. Might as well made the notes accessible online, and then I'd never even have to go to class. Complete waste of money.”
“This class was the most boring class I have ever taken, if it did not fulfill a requirement, I would have never even considered it. Did not enjoy the content of the professor.”
“No, perfect class”

PSYCO 403:
“Although I have comments that I would like to make about the course, for fear of ending up on your blog, I will keep my comments to myself.”
(See what I did there? In all seriousness, constructive feedback is welcome. I respect and welcome your opinions. I don’t post every single comment I get, and they’re all completely anonymous.)

Check out part 2!

Why aren't you studying?

The New Colleague (Again)

In 2010, Dr. Doug Wardell, who regularly taught the Department of Psychology's very popular courses in abnormal and clinical psychology, retired. Even though there was funding for his Faculty Lecturer position (obviously), after he retired, the Faculty of Arts did not provide funding to hire a replacement--which is kind of strange. (There have been a lot of budgetary ups and downs over the past decades.)

After a few years, though, funding did come through. The Department went through the arduous hiring process, and we found a great candidate. Unfortunately, literally the day after the offer was made to her, the Government of Alberta introduced their infamous slash-and-burn budget that brutally cut funding to post-secondary education. Understandably, the candidate said "no thanks" and did not join the University of Alberta.

The next year, we went through the process again. And then again the year after that. It's not easy to find someone who has clinical qualifications and also wants to teach. (Plus, you don't become a university instructor to get rich!) Happily, last year we were able to find someone who was in the process of graduating and we hired her. (In an it's-a-small-world twist, she was the wife of an old friend of mine from high school/university days.) Unfortunately, she was presented with a great opportunity elsewhere, and only taught for us for one semester. So...back to square one.

Going through the hiring process is not trivial. An ad has to be worked up and approved. You then get applications from people from all over the world (including some people with no psychology qualifications whatsoever). A screening committee has to do their due diligence and read through every one of these (cover letter, teaching statement, teaching evaluations, sample syllabi, multiple letters of reference) to come up with a shortlist. The shortlist is then scrutinized by the actual hiring committee. A small number of candidates will be invited to give a talk, a sample lecture, and be interviewed. Doing this for the third time is exhausting.But, third time's the charm, apparently. (No endorsement of superstitious beliefs is made or implied. Void where prohibited.)

I'm happy to introduce the Department of Psychology's new Faculty Lecturer, Dr. Jay Brinker. She comes to us from Calgary via Australia. (Don't hold the Calgary thing against her.) Dr. Brinker will be teaching courses like PSYCO 239: Abnormal Psychology, and PSYCO 335: Introduction to Clinical Psychology.

Please give her a warm welcome!

In other news, the Department also has a new Chair: Dr Chris Sturdy. He's not new to the Department, which is a good thing. There are deep, divisive issues facing the Department. Dr. Sturdy is going to need all the help he can get. I'm glad to see that he's prepared himself well over the summer, er, spending some time in Hawaii. Hey, everyone deserves some rest & relaxation before they get chewed up and spit out. Um, what I mean to say is, Good luck, Dr. Sturdy.

Why aren't you studying?

The Calendar

Although I've written about my use of Google Calendar before, I want to revisit this topic to clarify some things, help you use it better, and offer a cautionary tale.

I am still using Google Calendar a lot. It helps me keep track of where I need to be, where I am, and where I was. Yup, where I was. Like, when was the last time I saw my dentist (Dr Xing Wu, highly recommended, BTW) for a cleaning? I look it up in my calendar. Last oil change? Look it up. Last haircut? It's all in there.

But most of the time, I don't actually go to

Although the events in my personal calendar live somewhere in Google's cosy cloud data centres, the calendar itself can be accessed as a standard ICAL (.ics format) calendar. That means you can use whatever app you want to access your Google Calendar--or any other publicly accessible calendar.

For example, in addition to my personal and family calendars, also I subscribe to CanadaHolidays. To see my calendars on my phone, I use Calendars 5 by Readdle, which shows all of my personal and subscribed calendars. On my computers, though, I prefer to use Thunderbird with the Lightning Calendar add-on. Or, yes, sometimes I go to Google's calendar website. But I don't have to.

Subscribing to a calendar is not hard. You just need a link to the ICAL URL. Here, Google tells you how to Add someone else's Google calendar, if you're using Google calendar yourself. No? S'ok, there are also instructions on how to Sync calendar with a phone or tablet (Android or iOS). One of the greatest strengths of subscribing to another calendar is that you can get notifications of events via SMS texts or email.

For a few years, I've been creating a custom calendar for each class I teach. You can subscribe to it, and get notifications of exams and assignments. Useful! If you don't use a calendar app, or don't subscribe to the course calendar, well, you won't get notifications and will have to rely on your brain.

Here's the cautionary tale. This past term, despite information on my syllabus, in Bear Tracks, in eClass, in my course calendar, and even in an email reminder I sent out, a student missed the final exam, thinking it was the next day. Oops. Your Faculty is not going to approve a deferred exam for that reason, and you will end up getting a zero on the final--and maybe even failing the course.

Why not just figure out how to subscribe to calendars? If any of your courses don't have custom calendars, you can manually enter important dates and events, set up your own reminders, and never miss an assignment again--or a dental appointment.

(I've written a bit of Javascript that updates the calendar icon on some of my course pages. Now the icon will show what day of the month it is. Sorry, it doesn't show the month. Or the year. You're on your own there.)

Why aren't you studying?

The Software Licensing (or, Thanks for Nothing, IST)

I got this message in my email today from IST (Information Services and Technology), which at first I thought was from Mordac the Preventer of Information Services:


You have been identified as an individual who has purchased or installed Adobe Creative Cloud, Acrobat DC or the Adobe work at home license through the Adobe Enterprise Term Licensing Agreement. Due to rising licensing costs for Adobe’s Creative Cloud software suite, Information Services & Technology (IST) has decided not to renew the Adobe Enterprise Term Licensing Agreement.

As a result of this change, you are required to take the following action by May 31st:

If you have installed a license through the Enterprise Term Licensing Agreement (ETLA) these installations will no longer be in effect after May 30 and must be uninstalled from your computer. This includes purchases and installations of Adobe Creative Cloud, Acrobat DC and the Adobe work at home license.

In order to comply with Adobe’s end of license terms, IST must receive confirmation the above outlined Adobe products have been uninstalled by May 31.

Please provide confirmation through the following link: Yes, by submitting my CCID I confirm all instances of Adobe Creative Cloud, Acrobat DC or the Adobe work at home license purchased or installed through the Adobe Enterprise Term Licensing Agreement have been uninstalled.

Content stored in Adobe Creative Cloud, Acrobat DC or the Adobe work at home license will not be accessible after the license expiry date. As such, important files should be downloaded prior to the expiry date of May 30.

For more information on the above licensing changes, please contact IST at or visit
So, seriously?

Literally in the middle of term, at the end of the day on a Friday, you send this out? I have to uninstall Acrobat from my home and work computers in 4 days? Seriously?

Yup, this will result in “significant cost savings to the university.” But, hey, so will cutting off our connection to the Internet. Or removing all computers from campus. Think of the savings.

Although you consider keeping Acrobat on computers in the Knowledge Common is “still providing access to core users,” that's not really true. Every time that I need to use Acrobat, I've got to walk from my office to the basement of Cameron Library, with a USB stick? Yeah, that's “providing access”...I guess. But then, setting up a computer with Acrobat for us to use somewhere in Stanley Park behind a tree would also be (technically) “still providing access.” LOL.

The alternatives you mention in your blog post do not include alternatives to Acrobat (the only Adobe software that I use). What do you recommend instead of that? I need something that has excellent usability, is cheap, will work with all my software, and won’t get in the way of my workflow. Oh, and I need it by, um, May 31. (Speaking of your blog, it’s curious that you do not allow comments to be posted on your blog. You do get what a blog is, right? Not just a data dump, but a forum--a place where people can share ideas. But then, you’re not big on the whole back-and-forth interactive discussion thing, are you? Never mind: Rhetorical question.)

Once again, you've gone ahead and made a decision without consulting the stakeholders--at all. The first I hear about this is a notice to remove this software from my computers? Not cool. You have a history of doing that; I shouldn’t be surprised. But then, in making a decision like this that impacts so many users, you must have thought through all the implications. Right?

You do know that some units on campus essentially require the use of Acrobat, right? Like SAS? I have to submit my exams to them in PDF format. Well, nope--not any more. Maybe you could break the news to them that instructors are no longer able to use Acrobat. (Do it soon, though. I have two students writing a midterm on Friday. It’s, you know, the middle of term.)

I know, I know: I'm not forbidden from using Adobe Acrobat or anything. I just have to hurry up and buy licenses for my computers: 1 university office computer, 2 home computers. I'm on the hook for $500 now. Um, explain “significant cost savings” to me again, please. (Also: I just bought new Adobe Acrobat DC licenses for my computers in November, a mere 6 months ago. Do I get a refund for those? Can you understand why I'm upset? Can you?)

So, in sum: A poor decision. Made in a poor fashion. Presented poorly.

Thanks for nothing, IST.

The Teaching Schedule

One of the most important aspects of my job is the classes that I'm assigned to teach. This really defines my life for that whole (4-month or 6-week) term, and what I do in advance of that to prepare for my assigned courses. So: important. This is how it works. In the summer, people in each research/teaching area have a meeting to discuss what courses will be offered, and who wants to teach them. I’ve been put into the Comparative Cognition and Behaviour group because I teach the high-demand PSYCO 282: Behavior Modification course, even though my other courses fit into different research/teaching areas (perception courses are part of Behaviour, Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience, and my human factors & ergonomics course is closest to Cognition). We don’t plan for the academic year that is about to begin, but for the year after that. (Yes, things are planned over a year in advance. There are implications of a professor taking a sabbatical, for example.)

In August, I submit my teaching preferences. However, as the term progressed, I realized that teaching two 400-level courses (Advanced Perception, and Human Factors & Ergonomics) in the same term results in a really high workload for me, because I do most of the marking of the short-answer/essay exams. So I asked that, in 2016/2017 my Advanced Perception course be replaced by PSYCO 367: Perception. The response: Sure, no problem. However, things are not a simple as that.

Many factors have to be considered by a department when deciding what courses to offer. Are there enough sections of each course satisfy demand? Are there too many sections? If someone is going on sabbatical, who is available (and capable) of taking over their courses? And then there’s the pecking order (I hate that term, but the only other alternative I could find was “dominance hierarchy,” which doesn’t sound right either).

Here’s how it works: professors get first choice of what to teach. Then come Faculty Lecturers, and then everyone else (i.e., other Contract Academic Staff: Teaching or “sessionals” and graduate students). This means that if I want to teach a certain course which has low demand, but there’s a professor who also wants to teach it, I’ll get bumped. It’s happened before a few times, like in the upcoming Spring term. In addition to PSYCO 258: Cognitive Psychology, I asked to teach PSYCO 367, but there’s a professor who wanted to teach it, so I got bumped. There’s not enough demand to fill two sections of that class. So then I asked for PSYCO 104. Strangely, though, I did not bump out the sessional who had been assigned to that class. Instead, the department created a new PSYCO 104 course section. This is pretty unusual to do--there is really not enough demand for two daytime PSYCO 104 sections (plus one night class) in Spring term. OK, well, whatever. (I want to be clear that I am not happy to “bump” any of my CAS:T colleagues. Work is hard to find, and the economy is not great. Costing someone a teaching assignment is not my choice; it’s the way Department policy works. I would be perfectly happy teaching Perception and Cognitive Psychology every Spring term, as I’ve done for many years, and not bumping anyone.)

Last week, I finally got access to my 2016/2017 teaching schedule in Bear Tracks--after students had already been granted access. I was shocked to see that the 300-level perception course was not on my schedule, but the 400-level advanced perception course was--and there were people already registered in it. What the...? So this time, I got bumped again--even though there is enough demand to support two sections of PSYCO 367 in Fall term. Clearly, there is some inconsistency in how policy is being applied.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not going to hate teaching Advanced Perception. I like it. But I had been spending my extra time since September working on developing PSYCO 367 instead. I wanted a year to rethink and restructure Advanced Perception. (I’ve been developing a new lecture on Illusion, Magic, and Perception, which is really fun--but it won’t be ready for this fall.)

So, what about my preferences for what times and teach, and in what rooms? Don’t get me started.

Why aren’t you studying?

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