The Life of a Wannabe Academic

Detail of the life a new academic. The progress from graduate training to professor. Includes reflections on the job hunting process, research in technology and education, and what it is like to be a new college professor.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

I forgotten interest...

At the beginning of the school year I was informed that a new class in our Instructional Design and Technology program was being offered, an advanced Computer Based Instruction course. I had taken the first course about 2 years ago. In this class I learned how to use the software Authorware. This is a package that allows for relatively powerful interactive software programs to be built with little or no background in computer programing. It is basically drag and drop. I learned that I enjoyed doing this and developed a small program in this first class.

After I finished this class though I did not return to using it because 1) I was busy with other grad school stuff, 2) there were only 2 computers on campus with the software, and 3) the software is pretty expensive for personal buying on a grad student's salary (about $600).

I did not buy it because of it being so expensive and I also felt I did not have enough skill to do what I would want to do with it (I needed to do quite a bit of more 'advanced' stuff with my first little project). But now I will be learning more scripting which should allow me to do what I would like to, so I bought the program with the assurance that I would use it extensively.

My primary use right now would be to build a study system that would be available online to students in psychology classes (questions, notes, note-taking ability), that is similar to the system that I have used in my research that would built by my advisor. Because I am about to embark into my own career and must begin to be more independent of my adviser's study system, I have begun to start development on my own study tool system using Authorware.

This involves a lot of preplanning and thought into how I want this to look. Luckily, in my first CBI course we were forced to do this preplanning including planning documents, storyboards, and logs of media and elements used in the program.

I plan to develop something similar to what my advisor has created, but I want also to try to incorporate some other elements. Things such as interactive online notes (notes with links to information on the Internet, if this is possible, and areas for the student to annotate using their own computer and storing these annotated notes for future use. With more and more schools issuing laptop computers and wireless access in classrooms, students could annotate notes on their computer rather than downloading them and annotating the "old fashioned way" with a pencil. Both options could be available, but I would like to see if it would be used at all.

I think it may also be able to make a dynamic type of online questioning, basically forcing students to focus on content areas where they perform more poorly. This may be a second or third version however as I can foresee this being a quite involved process for one person to program.

But through all of this I am remembering how much I enjoyed doing this. This activity is something that I am spending my weekend free moments doing. It is work but also I enjoy it. Now that I have dedicated myself to building this system, I hope that my investment will pay for itself in the research that I could potentially produce.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What are we here for?

In our school's student paper "The Dakota Student" there is an interesting op/ed piece (but aren't they usually with student newspapers!). This piece, however, struck me at a more personal level than most. This student was writing about the now allowed school policy to enforce and grade on attendance (before this semester we could not grade on attendance). This student felt that this was unfair and that it would hurt students because now they will be forced to waste time attending classes when they could be using this time for other more important things. One argument that the student gives is that students will not be able to take as high of course loads because now the time available will be sucked up be sitting in a class.

This student also goes on to say that the instructors here at UND are antiquated in the way that they view a college education. He states that most students go to college, not for an education but for a degree. Unfortunately, I do believe that this might be true. Many students, I feel, are focused on getting through the requirements to get a degree and then get a good job to get money. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but for me it doesn't use the time in college wisely.

For me the college experience should be more than just getting a degree. It should be about expanding one's mind, understanding, and horizons. This is why many institutions have a general requirement program. A liberal arts program that basically forces students to receive an education about fields that are deemed important (English, writing, history, social science, physical science, foreign language). If done well a liberal arts program will be able to have instructors who integrate these fields and show the student why they are important for them to know even if they are an accounting major. Unfortunately, I feel that this mission is not completed because instructors focus more on their individual field, than attempting to show how this information might be useful to the students, not just for their career, but for life in general.

Colleges and universities are increasingly being based on more of a business model and less on the idealistic vision of what a university stands for. I understand that this idealism may not be able to be seen through in real life, but I do believe that we need to avoid viewing universities just as places that hand out pieces of paper if you give the right amount of time and money. The end product should be more than that.

This is why I gravitate toward institutions that have student bodies that have this same viewpoint. I'm not sure that UND would like to admit that it promotes this view, but it does not seem (in my experience anyway) to really encourage students to do more than enroll in some classes and get a degree. Many students do not live on campus, and it does not seem that many students are engaged in the different students organizations (beyond Greek societies). I notice less of a community feeling here than when I attended my Alma matre St. Thomas. Students at this smaller private school appeared to have more of a stake in their school beyond just the sporting teams. There were active organizations and the classes that I took were designed to educate, not just to pass on information about a field.

So this goes back to my question, what are we here for? Are the days of the college/university as an institution of learning, education, and growth becoming just a place to get a degree? Or are we here for more than that? To help develop adults into lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and people who will work to serve the world and not just themselves. Obviously you will be able to tell from my words here where I fall...perhaps I am just an antique myself. I hope not!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

YouTube as an educational tool.

Like many others of my generation, YouTube has become a source of entertainment. Where else can you get videos of people getting tazzered, wannabe pop singers, and cartoons? But what I really like about this source is its potential as an educational tool.

If you look hard enough and go past the fluff, there is some worthy information that can be found on YouTube. I find this a good source to look for videos to demonstrate concepts in my class on relatively short notice. For example, this actual home video of a young child is a great demonstration of conditioning. I have also found Nova footage of their show on Genie the Wild Child which I plan to show during my Developmental Psychology class this semester.

I am unsure as to what copyright laws might be in effect, but for those of us who want to give our students a free source to look at or to show in class, YouTube can be beneficial. I have even found an excuse to show scene 5 from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (the witch scene for those of you who don't have the movie memorized) in my abnormal psychology class when I discussed witches. It's amazing how much of the scene is based on actual ideas. There was a theory that witches were supernaturally light and you could weigh them to test if they were a witch. What a great way (I thought) to spice up a typically boring section that (yikes!) tries to teach history to students and its application to the more interesting topic of psychological disorders. It might have been a stretch, but I think it worked.

In any case, it seems that this forum may be of use to educators, even though YouTube has been getting a bit of a bad rap because of recent events involving people posting beatings.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

On Adulthood and becoming a "Grown-Up"

Today I began my second job teaching a course at Northland Community and Technical College. This semester I have been hired to teach a section of developmental psychology. I have taught this class before and have most of the material as far as lecturing in hand. However, what I enjoy about teaching at NCTC is the different population of students. There are much smaller classes (less than 25 in my class), students of all ages, students of different cultures and background, and not a psychology major in the mix. This presents to me some unique challenges in that I feel that I need to be even more prepared to teach this class.

By this I mean that I wish to employ much more in class activities, discussions, and out of class assignments than with my first class (60+). Today I started with the usual first day introductions and course procedures, but then went straight away into the material covering the various philosophical debates that are common in this field (are people good or bad, nature vs nurture, global vs context driven development, and so forth). For classes that I plan to use discussion (which are quite a few when the class is small enough) I start off the first day with discussion. Get the students used to talking to each other and giving their ideas.

Unfortunately one of the most interesting discussions in this class for me personally will not be held until after the mid-term. This is the discussion of when adulthood begins and adolescence ends. This has always been of interest to me, primarily because my population of interest is the college student (typically on the cusp of these two categories).

For me personally I have found that I view being an adult and being a "grown-up" as different. This is probably due to what it meant to me as a child to go to or ask a grown-up. I see my self (finally) as an adult, but not as a "grown-up." For me being a grown-up means that you have the answers to all of the important questions, that you can engage in things without asking for permission or worrying about consequences, and generally being this being that you can go to for all of your needs. For me, I do not feel this way. I feel I am adult. I no longer feel that I can depend on my parents for monetary support (though I know they would be there if needed). I no longer feel that I have limitations on me because of my age (I can freely drink in a bar, buy cigarettes, drive a car, and rent a car). I also feel that I am fully responsible for myself, and for my family.

However, there are things that I thought of what grown-ups had that I do not. I do not know all of the answers. I may not be completely reliable. I have my faults. I do worry about the consequences, and I still need permission to do things. Think back to when you were a kid. Many of us felt that we wanted to be adults because of all of the things that we could do then (go to bed late, come and go as we pleased, buy big expensive things, not have to ask for permission to get a cookie). But now most of us who are adults will yearn for those childhood years. We had so little to worry about. No cars and their problems, no mortgages, no debt, no spouse to check in with, no aging parents, and no daily chores (at least not on the scale that we as grown-ups need to deal with).

I have come to the realization that there are probably very few true "grown-ups" in the world as I have described. And I think that not many people would identify themselves as a grown-up in this regard. As adults we know that we are fallible, we make mistakes, we don't know all of the answers, and we can be unreliable. But we tend to try to hide that from our children as a form of protection. They look up to us as grown-ups, even if that is not how we view ourselves.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Windshield Time

This is a phrase that I have heard around the department, usually referring to the Clinical students who need to travel long distances for their placements. This is time that is spent in the car reflecting on what you have just read or learned about. Time to think because, there is little else to do as your are driving (except of course to pay attention to the road, but around here they are pretty flat and straight). This past weekend I had some "windshield time" as we were driving down to the Cities to meet some high school friends of my husband's. He was tired and trying to sleep, so I get to drive and let my mind wander. I cannot recall all that I thought about (it is a 5 hour drive) but I remember thinking that I should write some of them down in my blog.

One thing that I do recall is thinking about my personal philosophy of teaching. I've needed to think about this quite a bit lately because I am currently on the job hunt and I have been asked to clarify what my personal teaching philosophy is as I am focusing my job search on schools that focus on an undergraduate education. One thing that I often find interesting is how different people can be in their philosophy of teaching. For example, my husband and myself are quite different. I tend to be more accommodating, give students the benefit of the doubt when they ask for extensions on tests or assignments, and to believe that the more help that I can give (online notes, voluntary quizzes, study sessions, one-on-one tutoring, etc.) is how I view my job, as a facilitator, not just a disseminator of information. My husband (he is not a teacher but is an instructor pilot in the Air Force currently) takes what I would call a more traditional view of college teaching. Little flexibility, and tends to think that most students will try to get out of course work through excuses. In my own experience, I have had very few excuses turn out to be untrue. A few but in general students, at least around here, tend to have quite a bit of integrity as it applies to course work.

Now don't get me wrong, I think that he would be a good teacher (he has taught me quite a bit about flying) but all I am saying is that we have different philosophies. I tend to be more student centered, he more instructor centered, but perhaps this is our differences in training (college vs. Air Force). What I usually find interesting is how most students will adjust their learning and relationship with an instructor based on how the instructor views teaching and instruction. Students are very savvy and know by now (in college) how to act in each case.

One other thing that I spent time thinking about is how people change after high school. Because we were going to see some of Caleb's high school friends I thought about this. I had just recently had my 10 year reunion this fall. It was a strange experience...I went in with a bit of dread. I did not really remember liking high school that much and I was not sure if I would have a good time at my reunion. For me it would depend on the people that were there. Luckily for me, many of my old friends had made it as well. The strange part for me was when I first saw these old classmates, I was thinking "Wow! So and So has changed quite a bit." But after some conversation, it was like being back in high school. I wasn't focusing on the exterior as much and found that most people were pretty much the same, just a bit more grown up and adult.

For me I had imagined that it would be like speaking to strangers because I had not spoken to most of these people in 10 years. But after a little of uncomfortable small talk we would begin to reminisce on high school experiences, and that stranger went away and my old friends were there again.

For me my high school reunion helped me to remember that High School was not all bad and that I had quite a few friends and good experiences. This year I have been in touch with my high school friends more than ever (even when I just left for college). I think the most interesting was seeing what everyone was doing for a living. We have the whole spectrum in our little class of 75: An engineer who travels the world for work, a combat veteran, preschool teacher, factor workers, a MN Viking employee who does the communication between coach and QB, a person with a mountain in Antarctica named after her family (Majerus Mt), and me a PhD candidate about to (hopefully) become a college Prof. Most still live in the state, but several have moved to other states as well.

So the lesson for me during this reunion is that people change over time, this is evident, but they do not change as much as you might think. Some change more than others, but in general the good people that I hung around with in high school were the same core person.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A New Year and a New Semester

Happy New Year! 'Tis the time for a new start and to start working on those resolutions that we have made for ourselves. For myself, I have the same basic resolution as every other year, be a better person and live a healthier life. For me this has translated to starting up my healthy eating habits that are put on hold this time of year and once again attempting to have a more consistent exercise schedule. I'm usually pretty good in the Summer, with lots of walking, biking, and running. All outdoor activities. It is the cold months that my activity really drops because I dislike working out indoors. I get bored easily, but I really must get back into the habit and start some of the cold weather sports (ice skating, skiing, etc). But this has been hard to do as the weather has been unusually warm in ND this winter. We just finally got snow last Saturday, and today we lost some of it to 40 degree weather and rain....yes rain!

Along with a new year comes a new semester. The usual beginning of the semester activities are occupying my time: prepping a new course, finalizing syllabi, organizing my Blackboard site, and organizing my office space. But this year feels a little different. I sincerely hope that this will be my last semester at UND as a graduate student. This feeling is much more real this year than it was last year when I was also searching for jobs. This year I know that I will not have the possibility of staying in school another year as I did last year. This will be my last semester as a student! Hard to say what this feels like. A bit bittersweet I suppose. I've been a grad student now longer than I was ever a college student, but I do not really feel like "just" a graduate student as my activities are basically those of an instructor (teaching courses, mentoring some undergrads, conducting research of my own). It'll be interesting to experience what it will be like to be Dr. Christopherson. I wonder if it will even feel any different.

As far as that goes, I merely need to finish my dissertation. My dissertation is mostly writen and I am in the process of outlining and organizing my discussion section. I have created a timeline for myself to insure that I will reach all of my deadlines. My goal is to have my dissertation finished and defended before I leave for my vacation to Hawaii (this will be my little graduation gift). So this means that I need to have a full draft ready for my advisor by 15 Jan. I hope that I can reach this deadline. I want a reasonable amount of time for criticism and revision.

After this I need to have enough time for my committee members to put in their input and comments and more time for revisions. Timing can be very important. You need to give your committee members adequate time to read your paper and to give thoughtful comments, and then you need to give yourself time to look those over and make changes. Finally, the Graduate School requires certain paperwork in at certain dates in order to graduate on time. If you miss them it can be a long petition process to try to graduate when you want. Finally, after all revisions are made, the long process of formatting begins and is really the most frustrating part of all - at least in my experience. You feel that you are done, and then you need to change your margins, the type of page numbering, tables of contents, and so forth.

So the first part of the semester for me will be busy primarily with dissertation writing and revising, further prepping of my Abnormal Psychology class, and begining data analysis on a couple of research projects. Hopefully during this time I will also have a chance to travel to interested schools as a prospective faculty member. A busy semester, but I wouldn't have it any other way!