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.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Preparing for the first round

Well it is week four of the school year and you know what that means....times for tests and evaluations! Yeah! I have my first exam in my General Psych class on Friday and I am trying a new format. I have a mixture of different types of test items (multiple-choice, matching, short answer, and short essay). I do this because of 1) a smaller number of students (35 vs. 220) and 2) because I hope to be able to test more effectively. Hopefully this goes well and there is not too much trouble with time limits (There is a class in right after mine in the room). The students did get a pool of 8 possible essays out of which 2 will be selected to be on the exam so hopefully they will have already answered the question and will not need to devote too much time to writing and organizing during the test itself.

I also get to be observed by my department chair on Wednesday for my 4-week new faculty evaluation. All should go well and I'm not too worried. I just hope that I don't get nervous just because he's in the room. I don't think I will, but then I never know. This is not meant to be really evaluative in the sense that my job is on the line, it's more or less just to keep an eye on new faculty and give them some feedback early on in the semester.

Otherwise nothing really new to report. I am just trying to keep up with course work and improving my classes at this point in time. I hope sometime soon to continue on some of my research projects (like writing up a ms and entering some very old data that I've neglected for the past year).

Friday, September 07, 2007

A trying week

This week went well, but it was probably the 'reality check' week for me. Firstly, on my Web morning class I managed to push over my coffee and spill it on the podium (where there are electronics I might add). Luckily nothing major got wet (thank God for cup covers!). Then at the end of the class period I went to hand them their homework assignment and found that I had made no where the number of copies I needed (I later found the extra copies in my office). I did have it available online though.

Also through the class period my computer would not project on the screen. I try not to be a "death by PowerPoint" type of person, but my handwriting is so bad that it is really necessary for me to use it. So I needed to write notes on the board. No big deal there, but I was worried about my computer being in trouble (also not coffee related, it had been acting up prior to the big spill).

I called computer services and it turned out that my Motherboard was dysfunctional. So I had to relinquish my school computer to them to be fixed (luckily Gateway Guy was on campus that day). This is also a day to be proud that I am a bit of a Geek and bring both of my computers to work (school and personal....there are different programs on each one). So I was able to continue doing work.

Those were the unexpected parts, the other trial was the realization of how much work it will be to do grading for my 3 classes. I had a short paper (1-2 pages) due in 2 classes and a 3 page worksheet in the other. How can I forget how much time grading takes?!? But it is for the good, I found out that my Gen Psych students need a refresher on operational definitions and that my Dev Psych students actually appreciated the extra reading I had them do.

So it is the end of my second week. Starting to really get the hang of stuff here. I'll maybe go to my first sporting event (Football) this weekend.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Digital Natives v. The Faculty

I work in a college where everyone is issued their own laptop computer. I learned today that we are on a four year cycle for upgrades. For me I am a lucky one and I got a new Gateway. But with new computers comes new software. No the college has not switched to Vista, not yet. But we do have Office 2007. If you are familiar with Office 2007 you know that the interface is vastly different than the previous versions of office. This difference was brought up today in a faculty meeting.

A faculty member asked if there was to be a workshop in using the new Office. His concern being that the version of office on his computer (2003) and the version on his freshman's computer (2007) were so different that he did not feel that he could adequately address any problems. A legitimate concern. However, another faculty member spoke up and stated that in her class the assignment given to make a document, save it as a certain file type, name it a certain way and attach as an e-mail, that not one of her students had any issue with the newer software.

This reminded me of a term used in educational technology fields of "Digital Natives" (see Prensky's writing:,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf). This is the issue of the students who are arriving in schools today have grown up with technology and working with technology. They are native to the way it works and also prefer to learn by doing.

An example....When I got my new computer with Office 2007 it took me the better part of an hour just figuring out how to print from a specific printer and to save as a different file format. The tool bar so well known to Word users is completely reinvented. I had to relearn where everything was located. I am probably what would be considered a digital native even though we did not have a computer right when I was born. But I believe it was early enough to warrant myself being called a native. Others might call me a digital immigrant. I still prefer to read from real paper and to hold a book in my hand rather than off of a computer screen.

But others who might be of an older generation are not used to the dynamic means of learning new technologies. They may be more apt to want to learn from a book or in a orderly linear fashion (hence having a workshop on Word 2007). Digital natives would be more likely to learn just by doing and playing around with the program until they figured it out. Why waste precious time reading the owners manual...the technology will soon change anyway, so just learn by using it.

Anyway, I'm not sure how much stock I put into the Digital Natives vs Digital Immigrants. I think that some of the characteristics of immigrants (such as printing off e-mails) have something to do with physical comfort (it's hard to read a lot on a computer screen). But you do have to admit that kids today are very good at learning how to use new technologies with little outside help.