Category Archives: Dumb things I do

Better Conference Presentations

So as a tenure-track newly tenured library person, I tend to think a lot about how to present better. I would never say I am an expert presenter, but if you combine my teaching with my presenting of my findings, you would see that I do quite a bit of presenting.

Here are my tips for conference presentations.

  • Test, test, test again. If you plan on playing any sort of video, make sure that you test the sound. Test any graphics that you are going to use. Test your Powerpoint to make sure all the fonts have come over. Over time I’ve been less and less reliant on internet widgets.
  • Back things up. I tend to bring my laptop to presentations (in case there isn’t a laptop in the room) with my presentation downloaded onto the desktop. I save my presentation onto Dropbox, and email it myself. I also bring it on a flash drive. I also save my presentation in both ppt and pdf form in case the formatting gets messed up.
  • Keep it simple, or have a backup plan. Videos sometimes don’t work. Internet is spotty in conferences. I like to keep things simple. Versus using something like Poll everywhere, just have participants raise their hands, or vote via thumbs up and thumbs down. If you want people to respond, put the prompt up on the board and have them do so via worksheet.
  • Remember that your audience is TIRED and OVERLOADED. I want to imagine that conference participants are more attentive, but that’s a lie. I’ve learned the hard way that if you want people to remember something, you need to say it more than once. As part of a recent conference I even said it three times. If you have a complicated idea, make sure to slow down and explain it.
  • Watch your breath and volume. I first started presenting as a Girl Scout camp counselor so I would call my presentation style “VERY EXCITED TO BE HERE” When you are very excited you tend to speak very fast. Speaking very fast is not a good way to confirm that people have heard what you have to say. So try to take breaks, try not to fill every moment, and try to find a balance between talking loud and fast.
  • Bring your business cards. I think that this is great way to connect with people. Sure, they could probably find all of the same information online since when you present they do know your name, but I find that giving someone your card is a great way of making a little to-do task that they should contact you. People assume that just because people have a lot of questions for you that many people will follow up with you about collaborations, questions, sharing, but it’s really not the case. You want to try to find some way to encourage them.
  • On your last slide put a question for your audience. Often people have their own questions, but having a question can help center the conversation on things that you might be interested in exploring further.

Some more specific tips and hacks:

  • You can embedded animated GIFs into Powerpoint presentations. It makes the Powerpoint very large, but it often a great effect.
  • You can embed a timer into Powerpoint. I only recently found out about this! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuB4YrxWvLQ What if you could start a timer without leaving Powerpoint? How awesome is that?
  • Slideshare is great way to share slides. Often in the past I’ve posted my slides on slide share and had them tweet out as my conference ends.
  • Twitter is a great way to get conference feedback. At larger conferences, I try to pay attention the tweets. Sometimes people will ask you questions, but it’s also interested to see what sorts of conversations grows as you continue your presentation. I do not recommend having a Twitter feed going behind presenters, I find that very distracting because you don’t really have much control that and more specifically it is very hard to respond in real time while presenting.
  • Buy a slide advancer. Most slides advancers work with all sorts of presentation systems. They really allow you to move around. Put it in your purse. Bring it with you. It really makes a difference.

 

Teaching, Talking, and Talking about Teaching

Talking, teaching, and talking about teaching are all very different activities.

When I was in grad school at the University of Michigan I had a chance to work for the New York Public Library as part of their Alternative Spring Break program. The program was wonderful. University of Michigan provided the housing and gas money. I wasn’t paid for the week but I did get to work with such a cool group as the New York Public Library.

I worked for the Bronx branch, which has a beautiful building. The project that I worked in was called “Demonstrating a Dozen Databases”. The idea was that you would learn as much as you could about their library databases and then run a workshop on the databases for paraprofessionals. This was a perfect blending of my interests as a budding business librarian. I got to play around with a bunch of different databases and then tell people about them. There was a pretty clear deliverable. I could say at the end that I had presented to a whole room of people about something that I was relatively knowledgeable about. The workshop was one hour. One hour, 12 databases. I ended up picking 13 databases to trial because I wanted to be thorough. The picture is of me in 2013, but I probably looked pretty similar in 2011.

Thirteen databases, one hour, you can tell where this is going. I wanted to be thorough, so I decided as opposed to doing live demonstrations I would make screenshots. In the end my perfectly crafted presentation was over 120 slides long.

I practiced it. I know how to present in an engaging way. I added jokes. I had lots of outlines. I think I made a handout. I gave my presentation. It fell completely flat. Even I got a little bored listening to myself. It was at that point that I realized that teaching wasn’t the same talking. It was also about considering where your users were, what they could listen to, how you provide that information them. You could be really good at one but not as good at the other. That’s when I discovered a new respect for teachers.

Talking about teaching is its own skill. For a year I was an IMPACT consultant and I spent one day each week talking about teaching, and then going and teaching. I was very surprised to find that talking about teaching is very different from actually teaching. In fact, that’s some of my impetus for doing this blog. I also talk about teaching quite a bit as part of my job.

Talking is about preparation. As long as you are prepared you should be able to talk. Teaching is very contextual to your students and where you are at. As long as you general understand where they are and where they need to be, then you should be able to be successful at teaching. But talking about teaching is all about story telling. The person to which you are explaining the teaching is by definition not in the class where you are teaching. So they need to understand where you are coming from.

 

 

Teaching While Weird

I had a student once who was responding to a question about how he had selected his major within the school of management. He wrote a story about how when he was a kid, he built himself a little tiny cubicle with little office equipment. That’s how he knew that someday he would be an accountant. That’s how I know that students were not the same as me.

As teachers we often tend to lean on our own educational experiences. In order empathize properly with my students, I often try to understand how I experienced things when I was in school. My experience of school was deeply reliant on my experiences as a sort of weird creative kid.

As previously mentioned in this blog, I was mostly a weird human. This is me pictured. I’m hanging upside down on a tree outside my parents’ house (as a kid I spent a lot of time in trees, which is something that happens when you grow up in the Pacific Northwest). I like this picture of me, because it’s a good description of how I feel most of the time; I feel like I just see things differently than other people. Perhaps a little weirder than other people. As example, walking around campus, I often imagine people what kind of pirate people would be.

At an earlier stage in my life, I accepted the moniker of “nerd” and just went with it, but I think nerd doesn’t really describe it. I’m just a really weird person.  I eventually came to realize that the way I see things just isn’t the way that other people see the world. I spent a surprising amount of my time as a teenager trying to prove I didn’t care what people thought of me.

All things considered, now is really a great time to be weird. When you don’t see things like everyone else, sometimes you have ideas that other people don’t know to have. You get branded as a “disruptor” and a “next gen thinker”. At an earlier time in in life, people who were weird probably would not have been very successful, but increasingly weird people end up leading.

My students are often the type of people who care about what other people think. In business that is a really good attribute. If you care about what other people think, then you can do things like better serve people, better understand what they need and design products accordingly. That’s what business is – caring about what other people think.

I’m trying to figure out what it means to teach while weird, and here’s some thoughts

  • Being your weird self helps other people feel comfortable being their normal weird self
  • Being weird does not necessarily mean that you can’t teach well. You have the same skills as other nonweird people.
  • Weird teacher are out of the box thinkers, and we need more out of the box thinkers.

What does it mean for my students who grew up not seeing things weird? The kid who dreamed as a kindergartner of someday having his own cubicle? Weird people will find that they have more skills for compassion than they think. It turns out lots of students have experiences differences than you. As a weird person, you already spend a lot of time trying to think like other people. How can you be yourself as a weird person and also imagine what’s important to these cubicle loving students? What do these nonweird people need? I think you can. Because we need weird people like you.

 

Sugar and Caffeine (and Active Learning)

A student once said to me “Professor Stonebraker, I like your class, but I also feel like I need to take a nap after it.”

As previously mentioned, I really enjoy teaching in an active learning classroom. But I am also aware that active learning is often more challenging than we give it credit for. What we are asking students to do is often to do more cognitively challenging things often in ways that they have not done them before. That takes labor.

The problem with active learning in academia is that we expect the highest most productive output during the times in which students are the least likely to be ready to perform. I teach a class that meets at 8:30 in the morning on a Wednesday. I can tell you for a fact that I’m not at my best at that time of the day, and I go to bed at 9pm like an old person.

There’s a reason why professors focused on papers and take home exams for so long. That meant that students could do the “hard” more cognitively challenging parts of learning at their own leisure. Even if you think you weren’t ready to learn during the traditional lecture all you really needed to do was soak up what was said, write down as much of what was said in hopes that later you would be better able to understand what was said. In that classroom universe, we really aren’t expecting that much more out of our students really data entry during class time. Any more would just be asking for trouble.

Imagine if there was  some of device that would make sure that the students stayed focused and also kept them awake at 8:30 in the morning? Wouldn’t we want that in all of our classrooms?

I keep a candy basket in my office. I fill it mostly with stocked Halloween and Valentines day candy. At times I’ve also used some extra Starbucks stars and gotten one of those cardboard boxes of coffee. You would be amazed how much more awake those students are when they have had a bit of coffee. You would be amazed at how much better they are at doing the “hard stuff” of active learning when they are more ready to learn.

Is this overkill? Should I be encouraging sugar and caffeine in a society where we already have too much sugar and caffeine? Maybe. But the thing about my class is that it exists in one space, not throughout all different times, and I think it’s a little unfair to depend on students to come prepared for before each and every class for a new and challenging learning environment. We ask students to spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks, what’s wrong with buying them a little candy to help them make it through?

 

Spring Break Cognitive Bias Assignment

I’m really interested in how people make decisions, and I think it’s very applicable to information literacy. I wrote this article about it. It’s kinda my thing.

It’s spring break here at Purdue this week. The Purdue academic calendar is really mean to second half semester classes in spring. You start the eight weeks, then immediately go on Spring Break the next week. After the break, I have honestly had multiple students who actually forgot that they are taking my class and forget to show up. The assignment can’t be too much of a burden, since I have only instructed these students for a week and don’t know what they are capable of. This assignment acts as a bit of an introduction among students and also a way for students to apply the concept of bias.

For this lesson sequence, students read the Harvard Business Review Article “Before You Make that Big Decision”. This article is really great summary of lots of different cognitive biases that might happen. Student then select a decision they made as a group that may have been affected one of the biases. The group aspect is really important because I think that decisions are more interesting when you make them as a group. It also allows them to not have to take blame if the outcome was bad.

I like this assignment because I have found that students make all sort of decisions as a group. It usually gets pretty silly and I think the conversations students have are often very frank with each other. It usually builds community while bringing home the idea of thinking through your decisions.

The debrief after break is especially interesting. When students come back, we talk about the outcomes of the decision. Students are asked whether or not they think their decision was good or bad and why. The ‘why’ is interesting because student usually end up in two camps: people who think a decision is good because the outcome is good, and people who think that a decision was good because the process was good. This is actually a big schism in decision science between the two. Often students will ask which the best way is, and the answer is that you need both ways. The decisions-that-are-good-because-the-outcome-is-good people tend to be more scientific, in that they observe what happened and try again, and again and again. That’s how new knowledge gets discovered. On the other side, you would not like to have an accountant, for example, who was an outcome-best decision maker. For those decisions, you want someone who consider all outcomes, crosses every T. Imagine is your accountant would consider your taxes filed if no one sent you to jail for tax fraud. That would not end well for you.

This assignment also a great way to get students to think through their decisions without telling them their way of making decisions might be misguided. That’s not exactly the point. We all make decisions in different ways and in different contexts. Thinking about thinking is crucial.

Assignment Description: Spring Break

The reading “Before You Make that Big Decision” is all about checking biases and pitfalls when making business decisions. But it applies to every day decisions as well.

Pick a type of bias mentioned in the article (self-interested bias, affect heuristic, groupthink, cost fallacy, endowment effect, disaster effect, loss aversion, overconfidence, planning fallacy, optimistic bias, competitor neglect, etc).

Over the next week, look for a time in which you made a decision AS A PART OF A GROUP that may have been affected by this bias. Describe that that situation below, and how that bias affected that decision (minimum 150 words)

 

Leaving space by being my usual not-fitting-in self

Very early in my career, I started thinking about the people who will come after me. I think a lot about how I impact the environment in which I work. I care about leaving that environment better than I found it. I have been blessed by knowing all sorts of really great people who have made the environment better and they inspire me.

Fitting in is hard. Even now in 2018, I found myself sometimes entering all white all male rooms or all baby-boomer rooms and it’s surreal for someone like me who entered a deeply feminized and increasingly millennial profession. In these positions I feel a great pressure to emulate women that came before me. I can feel the woman-shaped shadow that they have left.

Sometimes I can fit into that shadow, sometimes I just can’t. It’s not other women’s fault that I am not them. The legacy left behind can feel as if difference is frozen in glass, like being in this space means you can only be a specific type of person or as a specific type of worker from specific time or place, because great incredible people who look like you were a specific type of person or from a specific type of place.

When you are the first in an environment, the most important part is sometimes making sure that there is still a spot for those people who come after you. In these environments, I think the part where I can be my most effective is if I be my usual weird self. You know, the normal person that I am. With my sarcastic sense of humor. With my own bad handwriting. And my love of pictures of guinea pigs in cups.

I think that being weird is the most responsible thing I can do. Because in the end, it’s the most I can do. I just try to bring my whole self to work, because I hope that if I am as much of my whole self as I can be, then I will encourage others to be themselves as well, or at least the best versions of themselves that they can bring to work. They won’t spend all their time trying to fit into the leader shaped shadows that others have left before them.

Before we start class…

There’s so much theatrics in teaching. Some classrooms have literal stages and podiums. There’s a definite feeling of what should be called the Fourth Wall There’s a moment when the teacher stops being whatever they are before they start each class and then they become The Professor. You can feel it like sharp intake of breath: you become the content at that moment. College classes are bound by space (RAWLS 1086, Purdue Campus), but mostly time. If it’s 8:30 on a Monday, you know that you are “in” MGMT 190 and are “listening” to The Professor.

The interesting part of “class” time is that it’s very fragile and very hierarchical. You are in MGMT 190 from 8:30 until 9:20 only if I, The Professor, say you are. I could cancel class. We could end early. Then the time becomes your own again. I remember in college I had a professor who used to joke that if he ended class early that you should take it out of our tuition checks. We decide their grade, we decide when they have met the objectives; they are to whom we deal the precious As and slap down with the dreaded Fs.

As such, the start of class is very interesting, since it’s ultimately up to you (The Professor) when the class starts and you become The Professor. Of course we know as educators this start is a fallacy. Learning doesn’t stop when The Professor says it has to stop. That’s in fact a great crises in high education: we tell the students “now you learn” and somehow that isn’t enough. Learning doesn’t happen on command. But it can be invited in.

It’s something like this:
Before we start class, I want you to think about the last time you had to use information to make a decision. Where did you look? When did you know that you had enough information to decide?”

Sometimes I do this because I know students are going to be late and the start of class actually is postponed. Sometimes it’s because I want students to answer less formally and think about their lives not as students but as people. It’s a little of a trick to create a space for teaching that has is a little disconnected with the formal space of the classroom.

This question situates the learner to act before the formal confines of the “class” where students “learn”. That’s very important, especially in so-called soft skills like information literacy, because often the spaces where students have to use that information are outside the narrow confines of when “official” learning happens in classroom. We care more, possibly the most, about informal learning as librarians. Like most things in a classroom, this is situational. Sometimes you don’t have the rapport with a group of students to create an informal learning space. After all, creating an informal learning space requires trust, sometimes trust that may have been broke already by someone else. But I think it’s important to think of opportunities to invite such learning.

Researching on Purpose

Filed right behind “Teaching on Accident” is “Researching on Accident”. I never intended to be a researcher either, but I took a job where researching was an important part of the libraries’ mission. I was a history major in my undergraduate, so I knew how to write, but I had never really thought much about social science research: how to do it, why to do it. The type of research that I did for my (two!) undergraduate thesis papers was almost entirely primary documents historical research, mostly at the trusty microfilm machine. I never had to think about human subjects because of all of my subjects were either dead or really, really dead.

I’m a pretty plucky person, I don’t scare easily, and I jumped right into research when I got to Purdue. During my first two years I attended all manner of different programs to better understand how to do research better.

I found the single most important thing in performing research is asking good questions. The research question should:

  • Be interesting to you
  • Help you do your job better
  • Have an answer
  • Be the sort of question where either answer is publishable and interesting.
  • Be sort of scary.

The last two things are the most important. Let’s say you did something really innovative and hard that very successful. You can’t ask a question like “How awesome was that instruction that I just did?” because if the answer is “not that awesome”, what are you going to do? That study is not going to be very helpful to other people. While failure is certainly more interesting than success, I think it’s too easy for people to have multiple reasons for failure, whereas people are much more comfortable with success that is attributed to one single factor.

Questions that are a little scary are even better because that means that they might just a little innovative because innovative questions are almost always scary. Now it’s okay for a question to only be “sort of” scary versus totally scary as you start out because after all you are publishing things outside in the field and you don’t want to research anything too scary because that might make your institution look bad. 

You will find that you were wrong about almost everything by the end of the project. Working and reflecting on something for months has that effect. Don’t be afraid to be humbled. Push through the terrible truth of being wrong. It’s really hard to be wrong, and you can be wrong in so many different ways in the research that you will probably be wrong in multiple ways. Maybe you didn’t read enough of the literature and you missed studies. Maybe the data collection did not go as planned. Maybe you found something halfway through that might have known something. Push through. Projects don’t need to be perfect, they need to be published.

In addition here are some other tips for people getting started.

  • Pick a good team. I personally discourage a project from having more than three people actively managing the project, because I really think by four authors, one of the team members is probably spending most of their time managing the other three members and not really contributing to the project actively anymore. Try to pick people who bring different perspectives
  • Pick a citation manager. You should probably pick a citation manager that is what other people you are working with use. Since it doesn’t really matter which one you choose, it is easiest just to use what is most common in your work area, That just makes things easier. I use Mendeley, most because when I got to Purdue, the people I worked with were using Mendeley.
  • Be nice to the people who administrate human subject research. At Purdue they hold office hours, and they would love for you to ask questions about how to do ethical research. Like librarians, they love to help!
  • Create multiple outputs/exit opportunities for your projects. You should think about different stages where you can abandon the project if it goes awry, so you don’t spend too much time on a project that isn’t that interesting to you. Most of my projects have an initial scoping presentation, a primary resources presentation, a first paper with possible future work and sometimes the opportunity for a follow up second paper building on the first. That way you can take projects as far as you want and then say no.
  • You can do it. You are amazing, your hair looks amazing, ask those hard questions.

via GIPHY

Active Learning: What to do With Yourself

Active learning is amazing in many ways. One of the ways that it is amazing is that it allows the professor to fine tune the brick-and-mortar classroom experiences to really focus on the muddiest, trickiest part of the learning process in a way that you could not before. Student centered teaching shifts the focus of the classroom from the instructor. Students can grapple with the most challenging part of the assignment together, with your help, so that you can really find that spot where student keep getting tripped up and adjust their conceptions, which leads to better outcomes on course deliverables.

The reason it’s so tricky is because sometimes that also means you spend less time lecturing, which being a university instructor, is probably something you are pretty good at. When I stopped lecturing as much in classes, I had even more time to engage with students and make those direct contacts that are so satisfying to you as a teacher. But I also noticed you need to be careful to make sure to design activities for yourself.

I get very bored easily. When your teaching is reactive to learning, sometimes there’s a period where one is pedagogically “waiting for the water to boil”. Waiting for students to learn so I can teach is very challenging. I imagine it might also be challenging for other people. So here are some of things that I do instead in a flipped environment when I might have to spend 5-10 minutes not being the object of attention to get the most of the active learning environment.

  • Do informal assessment. Get out a pen, look around, and observe your students. What are they discussing? What is tripping them up the most? I find this helpful because I often forget as an expert all the things I do easily that my students might not be as good at. I try to use the extra time to assess student learning so I can see overall how the class is doing. I find recording this information makes it more functional to you in the future.
  • Observe inter-group dynamics. My students work with the same group all semester, and I really pay attention to how each of the group is working. Are all students working together, or in two pairs? Is there one student who seemed to be doing all the work and not letting the other students get involved? Is there a student who is on their phone and not helping? Alternately is there a student who might be struggling with the material and therefore left out of the group as they move forward on the assignment? Any of these dynamics might affect the performance of the group and are important to keep track of. Extra bonus is that this was something that you could never observe first hand before active learning; you just had to sort of guess what was happening in the groups or rely on accounts of different students. In class activities gives you a real chance to observe up close what is happening inside the group.
  • Learn student names. Our Blackboard has a feature called “Photo Roster” which allows you print out a picture of all your students. I use this as I quiz myself on their names. It’s a wonderful feeling when you can surprise a student by calling them by name in class. You can do that more often if you take the time learn the students’ names. If you don’t have photo roster, you can also use name tags. This also makes it easier to start associating names with faces, so that when students email you, you know which student is which. I have between 80 and 116 students each semester, so this can be a real help.
  • Prepare the next activity. The more you prep your activities, the faster you can get to them. Enough said.
  • Join in. It’s always good to join a group and actually do the activities that you devise, though I will say that you tend to be faster at them then your students. This does seem to be logical first step, but you also might freak them out a little depending on the activity. But sometimes you can learn new things about your activity and do more in-depth assessment. Or sometimes you can focus your participation in a group where a student might be struggling and help that student keep on task. Also you plan really fun activities, right?

The objective of this post isn’t to say you can’t lecture. Sometimes the best way to tell people is to tell them something all at the same time. Also, sometimes to create a good learning environment, there is some need for storytelling and theatrics. But I think I’ve learn a lot of things by shutting up and watching my student work, and I think this greatly improves the classroom for everyone involved.

Motown, Dubstep and Classical: Using Background Music in Class

Learning is a five senses experience. Playing music is an easy way of throwing sound around as if to say “This is who I am, this is the type of learning environment that I’m trying to create”. Moving around chairs takes time or setting up things, but just by playing music you can create an entirely different environment.

Background music can cause what is called cognitive arousal, which improves mood. Music has been previously explored in the information literacy classroom and has positive correlations between background music and student comfort, retention, and confidence. Music can also increase certain type of perception as documented in the famous Mozart effect. At the same time, listeners should not doubt the fact that they are multitasking and can in some cases harm cognitive performance on tasks.

I have many opinions on music that I play in class. I typically play music in the classroom as students arrive. I teach in an active learning environment, so there’s lots of small tasks, bringing things together, talked about what you should do in small group type of work. I do this firstly because it allows me to check the sound in the classroom.  I then play music often when the students are working on a project, I think it makes clear when one task ends and another begins.

When I first started teaching I used to play music I like. Since I am from Seattle, that is mostly Indie Rock from the early 2000s, but I found that this was kind of really depressing. Also it is surprisingly discouraging when students make fun of the music and it is music that you like. This is also why you should not play music from your childhood.

I switched to Pandora station with a Stevie Wonder seed. I have carefully cultivated this Pandora station for the majority of the rest of my teaching career. I like Motown because it’s almost always easy to listen to and always a little upbeat without being too sickly sweet. It makes good background music that perks you up just a little bit.

The link to that Pandora Station: https://www.pandora.com/station/972927259948434106

My students make fun of me using Pandora, and I can see that Spotify is probably a superior product, but I have so many year of cultivation for the Pandora station I don’t really feel like I can leave it. I mean, it needs me, you know?

I play dubstep/electronica in other people’s classes, or during freshmen orientation, when I was trying to create an environment that says “look guys there’s a different teacher up here today you can tell because I am playing Dubstep” My favorite song to play is Space Monkeys from the Fight Club Soundtrack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrReKwwtdsM&t=204s Another professor I know played Linkin Park for similar reasons.

I have also found that my international students actually prefer to listen to classical music. I’ve seen studies that show that music without lyrics is actually better for studying because then your mind isn’t microtasking as much. This is especially true for international students, where playing a bunch of English language over everything else is likely to give a lot of cognitive challenges. I created another Pandora station, based on Lord of the Rings. I like it, but I also think it can get a little Overly Dramatic Let’s Go to Mordor, so I only play it when there’s like an extra special or important assignment.

Link to Lord of the Rings Station: https://www.pandora.com/station/2363995905025458874

More information:

Lifehacker- The Best Sounds for Getting Work Done: https://lifehacker.com/5365012/the-best-sounds-for-getting-work-done