Category Archives: Dumb things I do

Gimmicks in Teaching

Sometimes I imagine doing a class where the theme is “College is kind of stupid like all the things that you have done previously and it has dumb rules, and that’s okay.”

As a teacher I am very aware that lots of things that I do are very, very stupid. Life is silly. A little bit more learning is silly. How dumb it is that you don’t know things? How can you not know things?  If it was important than you should have known about it already. You are a grown adult. You know plenty of things.

Which brings to gimmicks. Gimmicks are dumb. You might have good reasons for using them, but they are suppose a little stupid. Because learning is important, but it doesn’t have to feel like every moment is live or die. Most of it

Some gimmicks I have in my teaching

  1. Prizes- Okay no one needs another prize. Despite what you have been told about Gen Z, they don’t need a trophy all the time. But it can be fun.
  2. Competition– People like to win. Students in management are often very competitive with one another so.
  3.  Audience participation– Sometimes legitimate active learning isn’t possible, such as in a large lecture hall. For those moments, there’s audience participation! I use the Delphi method wherein you plant questions in the audience. It’s a great way to get ther to be some back and forth without having to change very much about the classroom dynamic. I think that there should be a formula, for however much you choose to change the classroom dynamic, the more you change the way that people experience the class.

Ease-Resentment: What to Do When You Get What You Want and You Still Feel Salty

When you struggle at something for a long time, and suddenly you get what you wanted, it often feels terrible. I thought of this when I was recently talking to an undergraduate student. This student had been trying for a full semester to get a department to start putting information about a specific program on their website. And it just seemed like she couldn’t get anyone to listen. Then she got into the right room with the right people, and suddenly everything was easier.

People had listened to her, they had seen that she was right, and they had done what she had asked. Why was that so hard? She should be over the moon. But instead she was bitter.

She was bitter because of all the time she spent trying to get people to understand. She was bitter because it was so obvious. It was the sort thing that had been a no-brainer for the department. When people looked back at that process, they would never again think about how that page once was.

There’s no word for this experience, so I decided to make up a word. It seemed like the sort of thing that might exist in the German language, so made up a German phrase: leicht wütend, or ease-resentment.

I know you should be happy, but you can’t be happy because you remember all the lost time you spent caring about that thing. That’s time you are never going to get back. You are never going to know what you could have done instead. Instead of trying to change a couple of minds, you could have been doing something else.

I think leicht wütend is something that is particularly a challenge for women and people of color. Most of the time you are just trying to get people to see something they should see. I know that some people will be surprised to find out that women and people of color do not want to spend all their time trying to persuade white men. They could spend that labor on something more important, like trying out new ice cream flavors, spending time with their family, or reading a good book. You will probably only think of that thing when you remember how hard it was to do that thing in the first place. When you get someone to understand their own assumptions, they often want to their change their behavior. But then you get ease-resentment: why was that so hard?

Understanding the range of emotions one has is important. I think leicht wütend is real and valid. Sometimes you feel guilty because you think that once you get whatever it is that you wanted done, you think that your life will be easier.

Some tips for dealing with leicht wütend:

  • Look on the bright side. Try to focus on something positive that came out of what you did. For example, you might have been recognized. Maybe you are getting to do something now that you have been really interested in doing for a while.
  • Don’t gaslight yourself. What you did really was scary and hard, you really did work on it for a while, and you should be proud.
  • Let it go. It’s hard to do, but sometimes you need to pick your battles and understand that things are better now.
  • Knowledge is power. Know that you are going to feel bad, and that’s okay. We have a culture that prizes happiness over all things. Sometimes you need more.
  • Practice self-care.
  • Be salty. You know, maybe if you do you’ll feel better. Go and bitch to a friend about it. You will probably feel a little bit better and less alone.
  • Go find something else to be passionate about. The good thing about struggle is that here is always more of it. Go out and find anew thing to get involved in.

Choose your collaborator: a company analysis informed leadership assignment

I like to use cases in my classes. I especially like to make cases that reflect things happening in my community. There’s a very large innovation district project happening in my community. It’s a really interesting project from a couple of different perspectives. I for one have never heard of a university leveraging Tax Increment Financing, especially not for improvements to state street that happened before they were recruited into the area (I’m a bit of a planning and budgeting nerd if you can’t tell).

I originally made this assignment when I was designing my Greater Lafayette greater class 1.0, which was a branded version of MGMT 175 learning community class. This was one of the easy first assignments to make fit the more local feel while still leveraging something that students may know quite a bit about: Purdue University.

This project also has another one of my favorite concepts, which is the idea of implied logic. The idea of the assignment is that you should built a method for how you are going to look at a problem, then you should use that same logic. It can be surprisingly easy cognitively to make a decision making framework and then not use that framework when make decisions. This project encourages students to make a framework for how to make their decision, and then make sure they check it so that they can figure out where they want to go. It’s really interesting because it’s very easy to go through the full project of making a framework and then not use that framework when they make their decision.

This project is a bit old, I haven’t used it since the fall, so some of the facts and figures may be a little out of data. Pictures data from Purdue’s website.

Enjoy!


Group Challenge 1: Manufacturing is King

Purdue is an important part of the Greater Lafayette area economy, as it employs the largest number of people in the Greater Lafayette area. However, private companies are also an important aspect of the economy, and manufacturing makes up the largest percentage are private companies.

For this Challenge, you will investigate the feasibility of a collaboration between Purdue and one of these large companies. Purdue plans to turn one of the larger fields on the outer edges of its campus into a research park. It wishes to invite one of the following companies to join the park. Due to space and budget limitations, it wants to choose only one collaborator. Purdue wants someone who will employ a large number of locals. These could be people previously employed by other companies, or unemployed members of the community. It also wants to choose a company with a good outlook for the long term (high probability by profitability), as this project will involve a sizable investment by Purdue in a new location.

Suggestion for breaking up time:

9:30-9:50 three group members each take a team and look up the companies in the financial databases. The third team finds the company websites.

9:50-10:00 Group members check each other’s work and also scoring companies

10:00-10:10 Members discuss question 3 and 4

10:10-10:20: One student writes up 3, another 4. Submit.

  1. In one of the library databases (Mergent, Privco, or OneSource), find the report for each of following companies: Wabash National, Alcoa, and Cargill.

In which database did you find this company?

What kind of company is it… private, public, or subsidiary?

How large is the company in terms of employees?

Take a look at the past 3 years of net sales, net income, or revenue. Have these figures gone up or down?

Google the company and find the recent news on the companies’ website. Is there anything that would make them a good fit for Purdue? (Examples are awards, sustainability, growth, etc)

Overall, how easy was it to find information on this company?

  1. After you have completed this for the three companies, bring the information together and score the three competitors in terms of size of budget, outlook for the company, demographic fit, and transparency (1-10, with 1 being low). Put you numbers below. Create a bar chart to illustrate your recommendation.

Wabash National:

Size:

Outlook:

Fit:

Transparency (How easy it was to find information about the company):

Alcoa

Size:

Outlook:

Fit:

Transparency (How easy it was to find information about the company:

Cargill

Size:

Outlook:

Fit:

Transparency (How easy it was to find information about the company:

  1. As a group decide on a weighted ranking. What is most important? The size, the outlook? Fit? Write a 50-100 word rationale.
  2. Decide: Write a 100 word recommendation: Who should Purdue partner with? You can base this on size, outlook, fit, or all four.

Turn in on Blackboard what you have by the end of the class period.

 

Being on the cutting edge is lonely: on comfort and innovation

via GIPHY

I work on at a university library that is often very innovative. I am a naturally innovative person. I have IDEAS ALL THE TIME. Because I am a really odd person, and because I tend to question authority (e.g. I just don’t like being told what to do), I often end up doing various innovative things.

So let’s say you have an idea. You start looking around and see that other people haven’t done it. You have a lot of respect for other people. Other people, as a rule, are generally collective smarter than you.You immediately think that there must be something very wrong with idea. I mean people are generally smart. Why have they not done this thing before? This idea must be a bad idea. But maybe you revisit the idea­­ you had because when you bring it up to other people, it seemed like people haven’t done it yet. It seems like maybe people have intentionally not done this thing. That is after all the main reason much work doesn’t get done, because people aren’t stupid enough to do it. You feel at once very stupid and very uncertain.

This is a blog post about what it feels like to do innovative things, because I think that they way that people often talk about innovative thing is very different than how I experience them. Innovation always looks very exciting, like people are about to discover the cure for cancer any minute or invent the next thing everyone is addicted to. Innovative people are always shown as being very confident and usually very popular, and usually men. [i]

This is how innovation often feels to me: lonely and a little scary. Being innovative is also often only something realized in hindsight. If you try something new and fail, is that still innovation. Some of the innovation I do is successful, some of it is definitive failure, but much of it in the murky, hard to tell middle. It’s hard to tell where innovative projects are going to end up. I’ve become aware from meeting various different people I know who I could classify innovative is innovative collective people are the least relaxed people I know.

Talking with innovative people, they often seem just as twitchy as me. It seems like when you look at media like being who are innovative always look like they are having a good time. People who are innovative often look so comfortable being there. Sometimes I think we don’t want to discuss how lonely and disorienting innovation can be. There’s an incredible fear in innovative work. We only feel comfortable talking about that fear if innovation is successful, but innovation is risky. If we keep talking about being innovative like it’s all confidently men yelling “eureka!” we may lose some of our most innovative people.

So to all innovative people, I can now confidently say, I have no idea if any of my ideas will work either. I don’t know the future. I’m scared some of them won’t work out. But I keep trying because we are more than fear. We are bright lights. We are progress.

[i] I read a book called The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkum, and all the innovators profiled in the book were men.

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.