Category Archives: Talking about Teaching

Using a Timer in Class

I don’t know if you have walked into a college classroom in the last decade, but I think that I have never seen two clocks in college classrooms that were synchronized. You think that with the general centralization of custodial services that people would have figured out how to do time. No such luck.

This blog is often about very simple things that you do when you teach that has often impact. I often put up a timer on the board. I usually google it (pictured), though I am sure that there are better ones on the internet. I do this for a couple of reasons. It helps students keep the time. That’s really important. Second it helps me keep the time. Third, everyone can see it. It’s not disputable.

I think it’s part of generally clarifying expectations. For my class time long activities, I put on the clock as soon as class starts, usually for about three minutes before class ends. I do this because if you are working on something until the end of the wire, you will probably end up not leaving up enough time for putting the final touches on something- making sure that the whole thing works together, etc. Going over by ten minutes in the real world would probably not be a problem, but in the higher education classroom environment there is probably another class coming in right then and the next class would probably have started by the time you would be finishing that up. And there’s no faster way to campus hell than taking up more than your time.

 

Does being a better person make you a better business person?

I had the benefit of having a small research group that worked on critical business librarianship for a year together. They would meet online and discuss how they could implement some of the ideas behind the concept of the business librarianship and critical pedagogy. We found that there was quite a bit of different ways to do it. We found that there was the critical management studies group of scholars to whom I presented a paper last year.

We kept circling back to the concept of social entrepreneurship, meaning the idea that people should do things to benefit society but also try to make money while they do those things. When we thought about how to sell the idea to students, we often thought about it in terms of how it would be beneficial. After all, empathy has been shown to be a very good business practice, especially for students who are just starting out in the business world. Knowing what people want and how to give it to them is always a life skills.

That always seems a little strange to your ears. We wondered if you can help society and make money. Should you want to be a good person because it’s going to get you ahead in life? It seemed like you should do those things because you want to do them, and maybe because you want to be a good person.

On one side, I am not certain that I really have the type of training to teach someone to be a good person. That seems religious. On one hand, my students are adults, they should be allowed to make their own decisions. At the same time, their brains are not currently developed. If they are taught the wrong information about the way that business works, then they might have long term effects on how they understand the business world around them. How can you ask for more time in to make sure that your students are good humans?

Finally: what right do I have to interrupt the behavior of students to try and make them think about the ways that information is presented? While many people give lip service to information literacy and the importance of the right information in the right places, this is by no means a mandate. Do students have a right to the information that they want? Do I have the choice to control what students do with the information that I give them?

 

 

Your Best Students

So every semester, as the school starts, I take stock of the students in my classes. I ask myself, who are going to be my best students? As someone who has taught for six years, I would think that I have started to see what makes students successful in my classes. I tend to highlight the students who on the first day of class have read the syllabus, the ones who introduce themselves to me, who introduce themselves to the students around them, who ask good questions and who seem very attentive.

I try to write down who I think will be my best students. Then at the end of the semester, I do a sort on the who has the highest grade in my class.

I am wrong every single semester. EVERY. SINGLE. SEMESTER. What’s worse, I’m usually dead wrong.

I tend to assume that the extroverts will do better. It’s not an impossible thing to imagine, since I teach a team-based class. But it’s not just the great team players. I also tend to assume the students who do best are those who reach out, who check in when they are struggled. There are student often (I teach large classes) where the students who are doing best often haven’t built a relationship with me at all.

I also tend to assume that it’s the students that are outwardly engaged, and by outwardly engaged, I mean students who are friendly. And probably those students are more likely to get the lions share of the recommendations and the mentoring, but in terms of the grades, those people aren’t the people who are killing it.

Sometimes I think it’s my point system, like it rewards some type of perfectionist behaviors (like making sure you do an assignment perfectly) or perhaps overly stresses turning things in over graded work. But I have founded that when I revise my grading schema, I still am surprised by the results.

The point of this story is that you may think that you know your students, and you may consider yourself a “fair” professor, but your attempts to understand what will make someone successful in your class is flawed because we all make assumptions about people. We think we know what types of behavior that makes people successful, in reality we just scratching the surface.

I’m a pretty complicated computer. I know a lot about my students and I know a lot about what makes them successful. I teach the same class over and over again so I see what works for students and what makes them less successful. But even I can’t predict what will make the students successful.

In some ways a computer algorithm is going to be better than me because it probably has less implicit bias. I’m not sure though. A lot of the socio economic indicators that makes a student seem more extroverted or committed to class could also show up in lots of other data. What about the common correlation between “at risk” youth, or students who come from “weak” high schools? They could easier thrive in this new environment. Additionally, as a qualitative human, I process lots of other behaviors and attitudes that a computer would probably not see. For example, I can tell if a student says my name right on the first day of class, or bring a pencil to write on the syllabus, or introduces themselves to classmates. That’s not stuff that I would hope that a university would gather on their students, nor would I think that a computer could guess all the things that might affect how I guess who will be my best students.

What I’m going for here is that people are complicated, and we think that because we give out the grades we understand what going to make students successful. I’m not we do, and I don’t think that we ever will. The important part is to make the interventions and the changes as they happen and when we see them, so that people can become as successful as I would like them all to be, as I eagerly scan my first day of class.

 

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.

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.

 

WAAL 2018 “All Hands on Deck: Social Justice, Empathy in the Age of Information Literacy”

I was invited to give the Keynote at the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians’ Annual Conference. It was a blast! Not least of which because I won beer.

I won delicious home brewer beer for tweeting. #waal2018 pretty much best library conference ever pic.twitter.com/yUZWYKLg9Q

Slides below:

Thank you to everyone who attended!

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?