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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Stuff to check out

  • On September 6, the Flipped Learning Network is hosting “Flip your classroom” day. More info at http://www.flippedday.org/. You could use one of Mary McGlasson’s videos (described in more detail a few weeks ago), or one of Liam Lenten’s sports economics videos (described in this post).
  • MobLab is a new site that hosts interactive games that students can access from mobile browsers as well as laptops. I did a demo last month and it looks pretty slick. I could definitely see using this as an alternative to Aplia’s experiments in Principles (especially if, like me, you like Aplia more for the experiments than the problem sets) plus they have a lot of games for upper-division courses.
  • I really should have posted this earlier in the summer but if you or someone you know is teaching for the first time this fall, you may want to look at a paper I have forthcoming in the Southern Economic Journal: “A Primer for New Teachers”, written with Gail Hoyt and Brandon Sheridan. The paper offers advice for first-time econ teachers, both about the administrative logistics of things like classroom management, and easing into using interactive techniques. [Note: the SEJ link will allow you to access the paper if you are a member of the Southern Economic Association. If you aren’t, you can get the paper from my website here].

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sabbatical guilt

Today is the first official day of my sabbatical – woohoo! Of course, one could argue that my sabbatical really began when the spring semester ended but today is the first official day of the fall semester at school so it’s the first day I don’t “have” to be on campus when I otherwise would.

Whenever I tell non-academics about my sabbatical, I feel a little guilty. I know that a lot of my non-academic friends don’t really understand why academics like me even get sabbaticals. After all, it’s not like I’m in archeology or art history or some other discipline where people obviously need the time away from teaching in order to go do field work. I’m not even leaving town this time around. I usually just explain that even if I can get some research done while teaching, I can get a whole lot more done when I have bigger chunks of uninterrupted time.

But I think the main reason I feel guilty is because I know that for me, sabbatical is not really about getting work done (although work WILL get done!) – it’s about mentally and emotionally recharging so I can hopefully return to my job and still love what I do. Seven years ago, during my first sabbatical, I did get completely out of San Diego; basically, I needed to clear my head and figure out whether I really wanted to come back. At that time, I felt completely burnt out but realized it was mostly about the stress of getting tenure, with a big dose of annoying department politics mixed in. I had been focused pretty single-mindedly on the goal of tenure for a pathetically long time, but once I achieved it, I had to stop and really think about whether I actually wanted it, and if I did, if this department was where I wanted to be. Clearly, I decided to stay, but I think that if I had not been able to leave and get some distance so I could objectively think it through, there’s a good chance I would have simply left entirely.

Now I’m sitting here at the start of another sabbatical and in many ways, I feel almost as burnt out as I did seven years ago, though for mostly different reasons. And again, I find myself asking big questions about whether I really want to keep doing what I’ve been doing. This time isn’t about the stress of trying to meet requirements imposed by others; instead, I guess I would say it’s more like a mid-life crisis. There are a lot of things about my job that I love but what about the things I really don’t love? Are those things I can do something about? If so, what do I need to do? If not, is it really the right job for me? Could I accomplish more, be happier, doing something else? What in the world would ‘something else’ look like? Could it mean leaving academia?

I imagine I’ll write more about my thoughts on these questions over the next year. The point I wanted to make here is simply that I feel incredibly lucky that I have the opportunity to indulge in this sort of periodic reflection. And although I’m sure most people probably don’t obsess about this stuff to the extent that I do, it seems to me that all sabbaticals provide some opportunity to re-charge in a way that likely leads to us ultimately feeling happier about our jobs. When I think about how many people are academics for their entire lives, and don’t even want to retire when they have that option, I have to wonder how much sabbaticals contribute to that. What if everyone had the option to periodically step out of their day-to-day jobs, to spend a few months focusing on the aspects of their jobs they enjoy the most, to explore new ideas, or simply to get some distance from co-workers who drive them crazy? This is why I say I feel guilty about my sabbatical – I feel guilty that I get this opportunity when most people don’t. But I don’t think that will stop me from savoring every minute!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Adventures with a hybrid class, Part III

This is the last of a series of three guest posts from Mary McGlasson ofChandler-Gilbert Community College. Part I describes how she came to create a set of videos for a hybrid course and Part II discusses how she holds students accountable for watching them.

PART III: How did I make the videos?
Instructors often contact me asking how I created the videos. Short answer? With LOTS of time and patience.

You see, there is no single step in the process that is terribly difficult, but each of the steps does require time. Below (click image to enlarge) is a summary version of the crash course in Digital Storytelling that I co-facilitated at our college (adapted from "Digital Storytelling Contest" website).

If you are interested, you can use this link to check out the Chandler-Gilbert workshop page – the PDF of the table below is available for download on that page, so you will have links that work (here, I used screenshots of the table, so of course the links are not “live”).

Is there anything else in the works?
At the moment, I am working on making some iBooks that follow the series — at our college, the cost to a student of a new textbook is at least as much as the tuition for the course. We've tried working with the publishers to keep costs down by going with custom books, unbound books, etc., but frankly, none of it has helped the student very much, so I am hoping to go textbook-free in the near future.  

Once the iBook is downloaded to the iPad, the student (or instructor) could watch the video offline, within the "chapter" (since connectivity is often an issue at older institutions without updated infrastructure, or at schools that block access to YouTube). The iBooks are great because they also allow me to incorporate slideshows, interactive graphs, and interactive review questions. 

I know that not every student has an iPad, and I will certainly have alternative forms of the resources available to students (the book content is really the videos, the video transcripts, illustrations that are from the videos, and review questions after each video that are in addition to the homework review), but I am hoping that this will be useful to many of our students.