So, hello again. Yes. I know. I have not been on here in a while. In fact, if you look back at the posting history on this blog, I have not been posting regularly since the fall of 2014. Here it is, the summer of 2016. So, what happened?
We had our fourth kid in the fall of 2012, and by the time I stopped posting regularly, she was up and running around the house. In fact, if I look back at my extracurricular work (blogging, Coursera courses, and the like), a lot of it stopped around that time. I was able to keep going through the first couple of years until she was very mobile and demanding on time. I can’t say it was a conscious decision, but it was something that my wife and I had conversations about. We discussed the constant pressure that I felt to be on all the time in my job. With a teaching load that is at least half online, there is pressure to be doing work 24/7, and, to a certain extent, I was. However, since that point, I have tried to incorporate more family time and more free time into what I do, so that I am not constantly expected to be working. I am not saying I was constantly working, but I was always work-aware, checking email, looking at my courses, and trying to fill my free time with relevant activities. That all changed around the spring of 2015, when I changed how I balance my work and my life to be biased more toward life. And, this blogging has been one of the things that has dropped off.
Another decision that affected the blogging came straight from this decision. I had always had Sunday evening online office hours, even though few students ever attended them. I took two hours out of every Sunday and sat in front of the computer in my office on a video-conferencing program to be available to my students. That was an ideal time to also sit down and write a blog entry, as I had to be in front of the computer doing work for that time. Of course, since almost no students ever came on, I had the time for blogging as well. After the fall of 2014, I dropped these hours because they were so poorly attended and because they were more of an inconvenience that a help to my own work-life balance. While occasionally productive, it brought work home even more directly than I do now, and it was something that became harder and harder as the toddler got more mobile. Dropping those hours is not something I regret, and it has again moved me more toward the life side of the work-life balance, but it has had an impact as well.
In looking back on it, I have mixed feelings about the change. I miss blogging regularly, and I feel more disconnected from my work at times. It also has made my actual work time more stressful, as there is more pressure to get things done in the time I am working. As well, when work does poke into life, as it did in the last semester because of a committee I was chairing, it is that much more stressful as well. However, the overall effect has been good. I do spend more time with my family than before, I think, and I am not as tied into work as I used to be while at home. As well, I have been reading more than I used to, especially of fiction, which I love. I have been using Goodreads to keep track of the books that I read, and during the last school year (September-May), I read 39 books. I consider that a success as well.
Lately, however, I have been feeling the need to get back into pushing myself more academically. I need to find a balance, and I have not yet figured out how to hit that balance. I do not necessarily think that I have leaned too far toward life at this point, but I do think that I have not committed myself to as much of the extracurricular work activity that I should be doing, such as keeping up this blog. I would like to take more continuing education-type courses. I would like to read more in my field (yes, of those 39 books, not a single one was a history book). I would like to work on course redesign, lecture rewriting, and new teaching methods. And, I want to do all of this without disrupting the balance too much. So, we shall see how it goes.
I guess you will see this result directly. If I am regularly posting on here, then you can see that I am working more outside of just teaching. So, keep me honest and let me know when I fall behind. Also, do you have any thoughts on this?
It seems like I am always starting blog posts off with an apology for not having written in a while. Since the birth of our daughter 15 months ago, spare time has been harder and harder to come by. However, she is settling down into a good routine, so I hope to do better this semester. I had hoped, after the post in November to be back on track, but shortly after that, we had a major family health issue come up that pushed out non-essential items. Now I think things have settled down, and I hope to be going again with my blog.
So, here we are, with a new semester (three weeks in but, hey, what can you do about that). I have, yet again, been given a double overload in classes, meaning that I am teaching 7 classes this semester for the second semester in a row. I have 4 online sections and 3 hybrid sections. My online sections are running as they always do. I am in roughly the 5th year of my current configuration of my online class, as so they can largely run without much effort on my part. That is one of the truths about online classes, that they are very involved and difficult to get going, but they can run pretty easily once you get them done. However, if you have followed my blog so far, you will see that I am rarely satisfied with how my classes are going. My online class is far overdue for a reworking, and I hope to start thinking about it this summer. I have made some changes over the last 5 years on the margins, moving assignments around and changing a few things here and there. However, I think it’s about time for an overhaul soon. And, the model that I will use for my overhaul are my hybrid classes.
I have started getting my hybrid class really going in the direction that I like. I am in the second year of working with this new hybrid format, and I am adjusting and working with the class as it moves forward. Following what I worked with last, this semester, I have moved into a model of weekly work and a long paper at the end. There are no exams, although I do have some chapter quizzing going on. The big part of the grade (about 45% overall) is discussion based, both online and in-class. Then, to keep the students on track, I have weekly, one-page response papers. I have returned to this model from what I did the first year, because I tried not having response papers last semester, and I found that students did not do the work if I did not hold them directly responsible. So, I am hoping that this semester they will do more of the work I expect them to do outside of class. I don’t have any great desire to grade weekly papers, but I want my students doing the work, and their grades will improve (hopefully).
As I have this hybrid model settled in well, I think I can use a lot of the ideas from this format in my online course. I would like to move beyond the exam model and include a lot more activities and discussions. Right now, the online class is primarily made up of reading lectures and the textbook and taking quizzes and exams. That is exactly the format that I have moved away from in my hybrid class, and I would like to move the online class beyond it as well. I hope that I get it together relatively soon.
Anyway, that’s a good start for the semester. Wish me luck.
Here we go, it is the second day of the semester, so I have met both my MW and TR class once so far. This is a new and interesting semester for me. We are teaching in our brand new academic building that has all of the latest technology in it. As well, I am teaching a completely redesigned course. If you followed my blog last semester, I talked about the push for redesign, and I have jumped in with both feet here. This is a fully hybrid class that takes on the “flipped” model of moving the lectures outside of class and reserving class time for applying the material.
I am teaching two sections of this newly redesigned class and four sections of my more traditional online class. So, I will have a direct comparison between the new class and one of my old models to see how it goes between them.
For the first day of class, it was largely a presentation of the class, ie. going through the syllabus and such. However, I talked mostly about why this class exists as it does and how my changes are intended to improve the learning process. Some of the big points I hit are:
- what is a hybrid class and what does it mean to meet only one day a week?
- what is a “flipped” classroom and what is the student responsibility that goes with that?
- what does active learning mean as opposed to passive learning?
- what does it mean to have a class graded on weekly participation?
- how is the new emphasis on research and sources going to play out in the class?
- and, of course, what is history and why is this a good method for studying it?
I was also very clear to the students that this is brand new. In fact, in one of my classes, I called it the beta version of the class. This is going to be an experiment on my part, and I told them to bear with me as we work through it, just as I will bear with them as they try to learn in a new way. I also explained the high hopes I have for them in the course and how we realistically might reach them. Finally, I told them that if they wanted a traditional, passive learning, lecture class, that they could go to most other history classes here.
I will try to update at least every week on this blog, as I have split the class in half, with each group meeting on only one day. Thus, every four days, I will go through the same set of assignments with each group. I will probably blog more, but this type of update will be at least weekly.
I haven’t done any article reviews in a while, so I thought I’d sit down and hit my Evernote box a bit here. So, here we go.
The first article comes from the ProfHacker blog at the Chronicle of Higher Ed. As with so many others, the intent here is to look at way the future of the university system will be, and while I teach at a community college, and not a university, the ideas are still relevant. I also, of course, like the origin of this one, since it came out of a conference at my alma mater, Rice University. It starts off this way: “I sometimes hear that the classroom of today looks and functions much like the classroom of the 19th century—desks lined up in neat rows, facing the central authority of the teacher and a chalkboard (or, for a contemporary twist, a whiteboard or screen.) Is this model, born of the industrial age, the best way to meet the educational challenges of the future? What do we see as the college classroom of the future: a studio? a reconfigurable space with flexible seating and no center stage? virtual collaborative spaces, with learners connected via their own devices?” Certainly, my classrooms are set up that way, even my “other” classroom, the two-way video one, still has all of the emphasis on me. The article also noted: “With declining state support, tuition costs are rising, placing a college education further out of reach for many people. Amy Gutmann presented figures showing that wealthy students are vastly over-represented at elite institutions even when controlling for qualifications. According to Rawlings, higher education is now perceived as a “private interest” rather than a public good. With mounting economic pressures, the public views the purpose of college as career preparation rather than as shaping educated citizens. In addition, studies such as Academically Adrift have raised concerns that students don’t learn much in college.” I have posted up articles that talk about both of those things before, but this information from this conference really narrows it all down well. At its heart, what the article notes from the conference is that it is time to update the model to the Digital Age from our older Industrial Age. That we have adopted the multiple-choice exam and the emphasis on paying attention in class from this old Industrial model, where creating a standardized and regulated labor force was key. In the Digital Age, it will be important to “ensure that kids know how to code (and thus understand how technical systems work), enable students to take control of their own learning (such as by helping to design the syllabus and to lead the class), and devise more nuanced, flexible, peer-driven assessments.” Throughout the conference, apparently, the emphasis was on “hacking” education, overturning our assumptions, and trying something new. While the solutions are general in nature, I found this summary of the conference to be right up my alley, and certainly a part of my own thinking as I redesign. I wish I had known about the conference, as I would have loved to have attended.
Looking at the question from the opposite end is this article from The Choice blog at The New York Times. The blog post was in response to the UnCollege movement, that says that college is not a place where real learning occurs and that students would be better off not going to college and just going out and pursuing their own dreams and desires without the burden of a college education. What is presented here is some of the responses to that idea. A number of people wrote in talking about what the value of college is, so this gives some good baseline information on what college is seen as valuable for. Here are some of them:
- “a college degree is economically valuable”
- “college is a fertile environment for developing critical reasoning skills”
- several noted that you can get a self-directed, practical college education if you want it
- “opting out is generally not realistic or responsible, given the market value of a degree”
- “the true value of college is ineffable and ‘deeply personal,’ not fully measurable in quantifiable ways like test scores and salaries”
That’s just some of the responses, specifically the positive ones, as that’s what I’m looking at here. It is interesting to see the mix of practical things and more esoteric ideas. I think that both are hopefully a part of college education and that both are part of what we deliver. I would like to think that’s what my students are getting out of college in general, and I hope that the redesign that I am going for will help foster that even more. I especially hope to bring more of the second and fifth comments into what I am doing, as that is the side that I think a college history class can help with.
Then there is this rather disturbing article, again from The Chronicle of Higher Ed. It discusses the rising push for more and more online courses, especially at the community college level. As the article notes, that is often at the center of the debate over how to grant a higher level of access to the education experience for more and more people. But, with more emphasis being put on the graduation or completion end and less on the how many are enrolled end, this could end up putting community colleges at an even higher disadvantage. As one recent study put it, “‘Regardless of their initial level of preparation … students were more likely to fail or withdraw from online courses than from face-to-face courses. In addition, students who took online coursework in early semesters were slightly less likely to return to school in subsequent semesters, and students who took a higher proportion of credits online were slightly less likely to attain an educational award or transfer to a four-year institution.'” So, we are actually putting our students into more online classes that make them less likely to finish overall. In fact, they are not only less likely to finish, but they are less likely to succeed at that specific class or come back for later classes. As well, a different study pointed out similar problems for online students: “‘While advocates argue that online learning is a promising means to increase access to college and to improve student progression through higher-education programs, the Department of Education report does not present evidence that fully online delivery produces superior learning outcomes for typical college courses, particularly among low-income and academically underprepared students. Indeed some evidence beyond the meta-analysis suggests that, without additional supports, online learning may even undercut progression among low-income and academically underprepared students.'” This is disturbing to me, as this is exactly what I teach at least half of my schedule each semester in – the online environment exclusively. I know that success in an online class is difficult, although I have actually been slowly improving the success rate over time in my online sections. I think I’ve finally hit a good sweet spot with the online classes right now, and I’m less in need of fixing them at the moment. I do, however, agree with the very end of the article that says that what is often missing from the online courses is the “personal touch.” That is the only part of the class that I would like to change, as I need a way for me to be more active in the class right now. I can direct from the point of putting in Announcements and the like, but I do feel that I get lost in whatever the day to day activities are. I need to design some part of the class that has me participating more directly rather than leaving it up to the students. Otherwise, I do think I’m doing pretty well in this part of my teaching career.
OK. I think I’m going to call it a night here. Any reactions?