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Newsletters - May 2003, No. 12

In This Issue:


Tired?  Stressed?  Read on...

This article is one that I've wanted to write for some time now.  It's more personal than our usual fare, and I'd appreciate your reactions to it.  Ever since I took on the Directorship of TRACE, there has been much more pressure in my life, so stress is an issue I've become more aware of - both in my own life and in the lives of those around me.  I see it as a serious problem for faculty and staff members, and one that is not likely to go away any time soon.

Faculty and staff members do not seem to be as comfortable with working conditions as they were when I began my position at the University - a little over a decade ago.  It appears that many people are experiencing moderate to serious psychological difficulties associated with increasing pressure to do more with less, and to get it done faster.  I had lunch recently with Dr. Tom Ruttan, Director of Counselling Services, and we discussed the issue of faculty and staff burnout.  He was able to confirm that his office is seeing more faculty and staff with more serious concerns than was the case in the past. In addition to my personal feelings of added pressure, I know of a young, successful faculty member who quit professorial life after only two years because of stress, and another who took on far too much too soon, becoming at times almost paralyzed and unable to function as a result. This anecdotal evidence is most likely representative of what is happening on this campus, if not in all Ontario universities.

What is the cause of this increased pressure, and what can we do to keep it under control and to deal adaptively with it?  I'll pass along my musings as to why we find ourselves in this situation, and, with consultations from Tom Ruttan and my colleagues in the Clinical Division of our Psychology Department, what we might do about it.

I can think of two main reasons for why we're in this situation: the decrease in government funding for universities' operating expenses, and the technological and communications revolution.  On the first point, one obvious change is that classes are getting larger without a corresponding rise in the number of faculty and support staff positions.  Also, when someone retires or leaves, often that person is not replaced, putting added pressure on those remaining. Another, less obvious, change is that there are some wonderful incentive programs for young faculty members (like PREA, CFI grants, etc.) for which they're encouraged by senior administrators to apply.  But some of these awards have strings attached in that the researcher or institution has to come up with matching funds.  Furthermore, a significant amount of time is required to prepare the application, not to mention administering it if it's awarded.  Starting out in a new tenure-track position is stressful enough (preparing courses, submitting the "standard" grant proposals) without these other (albeit attractive ifone is rewarded) things to worry about.

Email and the relative ease of word processing on a computer are definitely double-edged swords.  As marvellous as email is for communicating with colleagues in other places and sending manuscripts electronically, most people think you've died if you don't respond to them within 24 hours!  Also, of course, students think it's a great way to contact their professors without having to trudge over to their offices.  I respond to students' email, but certainly have sympathy with colleagues who have a policy of not doing so, preferring to tell students that, if they want to have a question answered, they should show up during office hours.  Doing the bulk of our own word-processing is another change over the last decade or so.  For most of us it probably is more efficient, but it also drags us into a world of formatting and getting everything to look "attractive," which can be very time-consuming indeed.  Finally, there is pressure to use some form of electronic-delivery technology in one's classroom, and to learn how to put part, or all, of one's course online.  These things all take a fair amount of time to learn how to do efficiently and effectively.  Where is this time supposed to come from?

  • It seems unrealistic to expect faculty members to become better, more innovative teachers and to supervise more graduate students and to apply for more grants.  Perhaps a small number of very bright, unusually energetic people would have this capacity, but most of us, I think, would crack fairly soon under pressures of this sort.  Here are some things to keep in mind if I've hit home with some of these comments:

  • Fatigue, muscle aches, a decrease in concentration, an increase in minor errors, always feeling you're in a rush, anxiety or depression can all be signs of stress. (For a pamphlet about stress, contact Counselling Services at ext. 2655, or drop by their offices in Needles Hall 2080.)
Here are some strategies and suggestions for dealing with stress:
  • Talk to people - collaborate with others on research if that's feasible.  My late collaborator and friend Phil Bryden, whom many of you will remember, used to say "This is fun!" when we were writing papers together or discussing ideas on an experiment to run, and it was.
  • Teaching should be fun, too.  If you dread it, your students probably dread your classes.  Come and talk to us at TRACE - we really can help.
  • Take some time off once in a while - you'll get a better perspective on things and get more accomplished in the long run.
  • A change is as good as a rest - take up a hobby that you can be as enthusiastic about as you are about your work.  I have friends who are either passionate forest-managers, tennis players, pianists, gardeners, readers, knitters, or cooks in their spare time. These things help to bring balance to their lives.
  • Think positive - set realistic goals for yourself and take one thing at a time.
  • Your family and close friends are most precious - spend time with them doing things that everyone enjoys.  Partnerships don't last unless they're nurtured, and you can't ever make up for time not spent with your children when they are young.
  • Get help if you need it - Counselling Services has people who can help, or if you'd rather go off-campus, they can direct you to reputable psychologists and counsellors in the region - call ext. 2655.
On the face of it, this article might seem to have very little to do with teaching, but I see a strong connection.  Happy, relaxed people make better teachers.  A close friend of mine said to me several years ago, "Barb, do you want only the words 'She was a very hard worker' on your tombstone?".  I try hard always to keep her question in mind.

I'd very much appreciate your reaction to this article, and your thoughts about stress in the University (bfleming@uwaterloo.ca).

Barbara Bulman-Fleming

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Using LEGO to Enhance Learning in Engineering Design Classes

Ever wish you still had time to play with LEGO?

If Dorothy Kucar had her way, first- or second-year engineering students would have the opportunity to "play" with LEGO in introductory design courses. A PhD student in Electrical and Computer Engineering and a Certificate in University Teaching (CUT) participant, Dorothy presented a TRACE research talk and wrote a CUT research paper on this topic last term. She hasn't had a chance to implement her idea but cites literature describing others who have.

It's not just that she wants students to relive their childhood-although many engineering students were undoubtedly big LEGO fans growing up. Rather, she believes that students' learning would be enhanced with LEGO.

Engineering design requires the fusion of analysis, hand skills, and creativity. Dorothy notes, however, that most engineering classes focus primarily on analysis, which requires learning and manipulating mathematical formulas. She argues that although analytical skills are critically important, students could lose the intuition they need to be good engineers if they are taught to rely too much on equations. They also might lose interest in design when they see how many equations they need to memorize.

That's where LEGO comes in. As a toy and visual aid, LEGO has the power to arouse and maintain students' interest, especially in introductory courses. More importantly, with LEGO students can manipulate something besides equations. The 750-piece Mindstorms set includes (in addition to regular blocks) motors, wires, and gears-exactly the materials needed to model some concepts discussed in introductory design courses. Many students learn from seeing how things work, and LEGO would give them the kind of hands-on experience they need to strengthen their hand skills and creativity. It could initiate a "process of enlightenment," as it did for Dorothy. "For a hobby, I've built something," she says, "and then realized-oh, that's why that equation works!"

In her paper, which is on file in the TRACE library, Dorothy describes how LEGO could be incorporated into a lecture: "After the professor finishes analyzing a simple system of gears and pulleys, the students can quickly build it [using LEGO] to verify that the analysis corresponds to the working prototype. They would be able to feel that, for example, there is a strong force at a particular spot in the construction-that the mathematics has some relation to the physical system. I would not be surprised if some students then had further questions of the type 'what happens if?' or 'why is?' In essence, the students would become part of a more interactive classroom setting. Based on my own experience in design classes, I think the students would certainly retain more of what is taught in class." 

Engineering professors, like all instructors, need to use their class time efficiently, but Dorothy stresses that most models would only take a few minutes to make. She also notes that LEGO sets are relatively inexpensive-the Mindstorms set sells for about $300-and can be purchased at an educational discount. 

Despite her criticism of some engineering programs, Dorothy agrees that Waterloo's students are prepared well. "At Waterloo we're quite well off," she says, "because we have such a strong co-op program and students are required to do projects." 

Still, she wouldn't be opposed to seeing LEGO introduced into some Waterloo design courses. "If I heard a professor was using LEGO in his or her classes, I'd be impressed," she says. "I'd get the impression that the prof is very enthusiastic, practical, and concerned that students learn the concepts, not just the equations." She admits that her idea is to some extent a product of wishful thinking-what LEGO fan wouldn't want to "play" in class?!-but adds that if she ever were to teach a first-year course, she would certainly consider at least using her set in class to show students different concepts.

Cara DeHaan

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Tips for Academic Publishing

For those who aspire towards a professional academic career, publishing one's research in an academic journal is an important goal, although not always easily achieved. Published UW researchers presented their tips for academic publishing to a large audience of graduate students and faculty at a TRACE workshop on March 13, 2003.

For many of us, writing itself is the greatest obstacle to publication. We find it a difficult and unpleasant chore and avoid it until absolutely necessary. Either we write nothing at all, or we end up binge-writing before deadlines. This kind of writing is stressful and fatiguing, it gives us little time to revise our work effectively, and it perpetuates our negative perceptions.

Workshop panelists emphasized that to counteract procrastination and to cultivate a healthier attitude about writing, we need to make writing a regular part of each day. Participants were encouraged to begin writing at least 30 to 60 minutes per day. These short daily writing sessions can translate into two journal-length articles per year, says Robert Boice in Professors as Writers. Daily writing sessions can be used productively for outlining an article, preparing a first draft, revising later drafts, free-writing, or journaling one's impressions and ideas for future research.

To make writing part of our daily routine, we need to view it not only as a means to communicate our completed research but also as a way to bring focus to work still in progress. Writing can lead us to think through important questions, to discover gaps in our arguments, and to get feedback on our ideas. When viewed this way, writing can give us a healthy sense of personal satisfaction and even become something we enjoy. For some common myths about writing and more strategies on how to write effectively, see the TRACE Tips Sheet at http://www.trace.uwaterloo.ca/tips/tentipsforeffectiveresearchwriting.pdf.

In addition to their focus on writing regularly, panelists offered a number of suggestions to fledgling writers to facilitate the publication process:
Prepare by reading the journals you'd like to publish in. Become aware of the structures and language commonly used, as well as the technical stylistic specifications, and follow them when crafting your submission.

  • As you write, position yourself as a professional, even if you are a graduate student. Your purpose is not to convince your superiors how much you know but rather to dialogue with your peers, to interact with their ideas, and to introduce your own for their feedback. This means, for example, that your journal submissions should not include lengthy explications of theory or lengthy rehearsals of what others have said-two common elements in graduate-course papers.
  • After you submit a journal article, keep up your writing pace. It's often a good idea to have two or three projects on the go at once. Also consider sending out the paper you already submitted to trusted colleagues for an informal review, so that you can get a jumpstart on the revisions.Recognize that rejection is normal. When you receive a rejection letter or a negative review, put it away for a while until you can return to it with detachment. At that point, you will be better able to discern worthwhile suggestions from inappropriate ones.
The number of publications required to get an academic position differs by faculty, but hiring committees clearly expect to see some publishing activity. It is a necessary aspect of most faculty positions; establishing healthy writing habits now will most certainly pay off later.

Cara DeHaan

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Learning:  It's More Than Content

Spring term often provides a little extra time in which to create a new course or re-design an existing one.  One way to streamline the process and ensure a well-integrated end product is to follow a design heuristic. 

TRACE suggests one from the work of Dee Fink, an instructional developer and teaching centre director at the University of Oklahoma.  Fink's model was put into practice at the most recent TRACE workshop on course design.  The main elements include identifying the situational factors involved (your students, the course itself, and your teaching philosophy), the learning goals for the course, feedback and assessment strategies, and teaching and learning activities (Fink, 2003, p. 67).  A TRACE Tips sheet, which provides prompts for you to answer in relation to these various components, can be found at:  http://www.trace.uwaterloo.ca/tips/cd_heuristic.pdf

Central to this model are the learning goals.  In the tradition of instructional designers, Fink suggests that these goals should be written from the students' perspective, and indicate what students should be able to do, know, or feel by the end of the course.  Learning implies change, so how will your students be different?  The focus on "doing" and "feeling" also implies that students will learn more than content in your course.  At times, we may overlook other types of skills that our students could learn or hone in our courses. 

Fink (2003) provides a Taxonomy of Significant Learning that helps us to set more comprehensive goals (pp. 31-32).  The six elements in his taxonomy are:

  • Foundational knowledge
  • Application
  • Integration
  • Human dimension
  • Caring
  • Learning how to learn
The first one deals with content acquisition - both remembering and understanding key concepts now and in the future.  Application goals have to do with students applying earlier learning by thinking about it, by critical thinking or problem-solving for example, or by doing something with it (i.e., a hands-on experiment).  Integration goals would involve students seeing connections among ideas within a course, with other courses, or with life outside of school.  Goals about the human dimension have students learn about themselves and others and how to interact with others, such as leadership and teamwork skills as well as issues of ethics.  Caring goals involve shifting what students care about.  And learning-how-to-learn goals focus on how to be a good student, how to construct knowledge in the discipline area, and how to be a self-directed learner.  To Fink, these goals are not hierarchical; instead, they all overlap and intersect at what he calls "significant learning."  Courses should include all of these types of goals, which help to move the focus of a course far beyond content acquisition.  However, given that one course alone is unlikely to result in skill mastery in all areas, you should review where your course fits into the larger curriculum and confer with colleagues. 

To find out more about Fink's work, visit the web site about his latest book at: http://www.ou.edu/idp/significant/index.htm.  More TRACE resources about course design can be found at:  tipsheets.  If you would like to talk about course design issues, please contact Donna Ellis (ext. 5713) or Barbara Bulman-Fleming (ext. 2579).

Reference
Fink, L.D. (2003). Creating Significant Learning Experiences. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Donna Ellis

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Facilitating Group Work in a Large Class

Last summer, I learned that I would be teaching a third year history course that usually enrolled about 40 students.  Although not a very experienced teacher, I had recently learned new teaching techniques variously called  "experiential", "inquiry", and "problem-based" learning.   I decided to lecture two hours per week and spend the third facilitating group work.  I was perfectly willing to give up some content in preference for student involvement, especially if that time could be used to discuss course readings.

Then I found out that enrollment in the course was closer to 120 students.  I pondered reverting to pure lecture and experimenting with online discussion boards.  But persuaded that group-work works, I decided to muddle through with my original plan.  I would have small-group discussion in the big class, make it a graded component of the course (10 percent), and learn from my mistakes.  In the end, the process was much more rewarding than I had ever anticipated, although it did change some of my ideas about group work and the classroom management necessary to make it work.  Here's some of what I did and would recommend to make group work successful in this challenging setting:
Keep it casual.  Even though the group work was a graded component, I wanted the atmosphere to be less formal and the work to be enjoyable. I wore jeans to encourage a more casual setting and students quickly adapted to the different cadence of these days.
Set a specific task.  I gave the class a specific, written task relevant to the week's work.  Tasks ranged from projects in abstract thinking, to preparing and answering a question for use on the final examination, to designing PowerPoint slides which drew together course content. The latter I incorporated into the next lecture slot and then put on the course web site.
Give a time limit.  I prefer to give a general time limit and see how things progress, adjusting the time if necessary.  Generally I gave students 15-30 minutes, depending on the task.  In all cases the time should be just short of what the project requires to discourage unrelated discussion.
Establish groups and scribes, and collect written work.  I used four- to six-member groups, formed by the students themselves.  After the first couple of weeks, the groups contained pretty much the same people, which was fine with me.  Each group appointed a scribe and that task rotated weekly among group members.  In large classes it's important that groups make a written record of their work because you can't have each group verbally reporting.  I make it everyone's responsibility to see that the group's work gets turned in.
Spread out.  I recommend turning the lecture hall into a meeting room.  Encourage students to go out into the halls or come to the front of the lecture theatre if there is too much background noise, but remind them to stay close. 
Play Snuffleupagus.  Travel among the groups but try to keep a low profile.  Answer or ask questions if the group is confused or off to a bad start.  If you have a teaching assistant, s/he should be circulating as well.  I used my proximity to the groups to get an idea of how quickly the groups are progressing, and then I would encourage some to step up the pace and others to be more reflective.  This is also a great opportunity to hear what got through from your lectures and to have direct contact with the students.
Give five-minute and two-minute warnings.  Flash the lights, play the Jeopardy! theme song, or use your deepest lecturing voice (if you have one), whatever works.  Be sure to tell the groups out in the hall.
Debrief.  Take at least 10 minutes to debrief the class on the task, either by addressing each question or as a general discussion.  I don't have students return to their seats - if this means that some are hanging off the podium, so be it.  Students will want 'the right answers', so be sure to credit good ideas but also gently to correct misconceptions or faulty thinking.
Evaluate.  My grading system was generally a checkmark, or a check with a slash through it for sub-standard performance.  After the first couple of sessions, you can give the class some constructive criticism about its performance.

One of my concerns was that some students would slum off the rest of the group, which is difficult to determine with 20 groups.  Then a student told me he began to do his weekly readings after being chastised by his group for not contributing.  I hope that their chastisement was good-humored, but this is evidence that some groups did self-police.  I also worried that students would see these classes as optional.  That fear proved unfounded.  At the course's end about 72 percent of the students had missed no more than one session.  In the end, the students learned at least as much about the course through their group work as I could have communicated in an equal number of lecture hours.  Better still, friendships were forged, the classroom seemed a little bit smaller and warmer, and the students took an active and responsible role in learning the course content.  Next time, I think I'll try having each student assess his/her own performance in the group.  You can see that I've already committed to using groups next time.

This article is reprinted by permission from Magna Publications and The Teaching Professor. For 
submissions or subscriptions, contact 800-433-0499. http://www.magnapubs.com.

Ken MacMillan, University of 
Calgary, Alberta

macmillk@ucalgary.ca

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New TA Developer

Daniel Olsen is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Geography.  He completed his undergraduate degree at Waterloo, focusing on religion migration and diffusion.  Afterwards, he completed his Master's work in the Recreation and Leisure Department of Bowling Green State University in Ohio, with an emphasis on contested heritage, religion, and tourism.  For his dissertation, Daniel is focusing on the interconnection between religion and tourism, with an accent on how religions view tourism and how this relates to their management practices at their sacred sites. 

He has been a TA for three years at UW in various geography and tourism courses.  He also taught physical education courses at Bowling Green. 

He is looking forward to working with TRACE to help improve student teaching.  You can reach Dan at: dh2olsen@fes.uwaterloo.ca.

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Tidbit

A 2002 report on "Evaluating and Improving Undergraduate Teaching in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics" prepared by the National Research Council (USA) sets out five characteristics of good teachers (The Teaching Professor, March 2003):

  • Knowledge of subject matter
  • A range of appropriate pedagogies and technologies
  • Understanding and skill in using appropriate assessment practices
  • Professional interactions with students within and beyond the classroom
  • Involvement with and contributions to one's profession in enhancing teaching and learning
If you'd like a reprint of this article, contact Darlene Radicioni in the TRACE office at ext. 3132.

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Announcing Spring 2003 TRACE Events

TRACE will be offering many interesting and informative workshops in the Spring term which are open to all UW faculty members, staff instructors, and graduate students.

Question Strategies May 21 12 - 1:30 p.m.
Teaching Problem-Solving Skills June 17 12 - 1:30 p.m.
Teaching Dossiers TBA TBA
Writing Assignments July 17 12 - 1:30 p.m.

For more specific details, watch for notices in your department and via the Certificate listserv.  To join the listserv, email trace@watserv1.  Each lunchtime workshop is followed by an informal discussion group one week following the workshop. 

CUT participants, please note that all of these workshops partially fulfill CUT requirements for GS 901 and 902.  Teaching Dossier, Parts 1 & 2, are required for the CUT. 

You may register via our web site at:   http://www.adm.uwaterloo.ca/infotrac/workhp.html

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