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Muddling with Intention: On Moving from the Academy to the Academy

Thu, 2014-12-04 09:00

As the end of my PhD was drawing near, I started to worry, like many grad students do, about what would come next? How would I transition from being a doctoral student in the academy to the world of full-time work? As a grad student at McGill, in addition to my PhD work, I was teaching, editing, organizing workshops on writing and publishing, and raising two young children. I was developing skills, knowledge, and networks that would support a transition from the academy to whatever came next. And, what came next was a new way of being a part of the academy. Now, I am writing from my desk in the James building, wearing my fairly new hat as Academic Projects Officer in GPS.   This position in university administration comes on the heels of almost a decade of graduate studies at McGill (MA and PhD, Faculty of Education), which included a year “off” between degrees to teach in Cegeps, and 2 yearlong maternity leaves during the PhD.

I will admit that when I started my PhD, this was not where I imagined being post-PhD. I entered my doctoral program with the same idea most of my peers had – that the degree would lead me to an academic position. Naïve, I know. But, there I was, knowing that not all of us could possibly get academic positions (simple math explains this, not to mention job markets and tight financial times – see the White Paper on the Future of the PhD in the Humanities), yet somehow thinking I’d be one of the “lucky” ones. (Why do we think that only the ones who land those jobs are the lucky ones?)

This is not a post about luck, however, but how muddling with intention[1] as a graduate student allowed me to look beyond the singular academic post-PhD path. You might think that muddling suggests lack of focus and direction. Perhaps. But muddling with intention is a strategic and explicit approach to developing and exploring a breadth of educational opportunities, such as those mentioned above, while working towards an end goal (completing my PhD). And this involved a great deal of focus, planning, organization, and setting clear expectations with my supervisor. Let me give an example. At the beginning of my PhD, I met with my supervisor and sketched out a backwards timeline for my doctoral program. Working backwards from when I aimed to graduate (which coincided with when my funding ran out – as a grad student with children, I was determined not be an unfunded student), we blocked off chunks of time for the different phases and milestones of my program. I deliberately worked in some wiggle room to allow for life happenings. By muddling with intention throughout my PhD, I honed skills that are highly valued both in and out of the academy: refined research and analytical skills; time, task, and project management skills; leadership skills; and the ability to be self-directed as well as collaborate with others. This approach has landed me a job in the academy, and rather than cutting me off the academic world, I find I have a foot firmly planted in both camps. I continue to teach, publish, and engage with my research community, and this informs how I approach my role as an administrator for grad studies.

Is the post-PhD path a singular one? Not at all.   Graduate students need to be encouraged to take a step back from their muddling, and cast their skills and knowledge into a wide pool of future possibilities, either within or beyond the academy, or, as in my case, to transition from the academy to the academy.

[1] I would like to acknowledge the late Professor Ellen Aitken, who used this expression in a workshop on Women in Academia to describe her experiences of moving through the academy.


How to find free, interactive resources for your courses

Tue, 2014-12-02 09:00

With a nearly limitless, constantly evolving supply of information available on the web, where can instructors find free, interactive resources to complement their courses?

John Shank’s (2014) book Interactive Open Educational Resources offers many resources and starting points for interested instructors. It provides background on the ways in which Interactive Learning Materials (ILMs for short) can be used to support course learning outcomes, ultimately fostering students’ learning. ILMs take multiple forms (e.g. interactive multimedia modules, exercises and simulations), and are developed to ensure that students engage actively with the subject matter.

This book guides instructors in finding, incorporating and assessing ILMs and students’ learning, given their existing teaching approaches and course materials. Major online materials repositories are shared (see pp. 37-8 for starters), including MerlotWisconsin Online, the Open Educational Resources Commons, and the National Science Digital Library, among many others. Further, helpful search strategies (chapter 3) and selection strategies (chapter 8) are provided to help instructors locate the materials that are most relevant to their course and topic. The last chapters look at ways of integrating such resources within the university’s Learning Management System (myCourses at McGill), and explore the ways in which ILMs can support Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.

This e-book is available through the McGill library. The online format and detailed, hyperlinked table of contents make for efficient perusing.

Have you ever used ILMs in your courses? If so, what worked well, and what advice would you have for other instructors? If not, would you be interested in trying to incorporate some? What questions would you have?


10 Ways to Encourage Course Evaluation Participation

Tue, 2014-11-18 12:08

Mercury Course Evaluations are now open to students until December 21 (default period) or until December 7 (for units following the condensed evaluation period). Course evaluations are an important source of feedback to help you learn what is working well in your courses and how you can improve them. They are also a component of the teaching dossier, and are reviewed for the annual merit process.

Professors often express concern about response rates, and so we wanted to share some strategies that you can implement to encourage your students to complete their evaluations. Teaching and Learning Services undertakes numerous University-wide strategies, but encouragement that comes directly from professors has been very effective. Here are 10 things that you can do to encourage student participation in this important process:

  1. Talk to your students about the value you place on course evaluations. Describing concrete changes that you have made to your course in response to previous course evaluation results empowers students to provide constructive and thoughtful feedback.
  1. Let students know if you have granted permission to disseminate your numerical course evaluation results. Students are more likely to complete the evaluations if they know that they and future students will have access to the results at a later date, provided that enough students respond. Instructions to grant or deny permission are available here.
  1. Add a slide to your PowerPoint slideshows during the evaluation period to remind students about course evaluations being open. A sample slide is available here.
  1. Add the Course Evaluations widget to your myCourses homepage. It includes important facts about course evaluations and provides a direct link to complete them. Instructions to add this widget are available here.

  1. Add a link to Course Evaluations to your Navigation Bar in myCourses. This provides an easy access point for students. Instructions to do this are available here.

  1. Monitor response rates and post weekly updates during the evaluation period in the News tool on myCourses.
  • If you have granted permission to disseminate your results, let students know how many responses are needed for the numerical results to be made available to students.
  • If you have multiple sections of a course, encourage friendly competition among the sections for the highest response rate!

See a video example of one instructor’s experience.

  1. If you use social media in your class, consider posting a tweet or Facebook message to encourage students to complete their course evaluations. Click here to learn more about social media usage in the classroom.
  1. Include the evaluation period dates in future course syllabi. In the meantime, consider adding the evaluation period dates to your course calendar in myCourses. Instructions are available here.
  2. Consider doing a mid-course evaluation in future classes. Options include an anonymous survey or discussion in myCourses, a one-minute paper, and a student-led discussion. More information is available here. Students are more likely to complete the end-of-course evaluation when they see changes made to the course following the mid-course evaluation.
  1. Ask students to bring their laptops, smartphones, or tablets to class and allow time to complete the evaluations during class. It is most effective to do this at the beginning of the class, or during conferences, tutorials, or labs. If you have a small class, you could also try to book a computer lab. Note that you and any Teaching Assistants must leave the room during this process.

Have you used another effective strategy to promote course evaluations? Let us know! Send an email to mercury.info@mcgill.ca.

Your course evaluation results will be available as soon as your grades have been submitted and approved. We have developed resources to help you interpret your course evaluation results, including tables for numerical results and a comment analysis worksheet.

Thank you for your collaboration in this important process! If you have any questions, please contact us at mercury.info@mcgill.ca.