And you thought being a student was hard...

Before my time as a Communication professor at Ivy Tech, I spent many years doing corporate and organizational training. When I decided to become an instructor, I thought it couldn't be much different from what I did for companies. Boy, I couldn't be more wrong! Although I'd never tell my students, I learn more from them than they will ever learn from me!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fall 2009, That's a Wrap!

Thank GOD this semester is over. Final grades are in, so I can wash my hands of the whole thing. I've been teaching at Ivy Tech for almost two years, and seriously, this was the worst semester by far.

On the good side, many of my f2f students blew me away with their work. I had higher than normal As and Bs this semster. I'm pretty tough, and I really don't bend very often in my rules (including NEVER accepting late work unless it is an extreme situation or my mistake), so I usually have an almost perfect bell curve. My two new classes did really well. So impressed with their work all semester long.

On the bad side, my online classes were rougher than normal. The 16 week classes did good, and I managed not to get too far behind in them. My 8 week classes, though, were a nightmare from beginning to end. I spent so much time fixing problems, dealing with issue after issue, technical and otherwise, then desperately trying to catch up on grading, I felt like I never got my feet under me. Those two classes had me questioning my sanity in choosing this for a living.

As a post script, after my last email to my problem student concerning turning in all of her work with no penalty so long as it was by the last day, which was two days ago, I have not heard hide nor hair from her. My gamble paid off. I just wish it hadn't been necessary to do.

Anyway, two weeks of brain dead relaxation to re-group for next semester. Happy Kwanza, Merry Christmas, and Happy Chaunaka. In other words, happy holidays, everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's Finally Finals!

Ugh, this week could not get here soon enough! I've taken an informal poll of all my colleagues that I associate on a regular basis, and we all agree - this semester SUCKED.

Part of the problem for us was the explosion of enrollment with very few new hires. Many of us were maxed out of overload. Top that with raised class limits (a particular pet peeve of mine due to limited interpersonal interaction and no additional money for additional students), more rules and regulations coming down the administrative pipe that allows us less and less freedom in our classes, and a raise freeze due to lack of funding, and it makes for a cranky group of people. We were told that this semester would be the worst, by next semester, many of the issues we had with this semester will have been worked out. Needless to say, none of us are holding our breath.

On the positive teaching side of things, this is group project and individual presentation week for all of my students. They do their final online to give us time to do these presentations. I have to say, this has got to be my favorite of all assignments! I require creativity as the majority of their grade, and what they end up coming up with blows me away every semester. Oh, sure, there's always a few that barely put in enough time to throw a Power Point presentation together, but then there are those who are so rich and complicated and entertaining that I end up keeping them as examples for the next semester. This semester, I had a group who did a Dateline Undercover-type project, sending two gals into Best Buy, one looking hot, the other looking kinda scruffy, to see who was helped first. Needless to say, the hot gal was helped first. In fact, the sales clerk closest to the scruffy student walked by her and ignored her completely to go help the cute student. I smell an expose here!

My media class also had some great projects. They had to do a presentation on the marketing and advertising campaign on a product and how that related to culture and communication. One student did Gatorade and emotional communication. I was floored. It was so well researched, so outside of the box, with just enough imperfections that I didn't suspect plaigarism, she got the highest grade in the class for that project.

It is just these things that make all of the other crap that has to be dealt with so much easier. If only there were more moments like these.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

No Good Deed, Part 3

After receiving another email from my problem student during Thanksgiving break asking why I had not responded to her last email, a time she specifically said NOT to email her due to her stress, I finally broke down. When honest won't work, give them what they want and call it for the lost cause it is.

The email I sent her was so nice and sweet, you could have sugared your coffee with it. I told her, given her unfortunate circumstances, I would accept all of her work, late and otherwise, without any penalty at all. The only catch was that I had to receive by the last day of class, no exceptions. That gives her three weeks to turn in 15 weeks worth of DB postings, quizzes, and papers. If she can do it all, I will keep my word.

Now, before you think I'm cashing in my integrity but letting her do this when any other student would not be allowed, I understand your thinking. It choked me to do it. However, given the tone and language of her letters, I truly do believe she will do what I first claimed she would do in my first email - set herself up to fight her grade by making me the bad guy. Instead, I gave her EVERYTHING she asked for, taking me out of the equation on her grade entirely. Kind of like playing tug-of-war and letting go of the rope.

Let's see if she falls.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

I've spent too much time on all that drama from one certain student, so I thought I'd blog about other school happenings.

It's finally Thanksgiving break. I thought it would never get here. As per usual, it felt like pulling teeth trying to get any response out of students who were too burned out to care any more. This apathy is exactly why I save some of the more interesting topics (in case of Interpersonal, nonverbal communication) to spice things up a bit. They have assignments that take them out of their comfort zone to do things, like, stand really close to a stranger and see how they react.

I also show two videos to break up the lecture monotony. One, a well-done documentary called The Secrets of Body Language. Even if comm isn't your thing, most people enjoy seeing how you can "read" someone, what they are thinking what they are feeling, simply by observing their nonverbal behavior. Two, I show them the pilot episode of a show called Lie to Me. It's a wonderful show on Fox and nonverbal behavior, lying, and deception. It really is a great show to use in any comm, pyscholoy, sociology, or even some business courses. Then they have an extra credit opportunity to write a report on Dr. Paul Ekman, the psychologist the show is loosely based on. He's even a creative consultant for the show! It's a great way to show how science and pop culture really do collide. It ends up being one of the favorite assignments of most of my students.

Monday, November 23, 2009

No Good Deed, Part 2

I heard back ffrom my disgruntled student. I will give her credit for TRYING to not be hateful and bitchy, but her email was so full of excuses, blame, and more disrespectful language, that, really, we weren't much better off than we were before.

Now it appears her father has died. She even sent me the obituary for proof. She said in her letter that she would be out of town for a few days and would not be checking her email until she got back, because I stressed her out too much. Okay, I'm willing to take one across the chin for someone who is grieving (although from what she said in the letter, she made it sound as if she and her dad weren't very close, but at this point, I don't know what to believe with this girl), but when she informs me that, when she gets back, she will show proof that she turned in her assignments and I WILL give her an A for all of them and I WILL appologize for causing her so much stress, my hand actually trembled over the "F" key. Do you think she would notice if I failed her four weeks in to class? Nah.

Respecting her wishes, I did not reply back (even though in the previous email, she informed me that responding to a student's email with 12 hours at the most was not an unreasonable demand). Two days after I received her email, she posted on the Cyber Cafe discussion board (a discussion board where the students could talk about non-class things in an effort to get to know each other, mostly about who should win the next American Idol, I've noticed), she asked if anyone else was having problems with "our crap instructor," and then proceeded to bad mouth me for a good two paragraphs.

You know, I didn't have high blood pressure before this class...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

No Good Deed...

Earlier in my blog, I talked about how I like online classes because the students are more open and more communicative.

Boy, has that come back to bite me in the ass.

Now, again, I am a communication expert. It's what all of my degrees are in, it's what I do for a living. This makes me a tad blunt. I'm not a big fan of bullshit or attempts to use communication for your own nefarious purposes, especially if I'm going to be the one caught in it.

A student from my online 8-week course sends me this scathing email message about how she has been trying to contact me about the drama going on in her life, and she is unimpressed with the level of unprofessionalism I have shown by not responding. She then goes on to give me all the reasons why her work has been late, telling me to go back and replace her 0s with the proper grades.

Now, first of all, this is a stanardized course. The state committee decides late procedures, and no late work is accepted after one week of the due date, regardless of reason, unless the professor okayed it before that one week deadline. Second, after scouring all of my emails and Blackboard messages, just to make sure, I had NEVER received any communication from this student before this email.

When I wrote her back, I told her all of this, and ended it by saying, "I feel as if you know from lack of participation that you are not going to do well, and so you're setting yourself up to be able to repeal your grade by setting me up to take the fall. Your disrespectful tone in your email does not help your cause, but hinders it. I will accept all work you submitted for last week and this week, and if you can show me proof of prior submissions to your other work, I will gladly accept it, but I can only grade what I have been given, and I've received no work from you since the first week."

She emailed me back, even more beligerent, telling me I was unprofessional, disrespectful, and immoral (still trying to figure that one out). After more ranting and raving, she "threatened" to tell on me to my boss.

I emailed her back, cc-ing my boss and the student affairs contact, to let her know that her threats were useless, and, essentially, repeated what I said before about what work I would accept and what I wouldn't, and told her that if she didn't mean to be disrespectful, as she claimed (ha!), then I appologized for my direct and blunt tone. In other words, I set out to diffuse a situation clearly getting out of control, not by telling the truth and being honest, but telling her what she wanted to hear, even if I choked on every word I wrote.

We shall see what my little star pupil has to say next.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Isn't Technology Grand?

How is it that a college who has a boatload of online classes can't seem to have consistently working software or internet? It takes my computer at work FOREVER to load anything, half the time Blackboard eats the grades I put in, so I have to re-enter them, and if I have to re-set an online quiz one more time because either the internet or Blackboard went down, I'm going to lock my office door, strip down naked, and have some pagan dance of technology to get it to work.

Okay, now that you have that little visual in your head. ;)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Was I Thinking?!

So, to make some additional holiday money, I agreed to pick up two second-8 weeks online courses, maxing out my overload. Each one has 75 students in it.

Dear. God.

It's the first week, and I am so swamped with answering emails about textbooks, computer and Blackboard issues, and all the administrative work that comes at the beginning of a new course, and I'm about ready to chuck my computer out the window!

This is on top of my 3 f2f classes and my other online classes. I've decided to use a faculty release day, a precious day away from all of the whiny students with their wants and their needs (okay, deep breath), to have everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING ready for the rest of the semester for all of my classes. Top on a couple of statewide course committee meetings and some in-house teacher learning symposiums, and I pretty much live at Ivy Tech. If I get behind on the blog, it's because I'm out of time. If I don't get behind, it's because I feel the need to vent or my head will explode with the next student complaint.

What was our drinking during class policy again? I need to dig out my faculty handbook...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Calm Before the Midterms

I think this is my favrorite time of the scholastic semester. All of the newness of the classes has worn off,  the no-shows have been reported, we've had enough grades to know what the class is like, and we've picked up a head of steam. From here on out, it's downhill.

We don't have a fall break (Don't know whose great idea THAT was), so after Labor Day, we push through all the way until Thanksgiving break. We seem to do okay up through midterms, but after that, we all lose steam, even we instructors, until Thanksgiving. Then it's mad dash for the week after to catch up on everything before finals the second week of December.

So, for right now, I'm not bribing my students with extra credit or candy to pay attention, they are still honestly interested in the class, and I'm not feeling burned out. Yet.

I also have two more classes to add to my schedule for the second 8 weeks once midterms are over. Talk to me then.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How Do You Teach Small Groups Without A Group?

This semester I am teaching a new to Valpo course, Small Group Communication. My background in organizational communication makes this a favorite course of mine. Delving into the psychology of group behavior, dynamics, and communication is fascinating to me. I'm a nerd, I know.

The problem with this class, though, is I only have 6 students. Six. Do you know how hard it is to do group projects with only six people? I had wanted to do four projects, but for most of them, three people aren't enough, and if I put more in one group, that means I have less than a group (2 or less people) for the other group. I guess I'm just going to have to put all six of them in one gorup.

Here's the problem with that, though. We're approaching midterms, and all but one of them are also in my Mass Media class earlier in the day, so they all know each other quite well. They know who is going to slack off, who is going to derail the conversation, who is going to be late, who is going to do all the work, etc. The learning curve of a new group in a new situation is gone.

If we hold this class next fall, I'm going to have to insist on no less than 8 students, or the class needs to be cancelled. At least we're having fun!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Media and Communication

For the first time at the Valpo campus, we are offering Comm 201 - Media and Culture. Not to be immodest, but we got it because I ranted and raved to the right people. (That's also how we got Comm 202 - Small Group Communication, but that's another blog!) It's a small class, only 10 students, but we are having a great time!

I don't know if it's because it is a small class or that it's a 200 level course, but these students are so much more engaged in discussion than any of my other classes. There is no holding back in this class! Twice already this semester I have had to postpone the majority of the lecture because we got into a really great discussion on one of the points of the chapter. I know there are some instructors out there, who shall remain nameless, who would twitch at the thought of getting off schedule, but to me, the process of learning is so much more important than the topics being learned. I know we'll cover the big points of the material eventually. I can always cut out a less important chapter if I need to. What they are passionate about they are more likely to retain. So what if we spend an extra day on TV and skip the chapter on radio? Who really listens to radio any more anyway?

One of the great things about this class is the fact that I can show them TV shows, movies, play music, etc., and it's all really relevant. It's all media! I'm not saying I look forward to not lecturing, although it's nice to have a break every once in a while, but to share some of my favorite things with other passionate people is so much fun. I love debating the First Amendment using examples from Chris Rock, Carlos Mencia, and Lewis Black. Laughter has proven to raise endorphins, and if we're all feeling good, we're all more likely to talk and learn.

Not a bad combination!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Online vs. Face-to-Face

I've had many a debate with my fellow instructors about online courses. Most of them do not like them and gladly let me take them. Some have even said that the time for online classes and online degrees has past. While I'm not sure an online degree is best for everyone, depending on academic and career goals, I do think there are plenty of people who benefit from online degrees, and even more who benefit from online classes to supplement their f2f classes. It allows for more flexibility, better time management, and in the case of non-traditional students, an opportunity to take classes they might not be able to otherwise.

One of the biggest complaints from my colleagues is the lack of identity. If you can't "see" them, how do you get to know them? On this point, I have to disagree whole-heartedly. There are many students in my f2f classes that are only a name in the gradebook. I think I do a good job of having fun and engaging discussions in my classes, drawing a lot of quiet people out, but some have truly high communication apprehension, and I don't push it - that can make it worse. In the online classes, however, students seem to feel more comfortable talking to me, more willing to disagree with me or the book, more will to ask about a grade instead of just complaining to their fellow classmates.

New communication research backs me up on this. We develop more intimate relationships faster online than in f2f interactions. I know more about my online students in the first few weeks of a course than I do most of my f2f by midterm!

The downside is that, when online, many communication rules fall by the wayside, and some students feel comfortable being disrespectful or beligerent in an email or even discussion board post than they would in a f2f class. I've had more problems with this in online classes than in all of my f2f classes. Students in online classes also seem more willing and able to fight every little point, whine about deadlines and assingments via email, and other annoying behaviors that I don't see as often in f2f classes. So, while we all get to know each other more in online classes, it comes at a price - more electronic whining!

So, which is my preference to teach? Well, from a personal stand-point, the flexibility of online courses is condusive to my lifestyle, as I have to kids under 5 in my house. I also get frustrated with the statewide courses that, while alleviating the pressure of creating a course from scratch, completely bind my hands from teaching the class in the way it suits me and my teaching methodology. However, if I was forced to choose only one to teach, I think it would be the online classes.

But that could change tomorrow!

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Love of Online

Although I started teaching online over the summer, I am really getting into the swing of it this semester. I am really enjoying it! So what is it about online teaching that is different from face-to-face teaching?

Besides the obvious, both students and the instructor have to work A LOT harder at communicating. There's no f2f lecture to be able to ask questions as they pop up, or to remind students of due dates, or what I call the "door" questions - when you get mobbed by students right when you walk in or right before you leave after class. Although I use Blackboard constantly for my f2f classes, it's different from online.

I make an effort to send out weekly, here's what we finished here's what's happening this week, announcements. I also let them know, via announcement, when any major assignment, a paper or a speech, has been graded and posted. I also spend a lot more time sending and receiving email. My hubby has decided that my laptop should just be surgically implanted into me somewhere, but I just feel it's too important to keep in contact with them as often as they want to talk. Then, there's the discussion boards. I don't reply to every post or every reply to a post, but I do make comments about good work, clarifying a point if they seem to be off, or even adding my own funny story to help humanize me.

Students sometimes forget we instructors are people, too.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Joys of Teaching

I have the honor of being a full-time professor at a local community college. There are many parts of my job that I enjoy. I love creating the course, figuring out assignments that will have the best impact. I love getting in front of the room and lecturing, ignite discussion, make them laugh a little. Some of my students have told me that my lecture are more "infotainment" than anything else.

But there are days when I think a nice, normal, 9-5 job might be better. The constant whining, worse than you would even hear in a 2-year-old room at a day care, the apathy, the beligerent ignorance that many of these students come into my classroom with, and the inability to think for themselves all combines to make me not like most of my students.

*Gasp* Did a teacher just admit to not liking her students? Yup. Truthfully, it's nothing personal. I teach communication, and we talk about identity and different social roles, and some of the students that I don't like as students, I like just fine as people. Several of them even end up popping on to my facebook page. Crappy students, interesting people. Some of my best students drive me NUTS outside of the classroom, but at least I know they will have their work done, and it will be correct!

So, when I say I don't like some of my students, I truly mean students, not people. And I know a good part of them don't like me, the Professor. I'm okay with that.

Why do this job, then? For the ones who come up to you and tell you that their life has changed because of something you said, or the ones that say the assignments they have done showed them how important communicatioin is in their life, or the ones who, after finally completing a speech without almost passing out, comes running to you to hug you for helping them get over their stage fright. Those moments make it all worth while.

Even if they are few and far between.