“My love, do you ever dream of Candy coated raindrops? You’re the same, my candy rain”
Soul for Real
Do you ever dream of candy coated raindrops? No? Well, me neither. However, when I think of dreams it always reminds me of that Soul for Real song from the 90’s, “Candy Rain.” I used to love that group. I loved them so much I named my online persona after them. For the longest time, I was soul4real on everything social media account available. I’ve cut back over the years, but my Twitter handle is still @soul4real. As a result, every time someone wants to share that they are listening to a song from this group, they always tweet it like the one to the right. I get a few tweets a week like this.
So I wrote all of that because for some strange reason I can’t think of anything I dream of. I’m sure that has everything to do with me being on sabbatical. Maybe I should dream of having another sabbatical, but I’d have to wait 7 years for that and I hope to be retired by then. And when I return in the fall, I’ll already be going through a bit of a job change, transitioning back to teaching composition full time. It’s been four years, so I don’t have the barely hidden disdain for grading hundreds of essays every 3 weeks in me. I’m actually looking forward to it. Hopefully that feeling will last a few semesters. I guess I could dream that my students will be the best students to ever take a freshman comp class at GCC, and we all enjoy every minute of our time together. A girl can dream, right?
In the mean time, while I get back to enjoying my sabbatical and trying to think of things to dream of, you should enjoy the soulful stylings of a great group – Soul for Real singing “Candy Rain.”
That’s how many instructors and students feel about assessment and evaluation. It’s a lot of needless pain and suffering. It always seems so punitive to students who struggle. But assessment doesn’t have to be that way. Many instructors have found ways to teach and use assessments in a way that encourage students to do better the next time. The key is that there is a next time, and that can be the challenge.
In writing courses, instructors can get overloaded with grading. The more a student writes the better that writing becomes, but who has time to grade all that writing. Apparently writing instructors do. However, there are ways to break down the concepts and skills needed to write well and have students practice those concepts and skills without the need of instructor grading. For instance, much of the bad writing that I see, stems from poor sentence structure. Students love a good run-on sentence, with a few fragments thrown in for good measure. It drive me crazy. “Use a comma or a period somewhere, please,” I beg.
Lucky for us at GCC, we’ve found an adaptive learning tool to help us teach students the grammar and mechanics skills, including sentence structure that they struggle with. If you’re not familiar with adaptive learning, it “is an educational method which uses computer algorithms to orchestrate the interaction with the learner and deliver customized resources and learning activities to address the unique needs of each learner” (Wikipedia). The tool we adopted from McGraw-Hill is called Connect, which includes LearnSmart Achieve. LSA provides an adaptive learning system designed to identify students’ areas of weakness. It uses supplementary content, such as videos, interactive activities, additional readings, and even a time management feature, all intended to guide students through content and resources at an appropriate pace. You can see an example below.
The beauty of this type of tool is students are being assessed all through out the process, and the system is adapting to their needs. If they’re struggling with the content they get more resources and more practice. If a student clearly understands, they hit mastery sooner and complete the lesson. So instead of a lot of pain and suffering, students get what they need. Missing a question doesn’t seem like a punishment. It becomes and opportunity to learn why and try again until they get it right. And as an instructor, I don’t have to grade any of that work. That’s the real beauty. My assessment comes when they put those skills to the test on an essay assignment.
Unfortunately, we can’t eliminate all the pain and suffering. At some point students have to write an essay, and instructors have to grade it. Well, more like grade 100+ of them (24 students x 5 classes). And we assign 3-4 essays in each course, so it’s still a lot of grading. But I digress. Once a student submits a finished essay, eager with anticipation of a passing grade, it takes some time to get that feedback back to students. During that span (1-2 weeks on occasion), students forget all about that paper and the effort or lack of effort they put into it. And when the paper is return, the process often ends there. There’s no motivation to do better. We teach that writing is a process, yet we make the process end when we’re ready. I believe with a C paper and especially an F paper, the process is not over yet. The student needs to continue to work on that essay, not the next one, in order to improve his/her writing.
So my assessment technique involves giving students an opportunity of a rewrite. Yep, more pain essays for me to grade. But it works because students have to tell me what it is they did to improve the essay. What skills did they work on? What help did you seek? Did you work in LearnSmart Achieve? Did you visit the Writing Center? Did you schedule a conference with your instructor? So the process doesn’t have to end with an F paper crumpled and thrown in the trashcan as the student walks out the door (clearly that’s an old reference to times gone by). Writing is a process and the only way to get students to write better is to keep the process going for as long as they need.
Do any of you remember your first black teacher? I’m guessing many can say they never had one. I can say that I only had two from elementary school all the way through grad school. If I lived my whole life in Arizona, that might be understandable given the 4% African American population in this state. But I started my education growing up in an all black neighborhood in Columbus, OH. I mean everybody was black. Except for the teachers. I didn’t think anything of it. Teachers were just white.
Then when I started junior high school, my mom thought it would be a great idea to bus me to an all white school. Guess what? There weren’t any black teachers there either. Two busloads of black kids shipped off to white suburbia to fend for ourselves. Little did I know that we were part of desegregation busing, the practice of assigning and transporting kids to schools so as to overcome the effects of residential segregation on local school demographics. All I knew was it sucked. I never felt like that was my school. We were just visitors.
We moved to Arizona the following year, and I remember feeling relieved. In Central Phoenix I wasn’t the only minority. There were Mexican and Native American kids too. Brown people unite. But Phoenix had its own version of desegregation busing even though it probably wasn’t planned that way. I lived right across the street from North HS, but some how I found myself riding the city bus everyday to Central. My mom was crazy sneaky like that. There might have been black teachers at North, but I didn’t see a one at Central. They were all white, so clearly they were the better teachers.
When you grow up never seeing anyone who looks like you in roles of leadership and prestige, you start to believe you can never achieve that yourself. Thank goodness I NEVER wanted to be a teacher, so it never really bothered me until I left for college. After spending two years at Phoenix College, I went to a Historically Black College (HBC) in Texas. Woot woot! Certainly, there will black teachers there. Nope. Well, there were a few, but not teaching the courses I was taking. Except for my Spanish teacher. She was my first black teacher. I remember myself acknowledging that fact one day in class and thinking: my first black teacher and I can’t understand a word she’s saying. Haha!
There is a point to all this reminiscing about my schooling. It reminds me that there are many individual students who find themselves in similar situations as I did growing up or even feeling marginalized. Even today we have students who are minorities, LGBTQ, physically or mentally disabled who show up in our classrooms wondering if they fit in. Many are the first in their families to go to college, so there’s no precedence. Many will look around the room and see very few faces like their own and wonder if they can do it. So for me, I feel as if I have to do more than just be their first black teacher. I have to try to be more inclusive with these students. Not because they feel they need it, but because I feel like every student should feel as if they are a part of their community and develop a sense of belonging and hopefully become better prepared for life because of that.
I know you’re reading this, but technically this post does not exist. I love Write6x6, but since I’m on sabbatical this year, I can’t participate in any on campus activities. Hence why you are not really seeing this post.
But I could not resist posting about my inspirations for who I am today. No doubt it is those who came before me and had the responsibility to coach and/or supervise me. I was an athlete growing up; pretty much still am to this day, so I’ve had many coaches along the way. And when I started teaching, I realized that department chairs served in much the same capacity as a coach for teachers. My first teaching job was at Deer Valley HS way back in the day. My first chair’s advice to me was: “I’d rather you beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.”
Well, I took that advice and ran! I thought she was crazy, but if that is how she wanted to play it, I was game. The quote is attributed to Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. The idea is not that you abuse the situation and just do whatever the heck you want. It’s meant to encourage others to go for things if they truly believe in it. A lot of good ideas go by the wayside because it’s too complicated to figure out how to get permission. Hopper believed “If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It is much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.” So it’s really about knowing when to push the boundaries.
In my 30 years of working in education, I’ve learned that there are a lot of naysayers, those who can’t think outside the box and just want to follow the status quo or their perceived rules. It’s a wonder we get anything done sometimes, but I think it’s those that push the boundaries and take risks, and often have to beg forgiveness, that help move things along and drive innovation. So that has pretty much been my motto and way of life for the last 30 years. Luckily I didn’t have to do a lot of begging.
So I’d say I was inspired by that first chair, and because I took her advice, I think it shaped who I am today as an educator. It opened up lots of opportunities I may have never gotten had I asked for permission first.
Cheers to Jeanne Sabrack who now teaches adjunct at Scottsdale Community College.
I learned about an interesting way to increase student online enrollment from the eLearning team at Great Falls College Montana State University today at the ITC eLearning conference in Tucson. They discussed how students are often reluctant to sign up for online courses because they’ve never done so before and don’t know what to expect. That coupled with the fact that some students sign up for online courses and are not properly prepared to be successful in the online environment. The eLearning departments solution was the creation of Mini-Bytes. “A Mini-Byte class is a free 2-week sample of an online course. Instructors that teach the full 16-week watch over the courses and interact with the students who can sign up at any time.” Students get to try before they buy. That’s a great idea.
I think that if students could actually see what the expectations are for an online class and experience the look and feel of a course, they would have a better idea of what the online class will be like. They can then make an informed decision about whether online is a right fit.
However, many times great ideas get mired in red tape. How could GCC or Maricopa capitalize on an idea like this? First, we would have to get past the whole registration aspect. With our no late registration mandate, this is not possible. Strike one. Next, we would need to get faculty who teach online to be willing to open a 2-week portion of their online course and allow for open enrollment. Canvas permits this easily; however, the idea of having a random group of students in a 2 week course that faculty would be responsible for engaging with is not easy. Faculty working for free? Strike two. If the numbers were small, it might be possible to persuade a few. But would there be a broad enough spectrum of courses available for students to taste?
Another problem I foresee would be course consistency. As the former eCourses faculty lead for GCC, I know first hand how challenging it is to get all departments on board with a consistent look and feel for online courses even though we subscribe to Quality Matters. I would imagine taking an online English course would be much different from taking an online math class. Although maybe that is not the purpose of the mini-bytes. Maybe they are course specific which makes sense. Therefore, we would need to ensure that department online courses have a consistent look and feel. I know in English that is what we strive for, but it can be a challenge.
Overall, I like this mini-bytes concept and clearly one college, Great Falls College, has made this work for them. I guess I will implementing innovative ideas in Maricopa were easier.
I’m happy to say that I was awarded a sabbatical for the 2018-2019 academic year. The fancy title of this post will be the focus of my sabbatical. It should be a grand ole dandy time, and I’m looking forward to spending my time doing and learning something new. If you’d like to read more about my sabbatical, I posted a few key points below.
Abstract: Learning analytics is a new and developing field. There is a growing literature base around learning analytics and its impact on student grades and retention. Although learning analytics is still at a relatively early stage of development, there is convincing evidence from early adopters that learning analytics will help to improve outcomes. It only makes sense that Maricopa would want to tap into this new field. Learning analytics has been defined as “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs” (Sampson, 2016). Maricopa with its use of Canvas LMS and SIS has an overabundance of data that goes unused. Becoming a data analysis authority will enable me, as a full-time faculty member, to help support data driven decision making at GCC using education data analytics technologies, which includes Canvas Data Portal.
Goal(s) – what the sabbatical will accomplish. A vital aspect of data driven decision making is Data Literacy for Teachers, which is the primary goal of this sabbatical, to empower myself to use data in the decision-making process, so that I can help support data driven decision-making at GCC using education data analytics technologies. Data Literacy for Teachers “comprises the competence set (knowledge, skills, and attitudes) required to identify, collect, analyze, interpret, and act upon Educational Data from different sources so as to support improvement of the teaching, learning and assessment process” (Sampson, 2016). Our LMS, Canvas, produces a lot of data that presently is not being used. By becoming a data analysis authority and more knowledgeable in Canvas Data, I will be able to help support other faculty and administrators with data driven decision making at GCC using these data analytics from Canvas.
Objectives – steps to achieve the goal(s). The objectives for this project mostly follow the competency set (knowledge, skills, and attitudes) required for Data Literacy for Teachers. They are required to identify, collect, analyze, interpret, and act upon Educational Data from different sources. There are several steps involved in this project.
Identify and learn about big data, analytics and data analysis.
Identify and learn about Canvas Learning Analytics.
Learn about Canvas Data Portal.
Learn how to collect the data from Canvas into various tools for analysis.
Learn Data Analysis to discover what the right questions to ask will be.
Learn how to interpret learning data to predict and influence outcomes (act upon).
Assess and identify which BI Tools schools are leveraging to analyze data.
Create/Find a collection of example queries that use Canvas Hosted Data to answer questions; queries that could be very useful to solve problems at GCC (act upon).
Create awareness guides and a workshop for faculty on Canvas Learning Analytics.
Create a resource guide for district CTL’s on Canvas Data Portal.
Get Canvas Data Portal turned on in Maricopa.
The only objective I’m worried about not accomplishing is the last. It can be a challenge at time getting things with in Maricopa accomplished, but I’m up for the fight.
That’s a pretty relevant question. It is Thursday, and the To-Do list is fairly long. So why not shirk all responsibility for 30 minutes or so and blog about happy hour? Sounds good to me. Happy hour is the obvious choice for this week’s writing prompt for Write6x6: Building Relationships. How do you build relationships with faculty, staff, and students on campus? How important are these relationships to you?
First, I’m going to point out the obvious. There will be no happy hour with students, but everyone else is fair game. It’s the perfect way to build relationships. When I left South Mountain Community College 8 years ago, one of the pluses on my Pro/Con list for leaving the college was building relationships and community. I have some wonderful friends at SMCC and built some long lasting relationships, but not many of those relationships went beyond the boundaries of the college. I just felt like if I was going to spend 6 hours a day with people, I should be friends with those people outside those boundaries – at least some of them. So I left. I felt like a bigger campus, more people would open up those doors. And I was right. I went from having 6 faculty in my department to 40. There might have been more at SMCC if I counted the Reading faculty, but I didn’t really know of any of them. But you get the idea.
Everyone is busy, and teaching schedules can be chaotic. It’s difficult to build relationships when you never see the people you work with. So I made it a habit of walking the halls and spending time in my office beyond the required 1 hour office hour, just so I could connect with my peeps. After a while, I quickly learned that I was never going to get much work done when I was in the halls of 05. I spent my time there popping into offices, talking with colleagues, answering questions and generally just chilling. It was a great trade off. Not everyone agrees with that sentiment, as there were plenty of closed doors in the hallways.
But there are also many happy hours. Meeting up off campus allows for people to feel free, be more relaxed, and open up a bit more about how things on the job are really going. It gives us all a chance to problem solve together and brainstorm ideas. But it also builds stronger relationships. I work with a bunch of awesome people who travel to conferences for professional development together, submit proposals for grants together, work on projects together, and of course, attend many happy hours, dinners and gatherings in our own homes together. We’re just one big kumbaya song.
So I’m a member of the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) committee again this year. As a member of this committee, I have agreed to be a mentor for a probational faculty member that needs to comply with the RFP requirements. When I heard about these new requirements for probationary faculty, my first thought was, thank goodness I’m not probationary. I don’t want to have any part of that. Well, it turns out no one can really escape PAR. Even us old residential faculty, as all the newbies are required to have mentors. And with so many new faculty, pretty much everyone who is not new is a mentor.
The Maricopa Community College District implemented this new peer assistance and review model (PAR) for probationary faculty about 4 years ago. Faculty are considered probationary for 5 years. Under this new model, probationary faculty are assigned a residential faculty mentor to help guide them through the process to becoming residential (tenured). As part of the PAR, probationary faculty have the opportunity to document their professional growth, mentor evaluation, administrative evaluations, and student evaluations in a Google Sites template.
I actually ended up with two pretty awesome mentees. Both are excellent teachers and fun to work with. The best part is they make being a mentor fairly easy. I’m going to share my recent evaluation of one although evaluation isn’t quite the right word. It was more of an observation with feedback. Evaluation indicates the making of a judgment about the value of something; assessment. I’d like to believe all teaching has value, and it’s really not up to me to judge someone’s value or their teaching. I like to observe and then give feedback. Lucky for me what I’ve observed has always been inspiring.
Recently I sat in on an after class review session and the room was full. My first observation was how does that happen. Students stick around for a study session after class? The whole class was engaged. They were divided into groups of 2-4 and it appeared that they each had an assigned topic to cover. As the instructor called on each group, students were prepared with their information. Some reading from notes or slides; others reciting information from memory. My mentee was encouraging and peppered the whole class and group members with questions. Students volunteered answered. Whether they were correct or incorrect, they each received the same kind feedback that the answer was correct or incorrect. It didn’t seem punitive if the answer was not correct. Someone else was just called on to provide a different answer. The whole session was positive and encouraging. I was inspired, and I wasn’t even a student in the class.
It’s really good to see good teaching, but the best part is there is no one way about it. Every instructor brings her own touch to the classroom, and we can all learn by observing how others get the job done. Turns out that this whole PAR thing might not be such a bad thing after all.
Writing today is almost a completely online or computer aided experience. Students are composing in word processor programs as well as online in programs like Google Drive or directly in Canvas. While most of these text editors will probably have built in spelling and maybe a grammar check, a more robust dedicated editing tool can find hidden errors that are easily missed on a standard text editor, and there are many of these tools available on the web for free and for pay. I decided that maybe our students and even faculty and staff might benefit from some of these tools, so I wrote a summer project proposal to research it this summer.
My goal for a summer project is to spend some time using some of these editing tools to discover which make the best use for our students and for us. I also want to study how these programs work to discover if in fact they are accurate and how accurate they are. In addition, I’d like to research whether these tools actually benefit students by teaching them to become better writers or if they are simply a crutch. With this knowledge, I’d like to develop a plan for how best to use these programs with students so that the tools can be more of a teaching aide than a tool that makes corrections only for students. So my proposal includes academic research, activities that can enhance my professional knowledge and expertise, as well as field research to learn innovations.
I think this will be great way to spend my time this summer, so I plan to complete this project over a 4 week period during the month of June. Did any of you submit a proposal? I’m curious how you plan to spend your summer if you did.
I have to admit I’m borderline burnout, but what keeps me going these days are the people I work with on a daily basis. My inspiration comes from all of those faculty and staff who take the time to better themselves and be the best they can be and utilize the CLTE to help them with that. I can’t be a slacker around these folks. Oh no, so I’m inspired to step my game up and help provide the services they need, and it reminds me of why I’m doing this job in the first place. It’s easy to forget at times.
So the last thing I need to be doing right now is agonizing over a journal post, but I’m inspired to do so because of the 10+ posts already posted on Write6x6.com from last week. They are my inspiration to post, to share. They are my inspiration to complete a tedious FPG application for an upcoming workshop. My inspiration to schedule FMS training in the CTLE. My inspiration to send out yet another announcement about what we have to offer, knowing very few will bother to read it. But it’s that few that inspire me.
Recently I attended a district event at SCC called TechTalks. It’s a TEDTalks type of event where 8 speakers talk about their experience with using technology in their life or work environment. These talks are very inspirational, but on this particular Friday I had every legitimate excuse to not miss work and not attend. I’m so glad I didn’t give in to any one of those excuses because that’s all they are is excuses. Attending TechTalks rejuvenated me. It inspired me. It made me want to go and do ALL those things those speakers talked about. I wanted to understand data, play with virtual reality, create portfolios for my students, create OER, and even make a music video despite my lack of music and movie making skills. I was inspired. Again by my colleagues in Maricopa. I’m so glad I didn’t pass up this one of a multitude of opportunities to be inspired because what good am I to you, my colleagues, my students if I’m not inspired to do my job?