Stop sprinting on the treadmill — get somewhere with time management!

Ever had one of those weeks where it feels like you’re sprinting on a treadmill, not getting anywhere but worried that you’ll trip and crash if you don’t keep up? One of those months? Academic terms?

We all know what it is to be busy, even overextended. We all also, I trust, have a keen understanding of the innumerable ways in which we don’t use the time we have effectively. As I have been looking for time and space to breathe this spring, my friend Chris passed along this article on the Entrepreneur website on time management a couple of weeks ago. It is perhaps an ironic commentary on my own anemic time management skills that I’m just getting to this now… and a further irony that I ran across it in the first place during some Facebook-involved procrastination.

But as the academic year winds down (meaning that we have much to complete, and miles to go before we sleep), and the summer begins (meaning that we still have much to complete, but the illusion of “plenty of time” luring us into complacency), perhaps these tips will come in handy for all of us as we attempt to stop sprinting on the treadmill and actually get somewhere with our time.

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10 Time Management Tips That Work

 

Chances are good that, at some time in your life, you’ve taken a time management class, read about it in books, and tried to use an electronic or paper-based day planner to organize, prioritize and schedule your day. “Why, with this knowledge and these gadgets,” you may ask, “do I still feel like I can’t get everything done I need to?”

The answer is simple. Everything you ever learned about managing time is a complete waste of time because it doesn’t work.

[intrigued? read more after the jump!]

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Free webinar on “The Flipped Classroom” coming soon!

Interested in the “flipped classroom” concept? Blended/hybrid learning? Maybe you would be, but don’t know much about it?

Check out this free webinar provided by Inside Higher Ed on Thursday, May 8, 2014, 1:00 PM CDT. I’ll be there!

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Thursday, May 8, 2014 1:00:00 PM CDT – 2:00:00 PM CDT
The idea of the “flipped classroom” has taken off in higher education in recent years – and it is used to describe a wide variety of teaching styles. What they have in common is that they largely replace the lecture. For material that might have been delivered in lecture format previously, online instruction is provided in advance of the class. This allows for time in class to be used in different ways – group work, discussion and other forms of highly engaged participatory learning become the norm. 
 
Discussion of the flipped classroom thus is a mix of teaching with technology – and teaching without technology. It’s about pedagogy, learning and the role of the instructor. And in an era in which educators and policy makers alike want to promote student learning and achievement (not just showing up in class), the flipped classroom has become a key strategy.
 
In this FREE WEBINAR, Inside Higher Ed editors Scott Jaschik and Doug Lederman explore a range of ideas and opinions about the flipped classroom.

Read up before you participate! Visit www.insidehighered.com/booklets to download "The Flipped Classroom," a compilation of news articles and opinion essays, the latest in Inside Higher Ed's series of booklets on hot issues in higher education. 

Inside Higher Ed's "The Flipped Classroom" webinar is made possible with the support of Adobe. Your registration information will be shared with the company. 

Captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing provided by CaptionAccess.

Letting our students think in “The Sound of Silence”

 

 

Pedagogical wisdom, from Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction (fair warning: 2-3 F-bombs in this brief scene):

Mia’s encounter with John Travolta’s Vincent Vega is instructive for considering options for classroom discussion.

No, really.

Consider: The relationship between the two is very new; they don’t know each other well. For Vincent the encounter is a high-pressure moment (Vincent’s boss has instructed him to keep his wife Mia entertained), but in the stress of not knowing how to respond appropriately he opts to play it cool and keep his mouth shut. How often have we encountered students like that?

But Mia wants Vincent to engage the encounter actively. So she is supportive of Vincent’s brief request for a taste of what she has to offer, recognizes the discomfort of silences explicitly… and then provides Vincent with a prompt, followed by a low-pressure opportunity to quietly contemplate a response without the pressure of her evaluating presence.  Mini-spoiler alert: after Mia’s “powder-her-nose” break (yes, that powder), Vincent is comfortable enough to ask a provocative question that is followed by Mia’s response, a more engaged conversation, and a relationship furthered by additional mutual understanding.

Rocky Dailey of South Dakota State University provides similar, safer-for-work advice in a recent column in Faculty Focus. I’ve tried to be more intentional about making “uncomfortable silences” a bit safer in my classroom this term… not always successfully, but I think the efforts are starting to bear fruit in broader class participation and better answers. So check this out!

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APRIL 21, 2014

The Sound of Silence: The Value of Quiet Contemplation in the Classroom

By:  in Teaching and Learning

As a college student, I was rarely the first to raise my hand or respond to a question posed during class. I was shy by nature and always felt like I had little to offer. There were times, however, that I would interject simply to break the long silence after the instructor asked a question. In those cases, the silence was either too uncomfortable to bear or I figured that my response would be no worse than anyone else’s. There was also the threat of a pop quiz or some other academic challenge looming for the unresponsive class, which included students who obviously either did not know the content or had not read the assignment. I believe this is an experience all college students have faced at one time or another.

When I became an instructor, I was now on the other side of the equation. I was asking questions for several reasons; to gauge students’ understanding of course concepts, to determine if they had completed reading assignments, and mainly to start an engaging discussion. But once again, those silences followed many of the questions I posed. It was a concern for me because I felt I had failed as an educator. Either my expectations were too high or my assignments were not designed well enough to cover course concepts and goals.

The scenario is all too familiar to most educators. The instructor asks a question to the class, the class either looks down or passes quick glances around the room to see if anyone looks like they are about to answer, and if no one is giving any indication of preparing a response the atmosphere becomes tense. Eventually, either some brave soul will wade into the discussion in the hopes of breaking the awkward silence, or the instructor will answer the question and continue on.

But why is that silence so uncomfortable?

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Is there any saving “the meeting?” Well, maybe!

Yes, they are a pain. But John Cleese is right: colleges (from the department level to the committee level), like any organizations, can’t function without them.  As well, collaborative group projects for students can be a high-impact learning opportunity — but students like meetings about as much as we do.

I appreciate finding tips that make collaborative work easier — figured you would, too. So, here’s a piece from today’s online Chronicle on how working groups can hack their own organizational dynamics not only to improve performance, but to enhance buy-in from members as well.

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Regrouping the Group Meeting

They’re often a colossal waste of time. So how do we make them useful?

Regrouping the Group Meeting 1

Mark Shaver for The Chronicle

How often do you hear a colleague say, “I’m so excited to attend today’s group meeting,” or a student remark, “How is it possible that my group meetings are so stimulating and engaging?”

What’s that? You’ve never heard anyone say those things? Me neither. I dread meetings for the same reason that everyone does: They’re usually a waste of time.

Most often, a meeting consists of a group of people who gather to discuss a particular
topic, to make or move toward a decision, or to (dare I use the b-word?) brainstorm. These well-intentioned discussions too frequently involve only a few of the many present. The decision would usually be more efficiently made online. And as for brainstorming, the idea seems to work better in theory than in practice.

All across the country on a weekly basis we suffer in meetings. We waste time, we snooze. More and more, we don’t even pretend we’re engaged. People go to meetings with their phones purposefully juiced up, ready to send texts, check email, or play Fruit Ninja.

And that colossal waste of time occurs on a wide scale. Take research groups: According to the National Science Foundation, in the United States for the disciplines of science, engineering, and health combined, there were 62,947 postdoctoral researchers and 626,820 graduate students in 2011. At a rate of one two-hour group meeting a week, that amounts to roughly 69 million hours of their time spent each year in a typical research meeting—and that doesn’t count undergraduates, faculty members, or staff members. Out of those 69 million hours, we probably squeeze, at most, a million hours of true productivity.

It was that huge loss of potential that led me to seek a solution to my own research group’s weekly meetings.

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Where does the time go? TAWKS might know…

A number of my colleagues, especially those involved in significant service commitments, have recently observed how the looming end of the academic year feels like such a time crunch: not only are we continuing our ongoing work in teaching, meetings and research (when we can fit it in), but the “needs doing by the end of year” deadline for bigger projects looms large, putting pressure on everyone. This is just one of the more salient moments that feature a plaintive refrain of all academic professionals — where does the time go?

Some new research on this issue at Boise State University was recently featured in Inside Higher Ed. Consider the findings of TAWKS: does this profile of faculty work-time feel familiar? How different might it be at a different sort of institution (say, a residential liberal arts college like mine)? What patterns are familiar?

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So Much to Do, So Little Time
April 9, 2014

Professors work long days, on weekends, on and off campus, and largely alone. Responsible for a growing number of administrative tasks, they also do research more on their own time than during the traditional work week. The biggest chunk of their time is spent teaching.

Those are the preliminary findings of an ongoing study at Boise State University — a public doctoral institution — of faculty workload allocation, which stamps out old notions of professors engaged primarily in their own research and esoteric discussions with fellow scholars.

“The ivory tower is a beacon — not a One World Trade Center, but an ancient reflection of a bygone era — a quasar,” John Ziker, chair of the anthropology department at Boise State University, says in a new scholarly blog post in which he discusses his faculty workload findings. “In today’s competitive higher-education environment, traditional universities and their faculty must necessarily do more and more, and show accomplishments by the numbers, whether it be the number of graduates, the number of peer-reviewed articles published or the grant dollars won.”

Ziker’s Blue Review post continues: “It is harder to count — and to account for — service and administrative duties. These are things we just do because of the institutional context of Homo academicus, and it’s hard to quantify the impact of these activities or the time spent, but they are exceedingly important for intellectual progress of the larger Homo clans.”

But of course just how professors spend their time has major implications for faculty, students and their institutions, he says – especially as Boise State has recently adopted a policy that professors should spend 60 percent of their time teaching. Hence the need for the Time Allocation Workload Knowledge Study, or “TAWKS.”

[more after the jump!]

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Multitasking is for suckers… Monotask!

I stink at grading. There. I said it.

It’s not that I provide inadequate feedback. While I sometimes err on the side of too much, I think I do formative assessment pretty well (now, if they’d only read my comments…). No, the problem is actually doing it. Part of the problem is my career-long battle with procrastination. But a key factor is my inability to just sit and do it. I have a similar problem with research writing. I’ll determine a time to do it… and then other stuff creeps in: adjusting my course prep; replying to e-mail; responding to inquiries from colleagues on various administrative matters; reading a news article that seems interesting. I tell myself I’m multitasking — and all of it is done in less-than fashion.

Multitasking sometimes works, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced it’s a myth bordering on a sick joke. In a 2008 issue of The New Atlantis, Christine Rosen writes about “The Myth of Multitasking.” She quotes one of the celebrated letters by 18th century British statesman Lord Chesterfield to his son: “There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.” She also draws on the work of Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist and author of CrazyBusy:

[I]n his book he calls multitasking a ‘mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously.’ In a 2005 article, he described a new condition, ‘Attention Deficit Trait,’ which he claims is rampant in the business world. ADT is ‘purely a response to the hyperkinetic environment in which we live,’ writes Hallowell, and its hallmark symptoms mimic those of ADD. ‘Never in history has the human brain been asked to track so many data points,’ Hallowell argues, and this challenge ‘can be controlled only by creatively engineering one’s environment and one’s emotional and physical health.’

University of Colorado grad student Katie Shives suggests a possible solution in Inside Higher Ed‘s gradhacker blog. It is at once deceptively simple and possibly essential for professional productivity. Perhaps I’ll try it!

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The Lost Art of Doing One Thing at a Time
April 8, 2014 – 9:22pm

abstract photo of car in tunnelKatie Shives is a PhD candidate in Microbiology at the University of Colorado. During her free time she writes about microbiology-related topics at kdshives.com and on Twitter @KDShives.

Today I submitted my very first grant application to the NIH. Funny thing is, until yesterday I thought I had 6 days to submit. However, I did not factor in early submission deadlines, so thanks to a well-timed reminder from our Grants and Contracts office I suddenly realized I had less than 24 hours to finish a grant package with all of the supporting materials or else all of my hard work would be for nothing. How did I get it all finished in time (other than lots and lots of coffee)?

Monotasking

Or, as I like to refer to it “the lost art of doing one thing at a time.”

[more after the jump!]

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