To my students: Why I won’t be handing out copies of the slides

Someone’s going to ask, so we might as well clear this up right at the outset. No, I won’t be handing out copies of the PowerPoint slides.

I recognize that, in the minds of many of you, that statement is tantamount to academic abuse. That it is evidence of some dreadful mean streak or profound character flaw on my part. That clearly I must have missed Lesson One of Teaching 101.

You are welcome to think whatever you want.

In fact, that’s exactly my point.

Part of my teaching philosophy is that I need to always be able to provide you with a reason for what we are doing in my class and how we are doing it. (You don’t have to like the reason, nor do you have to agree with it. But I have to have one, and I will always give it to you when asked.) So let me explain the rationale for this act of pedagogical treason.

First, if I am using PowerPoint effectively – something I don’t profess to be perfect at, but I do try – then my slides will largely be designed to provide speaking prompts and visual interest. If there is significant, detailed content that I think you really need to have in writing, I will give you a handout or provide you with a link.

Secondly, there is some evidence that writing notes the old fashioned way, by hand on a piece of paper, actually helps you learn. Of course if there is some genuine reason why taking your own notes will disadvantage your learning, I will happily accommodate you. But the vast majority of you will not be harmed by being expected to flex your note-taking muscles.

Besides, if all you are doing is trying to transfer what I am saying onto the page, you aren’t, in my view, taking the kind of notes that are going to be of much value to you when you walk out of my class.

Remember when I said “you are welcome to think what you want”?

That’s what you should be writing notes about. What you think. If this class was just about the information coming out of my mouth, I could type that up and send you a file and it wouldn’t matter whether you showed up or not. But since you did show up (and I’m glad you did!) it’s my job to make sure you get the most out of this course while you’re here. And that won’t happen if I do all the work.

You are here to engage with the content of the course, not just to record it for posterity. If I were to read your notes, I would hope to find that they contained a lot more than what I said. I would hope to see questions. Comments. Musings and ponderings. Angry little rants. Diagrams and arrows and words with circles around them and symbols that mean something to you alone— that mean things like “look up this author” and “possible essay topic!”

I’m far more interested in seeing margin notes that say “yuck” and “wow!” and “why???” than I am in seeing my own words parroted in neatly bulleted lists. I want your notes to say as much about what you were feeling about what you were learning as they say about the curriculum.

So no, I won’t be handing out a copy of the PowerPoint slides. And I won’t be emailing them to you after the class either. You are welcome to complain about this gross injustice on the course evaluation. Be sure to provide a detailed explanation of how your learning suffered due to my failure in this regard.

At least you will be writing about what you think.

Advertisements

Your personal invitation to my 100th Blog Post Party!

When I first clicked “Publish” back in September I had no idea where this blog was going. It evolved, along with my newly restored ability to go for long walks, out of my time off work to recover from hip replacement surgery. My initial goals were to give myself an excuse to write more regularly, and to find an audience for my writing. The blog has been a success on both counts. While I haven’t been able to maintain the same pace since going back to work, I have managed to post at least once or twice a week even in my busiest times. I have been “Freshly Pressed” and managed to amass over 1000 followers– some of whom appear to be actual human beings, and a few of whom are actually interested in reading what I’ve written (as opposed to trying to entice me to buy their products or join their pyramid schemes… but hey, nobody said this was a perfect world.)

Yes, my daughter made this. From scratch. Did I mention her cakes were epic? The figures are made out of coloured chocolate. She even made the fondant. When I was 16 I hadn’t even heard of fondant.

Turns out, the best things about blogging are those actual human beings — both the ones who read and comment on my blog, and the ones whose writing engages and inspires me daily. So when I pondered how I could mark the milestone of my 100th blog post, it occurred to me that what I really wanted to do was to celebrate with those people whose blogs have been such an inspiration to me.

There are, however, some obvious logistical barriers. Most of my blogging friends live very far from me and from one another, and many of them blog anonymously. So as much as I would like to have my daughter whip up one of her epic cakes and have my blogging buddies over for a party, it’s not going be feasible.

Unless I make it a virtual party!

So, welcome to my 100th Blog Post Party. Break out the balloons, pour yourself a glass of your beverage of choice, and I’ll take you around the room and introduce you to the other guests.

There’s Matt from Must Be This Tall To Ride. Matt has just come through the toughest year of his life, but he has distilled an incredible amount of wisdom out of the pain of his divorce. I look forward daily to his insightful writing as he navigates his single life and the challenges of part-time parenting. And speaking of distilling tough life experiences into some amazing writing, I’d like you to meet Fish of Gold, Ziya Tamesis at A Day with Depression and Jess at The Fevered Pen.

I have become very fond of little Phillip through the stories and pictures his mom shares on That Cynking Feeling. Elizabeth at Living with Autism also blogs eloquently about her experiences parenting her autistic son, Dylan.

I’m impressed by those bloggers who can manage to produce interesting reading day in and day out, like Alienora Taylor at ALIEN AURA’S BLOG: IT’LL BLOW YOUR MIND! , Doobster at Mindful Digressions and Pat at Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss.

As a “woman of a certain age,” it has been a delight to share my midlife journey with the likes of Bulging Buttons, Elyse at FiftyFour and a Half, and Renee at Life in the Boomer Lane.

Some of you, like Tyler Pedersen at The Ancient Eavesdropper, make beautiful pictures.

Some of you make me think, like Ryan at Rumblings.

Some of you make me laugh, like Arden at Writing While Wining (Caturday!)

Lots of you make me laugh while you’re making me think.

I could go on.

Come to think of it, it’s just as well this is a virtual party. I don’t think I have enough dessert plates to invite everyone.

Welcome one and all. I’m glad to have you in my life. Let the partying begin!

party
I promise I won’t make you wear the hats. That’s a Christmas party thing in my world. But if you DO have a tissue paper hat kicking around and you WANT to wear it to my blog party, I won’t judge.

 

Postscript: Since I just posted this a few days ago, I’m going to cheat and link it up to today’s Daily Prompt.  Because it’s my party and I’ll cheat if I want to!

 

 

 

I go walking: Flowing

As predicted, the ice jam came unjammed sometime in the night or early morning. By the time I headed out after breakfast, masses of broken river ice were flowing down the river.iceflow 8When I was a kid growing up on the bank of the Assiniboine River, this flow of ice was a big event. Every spring as the weather warmed we placed twenty-five cent bets on which day the ice would “go out.”  My grandfather generally won. This year the weather has been so erratic that I suspect even grandpa would have been hard pressed to call it.

Standingiceflow 4iceflow 3 on the bank just south of the bridge, I watched the ice crash against the bridge supports that just yesterday were bracing the ice jam. Huge slabs of ice crumbled against the supports which, I noticed for the first time, are shaped much like ships’ prows, no doubt  for exactly this purpose. Fallen trees, carried downriver with the ice, crashed and splintered like giant toothpicks.

As a kid, I always thought of the going out of the ice as a singular event. When I observe the river’s changes now, I see that everything about it is more complex than I once believed. The ice jams, and flows, and jams, and flows again, until eventually the last of it has melted. A lot of things that seem simple when you first look at them reveal themselves to be much more complex on closer examination.

iceflow 2

 

I go walking: Ice Jam

water risingOne of the lessons the river teaches is: Don’t assume that your singular perspective captures the whole story.

There I was, revelling in the view of open water from just outside my door, communing with ducks and geese and watching the spring river inching up the slope of the dike, and I totally failed to notice the ice jam.

Here on the north side of the bridge, the river appears to be wide open. But just a short walk to the other side of the bridge reveals that the southern span marks the edge of a sizeable ice jam.

ice jam 3

I’ve lived with prairie rivers all my life– I should know better than to take a spring river at face value. The ice jam is a reminder not to make assumptions based on the view before me– a reminder that, just around the curve of the river, the world might be quite a different place.

For all I know the ice jam may be gone tomorrow. At some point, the warming air will soften the massive slab of ice that is wedged against the bridge supports and it will break up and move northward, taking along with it the debris of fallen trees and garbage collected along its journey.

The ice jam ends as abruptly as it begins. Another short, southward hike, another curve in the river, and the water opens up again.

ice jam 6

The ice jam is a paradox– both solid and ephemeral. Ice is helpless against the heat of the sun, but it can do tremendous damage. An ice jam is unpredictable and dangerous. And then it’s gone.

geese 3

 

 

I go walking: At Dusk

I don’t have high expectations of Saturday Night.  If there’s an event to go to, I enjoy going out, but I don’t feel a desperate need to find an event if one has not presented itself to me. I’m introverted enough to be quite content at home with a glass of wine or a cup of tea and a good book.  I’m also just as apt to be doing something quite mundane like laundry or, as was the case tonight, marking papers. A party animal I am not.

One benefit to a quiet Saturday night is an evening walk. I love walking at dusk. I love the steady changing of colour in the sky as the sun slips below the horizon. I love the particular shade of deep blue that the sky assumes just before the last light is gone and it is night-dark. I love the way the air feels as it cools down. At this time of year it’s a very solitary time to walk, but in summer twilight brings out lots of walkers who have been waiting for a reprieve from the intense heat of the day.

Things come out at dusk. Tonight it was a lone beaver floating placidly in the icy river where the water is lapping up past the clusters of weedy shoreline trees. All I could think was how cold that water must be, and how relaxed the beaver was in spite of the chill.

I also encountered a pair of mallard ducks paddling near the shore. They were quiet, until a second pair of mallards flew in and, apparently,  landed too close to the nesting spot the first pair was scoping out. Then there was a huge to-do of quacking, which only calmed slightly when the second couple relented and flew upriver a little.  Even so, the first pair of ducks were still trash-talking the second in an indignant tone as I walked back along the dike towards home.

The geese were out too, but in the darkening sky I could only hear them.

The thing about dusk is that it’s ephemeral. Night stays around for a significant time. Day is a commitment. But there is something about dusk that evokes a conscious sense of time passing. You can only enjoy it in the moment. I don’t even try to take pictures, because I know there is something about dusk to which my camera will never do justice. I have to absorb it with my senses, knowing that my time to do so is limited.

When I go back and read that, it occurs to me that it might sound kind of depressing. But that’s not what I feel at all. For me, that ephemeral space between day and night is a magical moment of letting go of the busyness of day and allowing myself to float peacefully on the night like that beaver floating along the river’s edge. Not even caring how cold it is.

riverbank1

I go walking: Spring, actually

The numbers have been crunched, the stats tallied. We weren’t just imagining it. It really was the worst winter any of us had ever experienced. When it came to cold, we even managed to outdo the surface of Mars. It’s now the third week of April, and there is still a sizeable pile of snow on my patio.

ice floe 2But the river is opening up, so I’m declaring it spring, even if I do still have to wear gloves on the way to work in the morning. This is the season when I can scrape ice off my car window when I leave for work and turn on the air conditioning on the way home. In one afternoon I will encounter people out walking in shorts, passing people who are still wearing parkas.

geeseSpring has been so late this year that the first wave of geese to arrive turned back south again because we were still in such a deep freeze. They are returning again now — each day there are more and more of them, wading in half-frozen roadside puddles and looking perplexed by the piles of snow still dotting the brown grass.

Some of my walking routes are still such an awful mixture of mud and ice that I am, for the most part, sticking to pavement until the thaw ends. Wandering through residential streets affords me a view of the aftermath of plowing this winter’s exceptional quantity of snow. Huge chunks of curb, snapped off by the force of the plows, sit perched atop snow banks that are studded with the road sand and salt.

broken curb 2Everything is brown. The grass is brown.  The trees are brown. The geese are brown. The river is always sort of brown. Even the snow that remains along the side of the roads is brown.

Except the sky, which, in all its blueness, promises that no matter how seemingly endless this winter has been, eventually things will turn green again.

picnic table 1

 

 

 

 

 

Evaluating evaluation

We are always evaluating.

“I enjoyed the movie, but the ending was kind of stupid.”

“This salad is really tasty! Can I get your dressing recipe?”

“You should read this book. I couldn’t put it down.”

Book and movie reviews are evaluations.  So are restaurant reviews. So, in fact, are all those annoying Facebook comments exhorting you to support this cause or check out that article.

The problem is that we often don’t make it clear what criteria we are using as the basis for our evaluation.

For example, the other day I was reflecting on the fact that both my children have reached their late teens/young adulthood without having had the opportunity to visit any of Disney’s iconic theme parks. For that fleeting moment I found myself evaluating my success as a parent against a marketing-driven upper-middle-class standard of Experiences Your Children Ought To Have. My daughter swiftly brought me back to me senses by pointing out that, according to her criteria I was doing just fine:

“Well, let’s see Mom– I don’t enjoy rides, I hate waiting in line, and I prefer to avoid crowds–so really I’m OK with that.”

I was reminded of her insightful bit of reframing today when I read through the evaluations for a workshop I recently instructed.  Out of 24 participants, 23 seem to have thought the workshop was interesting, engaging, relevant, important, etc. The other one thought it sucked.

You can please some of the people some of the time.

The thing that makes it so difficult to interpret these evaluations is that even though they all answered the same questions, they clearly aren’t all approaching those questions from the same set of criteria for what constitutes a good workshop. Sometimes when I read feedback comments I have to wonder if we were even all in the same place at the same time. Someone thought the workshop was too “lecture heavy,” while someone thought there was too much group “brainstorming.” Someone thought the workshop should be a mandatory part of the program, while someone thought it was a colossal waste of time.

The are probably all correct. If I could sit down and have a conversation with each of them, I would likely be able to determine why they responded the way they did. Everyone approaches experience with different expectations — different criteria against which they measure just about everything around them.

Truthfully, sometimes it’s just not the workshop for you — not because there’s anything wrong with either you or the workshop, but because it’s not the right fit. I hate horror movies, but that doesn’t mean other people can’t enjoy them. I am, on the other hand, a big fan of dystopian science fiction, which I recognize is not everyone’s cup of tea. The problem comes when we try to evaluate the horror film using the criteria that make for good dystopian science fiction, or vice versa.

I will dust off the evaluation report next time I prepare to offer this workshop. I may tweak a few things as a result. But given that the overwhelming impression was positive, I won’t sweat the details. What I might do is add in a few more explanations of why we are doing what we are doing as we do it– not because I think I need to justify my instructional design decisions, but so that my students and I can come closer to being on the same page when it comes to how to evaluate the workshop. If I’ve made it crystal clear that I’m only offering hot fudge sundaes, you can’t complain that you didn’t get a banana split.

Well you can, but it won’t change the menu.

IMG-20130714-00304