Creating Time for Intellectual Creation: Deep Work and Maker Time




The familiar challenge:
We are 6 weeks into summer, and in the pile on our desk about mid-way down is that proposal, paper, course redesign that there has yet to be time for.

Each week offers 40+ hours, yet there can barely be 2 hours of continuous focused worktime strung together. How can this be?

What’s going on:
We have time but how we use it changes the quality of that time for worse or for better. Just as fractures weaken the structure integrity of a beam, or aesthetics transform an object into art, time’s productivity is transformed by our use.

Within computer science and programming there is a distinction between maker time and manager (meeting) time. The first involves chunks of time where one can focus on conceptualizing and working through the depth of a design without surfacing to respond or shift to other topics. Managerial time, conversely, is broken up and additive. One more meeting in a day full of meetings does not have the same cost as a meeting in the middle of block of maker time.

Pair of glasses focussing on the word "focus" in dictionary.

Photo credit – Mark Hunter, CC-By

At a recent SoTL writing retreat, a faculty member commented how it was the first time they had read a full article uninterrupted. It can even take a few hours to settle into comfortable realization that the knock will not come, and the email (turned off) will not ding. By then also having become reacquainted with the project, work starts to build and more is accomplished in a day or two than in weeks past.

This call to create space in our week (or at least in our summer) for focused work is the drumbeat of Cal Newport’s 2016 book Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World. He posits that creating space and scheduling for deep intellectual work is the act of taking a chunk of time and maximizing productively. In a recent podcast, he speaks of both what is gained and how focus gets weakened by quick novel stimuli like emails, online, social media etc. It is a shift from talking and thinking about a project to conceptualizing and creating.

Synthesis, analysis, conceptualization, and creation (including writing) are higher levels of learning and thinking that requires deeper focus, executive cognitive functioning, more active engagement, and reflection.

So what can I do now?
The GMCTL has 4 Deep Work time opportunities that provide focused time to work with expertise and facilitation as you need it.

  1. SoTL Writing Retreats (July 20, 21 & 22) with uninterrupted time and on-hand consultations for faculty, instructors or staff working toward publishing on a teaching and learning research project. Select a morning or come for 3 days or any combination in between. Register, we will confirm your choice of days and times via email.
  2. Time for Course Design & Prep – In addition to the course design institute offered each year, we offer Drop-in mornings or afternoons. July 26 9:30am – 12:00pm is the next Consultations & Coffee Drop-In Morning. Bring what you have so far including any questions and ideas, and stay for time to work. *Registration is not required.
  3. Book “Deep Work” space for you, your course team or SoTL project colleagues to meet. We can arrange for a space and customize the level of facilitation and support you want from a few minutes to more. Contact GMCTL.
  4. Get unstuck – book a consultation to think through a course idea/challenge, a research design for a SoTL project, or an upcoming term. Contact GMCTL.

Overtime, identify what works for you. Each person’s approach to Deep Work, like preferences in morning beverages, are unique, though with shared key ingredients and conditions to percolate or steep.

What is the science behind your course design madness?



By Fred Phillips, Professor, Baxter Scholar, Edwards School of Business

As we begin another year, students are encountering some of the course design decisions made by their instructors. Some will be introduced to “flipped classrooms”, where students prepare by reading/viewing/responding to a learning prompt before it is formally taken up in class. Others will encounter new learning tools, such as adaptive reading systems that embed interactive questions within reading materials with the goal of assessing each student’s comprehension so that new topics can be delivered the moment he or she is ready to comprehend them.

Just as instructors have questions about these approaches and tools, students are likely to be curious about whether there is a method to our course design madness. To help explain the underlying learning science, I have made a few videos that describe relevant (and fun) studies that lend support to these pedagogies. Each video focuses on a particular question that students (and possibly instructors) are likely to have about elements of their courses. Each video describes two or three relevant studies in just enough depth to convey the gist of how they were designed and what they discovered. And, in the spirit of a TED Talk, they are each less than 10 minutes in length.

My thought with these videos is that instructors can send each link to students at the moment they expect their students will be asking the particular question, or they can provide them en masse. My hope is that the videos will help students appreciate why our courses might be designed as they are. And, if we’re really lucky, the videos will inspire our campus community to learn more about the scholarship of teaching and learning. Enjoy!

1. Why do we have so many tests? (7 min 24 sec)

  • Students often wonder why I plan frequent quizzes and exams throughout the term.

2. Why attempt to answer questions before “being taught”? (7 min 22 sec)

  • Students often think that there isn’t benefit in attempting to answer questions before they are formally taught content.

3. Is easier and more convenient learning better? (8 min 54 sec)

  • Is it more effective for students to have a cramming study session or to study throughout the term? When practicing, should students group questions of similar type or mix different question types? Does use of analogies help or hinder student learning?

How Do We Define Success in an Open Course




A version of this post was originally published on Heather Ross’s blog on June 24, 2014.

ToqueIn June I attended the Society for Teaching and Learning In Higher Education (STLHE) conference in Kingston, Ontario. As part of the conference I presented, along with Nancy Turner and Jaymie Koroluk (University of Ontario Institute of Technology), a poster about the Introduction to Learning Technologies (ILT) open course that the GMCTE offered earlier this year. During discussions around our poster as well as in other sessions related to open courses, I had a number of conversations with colleagues about just what is “success” in an open course.

Completion rates are often used as measures of success by administrators and the media, but is that really a fair measurement? Open courses, whether we call them MOOCs  (Massive Open Online Courses) or the TOOCs (Truly Open Online Courses) that we’re advocating at the GMCTE, aren’t like traditional face-to–face or distance courses in that students don’t pay tuition, there are no prerequisites for entry into the courses and no formal credit is given to students. Why do we try to measure success in open courses using the same metrics that we use for traditional courses when they are so different (of course the argument can absolutely be made that rates of attrition in traditional courses shouldn’t be measures of success either)?

While I was at the conference, an article appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education about a new paper out from a study conducted jointly by researchers at Cornell University and Stanford University looking at types of engagement in “Massive Online Courses”. The authors of the study argue that there are five types of participants in open courses including Viewers (watch the videos), Solvers (complete assignments without watching videos or reading lecture notes), All-Rounders (do at least some of both), Collectors (download for viewing materials later) and Bystanders (they registered, but there’s no evidence that they did anything in the course). I think that these categories have merit and provide a more nuanced picture of participants, taking us beyond simply grouping everyone into those who complete and those who don’t.

Very few people completed all of the assignments in ILT, so if we looked at completion rates as the measure of success, then this course was a failure. If, however, we look at different metrics another picture emerges. After the course ended (it’s a truly open course so all of the materials are still open) we sent a survey to the 300 participants and 15 percent completed the surveys (yes, I know it’s a very low response rate, but it’s an open course and most people may have been ignoring my emails by the end). Of those who completed the survey, 81.3% said that they applied what they had learned for their own professional development and 69.6 percent said that they shared what they learned with colleagues and / or students.

Learning technologies are constantly changing and as such, I saw it as important that there should bean increase in participant comfort and skill in using a variety of types of tools rather than developing expertise in use of specific ones. A key success of the course for me was therefore the response to the survey question regarding the effect the course had on their comfort level with learning technologies; 55.3 percent reported a moderate increase and 21.3 percent said they experienced a considerable increase.

Of course the low rate of response does mean we have to interpret these results with caution, but the data does add to the argument that success for these courses shouldn’t be measured by how many students do all of the work. I’m currently completing an overall program review of the course for one of my Ph.D. courses and will then be revising the course for another offering next January (watch for details about the course dates and registration to appear on Educatus in the Fall). We’re also working with Ken Coates, the Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy and the Director of the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development on an open course that he’ll be teaching early in 2015. Both courses will provide us with valuable information on what students actually do in an open course, as well as how they define success for themselves.

Students’ expectations are formed early




I have been enjoying a series of blog posts written by the acclaimed UK based higher education researcher Professor Graham Gibbs (you can start with the first of the series here).  The blogs have been drawn from a comprehensive publication called 53 Powerful Ideas All Teachers Should Know About, with one idea presented on the blog each week.  I was particularly struck by the blog post from a few weeks ago as the ideas presented resonated with the approach of the University of Saskatchewan’s undergraduate research initiative.  A key approach has been embedding such experiences in large first year courses which addresses Professor Gibbs’ key take away message; have students start as you mean them to go on.  I hope you enjoy and perhaps sample some of Professor Gibb’s other thought provoking ideas!

Idea 7- Students’ expectations are formed early

Posted on May 28, 2014 at http://thesedablog.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/53ideas-7-students-expectations-are-formed-early/, reproduced with permission of the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA)

Professor Graham Gibbs

What goes on in higher education must appear somewhat strange to a student of 18 who has recently left school, or even to a mature student whose educational experience involved school some while ago and maybe some ‘on the job’ training or evening classes since. Class sizes may have increased from the dozen or so they were used to in 6th form to over 100 (or even over 500). Instead of a small group of friends you got know fairly well from years together, your fellow students will mostly be strangers who you may never get to know, and who may be different every time you start a new module. Instead of you being amongst the high achievers you may feel average or even below average. The teachers you encounter will all be new to you, and may change every semester. You may never get to know them, or in some cases even meet them outside of large classes. Whether you can ask questions, ask for help, be informal or visit their offices may not be clear. Weekly cycles of classes and small, short, tasks at school may be replaced by much longer cycles and much bigger assignments – and in some cases the first required work may not be until week 8 in the first semester. What you are supposed to do in the meantime may not be at all clear, and as the ratio of class time to study time is, at least in theory, much lower than you are used to, what you are supposed to be doing out of class may become quite an issue.

The course documentation may only list what the teacher does, not what you are supposed to do, other than phrases such as ‘background reading’ or ‘independent study’. Instead of being asked to read Chapter 6 of the textbook you might be given extended reading lists of seemingly impossible breadth and depth, some of which will be too expensive to buy, out of the library, or, even if you can get hold of them, opaque or of uncertain relevance. The volume of material ‘covered’ in lectures may appear daunting, and it may be unclear if this is meant to be merely the tip of a hidden, huge and undefined iceberg of content, or the whole iceberg. If you managed to scribble down a comprehensive set of notes, would that be enough? What an essay or a report is supposed to look like and what is good enough to pass or get a top grade may be quite different from what was expected at school, but you may be unclear in what way. Rules about plagiarism or working with other students may seem alarmingly tough yet confusing. It may all feel weird, no matter how routine it feels to teachers, but somehow you have to get used to it.

Most students of course do manage to work out a way of dealing with all this ambiguity and complexity that, if not ideal, is tolerably effective in that they do not usually fail the first assignment or the first module. But once a student has gone through this disorienting and anxiety provoking process of adjustment they are not keen to go through it again anytime soon.

In order to operate at all, new students have to make some quick guesses about what is expected and work out a modus operandi – and this is usually undertaken on their own without discussion with others. It is very easy to get this wrong. In my own first year as an undergraduate I tried to operate on a ‘week by week’ ‘small task’ way as if I was preparing for regular test questions, as I had done at the Naval College where I had crammed for A-levels alongside my naval training – and I failed several of my University first year exams that made much higher level demands than I had anticipated and that would have taken a lot more work of a very different kind than I had managed. My conception of knowledge, and what I was supposed to be doing with it, was well articulated by William Perry’s description of the first stage in his scheme of student development: “Quantitative accretion of discrete rightness”. It was not what my teachers were hoping for from me – but I didn’t understand that and I was too uncertain to do anything else. Students who are driven by fear of failure, rather than hope for success, may become loathe to change the way they study in case it works even less well than what they have tried thus far. It is the high performing students who are more likely to experiment and be flexible.

Many first year courses are dominated by large class lectures, little discussion, little independence and fairly well defined learning activities and tasks (at least compared with later years) and no opportunity to discuss feedback on assignments. By the end of the first year, students may have turned into cabbages in response to this regime, with little development of independence of mind or study habits. In the second year students may be suddenly expected to work collaboratively, undertake peer assessment, undertake much bigger, longer, less well defined learning activities, deal with multiple perspectives and ambiguity, develop their own well argued positions, and so on. They may throw up their hands in despair or resist strongly.

Teachers’ best response to this phenomenon involves getting their own expectations in early and explicitly, and not changing them radically as soon as students have got used to them. If you eventually want students to work collaboratively, require group work in the first week, not the second year. If you want them to read around and pull complex material together, require it in the first week and give them plenty of time and support to do it. If you want them to establish a pattern of putting in a full working week of 40 hours then expect that in the first week, and the second week….and make it clear what those hours might be spent on, and put class time aside to discuss what it was spent on and what proved productive and what did not. If you want students to lift their sights from Chapter 1 to what the entire degree is about, have a look at some really excitingly good final year student project reports in week one, and bring the successful and confident students who wrote them into the classroom to discuss how they managed it, talking about their pattern of studying that led to getting a first and a place to do a Doctorate. In brief, get your clear and high expectations in early, with plenty of opportunity to discuss what they mean.

Students will find this alarming and amazing – but they will get used to it just as they got used to whatever you did before. It will seem equally strange, but no more so than before. The crucial issue is that they will now be getting used to the right thing.

Lee Schulman Tells us to ‘Break Bad’ and Engage in SoTL




“Walter White is dead. Heisenberg is no longer someone of uncertain fate.”

These were the opening words of Lee Schulman’s talk, Situated Studies of Teaching and Learning: The New Mainstream. Intriguing. What on earth could the main character of the television series Breaking Bad have anything to do with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)?

Schulman continued: “And I must say that I have this fleeting image of my colleagues in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, sneaking away from their Chemistry classrooms or Biology or English or History to their SOTL labs and mixing a brew intended to undermine the clarity of thought, the certainty, the dogmatism, and the ease with which their colleagues, and their colleges and universities continue to do the same work that they’ve done for many years.”

I was inspired. Not to become an over-educated high school Chemistry teacher and family man who creates a secret alter-ego criminal mastermind and drug lord in order to provide for my family. But this analogy has changed the way I think about SoTL.

The term “break bad” means to rebel against the accepted norms of a society.  Essentially, Schulman argued that those of us who engage in Situated Research (such as SoTL) are “breaking bad” – rebelling against the “accepted tradition” of research. Traditional research aims to generalize knowledge, to create broad and sweeping overviews that contribute to theories and principles that are not limited by details or particular circumstances. This type of research is often (though unjustifiably) viewed as a “superior” or more legitimate form of research than is situated research.

Situated research, on the other hand, focuses on the details: the particulars, the individuals, contexts, and environments considered unimportant in traditional research. Situated research does not attempt to create broad generalizations, but rather “seeks to describe, explain and evaluate the relationships among intentions, actions and consequences in a carefully recounted local situation”. Schulman argues that situated research will soon become mainstream in SoTL because it provides a rich, deep and detailed contribution to knowledge that traditional forms of research simply cannot.

In a way, the premise of the series Breaking Bad is like situated research. It does not seek to create broad generalizations or theories (e.g. “over-educated high school Chemistry teachers with cancer are likely to create drug empires”), but rather it “seeks to describe, explain and evaluate the relationships among intentions, actions and consequences” in the life of Walter White. The complexity, the uncertainties, the contextual details are where the brilliance of the series Breaking Bad truly lies. And that is where the brilliance of SoTL truly lies as well.

View Lee Schulman’s talk, presented at the International Society of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) 2013 Conference:

4th Annual SoTL Conference to Be Held at USask




I am extremely pleased to promote and encourage participation in the 4th annual Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) symposium.  The day will be strengthened by a diversity of perspectives so we welcome all who would like to attend, no experience of undertaking SoTL is necessary.

The event will be held on the 1st and 2nd of May on the University of Saskatchewan campus. In addition to plenary presentations, there will be various opportunities to present your SoTL work or ideas. We invite participation from those interested in dipping a toe in the SoTL waters, those part way through a SoTL project, as well as those experienced with and wishing to present results of their SoTL research. We hope the event will be a chance to gather and learn from colleagues interested in improving teaching and learning at the University and beyond.

In an effort to open up the event to individuals at all points in their exploration of SoTL, we have created 4 different types of presentations:

  1. Watercooler chats – these sessions will be appropriate for those wanting to discuss a new area of teaching and learning research. This is an opportunity to share ideas in a more informal way with a small group of colleagues, discuss options, and get feedback from fellow participants.
  2. World Café – these sessions will be appropriate for those with an interest in sharing and discussing approaches or issues with their SoTL work with colleagues at the conference. The World Café begins with a short (5 to 10 minute) presentation on your topic to the whole group followed by table-based small group discussions with colleagues who wish to hear more and discuss your project, approach or issue in more detail.
  3. Poster session – these are appropriate for presentation about a completed SoTL project they would like to share via virtual poster with colleagues. There will be time during the symposium for attendees to view and ask questions about each poster.
  4. Research Presentation – these sessions will be appropriate for sharing completed SoTL projects with results. We would welcome participants presenting research to include a few minutes spent sharing lessons learned in undertaking the research.

This year we have added a writing retreat to the end of the SoTL symposium.  We invite you to join us for this part of the event at Boffins on Friday afternoon.  The retreat will provide some time to share your writing project and aspirations for it with colleagues and, most importantly, give you time to work on your project in a supportive and comfortable environment.

To register or submit a proposal please visit http://fluidsurveys.usask.ca/s/2014_SoTL_Symposium/The submission deadline is 14th April.

I look forward to seeing you and learning with you on May 1 and 2nd.

Seeing the Beauty




There is something exciting, captivating and intriguing when working through an analysis and seeing the ideas crystalize or flip through the writings of colleague and see the connections to other papers, and to other ideas. The experience of excitement, in my case over a well-selected and implemented statistical analysis or assessment, draws us deeper into our fields of study and expertise.

There is something intrinsically motivating (Ryan & Deci, 2000) about such exploration and devotion to learning and discovering more. Sure there are moments that seem like struggles when shopping an article or book for publishing, wrestling for time for deep critical thinking, or running into unexpected results and paths. But there are still moments of stunning beauty in our endeavours.

genebank6What intrigues you and grabs hold of your curiosity so much that you dream of it? What lies on the horizon you are seeking to reach? In short, what are your goals and your motivations?

Articulating these goals and motivations (and posting or keeping them filed nearby) enables us to:

  • Be reminded of why this matters when the going gets tough
  • Be more efficient by identifying what is essential to our specific goals and what is tangential. For example, which grants to apply for or which teaching activities assessments align with our specified learning outcomes (Biggs, 1999)
  • Clarify for ourselves, for our students and for our readers where our research project or the current topic fits within bigger picture of your field
  • Specify what the long-term rewards are that you working towards through “active waiting” (Boice, 2000) or other strategies as new (and not so new) faculty and professionals.

Ours goals and motivations for teaching a topic to our students form the basis of our teaching philosophies that can be articulated as a statement within your teaching portfolio. This time of year, students face the mid-semester slump– that post-midterm drop in urgency combined with being overwhelmed of what remains to do.  They need a shift in focus to the bigger picture and a boost of motivation to continue moving forward (as noted by Gail Krovitz in her edudemic post). Our students need a reminder of the beauty of the discipline and to hear you share your excitement for the topic, in addition to any practical uses of the information that sparks their intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, respectively (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

However, it is not only our students who need a change in pace, but ourselves as well. For it is easy to get lost in the details and in the stacks of pages, yet energizing to get lost in the beautiful ideas of our field.

References:

Biggs, J. (1999).  What the student does: teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 18:1, 57-75. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0729436990180105

The Biggs, 2012 article is an anniversary special issue reprint.

Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members: nihil nimus. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon. http://www.pearsonhighered.com/educator/product/Advice-for-New-Faculty-Members/9780205281596.page

For a book review see: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_higher_education/v073/73.1centra.html ]

Available in our GMCTE library.

Krovitz, G. (November 10, 2013). Zombie students: How to avoid the mid-semester slump. Edudemic : Connecting education & technology. http://www.edudemic.com/zombie-students-10-ways-beat-mid-semester-slump/

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78. doi: 10.1037110003-066X.55.1.68

Picture courtesy of CIAT International via Flickr with a Creative Commons license (Attribution – Share Alike – Some rights reserved)

Dean Stoicheff Speaks on the Value of an Arts and Science Degree




The College of Arts and Science at the University of Saskatchewan is unique in Canada, bringing under a single college governance structure, 21 disciplinary departments ranging from fine arts and humanities to social and natural sciences.  The extreme diversity in disciplinary areas, along with the rich potential for interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary programs within the College offersunique opportunities for students.

At our recent campus-wide Celebration of Teaching and Learning, Peter Stoicheff, Dean of the College of Arts and Science was invited to speak about the curriculum renewal process in the College.  The video clips below include his full 20-minute presentation as well as a shorter 6 minute excerpt.  Peter speaks to the value of an Arts and Science degree and references Chris Hedges’ Pulitzer prize-winning book, “The Empire of Illusion: the end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle”. Peter also offers as own vision and the College’s vision for interdisciplinary, theme-based programming that can offer a broader perspective and deeper insights for students about the world’s big issues and challenges. His are intriguing ideas worth exploring… “watch the movie!”

Being Enthusiastic About So-Called Mundane Stuff




My higher education teaching journey began as an upper-year undergraduate student teaching evening sessions about APA formatting: A seemingly dry topic about commas, alphabetical order of last names, single versus double space etc. As a necessity for undergraduate psychology paper, students’ motivation for signing up seemed to be extrinsically connected (Ryan & Deci, 2001) to the 10% of marks tied to correct use of APA formatting in most 3rd year papers.

I could have started the session off with just those basic facts and the pressure-filled reminder of that 10%, but talking about why APA is useful set a better tone. Did you know that APA formatting allows readers to know where to look for key reference details to find the sources for our own citing, critiquing or curiosity purposes? Or that standardized format allows for quicker reading of articles? This statement raises the question of what information is needed to accurately find the article or book mentioned.

Blue paper

I tapped curiousity, relevance, and showed my own enthusiasm for the topic.

Curiousity, leading us to asking the “why?” and the “so what?,” can stimulates exploration, seeking of answers and the resulting satisfaction of figuring something out. Relevance connects the new topic to existing pursuits, and enthusiasm can be contagious or at least prompting of curiosity over why I could possibly be interested in the topic. In other words, we can stimulate student’s intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2001) and intrinsic valuing (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000) by making the work of learning worth pursing in order to satisfy curiosity.

As Ambrose, Bridges DiPietro, Lovett, and Norman (2010) summarized in their third chapter “What Factors Motivate Students to Learn?” of their book, existing research suggests the following strategies for establishing the value of a topic:

  • “Connect the material to students’ interests”
  • “Provide Authentic, real-world tasks” (see experiential learning)
  • “Show relevant to students’ current academic lives”
  • “Demonstrate the relevance of higher-level skills to students’ future professional lives”
  • “Identify and reward what you value”
  • “Show your passion and enthusiasm for the discipline”

References:

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. An imprint of Wiley. Available at: http://ca.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470484101.html

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78. doi: 10.1037110003-066X.55.1.68

Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. (2000). Expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 68-81.

Picture courtesy of Andy Price via Flickr with a Creative Commons license (Attribution – Non-Commercial – Share Alike -Some rights reserved)

Being More Efficient



“efficient |iˈfiSHənt|

adjective

  • (esp. of a system or machine) achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense
  • (of a person) working in a well-organized and competent way
  • [ in combination ] preventing the wasteful use of a particular resource”   –(New Oxford American Dictionary”, 3rd Edition, 2010, Oxford University Press)

Efficiency focuses on the level of relevant output achieved relative to the amount of effort. Perhaps it is like the phrase “Work better, not harder” or “lift smarter, not harder”.

So what does being efficient mean for teaching? What does being efficient mean for curriculum renewal?

Set your goals:

Sailor switches his lights to high efficient bulbs as part of an energy conservation initiative in HawaiiFocus energy on the questions/areas that are most important.  Get the “most bang for your buck”. What is most important for your course or program may be different from others’ courses or programs, so being “efficient” may look different too. For example, how many people does it take to screw in a light bulb efficiently? One, if the goal is to disrupt the routine of as few people as possible; two, if safety is a priority and a ladder is involved; a whole class, if hands-on experience is valued.

Be selective:

You could measure everything all the time, or just what is sufficient to draw conclusions.  Choose the best measures for what you are focusing on. Try to assess important knowledge and skills to capture the signal more than noise.

Utilize the wheel instead of reinventing it:

Have an idea, but not sure of the detail? Look for what has worked for other people in your department, discipline, and beyond – there is a whole field of study on teaching and curriculum development! Unsure where to look? Ask a mentor, ask a colleague teaching a similar course or using the technique, or ask one of us at the GMCTE.

Think longitudinally/Avoid perfectionism:

Yes, this is the first time, but will likely not be the only time you will teach this topic or measure in this area. It won’t be perfect, but once it is good enough to try, try and then revise.

Document progress:

Sometimes it is hard to see how far we have travelled when we are looking at the next step and vaguely remembering the last one. Document the changes, the lessons learned and your successes. Share these insights with your students, colleagues, conference attendees and others. Allow students to see that you are building on their feedback, allow colleagues near and far to learn from your experiences and findings. If you’re thinking about presenting or publishing student responses and data, make sure to chat with the ethics office to find out about ethics exemptions and approvals.

The challenge of competing demands and the pressures to avoid wasting time and other valuable resources might seem a threat to good teaching, but perhaps they are a motivation for change. Similarly, following a schedule may be a constraint or a great way to Carve out Creating time.  I would love to hear how you have become more efficient in your teaching, or discuss quick ways of marking, surveying your program, or other intriguing challenges.  Our door is open at the GMCTE across from the Murray Library entrance – stop by on your way for coffee or drop us a line.

Picture courtesy of Official U.S. Navy Page via Flickr with a Creative Commons license (Attribution – Some rights reserved)