Today I participated in the first annual Treasure Valley Adjunct Conference. The half-day event on the Boise State University campus drew about 50-60 people. I’m always excited to learn more about my profession and ways in which I can improve my performance. But this conference held an additional lure for me. I had proposed a presentation idea, and my proposal was accepted. So now this would be my first presentation as a higher education professional.
The conference took place on the second story of the Student Union Building. I got the Barnwell Room, named after Bishop Barnwell who was instrumental in founding the school that grew into Boise State University. My presentation dealt with how instructors could use the flipped class model to engage their students in subjects typically seen as dry and boring and ways in which they could produce supporting materials without breaking the bank.
I frankly prepared much more content than I had time to deliver, but it was a real thrill to be presenting about my profession in front of a small audience composed of professionals from education circles as well as industry. I was a little nervous, which I always am in front of an audience, but I also had a great time — additional evidence that I am on the right career path for me.
At the end of the conference, everyone who presented got a small plaque as a memento of appreciation. I was appreciative enough with the 50 minutes I got to present professionally, but this added gesture was a really nice token. I’m including an embedded copy of the presentation below. Overall, I left thankful for this important step in my career in academia and wishing the conference lasted the whole day!
This morning I found a note in my mailbox at work, and it provided me with the best start to my workday ever. I wasn’t expecting it, but this note gave me the best uplift I’ve had in quite some time. And when you read the note, you will see that it wasn’t much in and of itself. But what a difference it made to me!
Here I’ve been under the brutal routine of making videos for my flipped stats class while I’m teaching it. No one else is spending the time to make the resources of students that I am, and I’m adjunct! With all that I’m giving for my students, no one has ever bothered to say “Thank you” — until today.
Not only does this card thank me for my service, it shares a great comment that one of my students made in a course evaluation. And of course I second this notion wholeheartedly. I deserve to be paid a lot more, especially for all the extra hours I’m giving my employer, hours for which I will never be compensated financially. That’s not going to happen, which just means I’ll be putting my thinking cap to work on how I can best fill that gap.
At any rate, it feels really good to have someone actually acknowledging the work I do. I’ll have to pass this forward to someone else!
I found out just today that my first proposal to present at a professional conference has been accepted. The first annual Treasure Valley Adjunct Conference has been organized jointly between Boise State University, Northwest Nazarene University, and the College of Western Idaho to showcase the work of adjunct faculty. Presentations can address ways to improve instruction in the classroom or highlight work such as research or creative endeavors which adjuncts have pursued as part of their profession. Click here to see a complete schedule of the event.
I submitted two proposals because I thought it would double my chances of getting accepted. I’m not whether or not my chances doubled, but I am glad to see that one of my proposals was accepted. My presentations will focus on my experience in transforming my statistics class, a subject usually considered dry and boring, into something fun and enticing for students to engage in real learning. What I submitted was just abstract; in reality, I had nothing. Now I need to get busy and put a package together for the conference which takes place on May 15. My consolation is that the semester will have ended the week prior, so that should free up some space in which to prepare. (Note my crossed fingers behind my back as I say that!)
I’ll be sure to update this space with more news as it develops.
This morning I created my overnight blueberry French toast recipe with some minor adjustments. I used strawberries instead of blueberries. Despite my mother’s fascination with the little blue balls of fruit, my interests lie in branching out, trying new things, and experiencing a measure of variety.
The result turned out pretty well, although my mother still raves about the blueberry. I found that I needed to make some small adjustments to the recipe; it wasn’t a simple swap one fruit for another. I did cut the strawberries into small pieces so make them about the same size as the blueberries, but the major deviation from the recipe was the addition of another tablespoon of cornstarch. As it turned out, simply swapping out the blueberries for the strawberries produced a sauce that was far more runny than I recall it being with the blueberries. But the extra tablespoon made the sauce just fine. I wish only that I had a little more of it to put on top, but it was what it was.
And as it was, it was pretty good. I’m not telling Mother that I agree with her in preferring the blueberry in this contest, but I’m also not putting down using strawberry in this recipe. Next on my list is to try the recipe with peaches. And given my mother’s fascination with this dish, she wants me to test those waters soon!
I may have spoken too soon earlier this month when I expressed the hope that my hard work in my job would actually benefit me somehow — at least that is how I felt in the immediate aftermath of events from this past weekend.
It’s time to set schedules for summer semester, and I really need to teach two classes in order to make enough money to upgrade my living condition. To do that, I need to show a potential landlord a pay stub in which the net pay for a single pay period is above a certain threshold. (Yes, I’m looking to rent primarily because I’m thinking seriously about leaving the area to start a PhD program in Fall 2018.)
Things actually looked good a week ago. I had already been given a physics class, and I had my eyes set on a potential stats class to add to it. That would give me my two classes. I submitted my request and awaited the response.
The response came, and it wasn’t what I expected. My department chair wouldn’t give me the stats class because she said it conflicts with the physics class already on my plate. I realized that the other department head hadn’t changed the schedule like we agreed, so I asked for one business day to fix the schedule so I could get the stats class. I pointed out that my heart was really set on it and I had worked hard to improve the class and prep materials for the flipped format. Those materials would be really useful for students taking a summer class which requires students to learn twice as fast as during the normal semester.
Why did the schedule need changing? For some reason that still escapes me, the physics class was scheduled with lab in the morning and lecture in the afternoon. When I saw that last summer, I asked why it’s flip-flopped from the traditional format of lecture first and then lab. I was told scheduling conflicts. But as the semester unfolded, it became clear that I was the only one teaching in the classroom we were using, and no one else was using the lab. I was able to make a schedule that used that backwards arrangement, but it was awkward.
When I got offered the class again for this summer, I asked about presenting the lecture and lab sections in a more traditional arrangement. I was promised that it would be granted, which would allow me to teach the stats class as well as the physics class. But that switch wasn’t made by the time my department head looked at my schedule when considering giving me the stats class.
By the time I routed back to get the schedule updated, the stats class had already been given to someone else. I felt extremely distraught at hearing that news. Does all the hard work I’ve done — and I work my fanny off way more than most adjuncts — with all of my classes and stats in particular not merit the consideration of waiting just one more day? I have no idea who got the class, but I do know everyone at this school who teaches stats. I can guarantee that none of them are going the distance I’m going for the students. Shouldn't that enter into the equation of deciding who gets what if any class?
I felt extremely powerless in the aftermath of those events. It’s a simple misunderstanding and failure to act on others’ part that is entirely outside my control, which wouldn’t be a big deal if the financial repercussions from those events weren’t so serious. Not teaching that extra class means losing about 15% of my income for the year. Plus I’ll be scraping windows again this winter. Argh! And all the hard work I’ve done in my job doesn’t mean jack. So why even go the extra mile? If nothing I do makes me more competitive or gives me any advantage, why not just do the bare minimum with whatever I’m given and spend my time that I won’t get back in other pursuits?
Talking to my department head wouldn’t make a difference because she’s stepping down. That means someone else will be making those decisions in future. I wanted to talk to the dean, but she was out, taking advantage of Spring Break being next week. Fortunately, a full-time colleague I’ve come to know and trust was still on campus, and so I reached out and asked if we could talk. She graciously accepted, and we arranged a meet.
I explained my situation and how I felt about it, declaring that I wasn’t looking for an answer so much as a sounding board. I’m glad I picked this particular colleague. She emphasized with me and shared some of her experiences when she was an adjunct for a few years before she started her present full-time position. As she talked and explained how all I am doing all the right things — focusing on improving my classes for my students, always engaging in some type of professional training or learning, serving on committees, and otherwise busting my fanny in my job — I began to realize that what I am feeling is just par for the course on the journey from adjunct to full-time teaching position. I just need to stay on the good train I’m riding.
Further reflection on my situation helped me to see the opportunity ahead of me. True, not getting that second class I needed to meet my financial goals provides a real obstacle. But I can use the time that I would be using to teach that class to pursue another opportunity. Perhaps there is another place that I can teach or another job that I can do. Maybe I should take the materials I’ve worked so hard to assemble for my stats class and build a website where I offer to sell videos and other teaching aids on individual statistics topics a-la-carte style. I’m not sure how much money I could make with that, but I am sure that many students as well as working professionals in industry who need to learn stats would pay good money to learn what they aren’t learning through the resources they have presently. Plus I could use selected portions from such a course to boost my resume or CV in furthering my teaching career.
Overall, I’m feeling much better about how the dust has settled than I was previously. I hope to make good use of what I have to improve my situation, and I’ll certainly be updating this blog with future posts about my progress and results. So stay tuned.
One of the topics we cover in my statistics class is the Law of Large Numbers. Basically, this law says that a sample statistic will approach its respective population parameter as the number of trials you perform goes to infinity.
For example, if you toss a fair coin 10 times, you might get any number of heads or tails between 0 and 10, even though the odds of getting either outcome is 50%. If you toss that same coin 20 times, you still might not have half-and-half heads and tails. But as you toss the coin even more times, say 100 times and then 1000 times and then 10000 times and so on, the proportion of heads (or tails, depending on what you are counting) you get will get closer and closer to 50%.
Occasionally I play a mental game to help my mind relax. Lately I’ve rediscovered a game I haven’t played in years — Mahjong. It’s a sort of Chinese solitaire game in which 144 tiles are stacked in a set pattern, and you win the game by matching all the tiles. However, only tiles with no neighboring tile on the left or right are free for matching. It’s simple and yet highly addictive in its challenge.
To use the Law of Large Numbers, I really need to conduct at least 1000 trials and preferably much more. Admittedly, 669 isn’t that far away from 1000, but I’ll come back and update this blog with a future entry to report my progress as well as my findings when I’m done.
As an engineer, I tend to focus on practicality and what is actually useful for some purpose. This question has no purpose; I pursue it because I’m just plain curious. And it doesn’t take inordinate amounts of time. I play a few games here and a few there, which I will do anyway to give my mind a break from all the thinking I do throughout the day. I just need to remember to count the number of tiles at the end and record them in my spreadsheet for later analysis.
Stay tuned for updates. I’ll report on how my curiosity experiment unfolds.
I’ve heard a lot about flipping classes and the advantages that it can give those students. Eager to provide those advantages to my statistics students this semester, I decided to flip the class. I wasn’t entirely convinced about it, mostly because I wasn’t exactly sure what it would involve. After all, I have never done this before. As the semester was about to start, I took the plunge and decided to try something new.
What I have found is much more work than I anticipated. Flipping the class essentially means placing lectures on video so you can dedicate class time to more active learning activities. It sounds great in theory. But in practice it’s a whole lot of work!
I have to make two slide decks: one for the videos and the other for the in-class assignments. The videos themselves are not that hard to make. I broke down and paid the $15 yearly subscription to Screencast-o-matic, and it’s turned out to be some of the best $15 I’ve ever spent. I do find some trouble uploading them into YouTube so that I can then place them into Blackboard for my course, more than anything with the time it takes to upload and process. Making the actual MP4 file once I’ve done recording the video isn’t exactly instant either.
I could avoid the second deck if I just opened up the online homework assignment and started working out problems, but I want my students to understand the whys as well as the whats of the process. Anyone can push button sin software, but not everyone knows what using different types of input means or how to interpret the results properly. To that end, I create problems like the ones on their homework assignment so they have to think a bit more about what they are doing and why. Plus my in-class slide deck shows them how to use the software, which is particular for just this class.
Of course, the proof is in the pudding. My students are responding very positively to this new approach. They love how they can view my lecture videos as many times as they want whenever they want. And they appreciate the step-by-step procedures I outline in my in-class presentations. Plus, the test scores so far are a little more than a full letter grade above what they were for my students in the same class a year ago.
Making these materials the same semester I am teaching the class is not the best way to go when flipping a class, but I am very pleased to see the satisfaction and learning in my students. It really makes all the hard work I’m putting into flipping the class pay off. Plus it gives me an extra sense of satisfaction knowing that I am the only instructor on campus — full-time or part-time — who is flipping this class, and I’m adjunct!
I really love my job and hope that eventually the hard work I am doing will pay off for my career as well as for my students.
At the start of this year I decided to simplify my approach to living by making only one goal — to live my best life. The idea was that if I just focus on doing my best and maximizing my experience with everything I do, then all the small stuff will take care of itself.
What I am learning is that some things won’t take care of themselves unless you give them the proper attention. Fitness is a case in point. After my engagement to be married fell apart last summer, I ended up gaining about 20-25 pounds and weighing more than I have ever weighed in my entire life. I actually get out of breath bending over the tie my shoes every morning. I also find myself having difficulty standing up out of a seated position and maintaining my balance for the first few steps of walking after I get up.
Well, enough of that. After all, I used to run 5k races! I need to get back to where I was and go even further into healthy living territory. How can I live my best life if I’m not physically fit and active?
To that end, I’ve started stretching in the morning when I get up. I don’t want to do too much too soon because that just opens the door to injury. It was very obvious the first day how stiff I was, but each day I can feel myself getting more and more loose.
I’ve also started making some changes in my diet to include more protein. A large portion of my weight gain came from poor dietary choices, especially after last summer. When my engagement fell apart, I threw myself into my work as a means of coping with my crisis. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment that I needed at that time.
But I spent so much time working that I didn’t spend enough time taking care of myself. Some advance planning and preparation of meals at home could have helped me avoid some of the extra weight I now carry with me. Instead, I simply grabbed whatever was more convenient, and what was most convenient wasn’t always what was most nutritious.
Now I’ve made out some weekly menus with home-prepared meals that focus on consuming extra protein first, healthy fats second, and carbs mostly from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables last. I’ll let everyone know how well that works for me. But already I feel as though I am on the brink of starting a new direction that will work out well for me. Here’s to better health!
I decided to experiment a bit with some items I had in the kitchen around breakfast time, some of which I needed to use (mostly whole wheat bread, strawberries, and cream cheese). It actually turned out not too bad, so I decided to share it here.
French toast batter is very simple to make — an egg mixed with milk and vanilla. Most recipes also call for sugar to join the mix, but I decided to see if the natural sweetness of the strawberries couldn’t substitute for that. After dipping the bread in the egg-milk mixture, I cooked both sides until done.
The cream cheese topping was made by crushing several washed strawberries with a fork, adding about 2 ounces of plain cream cheese, and then mixing the two together well with an electric mixer. I started out trying to mix them by hand and soon realized I would be there all day before getting the consistency and combination I wanted. This made enough topping for three slices of French toast. I then served with some turkey sausage links for added protein.
The strawberry cream cheese topping made a nice departure from the usual maple syrup I like with my French toast and brought a good flavor to the dish. I do wish that I had added just a bit of sugar to my egg-milk mixture because the dish did seem to be lacking just a small amount of sweetness. Still, it came out great and made a nice, nutritious start to my day.
Yeah, I was totally excited for this day to come. As I mentioned previously, this season I'm sick of winter and ready for spring. So you can imagine my extreme disappointment when Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow and predicted 6 more weeks of winter. It's not that bad because Phil doesn't have a great track record for correct predictions, although that depends on who you ask. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration claims that Phil's prediction record is no better than 21% since 1988.
I desperately wanted an early spring, but just in case I would be daunted I made plans to salvage the day. And it's a good thing I did because that good-for-nothing groundhog didn't follow through on the bribe I sent. Not to worry, because I made the best out of a bad situation by watching Groundhog Day.
Yes, the classic 1993 film with Bill Murray is still a classic. What surprised me were two items: (1) Having not seen it in years, I had forgotten how good this film really is, and (2) I didn't own a copy in my library. How could I not own a copy? Good thing I saw this ahead of time. I ordered it on Amazon for $5 (a real steal for a classic film) and got it here just last night. As soon as I finished with my classes and other work for today, I popped the disc in and enjoyed myself. I had forgotten just how good Bill Murray was in this film. His dry-wit brand of humor was the perfect antidote to a really disappointing day.
I also appreciated the new insights that seeing the film again gave me. What a great metaphor for the lives of so many people! I can remember times when I felt like I was trapped in a never-ending cycle of failure or at best mediocrity and that nothing I could do would break that cycle. The truth is that we usually can do something but don't know what it is. Only by trying different approaches the way the weatherman Phil did in the film are we able to find the way out of that cycle. There's also humor in the film. And that provides another life lesson: Find the humor along the way.
So while I am incredibly disappointed to hear about six more weeks of winter, I am taking it in stride. And who knows? Maybe I'll get lucky and Phil will be wrong!
Here you can find news and announcements I want to share. In between I'll include reviews of the books I read. Find me on Goodreads.com for more book reviews.