Tag Archives: goals

Olympics are over!

Time to get to serious work!

I have spent the last two weeks thoroughly distracted by the Games — almost as badly as when they were here in Vancouver! While I realize that there are economic and social problems with the Olympics, I find myself inspired by the accomplishments and even the disappointments our athletes face. (And I say “our” to reflect my fierce Canadian pride that especially swells at times like this.) From Rosie MacLennan’s first (and Canada’s only!) gold medal performance, our women’s soccer team pulling themselves up from last place in the world last year to win bronze, *so* many top 10 but out-of-medal performances, the heartbreaking DQ in the men’s 4×100 relay after a shocking rise from off-radar to bronze position… and many many other inspiring moments. Our athletes showed their pride of achievement, and sadness while striving for dignity in defeat. Watching people strive for amazing and challenging achievements inspires me. Such performances highlight the risk involved in devoting your life to a goal, especially a competitive goal defined by social comparisons. It’s possible you’ll never achieve it — and it might be because of simple bad luck, or the fact that someone else just outperforms you (imagine competing in a cohort that just happens to include Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt!). It must take tremendous strength of character to say, “I did my very best, and I’m proud of my accomplishment” after off-podium, far off-podium, or defeat finishes in a domain in which you stake your identity.

Of course, it wasn’t just the Canadian’s who inspired me. There were some incredible “firsts” of these Games that will have an important legacy: Oscar Pistorius, who blurred the boundaries between Olympics and Paralympics; every country competing sent at least one woman; every sport was open to women and men — even boxing; and best all-round female gymnast went to a woman of colour, Gabby Douglas, for the first time ever. Some of these firsts seem bizarrely delayed, it being 2012 and all, but I suspect that feeling is more a product of my sheltered Canadian vantage point than reality.

Thanks, London 2012, our Canadian Olympic Team, and all Olympians, for giving me an excuse to pause and reflect on achievement, failure, competition, national pride, women’s rights, the meaning of physical ability and disability.

Now really, it’s time for me to get back to work!

Lessons from Running

Back in December, my friend and I decided to run the Vancouver marathon on May 6. We had been running 10k most weekends, so quadrupling that distance (42.2k) seemed like the next logical step for us overachievers.

We’re starting to pack on the kilometers rapidly. Over the weekend we ran 19k in about 2h15. This was a bit of a game changing run. It was the first one we had to gear up for. We learned we needed to bring electrolyte-replacing water and a gel called Gu to give us a boost before we tired out. Just the fact that we needed to bring supplies made this run more psychologically daunting than the 17k we ran before.

Then came the hills.

Vancouver has inescapable hills.

We tried to be clever and turn off our pr-planned route to avoid them. We couldn’t.  We got disoriented between Point Grey and Shaughnessey and had to pull out the GPS. I learned that when I have a long long way to go, just stick to the path and face whatever comes. At least I’ll be sure I’m headed in the direction I intended.

Training for a marathon is taking commitment (no surprise there). In some ways that’s been quite liberating. In my line of work, there’s always always more to be done. I’m coming off a three year stretch of having to work until I fall off my task chair from exhaustion (a dissertation, first two years full-time teaching, and a textbook will do that). But it’s become crystal clear to me I can’t sustain that frenetic pace. I need time to take care of myself and my marriage and my friendships… and not feel guilty about that. (High levels of guilt for not working is a common side-effect of grad school.) By making runtime mandatory (and with a friend), this marathon is helping me practice choosing to cultivate my whole self,  rather than just me as academic. Oddly enough, making an extreme commitment is helping me learn moderation.

Reflecting on Student Evals, 2010-2011

Because I pour so much of my heart and soul, sweat and tears (never blood, yet anyway) into each course, I find it necessary to wait a while after a course is over to view the student evaluations of those courses. It can be very emotional to read them, full of breathtaking highs and, occasionally, devastating lows (I appreciate criticism, but not one worded disrespectfully). I have posted summary graphs of my scores and some commentary here, and will share some further reflections in this blog post. Links to all my course syllabi are available here.

The first thing I noticed was how students rated my introductory psychology course overwhelmingly positively. Those ratings are the highest I have ever received. This was absolutely thrilling! I had felt throughout the year a special rapport with this class, despite its large size (N=260). Their energy, curiosity and astute questions continually kept me on my toes, and this in turn fueled my own passion and excitement. I want to share with you a particularly thorough–and not 100% positive!–comment that might give you a feel for what to expect from me (if you’re shopping for courses):

At first, I didn’t like the way Catherine Rawn taught. She was a little too flamboyant and enthusiastic. I felt like she babied us a little. But as the year went on, I really began to appreciate it. I found that I paid attention even to the material I wasn’t particularly interested in. I appreciated her invitational office hour. I never would have gone to her were it not a “requirement,” and that was actually the point that caused me to like her better. I realized that she actually cares about her students (enough to LEARN OUR NAMES, which impressed me) and she was willing to be challenged and she was very respectful to students with opinions different than hers. I have to say that she is one of the better professors I have had in my first year of university. She was interesting, prepared, open, enthusiastic, and positive. She may have babied us a little, but only in the sense that she was so open to help. She still gave challenging and stimulating assignments. Overall, I would say, I thank her for doing a good job.

It’s an interesting comment, to me anyway, in part because it uses a term I’ve received in evaluations before: “babied.” This always intrigues me because I suspect it has something to do with people’s notions about what learning should look like in the university classroom: It should be serious! I attempt to infuse some fun in my courses (e.g., cheering!), I enjoy and find value in exploring with my students, and starting with the basics is important especially in an introductory course. My intention is never to baby, but I also want to dispel the notion that learning has to always be serious. Learning can be fun! Overall, I’m very pleased with the ratings of this course, and will not be making major changes to it next year… with one fabulous exception: the introduction of Peer Tutors! Ten fantastic “grads” of my course from last year have volunteered to help answer questions and act as role models as new students transition to my course and university more broadly. Looking forward to introducing them soon!

The second thing I noticed was that although my scores for Psyc 217 Research Methods are solidly and largely positive, I’m still having a challenge as students are perceiving my evaluations to be less fair than is average across campus (though not unfair per se; see the means on my “evaluating teaching” page, linked above). It is possible that this is simply perception given that this is a very tough course (which is true for all Psyc 217 sections), as it should be because it provides the foundation for all further study in psychology and other behavioural sciences. Yet it’s also possible that my evaluations are in fact less fair than is average across campus. In order to address this consistent rating, I am vowing to critically re-evaluate my exams and assignments this fall. One of those, the group research project, is common to all sections and has a common grading key/rubric, so there’s little to change there. My action plan for evaluating my exams and assignments is to gather all my learning objectives together from every lesson of the course, as well as the broader course objectives stated in the syllabus, and the readings for each unit. I will then consider every question on every evaluation, specifically in terms of how well it links to one or more objectives. Then I will consider whether any question isn’t measuring any objective, and toss it. Then I will consider whether any objective isn’t being addressed, and consider whether the objective should be changed/tossed or measured. After I conduct this analysis of content validity, I will use data from previous years (as I often do) to inform changes to the individual questions to improve their ability to accurately measure learning in my course. I expect my students to use my stated objectives as a road map; it’s time to re-check that they’re aligned with the way I’m evaluating that learning.

Third, I was pleased to see that my scores for Psyc 208 Section 2: How Social Psychology Can Help You Succeed (Special Topics) have improved much from the first time I offered it in 2009, as I used the feedback from 2009 as well as inspiration from a talk by Michael Wesch last summer to make substantial changes. It’s an unconventional course, with lots of teamwork and interaction. For one, I implemented the validity analysis process for exams I explained above (for Psyc 217), which resulted in much fairer exams. As for improvements based on this year’s feedback, I will shorten the midterm a little, and make some small adjustments to the grading of the team project so that individual work related to the team project is weighted more heavily relative to the team grades. Also, I’m considering making grading keys available for the team assignment to improve the clarity of what’s expected for each. Given this feedback, I’d like to share one of my favourite comments from this course, because it reflects my intention in creating this course and in how I structure each and every lesson/experience. Of course they’re not all this positive, but indulge me:

Easily the best teacher I have had at UBC. She should hold workshops for other professors! Or publish a book, or work w ith the Chapman Learning Commons to develop a free, non-credit version of the course that students can take to learn how to improve their university experience. I would recommend her course in Social Psychology and its application to academic success to any student regardless of faculty or major and consider it an invaluable tool to my success. Catherine was always helpful, expected the best of her class and demonstrated an unparalleled concern for the personal and academic development/wellbeing of her students.
I have offered these (lengthy!) reflections to you as evidence that I take student evaluations very seriously, and make real changes to my courses in response to them. Teaching psychology to learners is my passion and, I believe, my calling. I am delighted that so many students report valuing the way I teach and what I contribute to their university experience.

I learned to run!

A year ago I was — decidedly — not a runner. I was a walker. I had walked an entire marathon in fact (2008 BMO Vancouver Marathon with Team in Training). But, I had taken a year off of taking care of myself after burying myself in my new job, and I knew something had to change. AND we had just bought a condo with a gym right downstairs from us, so there was no excuse. With the co-commitment of my husband and our good friend Lesley, I started walking again. Then something weird happened. One day on the treadmill I felt like running. So I did. It was only for a couple of minutes that first day, but I didn’t die! I was ok! It actually felt good!

Fast forward a year, and along with some sage advice from the amazing instructor and personal trainer Andrea Perrino, as well as a lot of sweat along the way, Lesley, our friend Lara Aknin, & I ran the full 10k of the Sun Run today! We *ran* it! The whole time! I can hardly believe it! It was the longest distance I had ever run without stopping, and we completed it in 1:01:41. We had a hunch we might do it in an hour, but we didn’t have a watch among us so we weren’t sure. But we did it! Well, just about… and now we have our next goal: to complete in under an hour!

It feels great to complete this accomplishment and to own this new identity as a runner. This school year I feel like I have really been putting into practice what I teach so often: take care of your physical & mental health, take breaks from work, cultivate social connections, set SMARTER goals, and implementation intentions to acheive them. I’m looking forward to keeping up my progress this summer as I write my textbook and prepare for next year’s adventures. Look for me next year teaching Psyc 100 (6 credits), Psyc 217 (research methods), Psyc 218 (stats), and my custom course Psyc 208: Psychology in your life: How social psychology can help you succeed).

Looking for study tips?

Some well-researched sources have been in the news lately. Check them out!

9 evidence-based study tips from the British Psychology Journal blog

Forget what you know about good study habits from the New York Times

Let me know if they’re helpful!