Tag Archives: personal experiences

Recovery & Resilience

The last time I posted I was in a dark space. It was January 2021, and there were months left of pandemic teaching ahead of me and so many others. I was clearly overwhelmed.

Today is a new day. There is reason to hope that, with the rollout of vaccines*, we can see an end to the pandemic that has kept us hidden away for so long. Difficult and important conversations related to equity, diversity, and inclusion are (still) happening among my friends and colleagues. Many are working toward un/learning and developing solutions. It is a long journey ahead, but there are more of us taking steps on it than ever before.

Personally, since submitting grades in early May, I recognize my immense privilege in being able to shift into a kind of recovery mode, giving my brain lots of time to rest and my body lots of time to move. For this I am so grateful. Even so, I’m still struggling to find focus for more than an hour or two on most days. My heart goes out to all those who have not been able to take a form of recovery break.

Some folks were ready in May to start thinking about post-pandemic teaching. I was not. It’s taken me a month to create space and perspective to just begin reflecting on my teaching over this past year, as I re-learned the core aspects of my job.

What have I learned teaching through a pandemic? Some very preliminary thoughts:

  • Students inspire me to work harder and to show up with the best self I can offer. I will drop pretty much anything else to do what I need to do for my students.
  • Time with students (e.g., in class, in office hours) is important for my own well-being and career satisfaction.
  • I can offer students an opportunity to somewhat customize their grade breakdown, while maintaining the department-required average, and it’s not too much extra work
  • I miss two-stage exams for the community and competence they build
  • Clicker-style questions on Canvas have some advantages
  • Discussion posts have potential to enhance learning, at least for some students. And once I got the hang of it, they weren’t too hard to mark (minimally) regularly. Bonus: Kept me aware of what my students were thinking and understanding (and, depending on the prompt, feeling).
  • Video recorded lessons help everyone (and are a little scary for me)
  • There are some advantages to online exams (e.g., question and answer randomization, auto-grading MC)
  • Now that my courses are set up in modules form, they just need updating to help keep me and students on track
  • I’d like to use verbal feedback/videos more, but I find it difficult to motivate myself to do so. Writing just comes fastest for me most of the time… but leads to a lot of words on a screen.
  • Being more flexible in deadlines is great for students and works for me… but is tough to program in Canvas and communicate
  • Group drop-in office hours on Zoom worked really well imo
  • Individual appointments, booked through Canvas and done on Zoom, worked pretty great
  • I really really really miss (and rely on) the visual feedback from my students’ faces and body language during class to know how things are going
  • Group annotation tools are fun and useful, so is a side chat panel
  • Self Determination Theory of motivation has real potential as a guide for my decision making and priorities. How can I use it more? What are the downsides?
  • [I might keep adding to this list as I think of things]

What’s coming next on the Blog

Over the coming weeks, I will be working on digesting the comments my students offered through the student experience of instruction mechanisms at my institution. I usually do this annually, and post my reflections as well as synthesized quantitative scores, but last summer I was in too much of a panic  and avalanche of work every single day to do so. So this summer, I intend to examine and compare feedback from 2019/2020 to 2020/2021. I taught the same three courses over those two periods, but under drastically different global and “classroom” circumstances. I look forward to learning from my students… even more than I did all year long.


*which need to spread world-wide urgently

On recommending (inexpensive) BC wine

Over the years, my husband and I have developed a knack for wine tasting, and particularly for enjoying BC wine. I like the challenge of confronting objective science with subjective experience, and the BC wine community is full of really great, smart people making, pouring, and drinking fabulous wines. If you want to know our faves, that’s another post entirely 😉

I’m often asked to recommend palatable but inexpensive (ideally <$15) BC wine that is available in Vancouver (ideally BC Liquor Stores). This is a tough category to crack, and for folks without wine knowledge it can be overwhelming… and the results can be rather underwhelming! So I started a basic list and informally surveyed my Facebook friends in- and adjacent to the wine community for their feedback too.

I added to the post: “For many complex reasons, often it will end up being the bigger brands or their subsidiaries, and I think that will just have to be ok. The idea is to invite people into BC wine, not to frighten or snob them out of interest (e.g., “just increase the budget” isn’t helpful here).” *Please scroll down below the list for a thoughtful response to this.

In a nutshell, if you’d like to go local, it’s tough to go cheap (again, see * below). There are many reasons for this, such as space. There are single wineries in Australia that produce as many grapes as the entire BC wine industry combined. So if you need to stick to a strict budget (I understand! I’ve been there!), I recommend buying slightly fewer bottles of slightly better wine… there’s a whole industry out there that gets a bad reputation because of the lowest end.

Here’s what came from the informal survey. What would you add? What questions do you have?

If choosing local on a strict budget, please consider:
Sperling The Market White ($16)
Hester Creek Pinot Blanc ($15.50) — or their bag-in-box series (which looks kitschy but actually is acceptable wine!)
Gehringer Brothers brand anything (these will be a bit sweeter as they’re done in a German style… but without *adding* sugar — see below)
Conviction brand (any; http://johnschreiner.blogspot.com/…/wines-of-conviction-fro…) — all seem to be $15 or less
Grey Monk L50 white ($13), Merlot ($15)
Mission Hill 5 Vineyards series ($15)
Ganton & Larson Prospect Series

If you can bump up a bit ($19-$24), try:
Arrowleaf Cellars
TIME Winery
Monster Vineyards

Please avoid these at all costs:
anything that says “Cellared in Canada” (long story)
Copper Moon
Sawmill Creek
Painted Turtle
Diabolica (there are piles of sugar added to this)

*Also consider this statement, from a friend and representative of the BC wine industry (ES):

“It’s hard not to say just bump the budget to $20 +tax because there are SO many more options at that price point and it will seriously pay off. You will be much less likely to find crazy high RS [residual sugar] in these wines, as well as way more interesting varieties, blends and styles. Remember that you’re supporting our economy when you buy B.C. and depending on which wineries you’re buying from, you’re supporting a small/family business! A lot of the wineries that can produce wine at that sub $20 price point are bigger wine corporations, so I personally think it’s easier to spend an extra $5-$7 knowing you’re getting more bang for your buck and supporting local.
There’s also something to be said for only buying at the BCL. If you go to the private stores, your selection for B.C. wines could be heavily increased (again, depending on where you go) and sometimes they are offered big discounts on already good-value wines which they then pass on to their customer. The whole supporting local, small/family business plays here too!”

I missed a pottery class! Catching up weeks 5 & 6

A few weeks ago I headed to Southern Ontario to meet with colleagues at five different universities. While discussing the 2nd edition of my textbook, I learned about the statistics and research methods courses for psychology majors at the University of Guelph and Wilfred Laurier. I learned how psychology fits into degrees at Renison University College (within Waterloo) and Huron University College (within Western), and how the curriculum has changed since I was an undergraduate student at Waterloo. Spending a day at McMaster was incredible! I learned about their introductory psychology machine (check them out on Twitter ) and amazing Honours program. I also learned how different institutions incorporate (or don’t) teaching focused faculty members, which will be useful for the SoEL research project I’m working on as part of this certificate program. Many thanks to all my hosts!

What I did *not* do during that week was go to my pottery class. Turns out we were learning how to make bowls. That may sound easy after all the cylinders I’ve been making, but don’t fool yourself. Nothing is easy in pottery (at least not right away). I went in for an extra visit to try to make a bowl and the result seemed reasonably bowl-shaped.

After missing the live demo, I attempted to create a bowl.

“Playing Catch-up.” After missing the live demo, I attempted to create a bowl.

I smudged the rim a bit after these photos were taken. Bummer. I also notice some of my errors: for some reason I wasn’t pulling up enough clay from the outside, and somehow managed to create an edge instead of a solid rim because I was hanging on to the clay too long rather than stopping and compressing. But at least I had something bowl-shaped. Unfortunately, timing was not my friend in this case.

The reason why bowls have a curved outside is because you scrape off that part of the clay when your bowl reaches a particular type of firmness (called “leather hard” because it feels like leather or cheddar cheese). I saw the demonstration for how to finish the bottom of the bowl before I had a bowl of my own to practice with. By the time I had returned to this bowl, it was past the point of leather hard, now too firmly set to make any cuts. Sigh. I decided to fire it anyway. It will be an ugly half-bowl half-cylinder creature. I can use it to practice glazing techniques.

I must admit I’m losing some steam for pottery. Part of this is because I’ve been travelling and have now missed a couple of classes. Turns out it’s really difficult to learn how to do pottery without enough practice and without all the instruction possible. I’m having a harder and harder time remembering the steps and figuring out what I miss, I’m making ugly products, and the class is almost over anyway which further reduces my motivation to get closer to doing well at this art.

Do some of my students go through a spiral like this? I can imagine a parallel with a semester here: Starting out keen and ready to learn something entirely knew, hitting a few roadbumps, other required commitments dragging attention away, not building in enough time to work with the material, and before you know it the course is almost over and you’re so far behind it’s not all that fun anymore. Plus, for me anyway, I figure by now have the basics. I now know some of what I don’t know about this discipline, which makes me appreciate it more when I encounter it in everyday life. I also know I’m not going to go any farther in it anytime soon, if ever. Although I’m not going to become a potter, I value the lessons I’m learning about patience and being a novice, as well as the insight into motivation changes for a non-required class. And I’m going to have actual real tangible products to show what I learned. Note to self: Think more on that.

The Highs and Lows of Pottery: Weeks 2 and 3

Proud Potter

Proud Potter

Walking out of last week’s class felt great! I had made two cylinders that I felt proud to present. I figured I had the hang of it. I had been very careful at every single step, and called over my instructor before proceeding a few times so I wouldn’t ruin the piece. When she was helping other students, I waited rather impatiently. In that very moment I was feeling frustrated I was also imagining what my students may feel sometimes. I just needed her attention for one minute only before I felt I could relatively confidently proceed without mangling the clay. I imagine this can be tough enough to manage in a class of 8 novice hobby potters with an hour to work with. For me, 600 students a term means just that one minute of attention per student equals an impossible 10h each week (and forget timing-as-needed). When it was my turn for her attention, she helped me verbally review the next step, and once she even pushed down on my hands so I could feel the force she meant. I don’t know how I would have learned that feeling on my own. The entire class period I focused on nothing else. The sun was shining, I could centre clay, and I made two cylinders! Hooray! Please, admire my work:

Practice Makes Perfect

“Practice Makes Perfect”





This morning I spent an hour clearing out my email inbox before class. I left home in a fluster, rushing the whole way and thinking about upcoming travel and the things I needed to do this afternoon. I arrived and quickly checked on my pieces from last week, all looked great, and I quickly prepared them for the next phase. I share this information not to simply recall my morning, but to highlight the state of mind I entered class. It seems to have been incompatible with pottery.

My goal was to create two more pieces today. I quickly failed. The first piece centred* surprisingly easily (and I know it was decently centred because of later disaster), so I went for it. I was the first person to start making my cylinder. Everything was going great for about 2 minutes, until the entire piece of clay had come off in my left hand, leaving only the disc of a base spinning on the wheel. Apparently I had made the wall too thin right there. I chuckled as it dawned on me that it was fully destroyed. Then I was furious. I had to start over from scratch. I would not make two pieces. I might not even make one. Scrape off the clay blob, clean the wheel, knead a new piece of clay, and start centering all over again. Ok. Except it wouldn’t centre! I tried and tried and got more and more frustrated and it got more and more wobbly! After almost half an hour of trying I almost gave up. Instead, enter teacher. I looked up and there she was. I asked for help and she was there. (Again, just the right moment. How can I ever do that?) She made a suggestion and reminded me it was ok—it’s only clay. I was a breath away from quitting. Instead, I kept going. The resulting pot looks like crap. The walls are so thin that when I went to take it off the wheel I almost crushed it into another grey blob. I finished it. This is my ugly, misshapen masterpiece. I title it: Persistence.

Persistence. Upper right and bottom left are still on the wheel. Opposite corners: what I salvaged post-removal.

“Persistence.” Upper right and bottom left are still on the wheel. Opposite corners: what I salvaged post-removal.

* The second step to pottery on the wheel—after sort of kneading it to get air bubbles out—is to get it “centred” which means that as it spins around it’s actually in the centre of the wheel and it doesn’t wobble. If it wobbles, it could spin off or have a bubble in it or otherwise not be sturdy in later phases. Centering can be a time consuming endeavor involving lots of bringing the clay up to a cone shape, then squishing it back down to an anthill. If you rush it, you will probably pay a price later in a weird or collapsed or cracked piece. Patience!

On finding my “big idea” in undergrad

I was asked to speak at tonight’s Jumpstart ProfTalks event on the topic of “finding your big ‘idea’–how you want to change the world–and developing the toolbox you need to translate that passion into practice”. Here’s what I came up with. What was/is your big idea?

On finding my “big idea” in undergrad…

I feel like if I had expected to find a “big idea” (how I wanted to change the world) in undergrad, I wouldn’t have found it. In fact I didn’t. It sounds terrifying! What I knew I wanted was to change my world. Nobody asked me to change the world. Nobody expected me to. People who come from where I come from don’t change the world. A high school teacher told me—told my class—this much. That remains one of my life’s worst memories. Janitors come from my neighbourhood. Not CEOs. Thankfully, he wasn’t my only high school teacher. I had others who said things like of course you’re going to university! and then helped me get there.

So my “big idea” was rather small by comparison. I wanted to learn. To do my very best. To be afraid and lonely and make my way anyway. To succeed in the face of odds stacked against me. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, but I knew how to get good grades by working really hard. In hindsight, I consider my “big idea” was learning to think for myself. I changed my world by questioning it. I stumbled into psychology because my family situation was rather unconventional and I’d already seen a counsellor, so I thought hey psychology might be a helpful thing to take. What I found there changed me. I wouldn’t have said this at the time—I don’t think I was that aware of it, I just liked psychology—but psychology gave me a method, a way to ask the questions I wanted to ask about people and relationships and identity, and it was a way to get answers. When my TA said she was looking for research assistants, I stepped up, which led to invaluable experiences learning from faculty and graduate students.

The coursework in undergrad that was most annoying and frustrating and challenging is what prepared me best for my little big idea, and what I still find useful today. Example 1: Dr. Burris asked me to collaborate on writing a paper. WHAT? I wasn’t 100% in control of my grade! That was really frustrating!! But guess what, all the papers I’ve ever written in my position have been collaborative. Just today a group of us finalized Terms of Reference for the Instructor Network, a committee I helped develop… it was collaborative writing. Most of the things I write professionally are collaborative. Example 2: Another thing I had to do that I hated at the time: statistics. And even worse, I had to take intro to university math before I was allowed to take stats. Nightmare. But if I hadn’t taken stats, and kept working hard at it, I wouldn’t have been selected to TA stats in graduate school… and it was while TAing stats in graduate school that I realized I love teaching. Every time I got to plan a lesson, I wanted to do that first before any other work. I wanted to perfect it. It was (and still is) an immensely creative endeavour for me. And then… I get to test it out to find out if it works to help people learn… aha! There was my big idea. But not until years beyond undergrad. My original big idea was to change my world. And so I did. I’m still trying to figure out how to change the world.