Tag Archives: the big picture

Reflections from Yoga Class

One of the gifts I have given myself this sabbatical is a commitment to yoga class. For the past 10 months or so, I’ve been going to yoga class pretty much twice a week (basically whenever I’m in Vancouver). I’m not sure my mind is calmer for it (but maybe it is?), but it’s allowed me to sneak in stretching and core strengthening into my exercise routine — two things I have trouble doing on my own. Recently I’ve been thinking about my yoga classes as adventures in teaching and learning. Here are some of my observations:

  • I enjoy learning in the social context of a class. SURPRISE of the century, I know. But spending all this time in a class has given me the chance to really reflect on that, including my role as learner. I find it motivating to share a physical space with other human beings who also want to learn something I’m interested in learning. I find it motivating to be guided by someone who has deliberately planned a sequence of activities to help me learn and practice skills (whether or not they’re fully “expert”). I’ve met people who are able to practice yoga on their own with videos, but that’s just not me and I’m ok with that. I probably have assumed that my students are motivated by the collective experience of class. What if they’re not? What options can/do I give for students who might be motivated like I am by the collective classroom experience, or motivated differently?
  • As a teacher, I can offer activities and opportunities, but I must do it in such a way as to allow students to go deeper or shallower depending on what they need out of that class/course. That also involves helping students learn to listen to their own needs and trusting that they will make the choice they need to make that day. What’s tricky here is that yoga is optional and there isn’t a final exam. That’s not true in my classes.
  • My regular yoga teacher is inspirational. Her best classes are creative, based in the fundamentals of hatha, and build an arc that begins with warming up specific muscle groups and finishes with a corresponding challenging pose. She explains how movements link to each other, making explicit her pedagogical choices. She brings positivity, and encourages students to listen to their bodies carefully. Her prompts have helped me learn to accept where my body is and what it needs in each moment.
  • Even she gets tired and overworked. She’s been teaching other novice yoga teachers recently on top of her regular teaching. Her classes are still good, and I can tell she’s choosing to focus on what she knows best: the basics of hatha. This is good, but — and I say this lovingly as a fellow teacher — not her best most inspirational teaching. Noticing this about her is helping me reflect on how burnt out I was a year ago and how much I needed a break from the classroom. I love teaching students. It’s fun and creative and in my best moments I’m helping my students create and re-create their understanding of the world. But it’s also exhausting. And after my Aunt died last February I was crawling every day toward sabbatical break. Now more than ever I’m certain it showed in the energy and creativity I wasn’t able to bring to class. Self Care isn’t optional in this line of work.
  • Learning from substitute yoga teachers, novice or experienced, helps me to think a bit differently about my practice. Always learning from the same person–even if she is incredibly skilled and I really enjoy her classes–doesn’t mean I can’t learn insights from someone else, even if I don’t fully love the whole experience (but sometimes I do and that’s great too).

I’ve signed up for a yoga pass that continues indefinitely. My goal is to continue making it to class on Mondays and Thursdays, even after my own classes begin in the fall. Please forgive me when I won’t schedule a meeting that runs past 3pm on those days. I need to engage in this Self Care so I can keep bringing my best.

Officially on Sabbatical!

As of 1 July 2016 I’m officially on Sabbatical! Instead of heading to the classroom this Fall, I’ll be on an extended summer until September 2017. Sabbatical is an amazing opportunity to spend a year working on big picture projects and deep thinking that don’t fit well in the hectic pace of the regular teaching terms. It’s also a chance to catch up on sleep, well-being, time with family and friends, and some travel.

Some projects I’ll be working on include a few papers to submit for publication to journals (3 of which already partially exist but need deep work), the International Program for the Scholarship of Educational Leadership: UBC Certificate on Curriculum and Pedagogy in Higher Education (http://international.educ.ubc.ca/soel/), overhauling my Psyc 101 and 102 courses, continuing to work on curriculum renewal for the BA Psychology degree, and a few other things here and there. I’m working on developing habits to keep me productive enough on these projects while also spending lots of time resting and re-energizing.

If you’re trying to reach me during this time, I’m generally going to be pretty terrible on email. I really hate email. It saps my life energy, which means it cannot be a priority for me during this sabbatical time. If you really need to reach me urgently, try a Tweet (@cdrawn) to grab my attention.

Two-Stage Exam: Introduction and Resources

Time to dive in! After thinking about them for a long time, this term I’m converting my exams into two-stage exams.

  • Step 1. I shorten the exam so it’s doable in about 2/3 of the testing time slot.
  • Step 2. Students write the exam individually.
  • Step 3. Students immediately — during the same class period — write the same exam again in groups of 4.
  • Step 4. Grade the exams as usual, but 90% of the score comes from individual, and 10% from team, with a guarantee that if you do better than the team score you get 100% weight for the individual (which very rarely happens, so I’m told).

Why am I making this change?

Four key reasons:

  1. Data. A growing pool of evidence is showing that team tests help students learn. See references below.
  2. Feedback. My classes are very large, so I struggle to give any personalized feedback at all, especially timely feedback. By re-doing the test immediately with peers, they get to immediately discuss the questions and come to the right answer (according to data).
  3. Exam improvement. Based on my evaluations, a small but consistent group of students find my exams very difficult and/or too long. Because I still only have 50 minute classes to work with, this change will force me to shorten my exams, culling and distilling to just the most effective questions that measure deep learning.
  4. Community. I value collaboration and building a supportive community. Research papers and instructors who have used this method report extra benefits beyond learning: students have more rapport with each other and are more willing to participate with their peers in class throughout the term. Also, Gillian Sandstrom and I have a research paper in press showing the more students talk in class, the more they feel like part of a community and interested in the class. So… back to data.

Interested? Here are some quick and effective resources for implementation:

  1. Videos by the CWSEI team depicting Two-Stage Exams in action.
  2. Jones, F., Gilley, B., Harris, S. (2013). Tips for successful two stage exams. The EOS-SEI Times, 6(9). Retrieved http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/Files/EOS/EOS-SEITimes_4.1_GroupExams.pdf
  3. Jones, F., Gilley, B., Lane, E., Caulkins, J., & Harris, S. (2011). Using group exams in your classes. The EOS-SEI Times, 4(1). Retrieved http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/Files/EOS/EOS-SEITimes_4.1_GroupExams.pdf
  4. PHAS-CWSEI Team. (2012). Two-stage (group) exams. CWSEI–PHYS & ASTRO Newsletter. Retrieved http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/Files/PHAS/PHAS-CWSEI_Newsletter_Summer-2012.pdf
  5. Brett Gilley, aka @ModernHydra


Dahlstrom, O. (2012). Learning during a collaborative final exam. Educational Research and Evaluation: An International Journal on Theory and Practice, 18, 321-332.

Eaton, T. T. (2009). Engaging students and evaluating learning progress using collaborative exams in introductory classes. Journal of Geoscience Education, 57, 113-120.

Gilley, B. H., & Clarkston, B. (2014). Collaborative testing: Evidence of learning in a controlled in-class study of undergraduate students. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43, 83-91.

  • A particularly well-designed example.

Leight, H., Saunders, C., Calkins, R., & Withers, M. (2012). Collaborative testing improves performance but not content retention in a large-enrollment introductory biology class. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 11, 392-401.

  • The title might be alarming here… they showed no effect of the 2-stage exam on final exam performance (compared with material that had been previously tested only with individual tests). I’m ok with this. Not every study is going to find the same effect (particularly ones with some execution oddities like this one), yet this is still a “no-change” effect with no evidence that student learning decreases. Moreover, students still enjoyed the process and found it less stressful than the individual-only tests. No harm done, potential benefits.

Rieger, G. W., & Heiner, C. E. (2014). Examinations that support collaborative learning: The students’ perspective. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43, 41-47.

Roediger, III, H. L., & Marsh, E. J. (2005). The positive and negative consequences of multiple-choice testing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 31, 1155-1159.

  • Two-stage tests might help to fight the negative consequences of MC tests: you remember what you answered (and thought was right), not what actually was right.

Sandstrom, G. M., & Rawn, C. D. (in press/2014). Embrace chattering students: They may be building community and interest in your class. Teaching of Psychology.

Zipp, J. F. (2007). Learning by exams: The impact of two-stage cooperative tests. Teaching Sociology, 35, 62-76. doi: 10.1177/0092055X0703500105




I got tenure!

One week ago today I saw a small, white envelope in my mailbox in the department. I saw it was from the Office of the President at UBC and I tore it open — careful not to destroy the sacred contents inside. I knew what it was. It was a letter signed by President Stephen Toope telling me he approved my tenure file and I will be promoted to Senior Instructor with Tenure effective July 1, 2014. Tears welled up in my eyes and I blinked them back to actually read the words. I wandered around for a few moments, aimless, slack-jawed, alone. I vaguely remember telling grad student/ former TA and student of mine/ turned sessional instructor Ben Cheung and he congratulated me. He left. I stayed in the mailroom in shock. Larry Walker came by — wise Larry, who knew me as a terrified grad student applying to the PhD program almost a decade ago, and who sat on my hiring committee evaluating my potential five years ago. I looked up at him and said I got tenure, still holding the letter and staring at it. He congratulated me with the gentle sincerity he brings to every encounter, paused, and said “this is something to celebrate, you know.” I did. I knew. He then asked if I was ready to be called “Senior” — ha! Then he called me a “young kid” and we laughed. I was shaken back to reality and ran to my office to phone my husband, then my gran, my mom, my aunt, my mother-in-law, and my friend Lesley who wrote her dissertation back-to-back with me. I posted on Facebook and Twitter and was overwhelmed by more “likes” and comments and retweets of congratulations than I ever could have imagined! My friend Lara called me squealing with excitement — Lara, who I knew as a nervous but extremely competent undergrad deciding on grad schools, now on the tenure-track herself at SFU. It was all a celebration of love and support of my achievement and it was **amazing.** Later that night, and the next, I indeed celebrated. Then I went back to work creating exams.

A week later, I’m starting to open my eyes and face forward. Far forward. So much of my life has had the next step pre-planned. What will you do after high school? University (though that was at one time much more obvious to my teachers than my family). What will you do after University? Grad school (though that was for a long time much more obvious to my undergrad advisors than to me or my family… what’s grad school?). What will you do after grad school? Apply for this amazing teaching faculty position and if I don’t get it then figure out something else (I had no back-up plan, really). I got the job. Amazing!! Now what? Get tenure. You have four years (+8 months of waiting for our committees to evaluate you) to show us we want to keep you. So get to work.

I did. I worked harder than I ever thought I could. And to anyone who has known me a long time, that’s saying a lot.

Now I’m in. I have a permanent job and have started my career with gusto. How do I want to steer it now? What comes next? It’s five years until I’m eligible for another promotion, but that one doesn’t have the threat of getting fired if it’s negative, so it feels different. What teaching techniques or topics do I want to learn about? explore? try? With whom might I want to collaborate? On what? What does a tenured faculty member do to steer the career ship off the coast and into mid-career waters? (Ok, that just got weird.)

So much feels open. So many possibilities. I think first I’ll take a little time to breathe.


Ten Simple Steps to Conference Networking

Networking opportunities abounded at the Association for Psychological Science (APS) convention last week. As I was reflecting on the week’s general highlights, it soon became clear that effective networking was the key to most. Let me be clear here: I’ve been going to conferences for about ten years, and I have a long history of being nervous about networking at conferences (still am!). At this point, I suspect it’s some leftover grad school/new faculty imposter syndrome, but it doesn’t really matter why it happens. What matters is I’m not letting my nervousness get in my way too much anymore.

One of the symposia I went to last week specifically addressed professional networking (sponsored by WICS). Perhaps because of this symposium, I have been reflecting on what I think led to my networking successes at APS. In case it’s helpful to someone else, here are ten things I did this week that I think helped me build my connections. Of course, this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list.

My Ten (Relatively) Simple Steps to Networking

  1. Tweeted regularly. Hands down, best decision. Led to meeting people IRL (read: in real life), and I was recognized by others at times when I didn’t say a word out loud. Importantly, I was re-tweeted, sometimes by APS, Society for the Teaching of Psychology and some major names in the field (thanks APS, STP, Hal Pashler, and Bobbie Spellman!). That means all their followers can see what I wrote. Plus, tweeting helped me stay focused and engaged throughout the conference, and I now have a searchable record of my own (see @cdrawn) and others’ (see #aps2013dc) conference-related thoughts.
  2. Thanked a few speakers and introduced myself, briefly noting a common connection or a sound-bite about why I was interested in their talks. Each time, I met someone else too, because someone else was either standing there who knew the speaker, or because the speaker said “oh, then you should meet…” in response to my sound-bite.
  3. Went to a post-preconference reception. Followed up, elaborated on an earlier brief encounter (see #2). Had ONE glass of wine, which I sipped so slowly it wouldn’t have had a physiological effect, but it relaxed me a bit and helped me switch into a more social mode of conversation.
  4. Grabbed the chance to sit next to a colleague from my institution (who is well-known across the discipline), who sat next to someone else who was well-known across the discipline. Got to know both a bit better through in-session on-topic (and in-joke!) whispers.
  5. Went to a big-picture session everyone seems to be talking about (in this case, replicability). I knew a bit about it beforehand so I knew the key players and ideas. This meant I could tweet responsibly and thoughtfully on this hot topic, and could contribute meaningful whispers (see #4).
  6. Stumbled through asking that first question early in the conference in a small symposium so I’d be more confident and more articulate when asking the next one.
  7. Introduced myself to the speaker/crowd before asking a post-talk question (only after completing #6!). In one case, this meant I gained a couple of followers on twitter, including the speaker, who then tweet-suggested I meet his collaborator on the project who happens to live in my home city.
  8. Hung out in the lobby lounge. A friend wandered past, who then stopped and introduced me to his colleague. Made dinner plans (see #9).
  9. Went to sessions solo. Dined with friends. Years ago I would go to a session because my friend was going to it. I’ve learned to spend conference days largely on my own so I can take advantage of spontaneous conversations as needed, follow my own main interests and odd curiosities, and take quiet breaks when I need them. Dining with friends is then especially fun as we share our most interesting tidbits from the day… or not, if we need a brain break! (This is why it’s important to dine with friends IMO, so no need to worry about impressing them. I can’t spend all day and all evening being “on”.) As Lynn Liben at the WICS symposium noted, networking with peers is important: They start as “siblings” but “grow-up” to become the field.
  10. Followed-up on a twitter exchange. One of the challenges/strengths of writing on Twitter is that it’s limited to 140 characters (10 of which are used by the hashtag required so you’re part of the conversation). Misunderstanding is a real risk. During the conference, I responded to a tweet that I thought had really misrepresented a speaker’s intent, and I hoped it came across politely (after all, I am Canadian!). When I saw the person IRL (see #1), I approached him with a friendly Hi!. He knew immediately who I was, and we were able to further our discussion and finish it amicably.

We can all read other peoples’ papers. In my mind, the real advantage of conferences is the people who are there. Be bold, even just a little, and take advantage of the networking opportunities that come your way. Now, shall we continue this conversation on Twitter? I’m @cdrawn