Faculty Inspired

UMass Boston Office for Faculty Development

Faculty Inspired

What is a Digital Researcher?

I have been very interested lately in what is or how to become a “digital researcher.” What prompted me to write this post though was that I was in EbscoHost getting an article and it offered me the opportunity to download the article as an mp3. That seems very cool (though NPR might not be too happy about this as it will definitely cut into my listening time) and I am going to give it a try. That probably wouldn’t qualify me as a “digital researcher,” but what would?

When I first thought about digital researcher, I thought it meant how you use apps or social media tools to conduct research. I was thinking about Zotero and Evernote, and PDF reading and annotating apps. I was also thinking about QDA tools, or software that assists you to do, in this case qualitative, research. NVIVO is a software based one I have used, but I’m also trying out a blog-style one called Knowdoo. Then there are file sharing tools like Dropbox (which I can no longer live without) and cloud-based presentation tools like prezi.

However, much that I’ve found on the web focuses more on how to publicize and publish your research as well as hopefully find collaborators often by using social media tools. Some people are offering workshops in this (sorry, this one is in the UK). At UMass Boston, we have spent a lot of effort to think about teaching and technology–I personally can’t wait for the conference in May–but it got me thinking that another great “conversation” would be discussing what digital tools our researchers are using to produce, distribute, and support their research and how we “count” it. Of course we have our own online publishing in our ScholarWorks.

There is need for concern or caution when doing online scholarship and two good articles discuss the ups and downs here and here. So many apps and cloud tools there are, I have not mentioned blogging yet but I will close with that.

Today, I read Jalal Alamgir’s blog and wiki entry. Clearly he was a digital researcher (and much, much, much more than that) and I wanted to post my condolences and how very sad I am about his tragic accident. Jalal was an avid blogger (his own and contributions to Huffington Post among others), tweeter, collaborator, scholar and he certainly made the world a better place.

Conference or Productivity App?

This morning I read the Q&A with the authors of the new book “Social Knowledge in the Making” on Inside Higher Ed.

One thing that caught my eye that pertains to supporting faculty even more than the fact that someone has figured out that it might be important to do to the social sciences what Science and Technology Studies (STS) did (is doing) to the physical sciences–understanding the creation of knowledge–is what they learned about academic conferences.

They discovered “our research subject was using academic conferences as a key vehicle for getting his work done, promising several months ahead of time that he would give a conference presentation on a paper that at that point consisted of little more than a few notes, and then using the looming deadline to force himself to set aside his many other obligations in order to actually make headway with the project.” They go on to say that conferences might be under appreciated in terms of their role in helping get papers done.

Have you ever submitted an abstract before the paper is done to a conference? Do you recommend it or not?

(note: the book has other interesting points as well!)

Will you be asking for mid semester teaching evaluations?

While evaluations at the end of the semester have their purpose, they don’t help to address any of the issues that might have been going on in the classroom or let you know what students are learning (or not learning!) until it’s too late. But what if you got feedback earlier when there is time to adjust or adapt for a particular group?

Most mid semester evaluations that I have seen or heard of are quite simple and always anonymous. Mid semester evals also tend to focus more specifically on teaching and learning and many ask students what they can do as well as what the instructor can do to increase their learning in a particular class. Mid semester evals can be done on paper, online or by a person other than the instructor.

One simple method that Horace, Assistant Professor of English, who blogs at To Delight and To Instruct uses is the stop/start/continue rubric. He has students make two columns on a page (one for things the professor can control, and one for things students can control, individually and collectively). Then he has students label three rows: Things they’d like to see stop happening, things they’d like to see start happening, things they’d like to see continue. Other simple methods like these from a variety of disciplines can be found here and tips on questions, how to give and importantly how to respond to evals can be found here.

If you prefer online methods, you can use SurveyMonkey or there is a feature in Blackboard that allows you to survey your students anonymously but still know who did the assignment. This can be useful if you want to give points for completing the assignment. Here is a wiki with instructions for doing this in Blackboard.

Some schools like Stanford and UMass Amherst have a person other than the instructor go into the classroom and conduct an interview. This seems valuable but for the people who want something a little more low key, some of the other methods might be interesting to try. While I say low key, it is important to think out the questions and response.

There is evidence that faculty who use mid-term teaching evaluations can raise their end-of-term evaluations (Post # 313 of Tomorrow’s Professor blog by Rick Reis) and that students who are asked for input feel more committed to the course, however, like anything there are some precautions.

I am curious to know who will be doing this (or some variation of it) and what is that variation?

How’s your writing going now that the semester started?

I never posted my more exciting writing tracking and motivation method because it was one of those great ideas that didn’t go anywhere. I shouldn’t admit that probably! I mean it is one of those ideas that I’m still working on.

However I found a simple method that might substitute for now (until I learn application developing skills!). Once again it is over at ProfHacker. It’s called the Rule of 200.

Yes, Erin (the Author) will agree that it is based on some other programs/ideas but she adapted it and it even worked to get her dissertation written. It does entail writing on your birthday though…

Anyone interested in trying it?

Did you start your Tenure Box yet?

Depending on where you are in your trajectory for tenure you might think it’s either too early or too late for this (even the already tenured could call it their full professor or promotion box!), but you know the saying…

A tenure box is not my idea, but I think it is an excellent one, so I’m promoting it here. I first heard about something similar at our spring 2011 tenure preparation workshop, where a faculty member actually suggested a “tenure envelope” but then I read about the box on one of my favorite blogs (“ProfHacker”) and thought you might find it article useful.

Reading through the comments (which provided some additional useful suggestions), one reader mentioned the use of the school’s repository to organize a tenure box. So if you prefer a digital solution, you could use the author pages in selected works (information about it can be found here).

I imagine there are other good tips and sources for tenure preparation, please feel free to share them!

The Academic Writer

What is the hardest thing about scholarly writing? Is it

    Getting Started
    Unblocking
    Finding Time to Write Daily (forget about big blocks!)
    Revising, Sharing Drafts, or
    Listening to Feedback?

Summertime is thought by many to be the time to finally get a lot of writing done but according to expert sources (in particular, Robert Boice), writing a little everyday (15-30 minutes!) is actually more productive. Summer might be the best time to start implementing this method. One of my favorite blogs (besides this one of course!) is ProfHacker over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed. They have a series called Writers’ Boot Camp and Writers’ Bootcamp (Summer Edition) that are definitely worth the read (you can access the first series through the summer edition).

Faculty Writing Groups
Are any of you part of a faculty writing group that meets regularly? If you are, let me know your thoughts on it and if you aren’t let me know if you are interested in forming one. Also, not first hand but through a faculty development list serve, I heard a couple of people recommend The Academic Writing Club and I’m curious to know if anyone has used it and what they thought. I have read two good reviews.

Writing Discipline
If the key is to write consistently and to track it (supposedly increases productivity exponentially!), what is the key to tracking? I read about a simple spreadsheet that one could make and I did. It is in Excel and very boring but I’ve got an idea for a more exciting tracking method. More to follow.

Grantsmanship

Are you working on a grant this summer or planning to this fall? I’ve added some new resources at UMass Boston to our Grantsmanship page–check it out.

Crisis in Higher Education?

Is there a “crisis in higher education” as outlined by the recent article, “Faulty Towers” in The Nation? Apparently there are reading lists on the matter. The authors’ of “Higher Education’s Toughest Test” think that there is an “education bubble” akin to the housing bubble in that the cost of a degree is becoming ever more costly while the “cost of learning” is declining and students are over-leveraged. They think that this bad news might not be all bad as it could force higher ed to “re-think their product offerings and tuition.”

While “Faulty Towers” conclude that tenure track professors need to use their tenured voices to save the profession, a new book, The Faculty Lounges, argues for the end of the tenure system and claims it makes higher education too expensive but its review prior to publication is already generating critique of its simplistic conclusions and predictable views.

Some of this bad, sad and maddening news can be countered by some powerful and inspirational collaborations happening at UMB and at other higher ed universities. Of course there are actually too many to list here. But, hearing that there is a “new opportunity for universities and colleges to advance the New England economy and at the same time help address environmental concerns” by launching the next revolution in New England seems pretty exciting and beneficial to society. Governor Patrick weighed in on the subject and says that our Massachusetts public universities are an “engine for opportunity” and started The Vision Project, which hopes to make that true in Massachusetts. Another recent example is the higher ed consortium to help higher ed in Haiti.

So higher education is facing the challenges. But, back to the crisis. There is a “Universities in Crisis” blog that documents the global crisis that it is. After that, I was particularly interested to read the essay by Michael Burawoy, University of California, Berkeley entitled, “A New Vision of the Public University” where he puts forth the need for a reflexive university that “engages with publics” after attending the South African Stakeholder Summit on Higher Education Transformation held in April, 2010.