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A productive (in an abstract sense) week

This has been a pretty productive week, all in all. Not a lot to show in terms of work completed/produced, but that isn't everything. Most of the time, but not always. (Also, there's no pun on "abstract" anywhere in here. Sorry to disappoint you.)

On Tuesday I attended a seminar on Backward Design offered by Sarah Miller of Madison Teaching and Learning Excellence Program (University of Wisconsin-Madison) through the CALS Teaching Resource Center, an organization I was unaware of before this event. The focus was on how students learn, practical ways of incorporating active learning into the classroom (e.g. we worked in little teams to turn lecture points into prompts for small discussions), and finally discussed Backward Design. In a nutshell, Backward Design is a three-step process:

  1. Identify the goals for students (i.e. what they should know or be able to do after the course).
  2. Make assessments that actually assess these goals (because students value what you assess, but also build in some gradation into exams).
  3. Fill in the rest of the learning activities for the class.

All in all, this was a helpful seminar and a good use of two hours.

On Friday (today), the GSAC met with the Provost (and the Dean and Associate Dean of the Graduate School, among other big shots). (Recall that GSAC is the Graduate Student Advisory Council for UF's I-Cubed program, and that I am a new member this semester.) While I attended the pre-meeting planning session last week, I have taken a very passive role with regard to the agenda and content (mostly because I lack the perspective gained from attending the previous meeting with the provost). While I wasn't thrilled with the way the presentation ended up developing, it was still a worthwhile presentation to attend, at least from my perspective. The main thing that GSAC was trying to address was the lack of faculty support in some areas for interdisciplinary projects and events, and they were looking for possible solutions from the institutional/administrative side. The response was mild, and with seemingly good reason. The provost offered many good points that GSAC could do to address the issues we perceive, and also noted that 'the faculty' is a very diverse group of individuals that spans the university, and there isn't some magic tool that the administration has to control and inform the entire faculty. The main takeaways from where I was sitting were:

  • Get your message out to as many groups as possible as often as possible. This is the only way to become visible and get the faculty to respect the work GSAC does.
  • Creating space, either physical or virtual, won't be enough to change anything. There must be a clear plan for how such space would be used to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.
  • Some faculty have no interest in interdisciplinary collaboration. If a student is interested in interdisciplinary collaboration, then why choose such a faculty member as an advisor?
  • Rather than waiting for an institutional stamp of approval, we should approach the people of power in our departments and colleges directly for things. Go to the source.
  • Similar to the above, if we aren't sure what a group of people (e.g. the faculty) are thinking, we should just go ask them.
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration takes a lot of time and effort, and faculty (that are universally very busy) are unlikely to participate in overly broad programs that have the hope of some real result in the end. When doing a project, identify a specific expert need that you have and approach an expert. Explain exactly what you need and how they can directly help.
  • Faculty (and possibly academics more broadly are motivated by three key things):
    1. Money (e.g. grant money) - you can't 'buy' faculty with money to elicit sustained change: when the money dries up, they go elsewhere
    2. Recognition (e.g. authorship or awards) - this is related to money and can be used for promotions, tenure, etc
    3. Intrinsic academic interest (e.g. their love of the field) - they do what they do for a reason: appeal to this reason directly (e.g. "We need your expert knowledge to do X and Y.")
  • Lastly, graduate students should focus on keeping their advisor happy. Advisors control the education of graduate students, and while some negotiation over work and projects can work, in the end what the advisor says goes.

Speaking of keeping my advisor happy... right now I'm still working on some side projects, but I'm trying to only engage in new work that relates to statistics education. I just want to wrap up these holdovers from my previous life and then... onward and upward!

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