We just read about this networking event for early career faculty next week, on Wednesday, Feb. 20th, and wanted to pass on the word.
Did you ever hear a student say, “I wish I understood what the professor wanted with this assignment?” Have your students ever asked how you came to a specific grade? Have you felt the need to create more clarity around an assignment, both for your students and/or your TAs who handle grading?
The solution may be to create a rubric for your students—or even with your students—for the assessment of the paper or project.
What is a rubric? A rubric is a tool for assessment that is created by the instructor to articulate clear expectations for an assignment and how it is to be graded. In some cases, it can even be helpful to elicit help from students in creating the rubric because, when students are involved in planning how they will be graded, they take ownership of the assignment and their understanding of what is expected is improved.
The Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence states about rubrics:
Rubrics help instructors:
- Assess assignments consistently from student-to-student.
- Save time in grading, both short-term and long-term.
- Give timely, effective feedback and promote student learning in a sustainable way.
- Clarify expectations and components of an assignment for both students and course TAs.
- Refine teaching skills by evaluating rubric results.
Rubrics help students:
- Understand expectations and components of an assignment.
- Become more aware of their learning process and progress.
- Improve work through timely and detailed feedback.
So how do you go about making a rubric?
- You can attend the upcoming workshop, “Designing Rubrics” (February 21, 2013) offered at the CTL by the UVM Writing in the Disciplines Program.
- You can go through this helpful tutorial by University of Colorado – Denver.
- You could also email email@example.com to ask for an appointment with one of the Center for Teaching & Learning instructional design specialists who can meet with you individually to assist you in creating a rubric for your class.
If your list of courses is long and overwhelming, there are solutions! You can either:
- re-sort the list so that your current course spaces show at the top, or
- hide older courses from the list (and restore them again, if desired)
To learn how, see the CTL How-to page for course list management.
(Note that after a few semesters, courses are deleted from the system so they will no longer appear on your list, anyway.)
For many instructors, the Blackboard (Bb) Assignment Tool is a helpful time saver. A few of the advantages are:
- there are no papers to haul around—they live in Bb
- feedback and grades can be distributed within Bb
- the rubric tool makes grading easier and more consistent (especially helpful for TAs)
A course banner brightens up a course home page and helps users identify the course they’ve entered. Any image can be made into a banner, but the ideal dimensions are shallow and wide.* Text can be added to an image using editing software, such as Photoshop, or an online image editing tool such as picmonkey.com/.
*If you use the announcement tool in your course, you’ll want to make sure your banner isn’t so tall that it pushes the announcement area out of sight. Read more about that here.
It seems like we hear this more and more: “I’ve been crazy busy!” So, in the interest of getting to “sane busy,” I’m listing here what I think are some of the best work tools and techniques for time and task management:
To-do List Apps: Write down everything you need to do for a particular list, prioritize your list, assign dates, take action, and then cross them off when done. Be sure to prioritize your workload. Work backwards from project due dates to set your deadlines and prioritize your tasks. For more help prioritizing your workload take a look at: http://www.wikihow.com/Prioritize-Projects.
Here are some apps/websites to try:
Remember the Milk. Share lists, syncs across computers, tablets, smart phones (iphone & android), google calendar, gmail, outlook and twitter!
Wunderlist. It has a simple and clean interface, ability to share /email your lists, and syncs with all of my computers and devices. Smart lists and notes here too.
Toodledo. A powerful tool when you are looking for robust task manager. Includes hotlists, filters, sorting, scheduling, notes, file attachments, sharing, time tracking, imports lists, alarms, and more. Syncs with multiple devices.
- Timers to help you stay on task. The Pomodoro Technique is a simple, effective approach to time management that chunks the work into “pomodoros” (or tomato, in Italian)—25 minute periods of focus—followed by short breaks. This is effective for projects that take a good deal of focused energy to complete. The method is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility. A Google search for pomodoro timers or pomodoro technique will yield a lot of results, but here’s one site that’s all about the simple timer: Pomodoro Timer.
There are five basic steps to implementing the technique:
- After creating your to-dos, decide on the task to be done;
- Set the pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes;
- Work on the task until the timer rings; record with an x;
- Take a short break (3-5 minutes); and
- Every four “pomodoros” take a longer break (15–30 minutes)
- Get(ting) Things Done is a time-management methodology, as described in the book with the same title by productivity consultant David Allen, often referred to simply as GTD. The Getting Things Done method rests on the idea that a person needs to move tasks out of the mind by recording them externally, so the mind is free from the job of remembering the tasks that need to be completed. One can then concentrate on performing the tasks, instead of remembering.
I read this book in a moment of panic earlier in the semester and it has been a serious stress reducer. It’s full of ideas to help you, well, get things done.
The David Allen Company lists many tools to help you manage your time more efficiently like TheBrain and EverNote. Richard Winters wrote an article reviewing 3 apps he uses to get things done including the low-tech index/notecard.
This semester I had the privilege of presenting the workshop “Building Your Stress Toolbox: Minimizing the Impact of Stress on Your Life & on You.” I held the workshop twice, once for the Womyn@Noon program offered through the Women’s Center and again at the Center for Teaching & Learning.
The presentation was about managing stress to minimize the impact it has on our lives, a topic that affects us all. Stress is all around us, but what is stress? There are many definitions out there, but for this article, I like this definition I found at Mountain State Centers for Independent Living:
“Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. When people feel stressed by something going on around them, their bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood. These chemicals give people more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if their stress is caused by physical danger. But this can also be a bad thing, if their stress is in response to something emotional and there is no outlet for this extra energy and strength. This class will discuss different causes of stress, how stress affects you, the difference between ‘good’ or ‘positive’ stress and ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ stress, and some common facts about how stress affects people today.”
Because stress comes from everywhere, we can’t get away from it. My recommendation: Plan for it.
Here is an excerpt from the collection of resources I have collected related to stress management:
When feeling the effects of stress it is important for us to be able to:
Recognize the stress and its impact on us. Identify what and how stress affects us.
Reorient the perspective back to “me.” Focus on self-care.
Realize and utilize the resources around to help manage or minimize stress and its impact.
There are a few different levels of stress, categorize your stress into: low stress, mid stress and extreme stress to plan for each. Ask yourself the question, “What stresses me?” This helps us to zone-in on the causes of stress in our lives. Make a list for yourself in a journal or a document that you will keep in your stress toolbox.
To mitigate the impact of stress in your life, it is important to recognize the signs of stress in and around you. We each have a variety of ways of responding to our stress. Some ways help us to move through it, while other ways just have us moving in circles and creating additional stress. Writing these out can help us begin to plan what tool to use when we are feeling overwhelmed and it becomes too hard to think.
Reorient the Perspective
So often when stress takes a hold of us, we resist checking in with ourselves and our needs. We just try to “get it all done.” This added distracting inner voice compounds our stress response. Maybe it’s that we are used to taking care of others’ needs first and forget about our own needs. Self-care is critical to success. Having a plan helps us when it is the hardest to see ourselves. Planning helps us to focus on self-care.
Utilize the Resources
It is important to have many different ways to take care of ourselves when stress takes over. Start building your toolbox. This is important to do for ourselves because stress is personal, specific, and individual.
You put a lot of work into your Blackboard course space. As we move through each semester there are tasks you can do to protect that work. This checklist can help you wrap up the closing semester and make the transition to a new semester run more smoothly.
Links throughout this post take you to specific “How To” pages at the CTL’s Blackboard Help site at: http://www.uvm.edu/ctl
At the end of the semester
- Try Color Coding in your Grade Center to easily see students at risk.
- Download the final Backup of your Grade Center to store for your records.
- Create, download, and store an Archive of your course. An Archive is a compressed file that contains all the information you have built in your course as well as your student grades. It can be used to build a new course and it should be saved as your backup of your grade center and your course materials.
Before the new semester starts
- Log in to Blackboard, explore the new appearance (upgrade happening on Dec 19th), and check that your course appears with the correct instructors associated with it. Instructors are added to Blackboard through the Banner system, by departmental staff.
- Add TAs as soon as possible.
- Gather your course materials, plan how you will organize them in your course space, create Tests or Surveys, and plan which tools you will use for assignments and course activities. Plan early if you intend to create and incorporate videos.
- If you are reusing course material from a previous course, Archive the material from the old course, then Import it to the new course. Another way is with Course Copy command.
- Begin planning your Grade Center. Visit the CTL Dr Is In so our staff can consult with you on strategies for using this tool most effectively and efficiently, especially if you are teaching large enrollment courses. See Dr Is In schedule here.
- Post your Syllabus.
- Make the course Available to students when you are ready for them to access it.
During the semester
- Create and download an Archive of your course frequently throughout the semester. These will be your backup copies in case you need to restore any deleted material to your course.
- Download and store a Backup of your Grade Center both before and after adding grades.
- Use Color Coding in your Grade Center to easily see students at risk.
On December 19th, UVM’s Blackboard system will be upgraded to version 9.1.9.
What will I have to do?
Aside from the normal end-of-term backups and course management tasks, you won’t have to do anything at all to prepare for this upgrade. The system will be upgraded “in-place,” which means that there is no need for migrating or moving materials and data to something new.
What’s New? What’s Changed?
Most changes to this version affect the “look and feel” of the application. This means that the daily use won’t be that different from what you’re used to. That said, here are a few notable changes and additions.
- Contextual chevron menus are hidden until you move your mouse over them. This is perhaps the largest functional change, however it is mostly aesthetic, since the use of this content hasn’t really changed.
- Colors, typography, and overall aesthetic design has changed. While these might be the first thing you’ll notice, the changes here will be the least in your way. The aesthetic changes should make aspects of getting around your course easier, with improvements to readability and navigation.
- Less clicks to get from point A to point B. Speaking of navigation, this version advertises less steps to get to different parts of a course. For example, you can now jump from one course to another without having to go back to the “My Blackboard” tab.
Where do I find out more about this? Can I test
drive this new version?
For more information about these upcoming changes, and to get a sneak preview of the new version, take a look at the FAQ on the CTL website.
The recency and primacy effects—long documented phenomena related to the importance of sequence on information recall—evidence that, in short, “Following a single exposure to learning, recall is better for items at the beginning (primacy) and end (recency) [...] than for middle items.” 
This is relevant to teaching and learning because it’s in that middle period, when many faculty have come to the heart of their lesson, that students may be least likely to be actively learning.
In the book, Student Engagement Techniques,  Elizabeth F. Barkley poses the suggestion that lectures could be shaped around this retention curve by segmenting a class into three parts:
1) Begin the class by diving directly into teaching important content.
2) After 20 minutes or so, have students take a brief break, stand up and stretch, and then conduct the administrative business, i.e., attendance, collection of homework, distribution of graded homework, etc.
3) Finally, transition back into important content for the last part of class. Consider incorporating a “JiTT” activity (Just in Time Teaching Techniques, October 10, 2012) and close the class with a recap of the most important points.
- Primacy Versus Recency in a Quantitative Model: Activity Is the Critical Distinction Anthony J. Greene, Colin Prepscius, and William B. Levy
- A CTL favorite book: Student Engagement Techniques (p.103)