By J. Todd

When I first started teaching, as a graduate student, I would would plan my classes in excruciating detail. These classes were largely lectures, interspersed with the occasional individual or group work. Often, I would even write out a joke or some irrelevant comment I wanted to start the class with. I still have the legal pads that I filled up with this extensive planning. Meanwhile, I had friends who could walk into the classroom without any real preparation and lead a successful class.

Post-It Notes saying, Do it! I've always been a planner; although, now those plans are just outlines with approximate times -- things to help me keep the class on track. But I've also always been a procrastinator; I do much of my best work under a quickly diminishing deadline. These days, I do most of my daily class planning the night before class.

However, recent innovations that I've become involved with are challenging me to plan in different ways. There are plenty of great and potentially powerful pedagogical innovations available now. Two new ways I'm dealing with this semester are inverted teaching and collaborative teaching. Both of these, I'm slowly learning, mean that planning for class is not simply getting ready to teach class on a given day. As a result, I'm (very) slowly coming to accept that I have to do significantly more planning significantly earlier.

Inverted Teaching

While video lectures are not a necessity for inverted teaching, they are one effective way to deliver content without using up class time. The videos, to be honest, are killing me. I suppose, as is often the case, this will get better over time, assuming I decide to reuse the videos from this semester the next time I teach this class. (Although, given my propensity for making significant changes every time I teach a class, I probably won't.) I had grand plans to record all the videos for my grammar class this past summer, to have them done and ready to go throughout the semester. Then, once the semester began, and I hadn't recorded any of the videos, I developed a plan for recording each video at least two weeks in advance. Here too, I failed.

Aaron Sams, one of the pioneers of inverted teaching, tells stories of recording videos for his Chemistry classes late at night in the laundry room, so as not to disturb his sleeping family. This past Saturday morning, I recorded a lecture on rhetorical grammar in my car while my son was at his Tae Kwon Do class. The video needed to be watched by my students before class this Monday. Granted, it's only a 15 minute video (I know, I know. It should be under 10 minutes.), but still, it feels like cheating to tell my students in class on Friday, "Please watch the video on Rhetorical Grammar before Monday's class. It's not done yet, but when it is, be sure to watch it."

This has been the pattern for much of the semester. For the composition classes I'm teaching in the spring, I have a list of about 20 videos I'm planning on recording over the winter break...

Collaborative Teaching

Meanwhile, I'm also team-teaching a class with a colleague in the Art department. The class itself is pretty well planned out, with a fairly set schedule that we've managed to stick with throughout the semester. It's a largely discussion-based class, so as long as both of us arrive having done the assigned reading and supplemented it with some additional research, the classes themselves go pretty well. We both come to class having individually prepared, but we never seem to have enough time to get together to collaborate on the planning and grading. Much of that takes place via email, often sent late at night.

The literature on this is beyond clear: you have to co-plan to co-teach. It's another new way of thinking about teaching: as I said, I do most of my best teaching planning the night before a class. That doesn't leave much time for co-planning, though, so it's another change I need to make in my time management. Maybe next time, we need to schedule at least one joint office hour to have a set time each week that we can be together to plan for the following week.

What's the Point?

The point, I guess, is that these innovations, which I believe are having a significantly positive impact on student learning, are also having a significant impact on the way I prepare to teach. I suppose that is another improvement, but the growing pains aren't that fun. Innovation is about change, and change can be a challenge. These innovations, while done to help our students, can also help us by forcing us to rethink the way we do things.

Download Conversation #32

Roben Torosyan

A conversation with Roben Torosyan on teaching, learning, and time management.

Are we allowed to swear on this podcast?

Roben Torosyan has held full-time appointments at Columbia University, Pace University, New School University, Fairfield University, and since 2012 as director of teaching and learning at Bridgewater State University (Mass.). There Roben leads a team of 11 faculty receiving course releases to help improve learning by improving teaching institution-wide. He helped introduce a validated student rating system and core curriculum learning outcomes at Fairfield University. He worked to make writing a signature across seven different schools of New School University. He has facilitated 83 workshops or presentations, 42 of them invited, at conferences and institutions ranging from Harvard and Columbia to Suffolk University and Howard Community College. He brings expertise in reciprocal reflection on teaching, trust, conflict, facilitation, and time management. He has taught courses in philosophy, education, psychology and leadership — twelve as new course designs entirely. His work includes chapters on The Daily Show and philosophy and articles in New Directions in Teaching & Learning, To Improve the Academy, and The Teaching Professor. (CV and selected works)

Links for this episode:

1

Do you enjoy email? Do you want to spend more time managing your inbox? Do you look forward to sorting through lots of messages each and every day of your life?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you'll love bacon.

Bacon!

That's right, bacon. You're probably already bringing home plenty of bacon, and the future holds more. Don't worry about a thing, just keep on doing what you do and you'll collect more bacon every day.

If, on the other hand, you find your email inbox cluttered and sort of overwhelming, then you may be interested in learning more about bacon. You may benefit from understanding what it is, why it's so insidious, and what you can do to reduce it.

What is bacon?

Bacon is email you kinda sorta want. At least you thought you wanted it once upon a time, and maybe you still do. Perhaps you signed up for an electronic newsletter from your favorite musical act, or political cause, or health and wellness blog, or the latest social media site. Electronic alerts and notifications of all sorts can be classified as bacon.

It's not spam, not quite. After all, you asked for it.

It's bacon. It's been a round for quite some time, but the term "bacon" originated a few years ago, at Podcamp Pittsburgh in 2007. NPR covered the story then, including speculation that "it won't sizzle for long." Au contraire, mon frere! Check out this Mashable article from March, 2011, and be sure to pay special attention to the accompanying infographic.

The trend has only gotten stronger since then. There's more bacon flying around than ever before. More and more people are putting content out there on the net. More and more people are discovering email messages are a cheap way to reach an audience. The number of electronic newsletters and semi-automated messages is ballooning. The competition for your attention is increasing.

Insidious bacon

Spam filters have become pretty effective. You may not even be aware of how much spam they catch. Personally, I couldn't operate without spam filters.

Bacon is insidious because, unlike spam, you may actually feel a desire, a compulsion, even an obligation to read these messages.

Nevertheless, the amount of bacon you're getting can gradually increase until it's just as overwhelming as unfiltered spam.

At some point, you may need to ask yourself if all this bacon is becoming a problem. Is it distracting you from other tasks? How much time in each day is getting tangled up in bacon?

Debaconating

I recently took stock of my personal and professional email situation. I discovered I was getting about twenty bacon messages per day. I decided to take action.

With any given source — let's call it a baconstream — there are two options available. You can create filters so that you keep receiving the bacon but file it away for future reference. That way you don't see it right now, and it doesn't distract you. You'll read it later, on your own terms, when you get around to it.

Yeah, right.

The other option is what we might call the nuclear option: unsubscribing.

Many people do not unsubscribe because they think it will take too much time or too much effort.

I took some time on a recent Friday afternoon to try it myself. I let the bacon pile up for a day, then I went on an unsub spree. I simply looked for an unsubscribe link at the bottom of each message.

It took me 21 minutes to unsubscribe from 18 baconstreams. That averages just over one minute per unsubscription effort. So yes, it does take a little time. But now that a couple weeks have passed, I can report that it was time well spent. My inbox is less clogged than before.

New tools

Email programs are offering new tools to help you manage your bacon. For example, this summer Gmail has been rolling out a new tabbed inbox which automatically classifies your mail into categories such as Promotions, Social and Updates.

Gmail Inbox Tabs

These tools are pretty handy. Though users have pushed back, and marketers are panicking, some experts believe it's a helpful innovation. By separating messages into defined categories, cognitive overload may be reduced.

In the final analysis, though, it's up to each individual user to decide just how much bacon they want in their lives, to decide what's truly useful and what's a distraction. My recommendation: Develop your own personal policy and enforce it through judicious unsubscription.

It's working for me.

Note: Some services allow more sophisticated tools for managing your bacon; you might be able to tweak some settings and turn a daily notification into a weekly, for instance. But in most cases, it's all or nothing.

Photo credit: Bacon! / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

Melted Clock

Following up on our workshop from last semester, Jeffrey Davis has an interesting take on time management in Psychology Today.

The more you shape time in ways that are flexible and artful instead of rigid and managerial, the more your mind actually looks forward to certain times of day, certain Mind Time Zones. Your experience of time shifts. Your experience of your mind shifts.

The application to academic types seems obvious. Read Tracking Wonder & Making More Time to Create.

Photo credit: Melted Clock / Tom Hickey / BY-NC-SA 2.0