Skip to content

"Burning My Candle at Both Ends" by gfpeck is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Even in a typical academic year (which this one was not) we tend to burn our candle at both ends as we work our way from August toward graduation. I don’t know if you have felt it, but I have certainly felt the increased pressure of keeping up the past few weeks—letters of recommendation, student advising, and wrapping up goals for the academic year have all made demands on my time.

Adding this pressure to an already-stressful year can increase our risk for burnout. Burnout has become a popular term during COVID, especially for educators who have had to reimagine their teaching. In fact, NPR’s Life Kit podcast just did a timely episode on burnout, complete with tips to avoiding it.

Burnout, a concept studied psychologist Christina Maslach since the 1970s, doesn’t just mean we are overwhelmed and exhausted (though exhaustion is at the core). It also includes becoming cynical about our work, which in higher ed can lead to "phoning it in" to our classes, complaining about our students or colleagues, and disengaging from our institutional missions. (Salvagioni and colleagues provide a thorough, empirical review of the physical and psychological consequences of burnout.)

However, there is recent evidence that what we have called burnout might actually be a form of job-related depression. In a meta-analysis, Renzo Bianchi (University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland) and colleagues looked at evidence from from 12,417 participants in six countries and found that characteristics of burnout were more strongly associated with depression than they were with each other. The implications of this data? Burnout is something that both institutions and faculty should take seriously.

If you are feeling physical or emotional exhaustion or cynicism, I encourage you, in these last fews weeks of the semester, to engage in some of the following that work for you.

  • Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits.
    Give yourself permission to invest in you own good health. Yeah, you have a lot to do, but none of that work is going to get done if you are too ill to do it.
  • Balance work and play.
    Be sure you have downtime and take breaks to do things you find truly joyful. In the academy our work is never truly "done." It's up to us to set some boundaries.
  • Take a daily break from technology.
    Need I say more about this? Take some time each day to completely disconnect and perhaps even look at a tree.

It is with great CAT+FD pride and almost as much heartache that we lend our support to Dr. Tiera Coston as she joins the A&S Dean's office as the new Assistant Dean for Engagement and Outreach. In this position, she will provide oversight for our new Quality Enhancement Plan, ‘CARE.’

Tiera has been in CAT+FD since 2013, when we were simply CAT. She has played a large role in the evolution of our work including expanding our mission to support all areas of faculty responsibility, developing expertise in supporting effective, culturally responsive mentorship, and meeting the professional development needs of our STEM colleagues. These are only a few of the areas where she has made an impact. Of course, there are too many to name individually.

Personally, I am grateful for the many lessons I have learned from Tiera over the years—about leadership, kindness, faith, little dogs and more. I know I speak for all in CAT+FD when I say that we wish her well, we support her, and we are looking forward to seeing the amazing things she does with CARE.

You can read more about Tiera in her bio below.

headshot of Tiera Coston

Tiera S. Coston is a proud alumna of Xavier University of Louisiana. She earned a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology at Tulane University and a J.D. from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. Dr. Coston joined Xavier’s staff in 2013 as the STEM Educational Improvement Specialist in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development (CAT+FD).  She has also served as the Assistant Director for Mentoring and Pre-Law Advising. Dr. Coston has more than 13 years of experience supporting faculty and in the areas of pedagogy, curricular development and enhancement, and mentoring. She has collaborated with faculty to develop their teaching and mentorship in projects sponsored by Innovation through Institutional Integration (iCUBED), Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE), and Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD). She has conceptualized, developed and implemented three different mentorship education programs that are currently ongoing at Xavier - Preparing Mentors and Advisors at Xavier (P-MAX), Entering Research at Xavier University of Louisiana (ER-XULA) and Mentee-to-Mentor (M2M). She is a National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) Certified Facilitator, which requires demonstration of consistent and effective facilitation of mentoring-themed workshops and seminars. She has facilitated these events and Xavier, throughout the United States and abroad. She mentors undergraduate research and pre-law students as well as freshly minted Xavier alumni whose goal is to gain entry into graduate or professional school programs. She has had the privilege of teaching general biology and the various iterations of College Experience. In all of her work, her ultimate goal is to facilitate and promote the success of Xavier’s students for the fulfillment of Xavier’s mission.

Computer stress
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Wow, we spend a lot of time on Zoom these days— for classes, office hours, workshops, committee meetings, and even happy hours! Zoom has been both a God-send and a time-suck. It is pretty user-friendly, and has allowed us in CAT+FD to keep offering events while also allowing me to stay in (better) touch with my siblings.

But after a long day of multiple Zoom meetings, I find myself worn out in a special way. My back hurts, my eyes are tired, and my ears are sore from my fancy Bluetooth headset. The Stanford University Virtual Human Interaction Lab recently studied “Zoom fatigue” and found four roots causes. Spoiler alert: they include having extended up-close eye contact, seeing ourselves on video all day, being stuck in front of our computer cameras, and requiring an increased cognitive load.

Check out this article which includes some simple fixes for each root cause (for example, reduce the screen size for Zoom, hide your own video). The article also includes the 15-item Zoom Fatigue and Exhaustion Scale that you could take to identify how videoconferencing is affecting you.

Have any tips that have helped you combat Zoom fatigue? Please share them!

 

I find that attending a teaching conference is a great way to get inspiration and new ideas, especially at the beginning of a semester (and a new year and a new decade). And this year we have one right in our own backyard!

The Center for Engaged Learning & Teaching (CELT) at Tulane has a similar mission as CAT+FD, and we support each other when possible. Plus, registration is free!

According to conference chair, Mallory Monaco Caterine, the 2020 Sparking Success Faculty Development Conference is shaping up to be a great event--with already over 150 faculty from around the New Orleans area signed up to collaborate and learn together. The more, the merrier! I know it falls during our registration, but Jay Todd and I are presenting, and we'd love to see you there!

 

CAT+FD is pleased to welcome two new members to our staff this Fall!

Dr. Harish Ratnayaka joins us as the new Faculty-in-Residence for First-Year Faculty. In addition to supporting CAT+FD activities and initiatives, Harish will lead the programming for first-year faculty. This includes new faculty orientation, serving as a CAT+FD mentor to first-year faculty, and organizing the new faculty "brown bag" series.

Harish is from the Biology Department, and his research interests include plant ecophysiology. He studies the way different environmental conditions affect plant function. He is especially interested in how light-dependent and carbon assimilatory processes adjust in response to environmental stress, and how useful phytochemicals are elicited during such adjustments.

In addition, we welcome Dr. Lisa Shulte-Gipson as the Faculty-in-Residence for Service Learning. In this role she will work in close partnership with staff in Student Affairs to provide services to faculty incorporating the pedagogy of service learning into the curriculum and promoting civic engagement through meaningful community participation. In addition, she will serve as the CAT+FD liaison for implementation of the new core.

Lisa, a social psychologist by training, is interested in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Within this realm her past research has focused on community engagement and techniques associated with positive psychology (e.g., gratitude journals) as enhancing well-being, effects of motivation on performance, and effects of assuming responsibility for one’s learning on performance.

We in CAT+FD are enthusiastic about their contributions!

 

One of my favorite things about being in academics is that we have two “new years.” The beginning of the academic year and the beginning of the calendar year provide two opportunities to make resolutions, set intentions, start over, try again, or start anew. This month, as you are thinking about your own 2019 resolutions to establish an exercise routine, eat healthier, or write more regularly, I encourage you to consider a pedagogical intention.

Perhaps you want to have a more engaging first day of class. Lang (2019) offers some great, practical suggestions.

Perhaps you’d like to energize your class discussions. Gooblar (2018) provides some excellent advice.

Maybe, if you have procrastinated like me, you might want to revamp your approach to your syllabi. If so, check out Gannon (2018).

And the list of potential pedagogical intentions goes on…

Me? In addition to attending yoga class, I intend to (try to) make learning more meaningful for my XCOR 1011 students. What’s your pedagogical intention?

The Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development is delighted to welcome Ms. Carla Simmons to our team! Carla is a native New Orleanian and Xavier University of Louisiana alumna, graduating with a degree in psychology. With an interest in serving the community, Carla is pursuing a Master's in Public Administration at the University of New Orleans and served in the Junior League of New Orleans from 2016-2018. Carla is an avid Jazz Fest attendee, reads almost any book she gets her hands on, and loves to practice yoga. Carla will provide administrative support for the Center and we are delighted to have her on board. In the new year, we encourage XULA faculty to stop by and introduce themselves.

The Center for the Advancement of Teaching has been part of Xavier's culture for 20 years. Therefore we have selected sustainability as the theme for our 20th anniversary year – teaching sustainability in our disciplines, providing offerings to sustain faculty in their professional development, and engaging in sustainable practices of our own – all to promote Xavier's mission of creating a more just and humane society.

water2

In line with our sustainability theme, we are no longer serving bottled water. With the support of Academic Affairs, we've installed a bottle-filling station on the fifth floor of the library. Please remember to bring your water bottle when you come to CAT!

A student solves a mathematics equation at the Mfantsipim Boys School in Cape Coast

More and more professors are using midterm student evaluations, experts say, and more and more colleges are strongly urging their faculty to collect student feedback midway through their courses. (Medina, 2011, Chronicle of Higher Education).

Can you believe midterms are upon us? It's that time of the fall semester that brings tons of grading, Halloween decorations, and of course, midcourse reviews. Midcourse reviews provide feedback that can potentially assist you in fine-tuning your course while it is still underway.  Sometimes called a formative evaluation, the midcourse review is an optional and informal supplement to the end-of-semester summative evaluations.  Interest in these reviews is driven by a desire to see what’s working well in your class and what could be improved to aid student learning.  The advantage of doing these at mid-term is that you are able to make adjustments to your course this semester.

In a midcourse review, a facilitator will ask your students in groups to discuss three questions:

  1. What is working well in the class (i.e., what is helping you learn)?
  2. What is not working well (i.e., what is hindering your learning)?
  3. What suggestions do you have for improvement?

By the end of the 20 minutes, we will have a composite list of student reactions to these issues.  Then, at a mutually convenient time, the facilitator meets with you to confidentially discuss what the students said.  In general you will get an accurate “barometer reading” on how the class is going.

Still on the fence?  Check out this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

If you are interested in scheduling a midcourse review, get in touch now.

Photo Credit: World Bank Photo Collection via Compfight cc

Exam

As the Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, I get asked about cheating a lot. Instead of focusing on student characteristics related to cheating, I typically encourage faculty (including myself) to look for ways to discourage academic dishonesty through the learning environments we establish.

Dr. James Lang, who writes a regular column for the Chronicle of Higher Education, did a thought-provoking three part series on this topic. In Part 2 he focuses on how our assessments can encourage or discourage cheating. He writes:

Why should I bother to redesign my courses to include more frequent, low-stakes assessments, which will require more time and effort on my part, just to reduce the already small numbers of students who may be cheating in my courses? The short answer: You shouldn't redesign your courses just to reduce cheating. You should redesign them in order to increase learning.

Want to know more? Read his post on Cheating Lessons, Part 2.  If you are dealing with this issues, I  encourage you to check out Part 1 and Part 3 as well.

Photo Credit: albertogp123 via Compfight cc