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Teaching with Documentaries

As I prepare for fall classes, I am having my annual dilemma over content I want to share with my students. This semester I'm teaching two classes that I've taught before: 1) Global Perspectives on Natural Disasters and 2) Global Change (I'm team-teaching the second one). In both classes, I use a textbook but also assign additional readings and show short and long documentaries during class.  I like to think of the videos as multimedia reading assignments that give students something to think about and discuss. But just like articles and books, I can only show the same documentaries for a while until they become outdated. So each time I have to decide if it's time to retire that favorite video or show it one more time.

A great example is The Trouble with Malaria. It's an episode of the CBC series "The Nature of Things" and gives an excellent overview of the disease and struggles to fight it. But it was made 20 years ago! I've been showing it in GEO 33…

Summer Slump is Real

As I've written on here before, I've always struggled with making the most of these wide open weeks in the summer and rarely feel that I've accomplished much by the time August rolls around and I have to get ready for Fall teaching. I guess I'm somewhat comforted knowing that I'm not alone in this, but I still don't know how to solve the problem for myself. There's so little time for research during the semester with my teaching and service obligations. For the last three years my family obligations have also required a huge and inflexible time commitment*, but I can't blame my lack of productivity on that and I really want to focus on summer for this post, anyway.

As this article in The Chronicle explains, most faculty have unstructured summers without set schedules. Some people are off doing fieldwork or have the discipline to write on some kind of schedule. Some people continue coming into campus regularly over the summer to maintain a work schedule. …

Burnout for Everyone

Commencement was 56 days ago and Fall classes start in 51 days, so we're definitely in the middle of summer now. I was happy to realize that we're still only halfway through since I'm enjoying having a break from teaching after literally no break at all since January 2nd*. I taught j-term online (totally voluntary and for extra pay), then my usual load in spring, then I also taught the first summer session online (also voluntary and for extra pay). With our current calendar there is no break between j-term and spring or between spring and first summer session. I volunteered for both since I can always use the money (my daughter has one more year before starting college!) Having no breaks between sessions mean that grades for one term are not even due when the next one starts(!) So it's a lot and I'm thankful for the break.

But, what about the students? I'm sure we have a lot of students who took courses during all three of those sessions, too. And many take mor…

Quick Check In

Haven't blogged here in quite a while! I haven't been blogging anywhere, but I do have a tumblr for Geography things and spend a lot of time on Twitter. Maybe I'll get something up here in the near future. Otherwise catch me on the platforms above.

Switching to Canvas

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Miami University has recently changed to a new LMS (Learning Management System) called Canvas.  We used Sakai for a few years before this latest change- and faculty can choose to keep Sakai for this year if they choose.  I decided to jump in and switch to Canvas this semester. It's been a steep learning curve, but I've put in a lot of hours setting up my courses and think I have a good idea how to use it now. One thing that I like is that it has apps for iOS and Android. So obviously I went ahead and installed it on my iPhone, iPad, and Nexus 7! Here's a comparison of the home page for my GEO 121 course:




The picture is not showing up in the Android version for some reason (it shows up in the iPhone version, but you have to scroll down). I like the features in the Nexus 7 and iPad since you can set a color for each course (iPhone doesn't have that option). It looks like they are all functional and you would be able to take quizzes, post to the discussion board from all d…

Teaching Labs Online

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The last time I posted over here (almost a year ago!) I wrote about teaching GEO 121 (Intro Physical Geography) online that summer. I think it went pretty well, but the labs were the most challenging aspect of that class. I write my labs with fairly detailed instructions and encouraged students to email with questions, but I think some students still struggled. It was hard to tell how many of the problems they had resulted from frustration and just giving up, or thinking that they were on the right track, but being wrong about that.

Another issue with the online labs is providing feedback to students on their work.  I used Google Forms for student lab submissions- which was great. I split each lab into multiple parts instead of having one really long form.  When students submit their answers, I get everything in a spreadsheet.  I do the lab first to submit my answers for the key (first row in the spreadsheet) and it makes grading really easy.  For my summer class last year, I wrote u…

Summer Class is going Online!

I was scheduled to teach a section of GEO 121 (Intro Physical Geography) this summer, but was told a few weeks ago and that we can't schedule any classes in our building this summer.  We're supposed to move out in August so that (long overdue) renovations can begin on our building.  Even though my class ends in June, we were told to move it.  My class is usually scheduled in both a classroom AND the computer lab, so I was immediately concerned about how I would swing this in another building. Then I asked if I could just move it to an online course and that is what happened!

I'm excited about adapting my class for online (which I already planned to do for next winter term), but a little worried about the challenges.  I already teach the course in a way that is well suited for online teaching (I don't have much lecture, students work in groups, quizzes are already online, etc.), but I will also have to adapt my lab exercises. As of now, I'm planning to set up Google…