On writing #OER textbooks – moving ideas from simmer to boil #amwriting @ScrivenerApp @mindmeister

29 08 2015

mind map pns

Last year, I published an OER textbook for one of my biology courses.  Writing the book was a linear project.  I started with an outline and sat for a few hours a day a few days a week to pound out the words.  I inserted simple pictures I had drawn or photos I had taken.  When I wrapped one chapter, I moved on to the next.  I composed the book in Word and distributed the final project to my students as a .pdf.  Linear progression.

This past spring, I started my second book – for my pharmacology course.  I wrote the outline.  Then, I stalled.  Pharmacology is an entirely different beast than is general biology.  So many pieces… so many interlocking threads… an exponentially larger project per page.  I turned to my old standby organizational tools – OneNote and Excel.  I made a bit of progress.  And, stalled again.  Summer term began – through the roof enrollments and the grading demands that go along with full classes.  Still, the “how will I…” and “what if I…” book construction questions simmered on the back burner.

August arrived.  Professional development season.  I attended a conference week followed by a week of faculty inservice.  Energized and motivated by the interactions and connections inherent in bouncing ideas around with colleagues, I pulled together the bits and pieces of outline from here and spreadsheet data from there.  I assessed my progress.  I realized the old ways just weren’t going to work this time.  I had to move beyond the Office sandbox.

I needed something fluid – so I headed to Target for the biggest pieces of paper I could find.  I started to draw out connections.  And, realized I was mind mapping – and that there were probably apps that were more flexible than my big pieces of paper could be.  Once I found MindMeister (www.mindmeister.com) I lost an afternoon to med math map development and was encouraged by the progress.

But, I was still stuck with the transition from map to paragraph.  Yesterday, I found Scrivener.  (www.literatureandlatte.com/) Where has this program been all my life??  It even has index cards!  Color coded ones!!  Spending an afternoon with the program I was completely hooked.  Did I mention the index cards??  The more I played in the demo, the more sure I was my free trial period was going to be just the start of a long, productive, writing union.  I bought the program.  I started setting up my notes.  I’m thrilled to take the book off the back burner and to have the ideas bubbling up again, my brain firing at full boil.

And, for the times my sentences run on and my words get too pedantic? There’s an app for that too… Hemingway will be there to gently remind (in bold red highlighting) that perhaps the writing would be improved with a few tweaks here and there.  (www.hemingwayapp.com)

Excited to be writing again!

25 years as an introverted teacher – finding my niche

22 08 2015

I am an introvert. Most definitely an introvert. Content to walk through life on the beach or in the park, alone with my thoughts.
So, on some levels, it seems odd to me that I became a teacher – odd that I have always looked forward to meeting a big new crowd of students each term.
This year I mark my 25th year of teaching. I’ve taught college, I’ve taught high school, I even made it a point one year to sub at least one day in each grade pre-K through 12. One semester I taught second year med students. Standing up in front of a classroom doesn’t faze me – a hundred adults, a room full of four year olds. No problem. But yes, I am most definitely an introvert.

When I taught in the classroom – I loved it, but it exhausted me. After every session, I was completely drained. When I held full time positions, I was beyond drained – I ran at a deficit. In those years, I would stay up far into the night just to get some peace and quiet – some alone time. Turns out, sleep deprivation doesn’t really help with the recharging process.  

Fifteen years ago, I started teaching occasional online courses. Three years ago I left the face to face classroom and went entirely online. The timing happened to coincide with my youngest son moving away to college (his brother was already there). The nest was empty. The classroom was virtual.

Online teaching, contrary to popular perception, does involve a large degree of student contact. The difference is the quality of the contact. Instead of addressing a sea of faces from the front of a room, you put yourself out into the ether in words, images, and videos. Students pull those resources as they need them. Then, they email. They text. They call. Sometimes, they Skype. The contact is (or can be, if you let it be) 24/7. New online instructors can quickly become overwhelmed. For an online teacher, the interactions shift from addressing large groups to one-to-one conversations. Requests for clarification and assistance arrive at all hours. There is no longer a natural “class time” versus “not class time” boundary.  

As an introvert, adapting to this boundary dissolution was a challenge. To adapt successfully, I adopted technology that allowed me a combination of flexibility and access that kept both my students and I happy. I tried set office hours for two years, but found them to be restrictive both for me and my students. I learned to be comfortable with the “do not disturb” feature of my phone and I learned that it’s okay to let a call go to voicemail if I’m in the shower or chasing the dog down the street because someone left the back gate open. I learned to be comfortable with spontaneous phone calls (not always a strength for introverts). And, I learned that sometimes the best thing I can do for a student is just listen.

I am still an introvert. A strong introvert. I still need to close the door and to turn off the phone once in a while. But, being an online instructor has also given me the freedom, as an introvert, to escape the mental drain I had after days, weeks, months, years in the face to face classroom. I can now be more present for my students when they need some one on one time with me. I can be a better teacher – better able to meet the needs of a new generation of students.

As a full time online teacher, I have the great benefit of working for an amazing employer. Through them, for two weeks in August, I can extrovert to my heart’s content, knowing that I will be able to introvert for the other fifty weeks of the year. During those two weeks, I find myself striking up conversations with strangers and joining ongoing conversations – things I would have never done in the past. Having the time to process and evaluate (and introvert) gives me the energy and the motivation to jump into those professional development weeks with both feet. As those weeks draw to a close, I am sated with contact and content, and looking forward to the time to ponder and program what I have learned to make my courses a better experience for my students.

It also allows me to recharge, and to look forward to those one on one phone calls so I can meet my students where they need me to be, regardless of my status as an introvert.

Bring on the new school year!!

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