How to create excellent online discussion board questions

January 26, 2013

This semester I have incorporated an activity into my online courses. Students are required to facilitate the online discussion board for one or two weeks, depending on which course they are in. We use an online learning platform called Blackboard, but there are a number of different platforms available.

Here is a handy 1-page resource I created to help my  students develop and facilitate great questions that enhance learning, keep participants focussed and encourage in-depth online discussions.

View this document on Scribd

Click here to download your own copy of it: How to facilitate a Blackboard discussion

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Blogging workshop for ESL Teachers

January 7, 2013

iStock-woman at laptopI am super excited about an upcoming workshop I am doing. I get to combine two of my favorite passions: working with language teachers and blogging. Here’s our tentative agenda:

Introduction

  • What is a blog?
  • Why do we blog?

Getting Ready to Blog

  • Tips for creating excellent blog posts
  • Using multimedia in your blog
  • Blogging for and with students

Write on! Hands-on blogging

  • Setting up your blog
  • Writing your first blog post
  • Adding categories, tags and excerpts
  • Creating visual interest with photos

What do you think? Have I missed anything? What words of wisdom would you have for teachers who are learning how to blog for the first time? I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts.

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or leave a comment. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: Blogging workshop for ESL Teachers http://wp.me/pNAh3-1yl

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Easy 3-step process to evaluate a volunteer board

January 4, 2013

Business - Group - team hands

In April of 2012 I became president of our condo board, where I had served as a director for about 5 years. We had some returning board members, some new members and we had also recent changed to a new management company.

One of the issues we had with the previous condominium management company was that projects were either not completed or they took a very long time to get done. This new company seems to get tasks completed more quickly, but nevertheless, there was growing discontent that “nothing is happening” or “things are not moving fast enough”.

Using an asset-based approach to community development (ABCD), I conducted a brief appreciative assessment and presented it to the board as a report at our last meeting. They were able to see how far we had come in a few short months. One board member said that it should be sent out to all the residents as a newsletter. I am in the process of preparing that now. The technique was so simple and successful, I wanted to share it with you.

If you work with a volunteer group who is feeling, here are the steps to prepare your own ABCD evaluation of your work:

Step 1: Take an inventory of what your group has achieved

Review old meeting agendas and minutes. Review your e-mail history. Think of yourself panning for gold. Let’s face it, community work is muddy at best. Finding the little nuggets tucked into all the mud takes a bit of time and patience, but it is worth it.

As you find a significant task that has been completed add it to your list. I didn’t minor items such as light bulbs being replaced. Instead, I focused on more significant projects or tasks that we would be proud to tell our owners that we had achieved.

Step 2: Categorize your group’s achievements

For our condo board, I used these categories:

  • Policy and governance achievements
  • Major projects completed
  • Major projects initiated
  • Repairs completed
  • Additional achievements

Step 3: Organize your achievements under each category heading

I used numbered lists. The minimum I had in any category was four. The most I had was nine.

In total, we had 23 noteworthy achievements in a six-month period. Pretty impressive for a group of six volunteers, don’t you think?

When we work with condo boards, volunteer or community groups the feeling that goals are not being accomplished fast enough is more common than many of us would like to admit.

Taking an inventory of recent achievements helps you to stay accountable to those you serve. It also helps volunteers see how their contributions make a difference. Even when progress is slow, it still counts. Sometimes, it is not as slow as our perceptions might have us believe.

This type of strength-based evaluation works well with a disgruntled group who fails to recognize how far they have come in a short period of time. It is easy to focus on needs, gaps and challenges. An asset-based approaches seeks first to identify what is working well and use that as as starting point to build on. Don’t get me wrong. We still have a very long “to do” list and we have some problems that we need to solve. Sometimes, when you stop focusing obsessively on the problems and take an inventory of what is going right (as opposed to everything that is wrong), motivation levels increase, focus is renewed and people begin to enjoy their volunteer service again. That is all the more reason to take a step back and assess what we have actually done to meet the goals we set and make our community better.

This technique would work well for a team of staff, volunteers or any group who comes together to work towards a common goal.

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or leave a comment. Thanks!

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


How to create a research paper outline: 5 great resources

January 2, 2013

Sarah Elaine Eaton, speaker, presenter, keynote, technology, social media, Calgary, Canada, educator, education, professional developmentOnce again, I am teaching “Writing Educational Research” to Master’s of Education (M.Ed.) students at the University of Calgary this semester. I have found that some students struggle with the process of outlining their final research papers.

Outlining is an invaluable skill that helps you to conceptualize, plan and organize your writing. I learned to outline my essays when I was in school and to this day, I use outlines for research papers and even my books. I find that organizing my ideas in an outline helps me to keep my writing focussed and clear. I even outlined my Master’s and Ph.D. theses. When my Ph.D. thesis had to be modified as I was writing up my project, having an outline helped to decide what to toss, what to keep and how to re-organize the work effectively.

Here are some excellent resources that are useful to university level students, as well as high school students and adult learners who are learning to write essays:

  1. How to write an outline (SUNY) – This is an excellent web page resource produced by the State University of New York (SUNY). The method they demonstrate is the same one I learned in school. It is a classic “tiered” outline. The chart on this web page presents the information in a very clear way that is easy to understand.
  2. How to write an outline (LAVC) – Similar to the SUNY resource, this web page by the Los Angeles Valley College Library explains the difference between a topic outline and a sentence outline, using the tiered format. This web page has some great examples of what a real outline might look like.
  3. Wikihow – How to write an outline – This Wiki breaks down the process of writing an outline into simple, easy-to-follow steps. The wiki also has samples of a research outline, a literature outline and a “compare and contrast” outline.
  4. How to outline a 5-paragraph essay – This YouTube video (4:26) offers tips on how to write a shorter essay. It is great for students who have to write shorter papers or adults who are learning how to write an essay.
  5. Sample qualitative research outline by Rey Ty – This YouTube video moves a bit slowly, but it gives an excellent overview of how to write an outline for a qualitative research project.

Learning to outline is a valuable skill that will serve you in school and in the workplace. A good outline keeps you focussed, organized and on track.

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or leave a comment. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: How to create a research paper outline: 5 great resources http://wp.me/pNAh3-1y6

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


How to love your job as a part-time contract teacher

January 2, 2013

2014 marks my 20th year teaching at post-secondary institutions. I have spent the past two decades of my teaching career as a part-time contract instructor, also known as a “sessional” in Canada, or an “adjunct” in the United States. Here are some things I’ve learned over the past twenty years:

hands hope sun1. Know your “why”.

I have friends and colleagues who have been contract teachers for a long time. Some become bitter and jaded because they do not get hired into full-time and permanent positions. If you want a full-time position, then you need to be prepared to do whatever it takes to get one. That may mean moving to a new city, region or even a different country to get it. If you aren’t willing to do that, then don’t get grumpy about being a part-time teacher. Understand that you are putting staying in your current location above getting a permanent job. If you are very lucky, eventually you may get hired on full-time, but there are no guarantees. It comes with the territory.

Like a potted plant, each of us has an ideal set of conditions in which we blossom. For me, the idea of going into an office at the same time every day for the rest of my life makes my heart wilt. I have learned that I serve my institutions, my clients and my students better when I honour that part of my character that thrives in an environment of flexibility, independence and variety.

Knowing why you accept part-time contract teaching jobs helps you stay positive. Once you know your why, you can stand in your truth about what is important to you and what you need to thrive.

2. Have more than one gig at all times.

As much as you may love the department or institution you work for, there may be semesters when there are no classes for you to teach. The reasons for this may vary. For me, these have included lower enrollments in your department, insufficient enrollment in a particular course, departmental commitments to give jobs to visiting professors or scholars, or jobs going to other contract teachers with more years of service.

For me, a combination of teaching, consulting, researching, and freelance work has proven successful. I don’t do as much freelance work as I did in the early years. My career has evolved to the point where I do more organizational consulting. The difference is that in freelance work you have a clear set of deliverables due by a particular date. In consulting, the work is often more iterative, strategic and adaptive. The deliverables are not always clear, but the results can be documented or measured.

Whether the work involves a clear set of deliverables (freelancing) or the ability to work iteratively with an organization to change processes or systems (consulting) or teaching a group of students, I have learned that having more than one gig ensures I can pay the bills every month.

When you aim to always have more than one gig, you build your own safety net. This builds your confidence and assertiveness as a professional. If there’s a semester when there are no teaching opportunities, you can redirect your energy to another element of your career for a while.

3. Don’t take it personally if there is no course for you to teach.

If you look at the list above, you’ll see that all the examples I shared had nothing to do with me personally, or my job performance. They are all factors outside my control. For me, having a semester when there are zero courses for me to teach has been rare. But there have been times when I have been offered only one course. Either way, I don’t take it personally.

It is naive to assume that just because you had three courses last semester that you will have the same number of classes next term. I have found that having high expectations around the number or type of my teaching assignments causes unnecessary stress. In the early years, I became frustrated or angry when I received fewer teaching opportunities than I had the semester before. I have learned that there are many variables, most of which are outside my control. There are no guarantees… and that’s not your fault.

4. Unofficial seniority is a reality.

In some teaching environments, seniority is a reality among full-time or tenured staff. Those with the most seniority can cherry pick their assignments. In most of the contract teaching contexts I have worked in, seniority does not exist. At least, not on paper. In reality though, department heads and managers employ an informal or unofficial system of seniority that is not written down anywhere. Those who have been teaching the longest are often first in line for contract teaching assignments.

5. Develop a tolerance for uncertainty.

Contract teachers never know from one semester to the next what their teaching assignments will be, or even if there will be a job next term. If you can’t cope with that, you may want to think hard about whether this professional situation is really for you or not. I have learned that I have a fairly high tolerance for uncertainty in my work life. Because I aim to have at least three gigs at any given time, that adds some stability to my life, but I have learned that a contract teacher needs to develop resilience and a tolerance for professional uncertainty.

6. Your finances are your responsibility.

Contract teachers are more like entrepreneurs than they are employees. Entrepreneurs learn not to depend on a boss, a company or an organization for a regular pay cheque. I have often heard new entrepreneurs told, “If you are not making money, you don’t have a business. You have a hobby.”

Part-time teaching can be one element of a successful career in education. It may not be the only element and if it doesn’t pay all your bills, it probably should not be the only element. Entrepreneurs, freelancers and contract teachers all need to have a firm grasp of reality when it comes to finances. If teaching does not pay the bills, then find something to supplement your income that will. It may be editing, writing or whatever. You may love teaching, but passion does not pay the mortgage. Learn to think like an entrepreneur and hunt out new contracts, new clients and whatever it takes for you to have a career, not a hobby.

It’s not up to your school or your department head to ensure you can pay your bills. It’s up to you. In fact, if you choose a career as a contract teacher (and it is important to recognize that you have indeed made a choice on some level) then not only do you need enough income to cover your expenses every month, you also need to put a little bit away every month for those times when you may not have a teaching assignment.

7. Courses do not equal a career.

If you spend your years as a contract teacher whining about not having job security or a pension, you can end up marinating in self-created misery that can mutate into lifelong jaded bitterness.

I love the work I do. I deeply enjoy working with my students. I am surrounded by brilliant colleagues who care deeply about learning. I eagerly embrace the chance to do consulting work with organizations focused on education, training or social development. Every contract provides a new opportunity to work with new people, each of whom is committed in some way or another, to lifelong learning and improving the human condition.

My work has spanned a variety of sectors including education, non-profit and government. Some of my full-time colleagues see that as haphazard or unfocused. But not me. I am crystal clear on what my purpose is.

What drives me is that what I do — whether it is teaching, consulting or freelance work — is that the daily practice of what I do contributes to a collective professional and personal movement to improve the human condition.

The bottom line for any social entrepreneur or contract teacher is simple: The work we do matters.

While I may work independently, I relish the thought that I am not alone in what I do. There are tens of thousands of us — maybe even millions of us — around the globe who teach part time, on contract, without job security, pensions or a regular pay cheque because when we get right down to it, we love teaching and we believe in education.

As harsh as it may seem, when you are a contract teacher, you are not in control of the courses you are offered to teach. But you are still in control of your career. How you use your skills, talents and expertise is ultimately up to you. Whether it’s teaching, researching, consulting or freelancing, understand what drives you, what matters deeply to you and what you need not just to survive, but to thrive as a professional.

When you look back in twenty years what will matter more: the courses you have taught or the career you have cultivated?

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: How to love your job as a part-time contract teacher http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Gi

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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