Designing Synchronous Online Interactions and Discussions

May 17, 2016

IDEAS 2016: Designing for InnovationA few weeks ago I co-presented a session at the University of Calgary’s IDEAS 2016 conference. This year the theme was “Designing for Innovation”. My colleagues, Barb Brown and Meadow Schroeder and I presented on how to effectively design synchronous sessions for e-learning.

The three of us are all award-winning educators, and each has her own approach to how we design and deliver real-time sessions via Adobe Connect in our classes. We offered ideas and tips on what we do and how we do it. Our paper has been included in the conference proceedings, which have just been released. Here’s a link to our paper:

Brown, B., Schroeder, M., & Eaton, S.E. (2016, May). Designing Synchronous Online Interactions and Discussions. In M. Takeuchi, A.P. Preciado Babb, & J. Lock. IDEAS 2016: Designing for Innovation Selected Proceedings. Paper presented at IDEAS 2016: Designing for Innovation, Calgary, Canada (pg 51-60). Calgary, Canada: Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/1880/51209

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Here’s a quick link so you can send this post to a friend:

Designing Synchronous Online Interactions and Discussions http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Ks

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How to love your job as a contract teacher

January 2, 2014

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:

1. Know your “why”.

hands hope sunI 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 departmental enrolments, 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 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 a client 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. 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 part-time, sessional or contract teaching contexts I have worked in, seniority does not exist. At least, not on paper. In reality though, department heads and managers often use 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.

Such “unofficial” systems come with the territory. Understand that these undocumented systems do not exist only at your institution. They exist everywhere. Being resentful of them doesn’t change them. You can spend your time protesting unofficial seniority or other undocumented systems that make up the culture of educational institutions, or you can understand that it is an unspoken reality of the profession and go about creating your career anyway. Learn to live with the informal or implicit culture of your school or organization.

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.

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 stability to my life, and I have learned that a contract teacher needs to develop resilience and a tolerance for professional uncertainty. If you need a steady pay cheque to stay sane, contract teaching may not be for you.

6. Your finances are your responsibility.

Contract teachers are more like entrepreneurs than 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 an unparalleled opportunity to work with new people, each of whom is committed in some way or another to lifelong learning.

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 has a singular focus: To improve the human condition.

While I may work independently, I relish the thought that I am not alone in what I do. There are hundreds 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. The bottom line for any social entrepreneur or contract teacher is simple: The work we do matters. The work we do individually —  our daily practice of teaching, researching, consulting, freelancing and all our other educational work — contributes to a collective global commitment to improve the human condition.

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 (or more) what will matter more, the courses you have taught or the career you have cultivated?

_____________________________________________________

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 contract teacher http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Gq

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.


Twitter for Teachers at the Central Alberta Teachers’ Convention (CATCA) 2013

February 22, 2013

Twitter for Teachers (cover - jpg)I am super excited to be presenting my workshop, Twitter for Teachers, today at the Central Alberta Teachers’ Convention at Red Deer College.

Here’s what I’ll be sharing:

  1. Twitter overview. We will briefly review what Twitter is and how it is used in business. This course is designed for people who already have had some exposure to Twitter and want to learn how to use Twitter in a meaningful and strategic way. There is no point in having a Twitter account “just because”.
  2. Develop your personal Twitter strategy. You will learn how to develop your own personal vision about what Twitter means to you and why.
  3. Twitter time management. You will learn how to manage your time on Twitter effectively. There is no question that social media can be time consuming. In this session, we will talk about ways to minimize the time you spend on Twitter,  while still using it to its fullest potential.
  4. Twitter followers.  We will bust the myth that you need more followers. What you really need is more engaged followers. You will learn what it means to have an engaged following and how to develop one.

If you can’t attend the conference, but you are interested in the content, you can download my free .pdf guide with step-by-step, “how to” instructions. Click here to get your copy of the guide.

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

Share or Tweet this: Twitter for Teachers at the Central Alberta Teachers’ Convention (CATCA) 2013 http://wp.me/pNAh3-1yM

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?

_____________________________________________________

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.


5 Easy Christmas Blogging Ideas for Literacy and Language Teachers

December 5, 2012

With Christmas right around the corner, teachers are scrambling to finish up the semester before the holidays. If you are a blogger, you probably do not have much time for your blog at the moment. Here are five easy ideas to keep you blogging through this busy time of year:

1. A guide to Christmas away from home

Do you have students from other countries who are missing their family and friends back home? Write a post with your top suggestions on how to survive the holidays away from home.

2. Local Christmas traditions and events

Many areas have special events such as craft fairs, light displays or free ice skating to celebrate the holidays. Tap into your local community to find out what is going on. Write a post that highlights some free or low-cost options for your students and their families.

3. Christmas crafts for young and old

Believe it or not, doing crafts can be an excellent way to build literacy and language skills. You must read instructions, follow directions and use a step-by-step method to complete a task.

Create a post with links to simple crafts that are appropriate for the ages and language proficiency of the group you teach. A link to a YouTube video is always a great idea.

4. Christmas carols for language learning

Sarah Eaton blog photoAs children we learn Christmas carols without really thinking about the words. What does it mean to “deck the halls with boughs of holly”, anyway? If you live in an area where holly does not grow then you may have never seen real holly.

Write a blog post that de-mystifies some of the language and phrases in common Christmas songs.

5. Multicultural Christmas traditions

When I was a teenager my Mom befriended a lady from El Salvador. That first Christmas we exchanged stories about our different Christmas traditions. Marta told us that setting off fireworks after their turkey dinner was part of their tradition. We had a wonderful conversation as we learned about what the similarities and differences were between our two cultures.

Write a blog post that highlights some of the traditions of your students, friends or family members.

Christmas time is one of the busiest times of the year for many people. Keep your blog posts simple and light during this time of year. Focus on joy and sharing and you’ll continue to enjoy your own blogging through the holiday season.

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Share or Tweet this: 5 Easy Christmas Blogging Ideas for Literacy and Language Teachers http://wp.me/pNAh3-1wP

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.


Where the Grass is Greener: How to Learn Anywhere (A year of inspired insights #9)

July 24, 2012

Don’t you just hate being cooped up in a classroom during the summer?

When I teach language during the summer months, I often take my university class outside to sit on the grass. We take our textbooks with us and do our lesson sitting in a circle somewhere quiet outside. For the most part, I try to stick with the lesson that we have planned for that day. It makes me sad that much of my teaching career has been governed too heavily by a curriculum that dictates what we must learn on any given day.

Every now and then, I rebel. The results are as inspiring as they are effective.

Once I told my students to forget about the textbook. I said, “Much of the real world vocabulary that we need to know is not in the textbooks. And a lot of what is in the textbook is not really useful in the real world. Look around. What are some every day items that you do not know the names for? Point or use the phrase we have learned in class for “How do you say…?”

We spent the entire hour learning vocabulary of every day items that were all around us.  We spoke only in the target language. Students learned to be resourceful with their body language to point, shrug and use facial expressions to express what they wanted to learn.

The students were engaged and energized. They were learning words that made sense to them in a real-wold context. They also realized how much they did not know… and how much they wanted to learn.

We not only said the words aloud, we made lists of the words. I spelled the words out using the alphabet. This encouraged them to listen closely and practice using the alphabet to spell out words.

Once we had a list of forty words or so, we began to categorize them. We came up with categories together that included: “nature” (grass, trees, etc.), “buildings” (library, student centre, etc.), “structures” (bench, stairs), “art” (poster, statue) and “other things you find outdoors” (bus stop, garbage can, etc.)

We not only learned vocabulary, we practiced spelling, listening, non-verbal communication and critical thinking skills to group the vocabulary words in a logical manner.

Often, finding inspiration in a textbook is difficult. But learning, that can happen anywhere.

5 Strategies to Learn Anywhere

1. Ditch the textbook. It may not be possible to avoid using a textbook most of the time, but every now and again, a teacher’s creativity, experience and wisdom are enough to shape an effective learning experience.

2. Involve the students in the learning design. Ask them what they want to learn. If you are using a “learn anywhere” approach for a second language, challenge your students to communicate using the target language. Also, have them tap into their inner resilience and problem-solving skills to use body language and gestures to communicate.

3. Incorporate scaffolding. In the activity I shared with you above, we looped back to the alphabet they had learned some weeks earlier. They had to work hard to remember it and use it again in an authentic context. As you incorporate previous knowledge and skills they have learned, you encourage them to internalize them even more.

4. Create order from chaos. After we did some brainstorming and generated numerous vocabulary words, we began to categorize them. This helped the students organize the material they had just learned in a meaningful way. The idea is not to impose order, so much as create it. The students had a say in the categories we developed. There is nothing wrong with random learning, but organizing the new material can help some students make sense of it.

5. Relate your learning to the real world. There is no point of learning in the real world if it is just an academic exercise. Get students to think about how and when they would use what they have learned. Link something as simple as learning new vocabulary to real world skills such as learning how to ask the names of things. This builds their resourcefulness and problem-solving skills.

Learning is a lifelong process. The opportunity to learn new knowledge and skills are around us every day. I love books, and I also believe that there is as much (if not more) to be learned outside books, as can be learned from inside them.

Go outside and learn this summer.

Related posts:

A year of inspired insights #8: A language teacher’s legacy

A year of inspired insights #7: What to do when a student hates technology

A year of inspired insights #6: You can raise me up: The lasting impact of a teacher’s words

A year of inspired insights #5: When reason falls on deaf ears

A year of inspired insights #4: How teaching Spanish to a deaf multilingual student opened my eyes

A year of inspired insights #3: Servant leadership in the scullery

A year of inspired insights #2: Conversations change everything

A year of inspired insights #1: There’s a silver lining in every ambulance

My 2012 resolution project: A year of inspired insights

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Share or Tweet this post: Where the Grass is Greener: How to Learn Anywhere http://wp.me/pNAh3-1su
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.


Inquiry and ICT: Inquiry in Curriculum

July 4, 2012

University of Calgary logoI’m tickled pink to be teaching an intensive Master’s of Education course this summer at the University of Calgary. Here’s an excerpt from the course outline that describes the cool content we get to do:

Course description

This examines fundamental questions related to Information Communication Technology (ICT) and education in the 21st century. Through this course, students will examine:

  • the ways in which inquiry and digital technologies open new possibilities for representation, creation, expression and engagement;
  • the ways in which fundamental conceptions of learning, pedagogy and design reflexively influence one another;
  • the links between these conceptions and current issues in technology integration in schools;
  • the necessity of teachers of 21st century learners to be designers of learning;
  • issues of instructional design for the meaningful integration of technology in K-12 settings, including the use of Web 2.0 environments;
  • and a model of instructional design that fosters individual and collaborative searches for meaning in ambiguous, multi-dimensional environments.

Via inquiry and technology, students will explore visions of an education that not only informs learners but also equips them with knowledge, attitudes, and thinking and learning skills for nimble adaptability and responsible participation in a complex world.

Yesterday was our first day and I can’t wait to get back at it today.

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Share or Tweet this post:  Inquiry and ICT: Inquiry in Curriculum http://wp.me/pNAh3-1rL

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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