Juggling Academic Time and Technology: Advice from a Millennial

By Garrett Pierman of Florida International University

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The digital age is in full swing, especially in academia. In class, our students, if they are allowed, are browsing, tweeting, liking, and sharing across the web. They are also, one can hope, occasionally taking notes. Maybe you’re doing much the same – a like here, a comment there to break up the research sessions or avoid awkward small talk in the elevator. At home, our phones are our constant companions as we compulsively check for email replies, student concerns, and notifications from the academic and public political worlds. Technology has enabled us to do more. More work with more information, citing more literature, and reflective of more data, more of the time. This looks, from a distance, wonderfully efficient: we’re reachable at a moment’s notice, our inboxes are tidy, and our instantaneous information spigots are always open. But is more, in terms of the use of technology, always better?

Demirbilek and Talan, in their 2017 study of student multitasking, empirically confirm the suspicions of most instructors (Demirbilek and Talan 2018, 117–29). Students who have the ability to text and use social media in class do so, and their grades suffer as a result of their distraction. This situation is a familiar one – it increasingly seems that our glassy-eyed students can only see the world through an Instagram filter.

We would be naïve to think that this same distractedness that is affecting our students passes us by. On the professorial side of the desk, every distracted moment must be paid back, often from the already spartan reserves of personal time. At family gatherings, in quiet moments of rare leisure, even at the dinner table, we find ourselves as acquaintances in our present moments as we pass from one byte of work to another on our phones. This distracted and alienated state, which increases stress, strains personal relationships, and tempts academics to devote even more time to the already demanding ivory tower, has gotten so out of hand that the French have passed a “right to disconnect law”, forbidding employers from expecting employees to reply to work emails outside of paid hours (“For French Law On Right To ‘Disconnect,’ Much Support — And A Few Doubts.” NPR. February 3, 2017). This attempt to demarcate the spaces of work and leisure is unlikely to pass here in the United States, especially in academia, but has some lessons to teach us.

Here are some of the practices my colleagues and I have developed over the years to more intentionally use technology to work better, have more free time, and increase our qualities of life:

  1. Consider a device ban in your classroom.
    Setting a device ban forces each student to be present in the classroom. While some of them will be skeptical until their grades improve, selling it as a deliberate break from life outside of the present moment, such as many of us do at dinners with friends, has convinced many of my students.
  2. Set email office hours and expectations.
    Set a time (or a few) during the day to check and respond to emails. Make these times known to students and colleagues so they know when to expect replies. At the extreme end, you can sign out of your academic email totally outside of these hours, forcing you to become more deliberate about checking and, as a bonus, less tempted to check during moments of downtime.
  3. Uni-task purposely.
    Teach when you teach, email when you email, and sleep when you sleep. Our brains do better when we focus on one thing at a time, even though we prefer variety over monotony. Thus, spend shorter periods doing a sequence of different things instead of all-day doing a less productive mix of emailing, engaging in the present moment, etc.
  4. Demarcate spaces.
    In addition to the signing off and uni-tasking, consider leaving your devices out of certain spaces entirely. For instance, if you find yourself staying up late checking your phone in bed rather than sleeping, consider putting the phone on the other side of the room. Not only will you be forced to actually sleep in your bed, but you will also have to physically get up to turn off any morning alarms, which makes snoozing less likely.
  5. Embrace your free time.
    Now that you’ve signed off and put your phone away, go do something else outside of work. Sleep. Read. Cook. Spend the energy you would have wasted multi-tasking on pondering instead of a distraction. Taking the time to be rested, engaged, and mentally well, as a mentor of mine likes to put it, is the part of your job you do before you get to school.

In reading this, you might get the idea that I’m a Luddite. If anything, I am the opposite: as a millennial and a scholar, I see the amazing productivity and progress that we can do with technology. But these accomplishments are less likely when we are screen-addicted zombies. To combat that tendency, I simply suggest here that we take a good, hard look at our daily practices with technologies and ask what we can do better. In order to stay productive, sometimes we need to turn off the phones, tune out the email, and drop out of the digital world, at least until tomorrow.


Note from the Author: As educators, we have to consider the environments we create in our classrooms. Our use of technology has to be beneficial and inclusive to make learning possible. Thus, we have a responsibility to take into account that none of these are one-size fits all solutions. While suggesting to some students to unplug during class may well help them, that is not always the case: many students use laptops and other devices to be able to fully participate in our classes. We should encourage them to do so. Any device policies we include should make room for good-faith use of these devices without the student having to disclose anything sensitive, such as disability status, to anyone including us. Instead, any advice I give here is meant to start a conversation about how we want to use technology: inclusive course design must also be part of that conversation (https://www.chronicle.com/article/Should-You-Allow-Laptops-in/245625/).

About the Author: Garrett Pierman is a PhD Student in the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Florida International University. His research focuses on the ways in which technology affects democratic discourse. His work has appeared in the Journal of Strategic Security, the journal Class, Race, and Corporate power, as well as the Marx and Philosophy Review of Books.  

 

The views and opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Midwest Political Science Association, MPSA staff, and/or other site contributors.

MPSA Roundtable: The Path to Full

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This MPSA roundtable session on “MPSA Roundtable: The Path to Full”, hosted by the Midwest Women’s Caucus and chaired by Tiffany Barnes of the University of Kentucky, features James Adams of University of California, Davis, Leslie Schwindt-Bayer of Rice University, and Miki Kittilson of Arizona State University, Tempe.

This panel examines the path to full professorship by facilitating a discussion of the participants’ journeys to become full professors.

Highlights from the discussion include important points in the transition between the associate and full professor levels, including the importance of career mentoring during this time, and advice on moving from the associate to full professor level. Questions discussed during the roundtable address what it means to be a full professor, what this looks like at different institutions, and what being a full professor means to each of the panelists.

Topics of discussion include:

  • New opportunities for longer term or higher risk projects.
  • Advocating for junior faculty members.
  • Responsibilities toward departmental infrastructure development.
  • Additional administrative and service responsibilities that come with becoming a full professor.

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Listen to the panel on Soundcloud.

MPSA Members can log in to access a variety of recordings from highlighted MPSA conference presentations. Additional podcasts from select MPSA conference roundtables are also available.

Mentors play Critical Role in Quality of College Experience, New Poll Suggests

By Leo M. Lambert, Elon University; Jason Husser, Elon University, and Peter Felten, Elon University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

In order to have a rewarding college experience, students should build a constellation of mentors.

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Strong relationships with professors are key to a rewarding college experience, a new poll finds. VGstockstudio/www.shutterstock.com

This constellation should be a diverse set of faculty, staff and peers who will get students out of their comfort zones and challenge them to learn more – and more deeply – than they thought they could. Students should begin to build this network during their first year of college.

Those are some of the key takeaways from a new Elon University Poll of a nationally representative sample of more than 4,000 U.S. college graduates with bachelor’s degrees. These are points two of us plan to explore more deeply as co-authors of a forthcoming book on mentoring in college.

We bring different perspectives to this project. One of us is a former college president. Another is a scholar of undergraduate education. The third author of this article is a political scientist who directs the Elon Poll.

The Elon University Poll and the Center for Engaged Learning examined the nature and qualities of relationships that matter most for college students. The poll found that graduates who had seven to 10 significant relationships with faculty and staff were more than three times as likely to report their college experience as “very rewarding” than those with no such relationships. Similar effects were found for peer relationships in college.

The first year of college is crucial in establishing the foundation for these relationships, which will not only influence students’ time in college but a large part of the rest of their lives. In the Elon Poll, 79 percent of graduates reported meeting the peers who had the biggest impact on them during their first year of college. And 60 percent reported meeting their most influential faculty or staff mentors during that first year.

A new Elon University Poll shows students with larger peer networks find college more rewarding. – Chubarov Mikhail/www.shutterstock.com

The classroom is the most common place that students say they encountered both influential faculty members and peers.

This Elon Poll builds on a rich body of research on the power of relationships with peers, faculty, advisers and other mentors, and how those relationships influence student learning, a sense of belonging and achievement.

For instance, in the landmark 1977 work “Four Critical Years,” Alexander Astin of UCLA noted that “student-faculty interaction has a stronger relationship to student satisfaction with the college experience than any other student involvement variable.” Another pioneering researcher, Vincent Tinto of Syracuse University, documented how the most effective undergraduate experiences “enable the faculty and staff to make continuing, personal contact with students.” Sociologists Daniel Chambliss and Christopher Takacs offered this sage message after their 10-year examination of students at Hamilton College: “Spend your time with good people. That’s the most important thing.”

Relationships make a big difference

Following up on a 2014 Gallup-Purdue national survey, the Elon Poll found that more than 80 percent of respondents reported their most important faculty or staff relationship formed in college was with someone who made them excited about learning, cared about them as a person and encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

Having even a very small number of meaningful relationships made a big difference. Forty-six percent of respondents with just one or two significant faculty or staff relationships rated college as “very rewarding,” as compared to just 22 percent of those with no such relationships. Similarly, 48 percent of respondents with one or two significant peer relationships rated college as “very rewarding,” as compared to 25 percent who lacked those types of connections. When it comes to relationships in college, quality matters more than quantity.

These findings make plain that the best undergraduate education – for all students at all types of institutions — is one in which students form sustained relationships with peers, faculty, staff and other mentors.

What colleges and universities do matters

Unfortunately, not all students form the kind of relationships that are key to a rewarding college experience. Indeed, the Elon Poll suggests that some who are the first in their family to attend college often don’t have as strong of a mentoring constellation as those with at least one parent who attended college.

Significantly, 15 percent of first-generation graduates reported zero influential relationships with faculty or staff while in college, as compared to only 6 percent of those with a college-educated parent. And 29 percent of graduates with a college-educated parent reported more than seven significant relationships with faculty or staff, compared to 17 percent for first-generation students.

Students have an important role in building these constellations, but so do colleges and universities.

Initiatives like Elon University’s Odyssey Scholars program for first-generation students put faculty, staff and peer mentors in place from the start of college. Odyseey Scholar director Jean Rattigan-Rohr reports an 89 percent four-year graduation rate for the two most recent groups of scholars. This rate exceeds the rate for the student body as a whole. Similarly, but at a much bigger institution, the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan (TIP) at the University of Texas at Austin provides peer mentoring and expert advising to at-risk incoming students. Thanks in part to these relationships, more TIP students have GPAs above 3.0 than their non-TIP peers.

Since contact with faculty early on is critical for all students, the Elon Poll reinforces existing scholarship that urges colleges to place their best teaching faculty in first-year classes. A study of some two dozen colleges and universities demonstrates that frequent and meaningful student-faculty interactions significantly improves student motivation and achievement.

You can find mentors in many places

The poll also found that not all of the most influential mentors are professors. Notably, one-third of our respondents identified a staff member – that is, an administrator, student life worker or support staff – rather than a professor as their most influential mentor.

Every staff person on a college campus – from gardeners and janitors to secretaries and office assistants – shapes the learning environment and many have significant contact with students. In an effort to recognize and celebrate the contributions these personnel make to students’ lives, Georgetown alumnus Febin Bellamy founded Unsung Heroes in 2016. The program should remind students to look in unexpected places for people who can make a difference in their lives.

Find your people

Establishing a network of mentors takes a sense of purpose and initiative. Granted, forming relationships with mentors and peers may come more easily to some students than others. But a constellation of mentors does not need to have dozens of people in it. Instead, a few positive relationships with peers, faculty and staff will make a powerful difference for the college experience and beyond.

To make this happen, students should make simple gestures to connect with potential mentors. Talk with a faculty member after class. Invite a professor to have coffee. Ask an advanced student in your major for advice. Small steps like these can uncover mutual interests and shared passions and, ultimately, lead to the kinds of relationships that make a big difference in college – and for a lifetime.

About the Authors: Leo M. Lambert, President Emeritus and Professor, Elon University; Jason Husser, Director of the Elon University Poll, Elon University, and Peter Felten, Assistant Provost for Teaching and Learning and Executive Director, Center for Engaged Learning, Elon University

Back End Skills

By Chad Raymond of Salve Regina University and Active Learning in Political Science

Most ALPS posts deal with the front end of teaching — the stuff that eventually turns into the student experience. Today I’m going to talk about the back end of the job: skills that are beneficial for one’s career because they have applications far beyond the classroom environment.

Here are the skills that I now wish I had acquired while in graduate school:

Writing for the Audience
As I’ve mentioned occasionally in the past, the vast majority of academic writing is terrible. It is produced to be published, not to be read. Important ideas are not communicated well, if at all. For example, compare the writing of Anatol Lieven in Pakistan: A Hard Country to any journal article or multi-authored volume about that country. Or read Sarah Kendzior‘s The View From Flyover Country. These people can write well, a lot of people read what they write, and they have benefited professionally as a result.

Academics need to reach different audiences, and that requires learning how to write for those audiences. Take courses in journalistic or creative writing. Write memos. Submit op-eds to your local newspaper. Get feedback from people who write better than you do. Write a lot, even though it takes time. Use the process of writing as a tool to refine your thinking. Practice what we preach to students.

Graphic and Web Design
I’ve written about this before too — messages can and often should be communicated visually. But the message is lost if the visuals are bad. I’m often shocked by the inability of faculty members to display information in a manner that is easy to understand — whether for other academics or a curious and reasonably intelligent public. Creating simple but effective charts with Excel is not that difficult. Yet training in this basic skill was not part of my graduate program — I had to learn it on my own. Others probably never bothered.

My doctoral studies began just before the Web sprang into existence. Since then, I’ve been struggling to catch up with the digital revolution. This blog is one small tangible result. Don’t be left behind like I was — learn how to build websites. The more proficient at this you become, the more of an advantage you will have.

Data Literacy
Related to the above is the ability to work with data. Can you easily mine data by creating longitudinal analyses and calculating percentages? Do you know how to determine whether your data and conclusions are meaningful?  I am constantly amazed by what I can learn and communicate by making those simple Excel charts. I dream about what I could do if I knew R.

Stage Presence
Let’s face it: teaching is performance. As are committee meetings, admissions office recruitment events, and board meetings. Elocution and body language can make or break a conference presentation. Don’t be the person whom everyone immediately tunes out. Take a course in public speaking, acting, or musical theater.

People Management
We have to interact with others as part of larger organizations, and I bet every person who reads this has encountered at least one toxic colleague in their careers. Some of us end up with managerial duties, as research team leaders, department chairs, and administrators, yet we’ve never been trained for these roles. I recently attended a workshop on how to manage difficult conversations in the office, and it was eye-opening. Find out how you can become better at working with people. Then do it.

About the Author: Chad Raymond is Chairperson, Department of Cultural, Environmental, and Global Studies at Salve Regina University and Managing Editor of http://activelearningps.com. This article was originally published on Active Learning in Political Science. Read the the original post.

Diffusion by Any Means Necessary

By Harold “Harry” Young of Austin Peay State University

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Members of the “GRAD SCHOOL: What to Expect at a Job Interview at a Teaching School” roundtable at the 2018 MPSA conference in Chicago.

They stood in place at each poster in the exhibit hall, graduate students eager to share their research with anyone willing to take the time to listen, ask questions, or possibly offer some instructive or encouraging advice.

While sometimes considered as a consolation prize by more experienced researchers, for grad students the poster sessions are an essential component of learning, a form of knowledge diffusion featuring visual experiences and personal interactions. Elements we all know are integral to effective communication in diverse forums.

The posters’ second-class status is not deserved as this the ideal forum for students entering academia. As our future, their work deserves our attention and support. Since not all exhibits are equal, however, I zeroed in on several that were both topical and presented solid research effectively.

My first stop was an exhibit on the effects of visual aids in political literacy by Breanna Wright of Stony Brook University. Political psychology is not new (Merriam, 1924) but its resurgence is evident (Political Psychology). In the current environment, identity politics is at a new high (or low if you are disapproving of it). What the News Means to Me: An Exploratory Experiment Investigating Social Identity Salience After News Exposure by Ming Boyer and Sophie Lecheler of the University of Vienna was an interesting dive into identity politics in Austria. Echoing what we experience in the U.S., their research illustrated the intersection of politics and communication or Political Communication. While the topics in the program were extensive and diverse, in my view, the demographics of the graduates were not representative (which was a challenge for the conference more generally).

Moving from those presenting posters to an Author-Meets-Critics session, I was moved to another world where scholars were more seasoned, but fortunately, still as passionate about their work.

First, Chris Sepeda-Millan of UC Berkeley discussed his first book, Latino Mass Mobilization: Immigration, Racialization, and Activism. Well-received by the critics in the session, Sepeda-Millan introduces a term worth mentioning: “racialized illegality.” This elegantly merges the controversial issues of race and legal status into a single term,  capturing inequitable approaches to legal status based on race. I suggest, in fact, that racialized illegality captures the real underpinnings of the decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856).

Andrea Benjamin of University of Missouri’s book Racial Coalition Building in Local Elections: Elite Clues and Cross-Ethnic Voting was also well-received. It reminds us of the immortal words of the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O’Neill who said, “all politics is local. Dr. Benjamin was also concerned with diffusion of her work, having written an op-ed piece and contemplated a podcast.

I had the opportunity to be actively involved rather than merely an observer. First, I was a panelist in a session for graduate students about interviewing for jobs at teaching schools. While each panelist was able to cast their own pearls of wisdom, what I found most surprising– and disappointing–was the guidance, or lack thereof, provided by many schools.

In one case, the student had been told he should not waste any more time teaching classes, even though he had not taught any introduction courses, a requirement of new faculty at almost any university. In another case, the student had gained no teaching experience at all!

While it is crucial that we are able to diffuse knowledge not only to political science majors but to students from any discipline, I humbly submit that discouraging a student interested in teaching, coupled with their lack of pedagogic experience is a recipe for catastrophic failure. Our students–and the discipline– deserve better.

Finally, I shared a meal with Barbara dos Santos of American University and some other students working on environmental politics. They were not only enthusiastic, but embraced the need for knowledge diffusion and its potential impact on society.

Overall, I hope my conference vignettes show that our work is important, interesting, and can meaningfully contribute to relevant spheres in society. The graduate students I met demonstrated the knowledge and skills to carry on the work. The conundrum, however, is whether we remain in our academic towers or start responding to the question, “What have you done for me lately?”

Our futures may depend on our willingness to rise to the occasion, by any means necessary.

About the Author: Harold Young is a blogger at the 2018 Midwest Political Science Association conference. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research focuses on Public Law and examines an American and international perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision-making. Previously, he worked as a health communications manager, a social worker and practiced law. Read more from Harold on the MPSA blog and Avnon World Series. He can be reached at youngh@apsu.edu.