WaterUnderground

Teaching & Supervision

How I start good supervisory relationships with graduate students

How I start good supervisory relationships with graduate students

Many professors are confused about why a certain graduate student is happy or unhappy, under performing or performing well. I am far from a perfect supervisor, but I try to avoid this confusion by getting to know my graduate students on a relatively deep but professional level as quickly as possible, by doing the following in our first meeting:

  • sharing results of a personality test;
  • discussing our biggest goals, hopes and fears about their graduate work; and
  • planing a very short two-week research project.

Before the meeting, the student and I take a free online personality test and prepare to discuss goals, hopes, fears and a research project. Below I outline the how and why of each part of the first meeting… hopefully I will never be this professor:

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1. Share results of a personality test

Sharing the results of a personality test is often the perfect ice breaker since it is talking about emotions, but not about a student’s personal life. I use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator because it is what i am most familiar and comfortable with but other personality tests such as colour code or FourSight could also work.  Myers-Briggs is a physiological test that highlights how people perceive the world and make decisions; a free online version can be completed very quickly.

I usually start by describing my personality type (INTJ) and that there are 16 different personality types, emphasizing that no type is better or worse than any other for science or any other part of life.  Then I ask them if they are comfortable sharing their personality type and we discuss how the two types fit together. I find this very effectively focuses on how we can work best together and acknowledges that everyone is different.  And for students who are uncomfortable, each Myers-Brigg’s type is linked to a Harry Potter character which can be fun:

Harry Potter Myers Briggs

http://inthefrontseat.blogspot.ca/2013/09/harry-potter-myers-briggs-chart.html

2. Discuss our biggest goals, hopes and fears about their graduate work

The Myers-Briggs sharing often naturally leads to this important discussion where both the student and I share our biggest goals, hopes and fears for their graduate work. I usually start by sharing, and I am usually brutally honest. I usually have a goal of how their project fits into my broader research program, and sometimes specific hopes of how the student and I may grow, learn or interact. In some cases I have been really honest about my fears that I don’t know enough about the topic, I don’t have as much time to devote to supervising them as I would like, or the project may fail, etc. Most students find the honesty refreshing.

Then I ask the student to share and we end up writing down shared goals, hopes and fears so that they can be reviewed at later meetings. This becomes the template of what we hope we will both get out of their graduate work, so we return to these goals, hopes and fears a couple of times per year to check in and re-evaluate.

goals

www.runnersgoal.com

3. Plan a very short two-week research project

Finally, we decide on a mini research project which should actually be doable in two weeks, and is not just be a literature review. The topic can be related to their overall graduate project or not, and can come from the student, professor or both. It could involve analysis, modeling, field work etc. In two weeks time  a 1000-2000 word research paper is due.

This mini-project often accomplishes a lot:

  • focuses on the student on research rather than their new classes, new apartment, new city etc.
  • helps both of us figure out how to best work together (i.e. lots of meetings and guidance or not)
  • Builds the student’s confidence in starting something new in this new environment
  • helps me evaluate their research and writing skills so that we can better tailor their graduate project.

It is a pretty intense first meeting that takes preparation, emotional intelligence and usually two hours but I find the dividends are always well worth the effort.


Thanks to DISCCRS for teaching me the value of the Myers-Briggs test and Mark Jellinek for the short research project idea.

What busy profs would like to read in a blog post about active learning

What busy profs would like to read in a blog post about active learning

During a great workshop today on active learning in engineering at McGill I asked two questions (using Socrative) , of the audience. Here is a summary of 24 answers I received:

1) I would like to read blog posts about:

  • activities for large classes (18% of people)
  • activities for small classes (30% of people)
  • technology in active learning (22% of people)
  • wacky or creative ideas for active learning(30% of people)

2) I might read a blog post about teaching and supervision if…

  • It takes into account the sheer lack of time and resources for preparation; ie quick and easy ideas to engage a bored class!
  • it was linked through twitter
  • It was regularly updated and interesting!
  • It does not take too long
  • it helps me achieve better my teaching objectives compared to my current teaching practice
  • It related to economics / social science a bit
  • Its short and introduce tips and examples
  • It gives concrete practical examples of activities for teaching and making students more active
  • I was interested
  • I knew where to find it
  • It dealt with distance education
  • they talked about encouraging creativity and critical thinking
  • it was about new and creative strategies that I can use in my class
  • it included the occasional evidence-based pieces that demonstrate real impact
  • Give ideas about how to get the students more active
  • It’s concrete, thoughtful and provides ideas
  • it was relevant and to the topic. I also would like to see it promoted within the departments to encourage conversation about teaching and learning
  • It is useful

My summary is that people want to hear about all types of different aspects of active learning and they would be motivated to read posts if it interesting and provided something useful.

Thanks Michael Prince of Bucknell for the great workshop and Milwaukee Mag for the image.

Surprises and lessons learned from co-teaching an inter-university graduate course

Surprises and lessons learned from co-teaching an inter-university graduate course

GrantFergusonContributed by Grant Ferguson, University of Saskatchewan
grant.ferguson@usask.ca

 

In an earlier blog post, Tom discussed some of the advantages and disadvantages of co-teaching a blended graduate course to students at McGill University, the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the University of Saskatchewan. This course wrapped up last month… we definitely learned a few things during its delivery, some of which were surprises that we hope you can learn from.

Surprise #1: The course outline and structure came together rather quickly and there was minimal debate on the content that we would cover. We did not attempt to be comprehensive in our coverage and chose to teach to our research interests. At the same time, we did not feel that there were obvious gaping holes in the curriculum. We included a review of what we expected the students to understand coming into the course. Although we were teaching students from a variety of backgrounds including civil engineering, environmental science, geosciences and forestry our expectation was that everyone should have been exposed to similar content in their undergraduate hydrogeology course. A recent review on the content of undergraduate hydrogeology courses by Gleeson et al. (2012) indicated that the core content of these courses does not vary that much from university to university.

However, surprise #2: students had very different interests and strengths. Some universities had students that excelled at MatLab while others were far more proficient with GIS. The interests of students also tended to mirror those of their home institutions. Students from McGill tended to be interested in water resource sustainability and large-scale problems, students from Saskatchewan were focused on problems associated with resource-extraction and students from Wisconsin tended to be more interested on hydrological processes and ecosystems. Exposing these biases, strengths and weaknesses was valuable for both instructors and students.

Surprise #3: this may not be a more ‘efficient’ way to teach since we spent far more time preparing lectures for this course than we normally do for other courses. Teaching to students and other universities with other instructors present brought teaching to a different level.   This effectively negated the initial thought that this would be a more efficient way of teaching because we were only on the hook for a third of the lectures. Part of this preparation was related to knowing that we would be forced to rely on slides more heavily than in a conventional classroom. However, the greater motivation was knowing that this presentation was going outside the walls of the home institution and that colleagues from other universities would be following along.

Surprise #4: Communication during the course went more smoothly than expected. Aside from a few momentary hiccups, there were few problems hearing the lecturer. Talking between institutions during the lecture went well, although questions were generally repeated by the lecturer or someone nearer to the microphone at other schools. The biggest obstacle might have been for the lecturers. Despite some efforts to situate cameras and explore different views within Microsoft Lync, it was difficult for the lecture to see the remote classrooms. Without being able to see facial expressions or body lan20140325aguage, it was difficult to assess how the material was being received at the other locations. This problem can likely be resolved to some extent with additional monitors and better cameras.

The feedback from the students was largely positive. Most of them seemed happy to participate in this experiment and get some exposure to other institutions. Tom, Steve and I all agreed that we would do this again given the chance. However, it appears that the stars might not align for us in 2015 due to some other commitments. We will see if we still feel this way in 2016.

Re-posted on Inside Higher Ed blog.

Great groundwater video!

Great groundwater video!

Clear graphics, good message and an awesome sing-along. what more could one ask for? the only message that I would add is the importance of virtual groundwater use in what we decide to consume, especially our food.

Active learning in large classes: a gallery ‘walk’ with a 100 students

Active learning in large classes: a gallery ‘walk’ with a 100 students

Active learning in large classrooms is difficult but not impossible – here is one example of an active learning technique developed for small classrooms, the gallery walk, which I have successfully re-purposed for a class of 100 (but I see no real upper limit on class size with the modified version of this activity).

“In Gallery Walk student teams rotate to provide bulleted answers to questions posted on charts arranged around the classroom. After three to five minutes at a chart or ‘station’ the team rotates to the next question. Gallery Walk works best with open ended questions, that is, when a problem, concept, issue, or debate can be analyzed from several different perspectives.” SERC Pedagogy in action

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Teaching a large class. Photo by Maria Orjuela-Laverde, courtesy of Faculty of Engineering, McGill University

In most large classes in auditoriums, there is not the time or space for students to actually walk around the ‘gallery’. So instead I bring the ‘gallery’ of four provocative questions to groups of students on clipboards that are rotated around the classroom :

  • the class is split into four quadrants which are further divided into four groups (so ~5 people per group for a class of 100). Each group starts with a clipboard with one of the four questions and the four groups in the each quadrant should have the four different questions (good to check before starting).
  • Students are given 5-10 minutes to respond to the question on their clipboards and then clipboards are rotated until each group has answered each question. Students can constructively respond to previous groups answers to the same question.
  • After four rotations each group should have the question they started with and I ask a few groups to report out a summary to class which I synthesize on the board. In my case we end the activity with a vote of the ‘world’s biggest water problem’.

I find this an excellent way to start and/or end a term. In my case I teach a rather technical undergraduate engineering class about hydrology and water resources – this is an excellent tool to encourage students to think very broadly and creatively about the topic before and/or after we learn technical details.

This activity was inspired by conversations at the ‘Cutting Edge’ Early Career Geoscientist workshop in June 2012 College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA. The workshop is sponsored by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) with funding provided by the National Science Foundation Division of Undergraduate Education. I thank the workshop leaders, NAGT and NSF for this opportunity and encourage other early career geoscientists to check out future workshops.

Co-teaching a blended class across universities: why? and why not?

Co-teaching a blended class across universities: why? and why not?

This term I am co-teaching a graduate class in advanced groundwater hydrology with Grant Ferguson (University of Saskatchewan) and Steve Loheide (University of Wisconsin – Madison). In co-developing and co-delivering this course we have learned a lot – I’ll start here with our initial motivations and write later about our pedagogic decisions, software tools and reflections after the course. It is mostly win-win for students and professors, but I’ll describe some of the disadvantages below.

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Teaching in an active learning classroom. Photo by Owen Chapman, courtesy of Faculty of Engineering, McGill University

Instead of being a MOOC, the course is a SPOC – a small, private, online classroom. Students and professors simultaneously meet in real classrooms at each university and connect as a video conference. Students collaborate on projects across universities and each professor leads instruction for part of the term and participates in all classes. We use a variety of software tools for blended learning including polling (socrative), content management (wikispaces), and video conferencing (microsoft lync).

Students are exposed to topics, tools and skills they would never learn in a regular classroom. Probably most importantly, students learn about varied topics that would not normally be covered at their university. One idea that has worked well is focusing on cutting-edge research ideas and techniques including research ugly babies that are not often discussed in the literature. They learn to collaborate internationally using virtual tools. And they develop an international professional network spanning multiple universities.

A  number of students have said ‘wow, it’s like three courses in one!’ and as instructors we have noticed there is not lull in the middle or end of term where students and/or instructors are tired of the course, tired of each other, or just tired. Instead it is just on to the next topic and instructor.

Many of the same advantages are true for the instructors: we learn new ideas from the other instructors, we collaborate internationally in co-developing and co-teaching this course and we expand and enrich our professional network. And we share the teaching load.
You can probably guess the two main disadvantages: the software tools are not perfect and interaction between real classrooms can be stilted. Both are true and we were very honest and clear about this with students from the start:

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Almost every class there has been a minor glitch with the audio or video but it’s always been minor problem with a reasonable solution – with the myriad of ways to connect today there are many plan B options.

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Connecting with other classrooms using video conferencing. Photo by Owen Chapman, courtesy of Faculty of Engineering, McGill University

During our weekly class time, interaction between individual students in different real classrooms is difficult. During class time, most of the interactions are between students and the lead instructor or between students in the same real classroom during an active learning activity. But outside of class time, students interact via discussion on the content management system and collaborate on projects using skype, google chat etc.

So far, co-teaching a blended graduate class across universities has been a win-win for students and professors – I’d be happy to hear about other SPOC classes.

Re-posted on Inside Higher Ed blog.

Why read “Water Underground” blog? And for me, why write a blog?

Why read “Water Underground” blog? And for me, why write a blog?
Picture from https://blog.shareaholic.com/how-to-clear-your-head-to-come-up-with-new-blog-post-ideas/

Picture from https://blog.shareaholic.com/how-to-clear-your-head-to-come-up-with-new-blog-post-ideas/

My reason to blog is really quite simple: to share what doesn’t currently fit into peer-reviewed articles. I will write about groundwater as well as how I research, teach, supervise and collaborate. In short I hope to cover the whole kit and caboodle of academia, from the underground perspective of groundwater.

Why read this blog? Time is precious so only read on if you are interested and/or passionate about…
– groundwater science, engineering, management and policy
-active learning of science and engineering at universities and colleges
-supervising and mentoring students compassionately and effectively

So, who might want to read this blog?
-environmental and water policy makers and managers – I hope to explain interesting, new groundwater science in plain language
-groundwater enthusiasts and nerds
-fellow scientists and grad students
-fellow teachers (outreach of our teaching ideas and experience)

My overall goals as a prof are also simple:
-nudge the world towards more sustainable groundwater use and learn about groundwater
-teach hydrology interactively and critically
-supervise and mentor students compassionately and effectively
So I hope this blog might help with these goals. Help me make this an interesting place to read about groundwater and academia – I encourage contributions from collaborators, students, postdocs. Or I’d love to hear ideas for blog entries – may they be weird, interesting or useful.