Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On Thinking of Others and Helping (Ourselves)

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, Chair, New Member Mentoring Program

I don't know about you, but this is the point in the semester where I begin to feel pressure . . . papers are rolling in and subsequently building up in stacks on my desk. The number of new emails I receive each day has me on edge. The students who've ignored my office hours for the past four weeks are now making appointments in droves -- to make up quizzes or talk about their writing -- which is fantastic, because it's great that students are finally getting the point about office hours, but when am I supposed to do all this committee work?

My desk as visual metaphor (FOR MY MIND)
It feels like there's never enough time, and sometimes there really isn't enough time, and . . . well, I panic. I stay up late and wake up early trying to accomplish ALL THE THINGS. And then I grumble loudly (usually to the person unfortunate enough to be my office mate) about how overwhelmed and in the weeds I'm becoming/have been/have always been.

Distractions, or methods of procrastination, inevitably crop up around this time, and that's because it helps to think about something other than work when work is driving you a little crazy.
My suggestion is to make those "distractions" a little more purposeful, and little more meaningful, by concentrating on the needs of others for a few brief moments. Happily, the union has a few ways you can do this.

The Making Strides Against Breast Cancer/Jones Beach Annual Walk

Each year in October the American Cancer Society raises money by hosting Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks.

Each year, dedicated and energetic members of the FA and SCCC community drive out to Jones Beach and participate in one of these walks. For a couple of weeks beforehand, the FA collects donations for the American Cancer Society on their team page. The FA’s goal this year is to collect $5000.  

You can take that well-deserved break from the the craziness of work and do a little web surfing right now -- visit the link above and contribute to this worthy cause by making a donation. AND/OR sign up to walk at the event this year, Saturday, October 19 at 9 a.m. (Okay, the official start is at 9 a.m., but the FA team meets at 8 a.m. You're advised to show up an hour early for the walk because traffic gets bad. A LOT of Long Island turns out for this cause.)

The Fall and Spring AHRC Plant Sales

One of the FA's most well-loved community outreach projects is our annual collaboration with Suffolk County's AHRC ("A private voluntary non-profit agency dedicated to applying its professional and financial resources toward improving the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities from birth through end of life,” according to its website, which you can find here: http://www.ahrcsuffolk.org/).

One of the AHRC’s programs involves Flowerfield Gardens, a two-acre nursery and retail garden shop where the public can purchase plants raised by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The nursery functions also as a work setting where these individuals can learn horticultural skills while nurturing perennials, annuals, vegetable plants and herbs.

Twice a year, in the fall semester and in the spring semester, the FA invites the AHRC to bring the plants raised on Flowerfield Gardens to the three campuses of SCCC, where FA members volunteer their time and sell the plants to the students, faculty, administration and staff of SCCC.

If you’d like to volunteer your time and participate in the Fall 2014 plant sale, please contact Anita Greifenstein at anita [at] fascc.org and she’ll make sure your name and contact info is passed along to your campus plant sale coordinator.

Professors on Wheels

I think you may have heard about this particular endeavor at the New Member Orientation in August, but just in case you missed out on the details, here’s some more information:

The Professors on Wheels program was developed a few short years ago by Professors Daniel Linker and Adam Penna. The goal of the program is to address the intellectual needs of an often under-served and neglected part of our community, our senior citizens, and in particular those seniors who reside in nursing and/or rehabilitation centers without much access to the outside world.

Our program brings the world of academia to them. SCCC Faculty are encouraged to submit ideas for self-contained workshops and lectures to the program’s current coordinator, Dan Linker. Professor Linker will then bring a list of the available workshops and lectures to the attention of interested facilities and senior organizations, and those facilities pick their workshops based on the interest and needs of its community.

The workshops are arranged according to the speaker/faculty member’s availability. Many of our faculty from all three campuses have already participated in this publicly lauded and popular program, and they found the experience to be fun and rewarding.

If you’re interested in participating in this program, you should contact Professor Linker via email (linkerd@sunysuffolk.edu) with a proposal for your own workshop or lecture. Your email should include the following details:

  • Name and rank
  • Title of lecture, workshop, or class
  • Brief course description (25-50 words)

Even though you're PROBABLY going to do community service out of the good of your heart (and as a way of avoiding -- er, taking a break from -- the hassles of work), all three of these opportunities count towards college-wide or community service on your promotion form, depending on how you choose to frame the experience. So ultimately, you'll help others while also helping yourself -- everyone wins! Yay!

In all seriousness, your participation means a strengthening of bonds between the college and the Suffolk County community, and a continuation of vital, mutually-benefiting partnerships between community organizations and the world of higher education. And that really is a cheering thought when the weather starts to cool and the work piles up, isn't it?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The NMDS Archive: Hindsight: What You Can Learn From My First Year

Editor’s Note:  The following was presented at the very first FA New Member Discussion Series event, hosted in cooperation with the Office of Faculty and Professional Advancement, titled "Hindsight: What You Can Learn From My First Year," on September 12, 2014. Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting the text and talking points from the other presenters, too, so that even if you weren't able to attend the session, you'll still have access to some of the insight and advice offered at this professional development workshop. -- SKG


by Dr. Misty Curreli, Instructor of Sociology, Eastern Campus
Welcome colleagues. When I reflect on my first year of teaching, there are many challenges that full-time teaching bestowed upon me.  Today I’m going to speak about three of them. Each one was a challenge of some sort, all of which are works-in-progress. But I do want to acknowledge that much of what I’ve prepared for today is grounded in advice that I received from my colleagues, which emphasizes the importance of reaching out to other people in your field.  I hope these suggestions have practical applications for others who are new to the profession. 


My first point has to do with time management.  Maybe it’s because I was a graduate student for a large proportion of my life, but I had really bad work vs. personal time boundaries. As a graduate student I was accustomed to working morning, noon, and especially night and I truly believe that the institutional expectation of grad. school is to do more work than is humanly possible, always with an ample dose of guilt for what is yet to be completed.  So, of course this lifestyle seeped into the way I taught and I developed bad habits.

Things that New Teacher Misty would say/do:

  • Let me check my email one more time before bed.
  • Sure, I’ll respond to emails I receive at 2 a.m.
  • Why shouldn’t I eat my dinner at my desk while I finish up my lecture notes for next week?
  • Why yes, I’ll meet with you at noon and likely skip eating lunch.
  • Why yes, I’ll meet with you at 4 p.m. which is my most productive writing time of the day.
So, we’re all going to have different preferences on how to organize the day, but regardless I would highly suggest creating some rules for yourself by establishing (with some flexibility given the workload) when your workday starts and ends. You can even go as far as to designate certain hours of the day for particular tasks.   

Dr. Misty Curreli speaks about her first year experience at SCCC
For example, a former professor of mine instructed me to “Protect your mornings” in order to thrive at the teaching-research balance. He reasoned that students were less likely to come looking for you and that you’d be most fresh at that time of the day to do the hard work of analyzing data or writing up findings. 

But regardless of how you organize it, whether it’s a 6 hour or 8 hour or 10 hour day, what I’m suggesting is that you deserve some personal, non-working time to give your mind a break.  Not only do I think you deserve it, I actually think this is necessary for the long-term if you don’t want to get burnt out. But doing this, if you’re not accustomed to it, takes discipline and it also requires that you be alright with keeping some uncompleted things on the to-do list until the next workday. (Can you tell that I’m really motivated by crossing things off of my to-do list?) 

Another important and related aspect that can’t be overlooked is regulating the workload.  By this, I mean being cautious to not take on too much in your first year.   You’re going to be approached by many, many people who are looking for your participation and expertise. Don’t get me wrong – there are many, fabulous opportunities to serve the campus community, but I’m told and I’m actually starting to believe that it’s okay to say no on occasion.  This gives you the chance to invest your time wisely in the endeavors that you care most about and it keeps us from feeling like we’re spread too thin.


For the second point, I need to admit that I think I spent a little too much time in my first year feeling…indignant.  There were times when I would leave class and feel little bit astounded and sometimes kind of offended by the “incivilities” that I saw.  By “incivility”, I mean small acts of what I thought of as academic impoliteness

There are plenty of examples, but to name a few:  students blatantly using their cell phones during lectures, a quite apparent lack of textbook reading, and the famous question after a student had been absent to class, “Did I miss anything?” These “incivilities” seemed to disregard the standards and expectations that I hold about the college environment based on my too-many-to-mention years of schooling.   

After two semesters under my belt and with some time to relax and be introspective about the year, I realized that I have no business being jaded in my first year of teaching. Also feeling indignant doesn’t do anyone any good – not the students and certainly not me. I realized that students don’t (for the most part) intend to be ill-mannered and I shouldn’t take these things personally. Our students are early in their college careers and very likely not socialized into the norms and values of academic life.  

 Instead of making assumptions that college students should really know x, y, or z, I decided it would be my new goal to dissolve this apparent mismatch of expectations. To start, I committed to the idea of being transparent about the policies and procedures and why they are the way they are. This year, when it came time to talk about the classroom etiquette, I explained to my students that my no phone policy is based on several compelling pieces of evidence – some anecdotal (students have told me that they feel distracted by others’ phones) and based in research (multitasking isn’t as effective as we thought!).   

And because my subject matter (Sociology) allows me to talk about social norms, I actually asked the students to tell me what the social norms are for the classroom. I think this reinforces the classroom standards in a way that allows the more experienced students to teach the less experienced students. 

I also explain to the students how to use the textbook, what purposes the assignments serve (what it evaluates and how it adds to their skillsets), and after learning that some students were challenged by simultaneously listening to me lecture and copying information from Power Point, how to take notes effectively.  

I guess some people might consider this “hand-holding”.  After contemplating this point, I don’t necessarily think that hand-holding is a bad thing if it helps the students develop the tools to become successful students in my classroom and beyond.  In the end, academic success is more than just teaching them the substantive aspects of our professional fields.  It’s also about promoting their achievement as learners.   

So I think it’s important to recognize that not all students are going to automatically know how to be successful learners and we have the ability to intervene with the scaffolding that may get them there. My advice is to watch for and reflect on your assumptions of student behavior and then ground yourself not in ego but in what’s pedagogically best for the students.  Does my approach help them to get from A to B? I like to believe that it has the potential to make a long-lasting impact.


As the last piece of advice, I will add a simple but essential phrase for surviving in this profession, “Have compassion for yourself.” There is so much going on in your first year.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, unsure, and/or exhausted.  You will work really hard and you should acknowledge ON A DAILY BASIS what you’ve accomplished despite any feelings to the contrary.  What I found really helpful was connecting with other new people to occasionally decompress and remind each other about of the importance of self-compassion. 
A non-teaching friend of mine recently expressed some jealousy towards professors because we get to start over every 16 weeks.  I realized how right she is and how this provides ample opportunity for change and growth.  So relax. You’re probably not going to get it right on the first try, but you’ll have plenty of time to figure it out next semester…or the next semester…or the one after that.

Thank you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Distance Education Courses: Trials and Tribulations, or, What You Can Learn from My Mistakes

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, Chair, New Member Mentoring Program

So last week I was MIA from the blog for a couple of reasons, but the biggest and most important one is because I was working to fix some problems with the lectures in my online Standard Freshman Composition class.

We have a thriving distance education program here at SCCC. Of course, you may noticed this already because of the volume of emails coming from the Office of Instructional Technology about Blackboard training sessions. This summer, the college changed their official course management system from Desire2Learn (or D2L) to Blackboard Learn. Everyone who'd been teaching online or using D2L to web-enhance their traditional classrooms were instructed to copy, transfer, and/or archive any course material (and grades) they'd posted and saved in D2L before the conversion at the end of August -- because, with some exceptions, D2L is gone by now, and we have no way to access that old material.

For most of us, this was a more time-consuming task than a difficult one, and files were saved and grades were archived with relatively (relatively) few problems. And some of us viewed the change to a new course management system as a chance to revamp our courses, reviewing and editing, or perhaps even recreating, entire lectures or quizzes or activities as we geared up for the new academic year.

I was one such sucker person. In prior semesters, I'd posted my "lectures" to D2L in the form of essays inside each content module, or sometimes as a series of mini-essays embedded within the Discussion Boards. But as I moved material into Blackboard Learn for my online comp class, I thought I'd give those lectures a much-needed update and  . . . cue the sad trombone music  . . . use PowerPoint slides with audio recordings saved over them (wah wah wahhhhhh)

Yes, you read that correctly. I thought I'd use PowerPoint. Finally. Because updating my course means using software that was the hot new thing in 1990. 

Me, more or less, trying to record audio on PowerPoint


So anyway . . . I reduced my essays to slides and then sat talking to my computer for 30 minutes or so for each lecture in an effort to give the PPT presentations a little more energy than subjects like "The Writing Process" entail naturally.

Two weeks ago, just before I was about to open the next learning module which held the "Writing Process" lecture, I decided to sit through my PPT and make sure everything was cool.

Everything was NOT cool.  Everything was very much un-cool.

The audio would play, but it played about 50 seconds (if that) of audio per slide, even though I might have been speaking away merrily for 5 full minutes. So . . . I spent much of my weekend attempt to rerecord the lectures, without much success. And then (after wasting so much precious time) I did some online helpdesk trolling and realized that PowerPoint for Mac is essentially not-to-be-trusted when it comes to doing anything other than making rinky-dink slides. Because Apple wants you to use their presentation software, Keynote. And Microsoft wants you to forget that Macs have better firewalls and more lasting hardware, and begin buying a new Dell or HP every two years.

Where was I? Oh yes. Corporate America is trying to ruin my life. No, wait. The purpose of my story:

Well, it has a two-fold purpose. 

One, to introduce you to the idea of online teaching (if you're teaching faculty), or at the very least, to the idea of web-enhancing your traditional classroom through the available course management system. You can apply to be assigned an online course that's already being taught at SCCC, or you can apply for release time to design an online (or Blended or DL classroom) course. If you're interested in any of these forms of online teaching, first go to your MYSCCC page and click on the Suffolk Online tab -- and then select "Online Faculty":

Yes, I took this terrible photo with my phone because the Snippit Tool wouldn't allow me to capture the drop down option.

Then, scroll down and examine the left-hand side of the screen. You'll see these lovely options:

A bit small, I know, but them's the breaks.

You click on the icons/pictures to access the documents. (You can't do that from here, though, silly.) The DE Guidebook will give you a fairly comprehensive look at our program at SCCC -- and those forms, well . . . if you can't read the fine print in that screen shot, it says this:

The following are forms for faculty who wish to:

  • Be assigned to their first online course
  • Develop and teach a course never presented online before

Also, the Suffolk Online tab of MYSCCC also lists all of those online training sessions in Blackboard which were referred to in the Office of Instructional Technology emails we received. Just in case you accidentally deleted those emails or misplaced them. 

Why would I be encouraging you to teach online or web-enhance your classes when I've struggled so much this past week? Because you're probably more computer-savvy than I am, for one. But also because . . . despite my hiccups with the technology  . . . I've been a member of our online faculty for a few years now, and I know that it serves a definite and specific student need at Suffolk. We have students who are caregivers to sick family; single parents; night-shift workers; people with limited physical freedom living in rehabilitation centers and nursing homes, but who still want to learn and exchange ideas in an academic forum; and students with unique living/work situations that most of us would be hard-pressed to imagine.

Teaching online isn't a fool's errand and it isn't easy. Teaching online takes a lot (A LOT) of work and really good time management skills (which I'm still -- still -- working on). But it's rewarding, and our institution needs good DE faculty.

My second purpose for writing this long blog post about my misadventures with PowerPoint (cue sound of teeth gritting) is that I think it may help you to know, teaching and nonteaching faculty alike-- about a potential problem with PowerPoint. For all of my jokes, I know a lot of us, teaching and nonteaching faculty alike, use PowerPoint in meetings if not classrooms.

I'm not sure how many of you have attempted to record audio with PowerPoint for Mac. Maybe most of you have Microsoft-friendly hardware. But I sure as hell would have been happy to know about these potential (read: inevitable) problems before I spent every free minute on a Saturday and Sunday (and most of the following Monday) trying to fix the unfixable. Maybe, if I share this story with you, you can avoid wasting your own precious time with technological rabbit-holes.

This is one the aims of this blog: to share information that has the potential to make your first year here more manageable. 

To that end, I'm going to begin archiving the papers and presentation notes from our New Member Discussion Series events on this blog. Beginning this Thursday I'll publish, as a separate blog post, Misty Curelli's lovely paper from the Friday, September 12 event titled "Hindsight: What You Can Learn from My First Year." Then two weeks later I'll publish Nick Giordano's piece. And following that, Jason Ramirez's talking points.

This way, if you had to miss the event, you won't miss out on all of the information that was shared. (We had a large and fabulously engaged crowd -- thank you to everyone who attended!)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Welcome and Congratulations

First Week Cheer: Raspberries from a colleague's garden!

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, Chair, New Member Mentoring Program

When you receive this, or when you feel like you can sit down finally and read it, take a minute to breathe deeply and congratulate yourself on completing your first week as SCCC faculty.

By now, you may have begun formulating questions about your department, your classrooms, your workspace/office, your campus, the college, etc.: You may be wondering why new students keep appearing in your classroom (if they aren't on the roster, out they go!) and/or why the bookstore ran out of books for your class, even when you have a receipt in your hand that says, clearly, you ordered enough for each student. Or you may be wondering why the contractors who are finishing the soffits on your building keep trying to kill the rose bush that used to flower so prettily outside your window. (Nope. Wait, that's just me).

Some of these questions have simple answers, like the first question (many students don't read the emails the college sends them, and unfortunately, they don't always read signs posted on doors about being on class rosters, either.) Some questions, like the second, have really annoying complex answers that are more frustrating than satisfying. And some of these questions will never be answered, and even create more questions, like the last. (Aren't you supposed to be trained to operate a boom before you actually get into the lift?)

Anyway -- the point is: it's natural to have questions when you're new to an institution or even just new to your role within that institution. The FA, through our New Member Program, is here to help answer them. 

By now, most of you have been assigned a mentor. (For those of you who have not received an email notifying you of your mentor assignment, please don't fret -- we are a few days, and a few emails, away from assigning you one. This beginning-of-the-year time can be dizzying for mid-career faculty, too.) 

Your mentors may not have all the answers, but they probably have a good idea of who you can ask in order to secure one.Your mentor can be a person you can bounce ideas off of about pedagogy and classroom practices; your mentor can be a person you can call or email quickly to say, "What's the date of that event again?" or "Who's the Dean/Vice President/Person-in-Charge of A,B, or C?" (The administration and its different levels can get a little confusing sometimes.) 

Something that was decidedly LESS happy-making.
Your mentor can, and should, be the person you go to when you have a doubt, a concern, or a query. Their job -- our job -- as participants in this program is to provide a friendly, accessible, and relatively informal source of assistance during your first year as full-time classroom faculty, librarians, professional assistants, and specialists. 

As part of that assistance, we're hosting a little get-together this Friday, September 12, from 11-12:15 p.m. in the Mildred Green Room of the Babylon Student Center (for you Eastern and Grant colleagues, that's on the Ammerman Campus) as part of a new discussion series, co-sponsored by the FA and the Office for Faculty and Professional Advancement, designed to help new members shape their careers paths at SCCC with purpose, efficiency, and confidence.

“Hindsight: What You Can Learn from My First Year” will feature Misty Curreli, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the Eastern campus; Nicholas Giordano, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Ammerman campus; and Jason Ramirez, Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts at the Grant campus.

I encourage you all to take a moment out of your busy schedules and join us for this important (and hopefully insightful) conversation. 

Oh, and there will be cookies, too. You know that by Friday, you'll be needing some cookies. So come for the cookies, stay for the wealth of information and sense of community.