Bye, Y’all

When I moved to Iowa, I had to shut down Time Koepp, LLC. Texas requires a manager of the company to live in the state, and Iowa doesn’t recognize Texas LLCs anyway.

I have not decided if I will restart in Iowa, but I will leave this site up in case the articles are useful.

If you have an editing project or a custom crafty thing (like quilts, scarves, etc), you can still contact me, and we can talk about the particulars.

Interpersonal Communication Awareness

 

Effective communication involves one person transmitting information and the other receiving it. The receiver has to make sense of the information for the message to be understood (Adams & Galanes, 2012). Personality and personal history play a part in how we interpret messages and communicate both verbally and nonverbally. Sometimes, we can cause an insult without intending to (Murphy-Shigematsu, 2010). To head off some of these problems, we need to be aware of ourselves and of the way others perceive us. I used the Johari Window and a Group Behavior Survey to assess how my self-perception compares to how others perceive me.

Johari Window

The Johari Window is a four-part chart that compares what we think about ourselves to what others think of us (Mindtools, 2012; Kevan, 2006). After I picked my adjectives on the Johari Window website set up by Kevan (2006), I recruited friends from social media to go complete the rest of the chart for me. Two-thirds of the adjectives I picked for myself were selected by someone else. As I looked at the list of adjectives others picked to describe me, I found that I understood why the responders chose those based on how we knew each other.

Four adjectives landed in Mindtools’ (2012) Open Area: helpful, introverted, knowledgeable, and religious.

Group Behavior Survey

The group behavior survey, on the other hand, was an aid in self-reflection with no outside input to compare to. Based on the scoring rubric at the bottom, I tend to focus much more on the task than I do on the social aspects of a group assignment.

Analysis and Conclusion

Of the terms in the Open Area of the Johari Window, one stood out as having a big impact on group work in general: introverted. My utter dread of group work stems from that one characteristic. I prefer to work alone because group work is exhausting. I can manage if I have to, and when I am teaching, I seem to settle into a different mindset that can temporarily handle being the focus of a group of people, but afterwards, I need my time to myself to rest.

Perhaps that explains why I focus on the task instead of socialization in group work. The task I can handle. It is far more comfortable than trying to make sense of the people, and as soon as the task is finished, I can be done with the group for the moment.

My current group should work differently, though. I have found that online critique groups and writer forums are not as exhausting as face-to-face groups. Although we are working in a group, the tension I usually feel with group work is not there. There are some risks involved in clarity of communication online because the entire realm of nonverbal conversation is missing, but with the written equivalent of active listening, some of those misunderstandings can be avoided (Adams & Galanes, 2012). This group already has some history together because we have been in many of the same classes. That familiarity can also help guard against misunderstanding because our experiences help us interpret messages.

If all goes well, I will finish my last Master’s course next summer and enter the workforce as an adult educator. Unless I somehow find a job where I work with one person at a time, I will end up in a group of people online or face to face. Being aware of the similarities and differences in how I describe myself and how others describe me can help me ensure that I take care of myself, which will allow me to be better at taking care of others.

A good understanding of myself through my own eyes and through the eyes of others will help me find my strengths and weaknesses. Then I will know what areas I need to work on to become a better instructor.

 

References

Adams, K., & Galanes, G. J. (2012). Communicating in groups: Applications and skills. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Kevan. (2006). Interactive Johari Window. Retrieved from http://kevan.org/johari

Mindtools. (2012). The Johari Window: Creating better understanding between individuals and groups. Retrieved from http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/JohariWindow.htm

Murphy-Shigematsu, S. (2010). Microaggressions by supervisors of color. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 4(1), 16–18.

Collaboration: Part 2

Small group learning situations can have better results. Hundreds of studies have concluded that students learned more with small group instruction because students are more actively engaged than they are when they simply copy lecture notes (Nilson, 2010). Both struggling students and advanced students gain more when the advanced students help the struggling ones understand (Barkley, 2010).

While teaching elementary, I had some successful small groups. One year, I assigned an ecosystem project. After dividing the class into groups of four or five, I gave each an ecosystem and a collection of tasks to complete before a presentation to the class. One produced high quality work ahead of schedule.

As a team, they planned out all the work that needed to be done and assigned different people to tasks according to their interests and natural skills. The best writer in the group wrote the report while the best artist drew cards for a game and the other three worked on the three-dimensional model. They all finished before the deadline and spent the time reviewing the work, tweaking parts to make the project better, and making sure that anyone could give the presentation. In the end, they produced work well beyond the minimum expectations and retained more information the following year.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, many people have had terrible experiences with group work because of destructive subgroups and shirkers (Michaelsen & Sweet, 2008; Davis, 2009). However, when a group assignment goes as it should, students learn much more than they do in lecture classes. They are more actively involved and learn more by teaching each other (Nilson, 2010; Barkley, 2010). Structured correctly, the benefits of small group work outweigh the challenges.

 

References

Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses (Rev.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008). The essential elements of team-based learning. New Directions for Teaching & Learning, 2008(116), 7–27.

Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Difficulties in Collaboration: Part 1

Working in a group is a challenge. I have met very few adults who have had effective experiences with small learning groups. My own experiences in collaborative groups have resulted in endless frustration, but research suggests that small group learning builds problem-solving skills and promotes teamwork (Fink, 2013). Indeed, I have facilitated some cooperative and collaborative group assignments in elementary classes that did fantastically well. Effective group work does have benefits, but there are challenges to overcome.

Challenges

During my 14 years as an elementary teacher, I went through at least five teacher inservices every year. Many of them were slide show presentations that were read by the presenter verbatim, but in the latter half of my career, many of the workshops involved breaking into small groups for discussion or a quick assignment.

Sometimes there were subgroups composed of teachers in the same grade level or teachers who had worked together at the school for a long time. This subgroup marginalized anyone who did not meet the group’s characteristic (Michaelsen & Sweet, 2008). The marginalized students would be ignored or given whatever drudgery work no one else wanted.

The other extreme was just as damaging. Many of these teacher inservices were mandatory and often took time away from the extensive list of tasks that needed to be done. As a result, the people attending them were not motivated to be there. Many brought paperwork to do. Others played games on their cell phones or chatted with those nearby. When the time came to do an assignment, the distractions did not go away, so one or two people ended up doing the work for the group. Davis (2009) recommends having a structure in place to deal with those that shirk their part of the work, but with these short, six-hour inservices, there was no consequence, which only encouraged the behavior.

Collaboration Tools: Part 2: Co-op

Co-Op

Early in a group project, we were trying to decide what tools, if any, we should use to keep in touch. Some of the group wanted to use texting functions on our phones, but my phone is not as smart as most. I do not have text functions.

One of the programs we considered was Co-Op (coopapp.com) because using that we could keep a single-thread conversation going. Where Yammer was a sort of serious user’s Facebook (PC World, 2012), Co-Op is an analog of Twitter (PC World, 2010).

Co-Op allows team members to use a sort of single-stream chat window. Other functions let users post their current agenda and track time on task (PC World, 2010). Although discussion is important to build understanding (Sawyer, 2011), there was no way to compartmentalize discussions. There were no ways to establish multiple, different threads. The boundaries of this program were a little too confining for our purpose. Although there were definite limits, there was no room to maneuver (Palmer, 2007). For a larger project, this program would get rather unwieldy.

Nevertheless, if a group needed to have an asynchronous chat, this program would keep the chat in chronological order where email threads can get complicated especially if only some of the members are able to be online at one time.

Educational Needs

These programs can be handy for their purposes, but at the end of the day, we used neither in our group work. I did not recommend Yammer because it was too much program for our short term need, and Co-Op did not have enough function for what we needed. A simple chat window requiring an extra login was more bother than it was worth.

Ultimately, we relied on a combination of email and the group-specific Blackboard forum. The email threads did get a little tangled now and then as more than one person posted a response at the same time from one message. Had there been more people in the group, a program like Yammer would have been useful.

Conclusion

Online tools can be useful for long-distance collaborations, but in our case, we kept it simple and made use of our existing email addresses the Blackboard forum already established for us. In other situations a more robust program like Yammer or a simple chat program like Co-Op might have been useful.

References

Barkley, E. F., Cross, K. P., & Major, C. H. (2005). Collaborative learning techniques. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sawyer, K. (2011, May 6). Collaboration enhances learning [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://keithsawyer.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/collaboration-enhances-learning/

Palmer, P. J. (2007). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life (10th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

PC World. (2010). 15 Free Online Collaboration Tools for Business. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from http://www.pcworld.com/article/200835/15_free_online_business_collaboration_tools.html

PC World. (2012). What the heck is Yammer? Retrieved July 28, 2014 from http://www.pcworld.com/article/260517/what_is_heck_is_yammer.html

The Role of the Educator, Part 4

The Value of Silence

Silence often makes people uncomfortable. In my last few years in an elementary setting, the school started the day with all students in the gym for announcements, a lesson on social skills, and the pledges. Texas does both the United States Pledge of Allegiance and the Texas Pledge of Allegiance. Then, as required by law, the students have a Minute of Silence in which they my pray if they choose.

One student, a rather rambunctious boy in one of the lower grades, seemed to be allergic to the Minute of Silence. Every day without fail, he would sneeze or cough loudly during that minute. The moment the Minute of Silence ended he was just fine. Unable to stand the silence, he felt the need to break it with a fake allergic reaction.

Adults are often no less allergic to silence, although they show their discomfort by filling the void with talking rather than fake sneezes. Teachers are not immune to this problem. Too often, they ask a question, wait a moment or two and then either prompt an answer, answer the question themselves, or ask a different question, thus violating the five-second rule for wait time (University of Texas, n.d.).

Although conversation in class is necessary to come to consensus or challenge assumptions, silence is also valuable. During moments of silence, students have an opportunity to consider how their own opinions and prior knowledge fits in with the current information. Without making those connections, the learning is incomplete (Palmer, 2007).

Conclusion

In collaborative learning situations, the teacher is no longer the source of information. Instead, the teacher directs the learning and provides feedback on the students’ progress. There are many techniques teachers can use to facilitate their lessons, and time must be allowed to process the information without distraction.

References

Lakey, G. (2010). Facilitating group learning: Strategies for success with diverse adult learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lane, D. R. (2008). Teaching skills for facilitating team-based learning. New Directions for Teaching & Learning, 2008(116), 55–68.

Palmer, P. J. (2007). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life (10th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

Pratt, K., & Palloff, R. M. (2005). Collaborating online: Learning together in community. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

University of Texas at Austin. (n.d.). Four S team discussion activities. Retrieved April 6, 2012 from http://www.utexas.edu/academic/ctl/largeclasses/#4sactivities

Collaboration Tools: Part 1: Yammer

When working on a project across a distance, some manner of collaboration tool might be handy. A collaboration tool can help us stay focused on the task at hand and yet have the room to maneuver and discover new things (Palmer, 2007). Two of the tools that might be useful for collaboration are Yammer and Co-op.

Yammer

I currently work for two small presses as an editor. One of them, PDMI Publishing, LLC, is larger and much more active. For the most part, we make good use of Facebook as a means to cooperate and communicate. Our publishing group has a member’s only group page where we toss out some ideas and generally be goofy, and we use the private message function to communicate things some of the group might need but some might not.

Unfortunately, Facebook can get a little persnickety now and then. The rules change as often as Texas weather. One morning our business manager found she could no longer post messages to some of the group’s public pages. We still don’t know why. Even half a year later, she cannot post on some of our own pages. We suspect that a writer who received a rejection filed a complaint against her as an act of revenge.

Very recently, the upper management set up a Yammer (www.yammer.com) account for us as a more stable, less arbitrary, more secure way for us to take care of business. We still use Facebook for informal purposes, but official communications happen on Yammer.

Yammer is sort of a more official type of Facebook. There is a personal newsfeed, and there are pages and subgroups where people in various departments can go to have an asynchronous chat, post questions, and get answers in a message chain that operates much like Facebook (PC World, 2012).

It does have its quirks, but the learning curve was relatively shallow, and even the members who are not technically savvy learned the basic skills quickly. The structures help us stay focused on different aspects of the publishing process by compartmentalizing some things. For example, the artists’ discussions of protocols for good covers can be kept in a group just for artists. Editors can meanwhile have a detailed discussion about Oxford commas without cluttering up the newsfeed for the marketing folks. Within the boundaries of the program, there is enough freedom to move and explore different topics (Palmer, 2007).

One downside is the cost. There is a free version of Yammer reserved for education purposes, but the paid versions start at $3 per user per month. The program is much more stable and reliable with Facebook and less subject to strange, arbitrary changes in function and rules. Although it might be too much for a small group of a half-dozen students working on a short term project, this might be a useful program for managing a full class. The class as a whole can have a newsfeed for having major class discussions while subgroups could be used for small groups working on a project secure from the curious eyes of other students.

Yammer is much like Facebook, and since many students are familiar with that, learning the interface for Yammer will be relatively easy. That allows groups to focus on the project at hand. A structured environment often helps struggling students succeed for much the same reason (Barkley, Cross, & Major, 2005).