I’d rather be last than first!

Google Forms and its attendant spreadsheet conveniences, conditional formatting and webpage publishing at a click of a button has been a boon to project registration in one of my modules.

Some two hundred students are being (relatively) effortlessly registered into groups of four with the relevant data all accounted for. Individuals, pairs or trios in search of groups are also being fixed up and their needs have been identified by the colours of conditional formatting (or “change colours with rules” in Google’s plain speak). And email alerts ensure form submissions do not go unnoticed.

A subset of data has been updated live on a webpage for a sneak preview of group allocation, enough for them to get an early warning about presentation, peer-review and tutorial sessions they will attend as a group.

As the hours wear on, the prediction of the long-suffering TA who used to do this mannually is fleshed out. Everyone has edged away from the first week—it’s as taboo as the first row of seats in a lecture theatre.

Back from interview

Some RJC students finally pinned me down after a couple of weeks or pursuit. I had gathered some sense that they had done their reading, and so succumbed to their persistence.

They had previously interviewed Geh Min (ex-NSS president) and Mah Bow Tan (Minister of National Development) by email but have yet to nail down Joseph Lai or Ria Tan. I suggested they indicate the depth of their reading in future emails, ask more specific questions and indicate the extent of their work so far.

You see, the plethora of group projects investigating a variety of issues by students in tertiary institutes, JCs and even secondary schools means we receive lots of requests annually. Initially I over-extended myself in the early years which was not always constructive, so now I quickly adopted a sustainable strategy.

  1. Is the email properly constructed? (Includes a proper introduction, signs off with a full name, essentially gather a sense of effort and attitude).
  2. If so, answer email. Usually also ask for their reading list of articles of websites.
  3. Supplement their reading list if need be.
  4. If they have done their reading and have more than a couple of questions, schedule a meeting in NUS or Holland Village (if after hours) – emails take too long and are restrictive.
  5. At the meeting, I’ll pretty much spill the beans (i.e. include context) to the normally fresh-faced students. Usually this includes writing out graphical visualisations on paper – larger table, more elaborate drawings (students are a source of very interesting pens and paper and will usually proffer their favourite pen).
  6. Depending on their project and if they are able to integrate the role of context, I then provide additional information. I might suggest names to consult.
  7. By now, I’ll know if its a serious group and am probably done in by their eager-beaver faces. So I might help setup very specific and short interviews with relevant and reluctant individuals – once this sort of group gets their foot in, the session will last as long as they need.
  8. I try to remember not to leave with their favourite pen.

However, once my busy semester begins (Aug – Nov), its coupled with NUS research student supervision so this category of activity is shelved until February the next year. I have a few more requests I’d better respond to now.

It’s not all a chore, though, despite this considered approach and the hint you might garner of significant reluctance! Often I leave the interviews with a sense of hope, and I think did so today as well.

Dealing with stress

NUS’ Counselling Centre highlights their Exam Anxiety webpage in the weeks leading to the exams.

Besides the peak period focus, students under excessive stress aren’t out my mind the rest of the semester. I adopt strategies in each module, integrate those into the teaching. A balance has to be struck with module standards but it is usually complimentary.

To maintain my awareness and alertness, I talk to teacher-friends armed with case study histories, discuss some aspects with friends on my mailing lists, reflect on past incidents and read some journal papers. This helps me to maintain an appreciative grasp of the issue over the years. Now that I actually have time to prepare my teaching, I want to consult the pros!

So after the Faculty of Science workshop, “Teaching is OUR Priority” last Friday, I way-layed the Counseling Centre’s head for a quick chat. I will drop in after clearing the exams so examine strategies and get advice about those and profiles. I am certainly looking forward to the consult – my previous session was a long time ago at Changi Village after a Pedal Ubin ride. One of the staff attended the ride and I ran a bunch of stuff by him – the benefits of being a guide!

It’s important to think about and review pre-emptive measures every year, just as we should do for fire and field safety. And you have to try look for loopholes. I find that exercise useful for teaching methods as well. Since I have field safety guidelines to pen, May is going to be safety month!

See “Struggles of Students Today,” by Ann-Marie Lew. Alumnus, Apr 2007.