Not To Be Trusted With Knives

The Internet’s leading authority on radicalized geese

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Teaching

Tonight was the last class of the course I’m teaching this semester. Since it was my first time teaching this class, it was a crazy amount of work and I am so, so, so, so, so, so tired. But I have to say that I really enjoyed teaching this class! The material leant itself well to active learning – though I definitely want to increase the amount of activities and decrease the amount of me-as-a-talking-head even more next year. The students did their class presentations this week and last and they were excellent – they really went above and beyond to produce some stellar work. A few students stayed behind after class to chat with me – they said that they agreed that more in-class activities would be better and even had some ideas for possible activities. And they said that they got a lot out of the class, as it was so different from any of their other classes, and that they found the little extras (like stories I told that brought the concepts into real life situations and videos I shared that touched on the concepts we were learning) really added some depth to the class, and that they really appreciated the work I’d put into it. That’s the kind of feedback that puts a smile on this very tired instructor’s face!

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Meta

The first time I learned about the concept of “meta” (though not by that name) was in my undergrad when I was taking first year drama and we studied a play called Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello, which we were taught was “self-reflexive”1 – i.e., it reflected on itself. In the case of Six Characters in Search of an Author, it was a play about a play in which characters, known as The Characters, show up and interact with The Actors and The Director.

Sometimes described as “X about X”, meta means “a prefix added to the name of something that consciously references or comments upon its own subject or features” (Source). So, a play about a play would be a meta-play. (Meta can also be defined as “a prefix added to the name of a subject and designating anothersubject that analyzes the original one but at a more abstract, higher level”, but for this blog posting I’m going with the “X about X” definition.). 

I started noticing a number of things that were meta and once you start thinking about it, you start to see it everywhere! For example, I’ve come across a number of meta things at work:

  • Metadata – data about data
  • Meta-analysis – when you analyze a bunch of studies to combine their results (so, in a sense, you are analyzing the previous analyses)
  • Meta-evaluation – evaluating an evaluation
  • Meta-scope – at work we had a group determining the scope of the project, but we had to determine the scope of what the scope group was going to scope
  • Meta-scrum – in Agile project management, you have something called a scrum meeting (where each working team gets together each day to plan its work) and one person from each scrum team (the scrum master) goes to a meeting of all the scrum masters, called the “scrum of scrums.” ButI liked to call it the “meta-scrum”
  • Meta-checklista checklist about making checklists
  • Meta-cognition/meta-thinking – thinking about how you think

And in things I’ve read lately:

  • Meta-measurement error – measurement error in the measurement of error2
  • Meta-approach – approaching how to approach things3
  • Meta-insurancethis article in the Globe and Mail talks about insurance on insurance and while they call it “re-insurance”, I think it could be called meta-insurance.
  • Meta-engagement – engagement about engagement (see: Pat’s blog)
  • Meta-update – update about updates (see: Pat’s blog again)
  • Meta-skepticism – this article caused a lot of discussion in the skeptical movement and I’m not saying that I think it was a good article; rather, it got me thinking about how you could be skeptical of skepticism and that would be meta-skepticism
  • Meta-passionate – being passionate about being passionate (see: Kalev’s blog)

Going with the arts theme, which is where I first learned of meta, you can have lots of meta-art:

  • Meta-fiction – fiction about fiction
  • Meta-literature – literature about literature
  • Meta-book – a book about books
  • Meta-writing – writing about writing
  • Meta-brochure4 – a brochure about brochures
  • Meta-journalism – journalism about journalism
  • Meta-painting – a painting of someone painting
  • Meta-photography – a photograph of a photograph
  • Meta-drama/meta-theatre/meta-play – a play about a play
  • Meta-film – a film about film
  • Meta-lecture – a lecture about lectures
  • Meta-blogging – blogging about blogging
  • Meta-tweeting – tweeting about tweeting5

And they I started thinking about all kinds of other things you could meta:

  • Meta-review – reviewing a review
  • Meta-monitoring – monitoring your monitoring
  • Meta-reflection – reflecting on reflecting
  • Meta-strategizing – strategizing about strategizing
  • Meta-decision – making decisions about making decisions
  • Metaphilosophy – philosophy about philosophy
  • Metaethics – the ethics of ethics
  • Meta-criticism – criticism of a criticism
  • Meta-data collection – data collection about your data collection
  • Meta-communication – communicating about communicating
  • Meta-planning – planning to plan
  • Meta-trying – trying to try
  • Meta-issue – having an issue with an issue
  • Meta-risk – a risk about risks
  • Meta-reporting – reporting about reporting
  • Meta-meeting – a meeting about meetings
  • Meta-assumptions – assumptions about assumptions
  • Meta-estimates – estimates of estimate
  • Meta-goals – goals about goals
  • Meta-objection – objections about objections
  • Meta-emotion – feelings about feelings
  • Meta-acceleration – accelerating the acceleration of something
  • Meta-pedantry – being a pedant about pedantry
  • Meta-idea – an idea about ideas
  • Meta-interactions – interactions of interactions
  • Meta-iterations – iterations of iterations
  • Meta-workaround – a workaround to get around workarounds
  • Meta-band-aid – a band-aid solution to cover up other band-aid solutions
  • Meta-blister – when a blister gets the blister (those are the worst!)
  • Meta-rabbit hole – when you follow rabbit holes and they have
  • Meta-joke – a joke about jokes
  • Meta-meta – being meta about meta (does this blog posting count as that?)

Although I’m sure there are countless more examples that I could come up with, I feel like I’m all meta’d out. The only other “meta” that pops to mind is metaphysics, which is “is a branch of philosophy investigating the fundamental nature of being and the world that encompasses it” (Source). Which isn’t really physics about physics, is it? I’m not sure why it’s called metaphysics (but if anyone else knows, please enlighten me!)

Also, I can’t figure out why sometimes “meta” is hyphenated (as in meta-analysis), but other times it’s not (as in metadata)6.

  1. Although I see it is described in the Wikipedia entry as “metatheatrical” []
  2. I read about this idea, though not by this name, in a journal article too []
  3. I actually read about this one in a journal article. []
  4. OK, brochures aren’t “art”, but I was thinking about stuff people write. []
  5. And you could go on like this re: any other form of social media []
  6. For any of the words I made up (or that I made up as far as I knowledge), I’ve hyphenated it. []

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Elsewhere

I wrote a posting for the blog of a conference for which I am a co-chair of the program committee. You should totally read it, if you are interested in reading a blog posting about how many people submitted abstracts to that conference. Also, it contains a loathed pie chart, but also an infographic that I made. Hooray for infographics!

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It Wouldn’t Be Vancouver if We Weren’t Talking About the Weather

It rained in Vancouver yesterday, so naturally everyone was all “WHEN ARE WE GOING TO GET SUMMER?????” and then I was all “Um, didn’t we have like 2 weeks of straight sunshine? Haven’t we had summer weather pretty much since April??” And then I was like this:

So then I decided to go to the data. According to vancouver.weatherstats.ca, this has been our rainfall in Vancouver for the past two weeks:

Rainfall over the last 2 weeks

So we haven’t had *straight* sunshine for two weeks leading up to yesterday’s rainy day – we had a whooping 0.6 mm of rain on Aug 2 and 1.8 mm on Aug 3. And then no other rain in the past two weeks!

And then I looked at the temperatures. According to Accuweather, we had temperatures at or above the historical average for:

  • 28 of 30 days in April
  • 29 of 31 days in May
  • 24 of 30 days in June
  • 27 of 31 days in July
  • 5 of the 10 days so far in August1

Here are the graphs, because all data should always be graphed2!

April 2016 temperatures

May 2016 temperature

June 2016 temperatures

July 2016 temperatures

August 2016 temperatures

Now, I realize that last summer it was even hotter and much, much drier. So much drier that we were on water restrictions due to the drought were experiencing3. But this summer has been warm and sunny here in Vancouver and I’m actually sad that it’s on its way out – sunset is coming noticeably earlier and I’m having to think about whether I need to bring a sweater with me when I go out if I’m going to be out until the evening, which I haven’t had to do for quite some time. But I am glad that we’ve had a long summer and I do plan to enjoy the remaining above average temperatures we have coming for the rest of this month!

  1. With a forecast that we’ll be at or above historical average temperatures from now until Aug 29. []
  2. Note that I didn’t make the graphs – I just took screenshots from Accuweather. []
  3. And as much as I love the heat, I prefer not having all the plants dying and not worrying if we were going to run out of water! []

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One Week Today….

… I’ll be co-presenting a workshop in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador with my sister! I am very excited about this for a number of reasons, including (but not limited to) and in no particular order:

  • the content we are presenting on is very cool and I’m excited to share it with colleagues
  • the conference that we are presenting at is a good one – I always learn a lot, meet great people, and have a lot of fun
  • I get to hang out with my sister
  • Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province I’ve never been to, so when I go there I will have collected the entire set of provinces in my travel history

The one thing I’m not excited about is the weather forecast. St. John’s is going to be cold while we are there:

St. John's forecast

And in the meantime, I’ll be missing out on summer weather in Vancouver:

Vancouver forecast

I’ll have to make sure to pack some warm sweaters and my coat!

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Macaroons vs. Macarons

As you know, I like to cook and bake and I like to try making new things. My decision-making process for what to make usually goes something like this. “I have ingredient X that I need to use up. What can I make using ingredient X?”1 Case in point: I had leftover shredded coconut from when I made some coconut squares for a bake sale at my office2, so I decided to try making macaroons for my hockey team’s season end wrap up party. Making macaroons requires egg whites, so then I had an opened carton of egg whites that I needed to use up, so I decided to try making the thing that is sometimes confused with macaroons: French macarons – which I brought to my Arts Council Board meeting. Now I have a giant Costco-sized bag of almonds that I bought to make macarons, so I need to come up with another recipe that requires lots of almonds…. or maybe I’ll just make a lot more macarons, because omg they were delicious!

In case you are wondering what the difference is between a macaroon and a macaron:

Macaroon:

IMG_2462

Macaron:

Macaron

It’s easy to see how the two can be confused: their names are very similar and both are meringue-based pastries. I’ve only ever known macaroons to be made with coconut, though Wikipedia tells me that it was originally made with almonds and can also be made with other nuts. Macaron are typically made with almonds, but you can make a coconut macaron (though the recipes I’ve seen for this still use almonds as the base, but add coconut extract to flavour it). So I guess the real difference is that macaroons use big chunks of whatever nut you are using and are shaped in a mound, whereas macarons use very, very finely ground almonds, are shaped in small circles and have a smooth top with signature “crinkly feet”, and you make them into a sandwich with some sort of filling. As I was reading about this, I got to thinking “Well, what’s the difference between an almond macaroon and an amaretti?”, since an amaretti is a mound shaped cookies made from meringue mixed with almonds? And then I found this article, which actually gave a bit of a history of these cookies. In short:

  • original macaroons: almond meringue cookies similar to what we call amaretti today, believed to have been created at an Italian monastery
  • coconut macaroons: evolved over time from the almond macaroons (first by mixing almond with coconut, then coconut replaced almond completely); Italian Jews made them for Passover, since they didn’t use flour or a leavening agent
  • amaretti: invented in the mid-17th century by Francesco Moriondo, pastry chef of the Court of Savoy
  • French macarons: invented in the early 20th century by PierreDesfontaines Ladurée

The other interesting thing I read in that article was that “two Benedictine nuns, Sister Marguerite and Sister Marie-Elisabeth, seeking asylum in the town of Nancy during the French Revolution (1789-1799), paid for their housing by baking and selling the macaroon cookies, and thus became known as the “Macaroon Sisters”” – being a Mary Elizabeth myself and having a sister named Nancy, I found this amusing!

I read quite a few different macaron recipes to figure out what I needed to do to make them and read in a few different places that they are really easy to screw up, so I was pleasantly surprised when mine turned out well. I decided to do half my batch as just plain (i.e., not coloured cookies) with buttercream icing as the filling and the other half as pink with raspberry buttercream icing (because I happened to have some raspberry jam I could use to flavour the buttercream icing). The only issue I had was that rather than split the beaten egg whites in half and put the pink food colouring in at that stage (as the recipe suggested), I made the batter, split that in half and added the food colouring to the batter – this meant that the pink batter actually ended up being mixed beyond the optimal mixing point (the recipe specifically says to fold it 35-40 strokes!), resulting in the batter losing some of its stiffly beaten egg consistency, so that when I piped the pink batter onto the cookie sheet, it spread out a lot, resulting in much bigger cookies than I intended. They still rose and got the crinkly feet, so all was not lost. And they tasted great, so no one complained about the size.

Macaron

At any rate, I’ve now added both macaroons and macaron to my list of “new foods I made in 2016” – one of my goals for 2016 is to make 16 new food or drink items that I’ve never made before. And the macarons were so freaking delicious that I think they are going to become one of my go-to fancy desserts, alongside my chocolate amaretto cheesecake and mocha cupcakes with ganache and mascarpone whipped cream topping.

  1. Another criterion I use is: “How much do I like the taste of the batter and/or the taste of an individual ingredient?” Because I often like the taste of the batter more than the actual cooked product, so licking the spoon or eating a piece of the raw dough is part of the pleasure of baking. Or, in the case of an individual ingredient, I might want to, say, lick the lid of a can of sweetened condensed milk while my mother says “You are going to cut your tongue on that! Even if she’s not there when I’m baking, I can totally hear her say that! []
  2. Coconut squares are one of my tried and true recipes from my mom. See also: cherry squares. []

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How Much A University Sessional Instructor Gets Paid vs. How Much They Work

As you may recall from all my complaining about how busy I was last semester, I was teaching a new (to me) university course. Teaching a course that you’ve never taught before is an *insane* amount of work, because you have to:

  • develop the course itself – what are the learning objectives? what’s the scope of the material you will cover?
  • create the assignments
  • create grading rubrics so you know how you will grade the assignments and can share that with your students1
  • create your lecture notes
  • create the slides to go with your lecture notes
  • create in-class activities to make the learning more active

And that’s all (ideally) before classes even start2! Once classes start you do things like:

  • teach your class (for 3 hours per week in this case)
  • mark all the assignments3
  • tweak lecture material4
  • arrange some guest speakers on a topic of interest to the class5
  • hold office hours to answer students’ questions6

Because I’m a nerd – and also a bit of a glutton for punishment – I decided to see just how much work it was to teach this course that I’d never taught before. I tracked my hours using Time Edition, just like I did for the hours I spent working on my MBA.

Here’s how much time I spent on the course:

Activity Time Spent (in hours)
Teaching in class 36.0
Planning (creating syllabus, developing assignments & rubrics, developing lecture materials, etc.) 116.9
Communicating with Students (email, office hours) 7.9
Marking 33.6
Total 192.4

That work was happened between the end of June 2015, when I was offered the sessional instructor position to teach the class, until early December 2015, when I finished marking the student’s final assignments. Here’s what the break down of hours looked like by month:

Hours spent teaching a new course

However.

As a sessional instructor, I’m not actually paid until the course starts7. And even then I’m only paid, in this case, for 5.5 hours per week8. The semester is 13 weeks long, which means that I was paid for 71.5 hours, when I actually worked 192.4 hours. Put another way, I worked 122.9 unpaid hours or nearly 4x more hours than I was paid for.

Now, I went into the course knowing that I’d end up doing a lot more work than I’d be paid for, but it’s a little bit shocking to see just how much that ended up being.

  1. I made a mistake this past semester where I put the grading rubric on the end of the Word document that contained the assignment instructions, but when I pdf’d the file, it cut off the rubric (it seems that because the rubric were on pages in landscape instead of portrait orientation, the program I was using decided to not include it in the pdf), so the students didn’t actually get to see the rubric before they handed in the first assignment! Lesson learned for me – always check the whole file after you pdf something! []
  2. I say “ideally” because I didn’t have all my lecture materials created before the course started. This meant I was creating some of my lecture material during the semester, while I was teaching. I knew what I was going to cover before classes started, but hadn’t written it all up as lecture notes or made all my slides []
  3. Unless you have a teaching assistant. Which I did not. []
  4. for example, if something exciting happens in the news related to your topic that you want to share with the class, or you happen to read something new related to your topic, or students ask you some really excellent questions one week and you do some research to provide them with answers the next week []
  5. In my case, my students had lots of great questions about being an external evaluator, but since I’ve only ever been an internal evaluator, I decided to bring in a few people I know who work as external evaluators as they could give much better answers to those questions than I could. []
  6. In my case, I arranged to meet some students via Skype like a sort of “virtual” office hour, since I was only ever on campus for class. []
  7. In fact, I had to go through a lot of hoop jumping just to get access to the library in order to do my unpaid preparatory work – when I went to the library they told me that I’m not an instructor until the course starts and looked at me like I was crazy when I suggested that I needed to plan my course before the first day of classes. []
  8. 3 hours of teaching and 2.5 hours of work outside the classroom – preparation, office hours, emailing with students, marking, etc. []

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I published an article!

Item #92 on my 101 thing to do in 1001 days was “Get a journal article published”.

And it turns out that my latest article, which I found out was accepted for publication a while ago, was just published in the Fall 2015 issue of the Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation on Dec 22!

Called “Challenges in Evaluating a Prototype Project in a Large Health Authority: Lessons Learned“, I wrote this article, along with two of my colleagues, based on a project that I did at my previous job. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to read the full article unless you are a member of the Canadian Evaluation Society, until sometime in 2017, as the three most recent issues are restricted to members only.

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Conferences and Conferences and AGMs, Oh My!

PrintToday was the Canadian Evaluation Society BC and Yukon (CESBCY) chapter’s conference. Now, I may be biased given that I was the conference Program Chair, but I think we had an outstanding program of presentations this year! Now, before you think I’m being too arrogant, I will state for the record that the outstanding program was 100% due to the fantastic presenters – my job as program chair was easy given that incredible proposal we received from evaluators and non-profit organizations from around the region1.

I decided to take on the role of Program Chair for this conference because I’m also a Program Co-Chair for the 2017 CES National conference, which is being held in Vancouver, and I thought that gaining some experience on the provincial conference would be a good idea before leaping into the national one2. I quite enjoyed working on the program for this conference – the whole conference committee was fantastic and we had a lot of fun while also putting on a great conference, if I do say so myself3. In fact, I’m already starting to think about what we are going to do for next year’s conference. As well, I’m really enjoying working with the 2017 National Conference committee – we’ve already been meeting for several months, as pulling off a national conference requires *a lot* of planning!

And apparently I’m really enjoying being engaged with the evaluation community, because at the CESBCY Annual General Meeting that was held after the conference this evening, I got myself elected to the Executive Council as a member-at-large! Now, I realize that I do have a tendency to do all the things, which I’ve been attempting to moderate to “do most of the things”4, but I made a wise and considered decision to accept the nomination of my colleague for this position, because this is my professional organization and so it’s a totes good career move. Also, did I mention how much fun these people are?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, they just announced the call for workshop and presentation proposals for the 2016 CES National conference in St. John’s and I need to start brainstorming some presentation ideas!

  1. If you are so inclined, I’ve put all the notes that I took in the session I attended over on my professional blog. Note to self: my professional blog really needs a makeover! []
  2. I was on the conference committee for the CES national conference in 2010 when it was in Victoria, but I was the Volunteer Coordinator and only took that position quite close to when the conference happened, so I wasn’t involved in much of the planning for the conference. []
  3. There is a conference evaluation happening – because of course there is, we are evaluators! – but the feedback I heard from people at the conference, my impression of the sessions that I attended, and the fact that the conference was sold out and had a waiting list all indicate that the conference was a success! []
  4. Like, remember that time I went to my strata AGM and didn’t run for strata council? That was a big accomplishment for me! []

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Academically Promiscuous

It’s September, which means the start of the school year is upon us. This is, of course, rather meaningless if you aren’t a student, a parent of a student, or some sort of instructor… Now, don’t worry, I haven’t enrolled in any new degree programs1. But I have picked up a new teaching gig.

As you know, I teach an online stats class at the Justice Institute, but that is offered in the January semester. I haven’t taught a face-to-face class since before I started my MBA and, honestly, I’ve been missing the in-person interaction with the students2. I really enjoy working with students – it’s so rewarding to be able to help them learn new things, to see the moment when a new concept or skill just “clicks” for them, when they start to connect what they are learning in class with things in their other classes or their work, and I always learn new things from my students too. So when the opportunity to teach a class that is in my exact area of expertise came up for this semester, I jumped on it!

As you also may know, I have three different alma maters3 and I’ve taught at two different post-secondary institutions4. But now I’m adding yet another school to my repertoire, as the university I’ll be teaching at starting next week is Simon Fraser University. Now, you may recall that a few years back I got an Adjunct Prof title at SFU. In that capacity I’d done some grant writing with a colleague and supervised some practicum students, but this has been my first opportunity to teach a course5. And I’m pretty stoked about it.

So now the number of post-secondary institutions where I’ve taught has caught up with the number that I have degrees from! I know some academics who are academically monogamous (*cough* Dr. Dan *cough*), but apparently I am academically promiscuous.

Anyway, writing this blog posting has been a wee bit of a break from preparing my slides for next week’s class, but I really should get back to that! In the meantime, check out this adorable image that I found while looking for Creative Commons licensed or royalty-free images to put on my slides6!

L'il Devil

Image Credit: Post on Flickr by Darren Bell with a Creative Commons license.

  1. I’m still sticking by my claim that I’m not going to do any more degrees! []
  2. While doing my MBA, I often thought about how, though I really enjoyed all the cool things I was learning, I kind of liked being on the other side of the classroom better! []
  3. McMaster – the best university in the history of universities! – for my BSc(Hons), University of Guelph for my MSc, and UBC for my PhD and MBA. []
  4. UBC and the JI []
  5. This is the first time that they’ve needed an instructor in a class that I have expertise in where the class wasn’t during the day. I can only teach night classes, since my day job is, well, a day job. []
  6. For the record, the slide on which I’ll be putting this image is during the part of my class where I’m talking about group work and, in particular, the importance of having someone be a devil’s advocate, so you don’t get stuck in groupthink! []