Jesse Fox

Communication, singular

Tag: teaching

An open letter to my undergraduate students

Dear Undergrads,

Another school year is upon us, and I wanted to share some thoughts with you.

See, the thing about professors: every single one of us was once in your shoes. We took classes. We had good professors; we had bad professors. Some of us were ideal students; some of us were not. In the long run, though, we hacked the system, we graduated, and we fell in love. At some point, this mad love drove us to give up five or six or ten more years of our lives to MOAR SCHOOL. And that is why we are here, and why we get to call ourselves Dr. when we’re trying to score a reservation.

Perhaps you don’t know what professors do or why we are here. Perhaps you saw a movie once where professors smoke pipes and stare out windows all day, or you bought into some half-wit politician’s laughable claims that professors don’t work very hard. HA HA HA. Here’s a professor joke for you. Q: What do you call a 50-hour work week? A: Vacation!

Well, then, why are we in this job? It ain’t for the paycheck. Most of us are motivated by a deep and eternal love of learning. For some, that joy is learning through the research we conduct. For others, it’s helping others learn through the classes we teach and the students we mentor. For the lucky ones like me, both of these things are incredibly gratifying.

To put it in the most trite manner possible, every course is a journey we are embarking on together. I work incredibly hard to plan our route, accommodate any number of bumps in the road, acclimate or re-route around unforeseen obstacles–all the while making sure I’ve packed enough spare axles and trying to ward off dysentery. While I am juggling all these things (and deciding whether to caulk the wagon or ford the river), I want to share my expectations of you.

I want you to want to be here. I do. If you see this class as just another checkmark on your college requirements list, I am not the professor for you. Your enthusiasm may not be turned up to 11 all the time as mine often is, but I want you at least at a 6.

I want you to go beyond book learning to experience and integrate the material. My exams won’t allow you to just robotically recite definitions. My assignments aren’t intended for you to cut and paste quotations from articles together. I want you to think deeply about these topics and see how they apply to your lives and the inner workings of society. I want you to encode and apply this knowledge when a texting exchange leaves you upset, or a friend posts on social media seeking social support, or a video game leaves you ecstatic or angry or desperate for more. I want the name of a theory to pop in your head. I want you to drop the name of a concept in conversation that has your friend asking, “What’s that?” And then I want you to become a teacher as well and share that knowledge. Overall, I want you to learn the things that will help you be a more critical consumer, a happier person, a smarter worker, and a better citizen.

I want you to learn more than just the course material. College isn’t just about getting a diploma. Most high school learning is very rigidly structured. College is where you learn not just content, but the meta-skills that will help you succeed—or fail—in life. People who don’t go to college often learn these lessons far sooner than you will: how to budget your time (and money), how to prioritize your obligations, how to balance your work and your relationships, or how to communicate and build relationships successfully in work environments. This is what adulthood looks like. Your boss isn’t going to be okay if you miss work because, hey, it’s just too early in the morning to get out of bed, amirite? You’re not going to keep your job by telling your colleagues you were, like, reeeeeaaallly busy and didn’t get your work done on time. And you’re not going to earn anyone’s admiration or respect by staring at your mobile phone or other device when someone is trying to speak with you. Hence the rules in my classes: you are expected to behave in a professional, mature, and respectful manner, and electing not to do so has consequences.

I want you to work hard. I will hold you to higher standards than you may be accustomed to, because I find that students are often capable of more than they think they are. I want you to challenge yourself to continuously improve your performance and learn more, not attempt to skate by on minimal effort. If you’re looking for an easy course, this is not the droid you’re looking for.

I want you to teach me things, too. I love it when you bring up news I haven’t seen, share experiences relevant to what we’re learning, or send me a link to a great site or video. I am an insanely busy person and tech evolves at a rate no one person can ever keep up with. I also appreciate constructive feedback. Teaching tech also means the material is always changing, and I am always looking for ways to improve the next iteration of the course.

I want you to be successful, and I want you to share your successes. Seriously, the best part about teaching is hearing from students and learning what awesome things they’ve gone on to achieve. Do great things and keep in touch.

As for now: it’s time to pack the wagon.

How to Schedule a Meeting Efficiently

Scheduling a meeting with academics is like herding cats, which is why Doodle is magic. Use to schedule meetings rather than sending an endless chain of emails. It’s free and very user friendly. Here are tips for doing it right:

1. Designate 30 minute timeslots rather than time chunks.


9 am        9:30 am          10 am             10:30 am         11 am            11:30 am         12 pm

Not this:

9 am -11 am           11 am – 1 pm                1 pm – 3pm

The latter is very inflexible. I could be available 10-12 but have no options in the second poll that work for me. It is very unlikely with teaching schedules, meetings, etc., that you are going to find a great deal of overlap for a particular 2 hour time slot.

2. Use the “If Need Be” function, especially if you are trying to get several people in one place at one time.

In the advanced options, you have the option to give respondents 3 choices: Yes, Yes if need be, and No. Giving the “Yes if Need Be” option is crucial when dealing with professors, who are very keen time managers. If you ask me if I am available on a writing day when I am working from home, I will likely say no. Or, if I have a meeting already scheduled, I’ll say no. If there was no other possible option, though, I could come in or switch the other meeting—I would just prefer a more convenient time if at all possible. People have the power to indicate that with “Yes if need be.”—i.e., I’d rather not, but if you get desperate, here’s an option. This often prevents having to send out multiple polls.

3.  Consider the “hidden responses” option.

This is all about modeling and imitation. If one person sees that someone else has only selected 2 options out of 30, they may think, “Oh. I can be really picky with my times as well.” Or, they may assume it’s pointless to indicate any availability other than what previous people have entered, so they see their options as just the 2 out of 30 that worked for the person before them. To avoid any bias from other respondents, you might want to choose to hide poll responses.

Alternatively, you may be running a study, holding office hours, or some other instance where you don’t want others to see who has participated in the poll. In that case, hide others’ responses.

Just note that you have to be sure to keep the administrative link Doodle sends or you won’t be able to see the responses either.

4. Multiple attendees or one.

In the advanced options, you can also decide if you want to let everyone indicate every possible timeslot, or if you want to treat the poll like a signup sheet (i.e., after X amount of people sign up, that timeslot is closed and no one else can sign up.) This is very convenient for scheduling student meetings or research study participation.

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