Prepping for a New Semester

10 Jan 2020 12:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Dear ECPs,

Prepping for a new semester over winter break can be daunting. Do you have any tried-and-true productivity hacks or time management skills to share with us as we prepare for a new semester?


Getting Started on the Right Foot

Dear Getting Started on the Right Foot,

Daniel’s productivity hacks: By far, my biggest recommendation for enhancing your productivity is to adopt a to-do application, if you haven’t already. I used to be one of those people writing down all my to-dos in a virtual note on my desktop, simply deleting tasks in the note when completed. I began my to-do app journey with Wunderlist, a fantastic app which was recently bought out by Microsoft and is in the process of being replaced by Microsoft To-Do. The power of to-do apps cannot be understated. You can plan which tasks you would like to accomplish on any given day, set deadlines for each task, group a variety of tasks into a single project, and break down an overwhelming task into multiple smaller steps. It is very satisfying to check off to-dos and reflect at the end of the day–or the end of the month–at the record of how many tasks you accomplished. After trying many different to-do apps, I personally settled on Things 3. Note that Things 3 is exclusive to Apple devices (Mac, iPhone, iPad) and involves a one-time purchase. There are other fantastic apps that are cross platform (e.g., Todoist), but often ask for a modest subscription (e.g., $30/year) to access the full suite of features. My best recommendation for a free alternative is Microsoft To-Do (which works on all platforms, including Apple devices). It takes a bit of work to set everything up in the beginning, but it is absolutely worth the effort! I am far more productive than I was before, and I have less to remember!

Albee’s hacks: Like Daniel, I have several apps that help me to accomplish the task of making a to-do list and organizing my thoughts/ideas for the upcoming semester. For example, I like Color Note on Android, which organizes lists via color and has a text or checklist feature. Along with these technological time-savers, one of the main tasks that increases my productivity in planning for the semester is doing an office hours schedule. I have colleagues who log into the class management system or utilize the school's course search multiple times to search for class information while preparing for their classes (e.g., drafting syllabi, creating the course calendar, responding to student emails, etc.). This takes up time that could be spent on other tasks (e.g., making lecture slides, planning for first-day activities, writing for the STP newsletter , etc.). While some may only include office hours in their office hours schedule, I found including the following information in my office hours schedule to be extremely helpful: I include the name and section of each class for the semester, the days and times of each class, the location of each class, the number of students in the class with a corresponding date (24 students as of 1/2/20), and the days and times of my office hours. I also add one to three recent pictures of me and/or my family and/or my colleagues. This helps me reflect back on last semester, helps students get to know me, and helps me get in the mindset of the next semester. Once that is complete, I print out a copy for outside my office and one for myself. This makes the aforementioned tasks and other organizing activities (e.g., making separate folders for each class) a little less cumbersome because the class information is easily accessible

Janet's hacks: If you haven't made your syllabus yet, then I recommend using the automatic syllabus date generator; it always saves me a ton of time figuring out the dates for my classes and entering them into my syllabus (link). As I plan my course and create the schedule, I try to build in at least one "catch-up" day per unit - this gives me the freedom to expand a class discussion or do an extra in-class activity without stressing about excluding other content. It also gives me a buffer in the event that school is closed due to weather or if I get sick. Once you've made your syllabus and designed your course, you might start thinking about the grading and feedback you will be giving over the course of the semester. To help use my time more efficiently, I create my rubrics in our learning management system (we use Blackboard). This means I can quickly select the appropriate mastery level of the student for each criteria and leave a few developmental comments. The LMS then automatically calculates their grade based off the rubric I have designed. This system means that students get clear feedback and grades are posted automatically. I hope these tips help!

Karenna’s hacks: One of the best time-savers I have is to use backwards course design when developing my courses/syllabi. I’ve found that by thinking about what I really want students to know about psychological science, my assessments and class activities are better aligned to my student learning objectives. This helps with student buy-in and actually makes selecting assessments, course material, assignments, etc, much easier, which saves me a ton of time! Like Janet, I also use the Rubrics function and additionally use the weighted grading option on Canvas, which has saved me so much time at the end of the semester (and helps students know where they stand throughout the semester). Lastly, I recommend documenting your service/ mentoring/ research (and more) activities on an informal Google doc or DropBox doc that you can readily access (I do this weekly). That way when you need to update your CV or portfolio during evaluation time, you can easily grab the information with the added bonus of not forgetting anything!

Do you have any pre-semester tasks or productivity apps that help you save time?


Your STP Early Career Psychologists Committee

Karenna Malavanti, Ph.D.

Albee Mendoza, Ph.D.

Molly Metz, Ph.D.

Janet Peters, Ph.D.

Daniel Storage, Ph.D.

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