Virtuosity 11.11

Where words become worlds…

Archive for the month “January, 2016”

Vibrant Academia?

A Ph.D. Student’s Haiku

Can’t remember it
Too much to read and process
Rescue me, post-its!

Weapons of choice

Post-its are a girl’s best friend.  My desk is more colorful than my nails…


Houseplant Challenge Accepted!

I have a long history of being a plant abuser.  Even self-watering plant containers have only lasted so long with my busy schedule.  I think the last indication that I needed to give up on the whole idea of ever successfully adopting a plant, was when my co-workers walked into my office, snatched up the large, dying arrowhead plant from its stand, and confiscated it.  As they were nursing it back to health, they told me that I was not allowed to have another office plant again.

Then I met Chantal through the Blogging 101 class.  Her very interesting blog, Weeds an All talks about her adventures in gardening, which absolutely fascinates me!  Chantal’s blog is such a delightful read, but she’s also a very nice person to talk to (we leave comments for each other).  Well, in one of our conversations, I asked her about houseplants (I never did get rid of the guilt for what I did to that poor plant).  It turns out, that she, too, hasn’t had much success, and suggested that we both try our luck again!  So, in her post about houseplant gardening, she issued a challenge (not really a challenge – more like one of those ‘Oh, those shoes are cute!  Hey!  I should get a pair’ type challenge).  If you check out her post, you’ll see that she has two very healthy looking plants now, in her house.  …I had to get one of my own, now!

Okay, so I cheated just a tiny bit.  I went to this article to find a plant that wouldn’t die on me.  I’m still a tad bit skeptical, though, because more than half those plants on that list have suffered (and died) under my “care.”  But…I can’t disappoint!  To quote Henry Ford, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.”

Now, houseplants are also really GOOD for your home, too!  Granted, I took this link from Miracle Grow’s infographic on houseplants, but still.  A non-medicinal way to clean the air, lower stress, and give you something to smile about?  I’ll take it!

So, I will introduce you to Oscar, the newest edition to my office:


Meet Oscar the pothos plant

I posted Oscar to my Instagram, and my friend suggested that I name them.  I may change Oscar’s name, by the way, if the plant tells me otherwise, at a later date. ^.^

Are you up for the house plant challenge?  Chantal’s blog gives a GREAT tutorial on getting started!  I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, a plant person, so in addition to Chantal’s blog post, I will leave this nice blog post on caring for your pothos, by Heather.

Enjoy your plants!!!


Writing Rubrics

As I mentioned in last week’s post on rubrics, a rubric is an assessment tool that helps score and outline performance expectations.  Using a rubric helps by:

  • verbalizing expectations for performance
  • standardizing these expectations
  • providing benchmarks for assessment
  • opening conversations about expectations and desired outcomes

An effective rubric needs to provide an accurate assessment of what it is that you want to measure.  So, in addition to using a template, I wanted to discuss some things to consider when you create or modify a rubric.  To start, I want to build on a previous blog post by Phil Gaiser about rubrics.  From his site, is an illustration of a typical rubric:

As you can see, a rubric is broken down into four parts:

  • task description – specifies what is being evaluated
  • dimensions – these list the standards, criteria, or components that you will be evaluating
  • scale – these rank from highest score to lowest.  They can be both numeric values (in terms of point values), or descriptors (excellent, good, average, below average, poor)
  • descriptions of dimensions – these explicitly detail the standards for performance

To create a rubric, consider the following questions:

  1. What are you going to assess? (Task)
  2. What are the characteristics of what you are going to assess? (Dimensions)
  3. What do the characteristics of the highest scoring standards look like? (scale and descriptions)
  4. What do the characteristics of the lowest scoring standards look like? (scale and descriptions)

For example, let’s think about an instructor assessment.  One of the dimensions that I assessed was attendance.  For descriptions, I would use the following:

  • 4 = 100% Attendance, instructor arrived before the start of class each and every time
  • 3 = 100% Attendance, instructor arrived before or at the start of class.
  • 2 = 95% Attendance, instructor arrived at the start of class
  • 1 = Less than 95% attendance and/or instructor was late to class on at least one occasion

Now, you will note that the descriptions reflect a very high standard for instructor attendance.  This was because as soon as an instructor was late to one class, they would receive a written warning – attendance was very important for me, because when an instructor showed up late, it was also a bad example to students.  However, if the rubric had not been given and discussed ahead of time, it could be quite possible that an instructor would think that a 90% attendance would have been acceptable, even though, in doing so, they would score very poorly based on the rubric.

This is another reason why giving rubrics to employees ahead of time can be very useful, because it can prevent misunderstandings.  Here are some more tips to help you:

  • Start with a template to give you an idea of the dimensions that you may want to use.  Draw from several examples to get a feel for what you want to assess.
  • Scale accordingly.  If attendance is not as important as organization, then make sure that organization is given more points than attendance.
  • Make sure your descriptions are measurable:
    • Quantitative descriptions (ie. attended 3 out of 4 meetings) are easier to measure than qualitative (ie. positive attitude) measurements.
    • Details matter
  • Adjust when needed, ask for others to help you.  Especially when trying a rubric for the first time, I find that it may take a few tweaks to improve how things are being measured.
  • It is important to train people accordingly!  Even though two supervisors may use the same rubric, how that rubric is interpreted may be different.  Hence, it is important to “calibrate” yourself to the rubric – and to make sure you are evaluating consistently.  Discussions on what you expect to see can often clarify any ambiguities.
  • Include those that are being evaluated in the developmental process, so that both you and your students or employees are on the same page when it comes to assessment.

For more information, you can go to:

How to rubrics – This document provides a detailed list of questions that can help guide you in the developmental process

Stevens, D. D., & Levi, A. J. (2011). Introduction to rubrics: An assessment tool to save grading time, convey effective feedback, and promote student learning. Stylus Publishing, LLC.


Hey, you! Teacher!

hooks quote

Everyone is a teacher.  However, our society has led us to believe that only specific subjects may be taught, and these subjects must be taught in a specific place, by specific people.  Yet, most of the skills we learn about being who we are, being better people, and being good at our jobs are not taught in a classroom.  Yes, formalized education gets our foot in the door for certain things, but our life mentors and teachers, like family, friends, and even strangers, teach us the most about living.

The current research on education challenges this notion that learning is a formalized activity, and that what gets learned should be an amalgamation of decontextualized facts and procedures that for many of us, lack any depth or relevance to our daily living.  In fact, this common notion of learning, and being a “good student” gets challenged in reform-based teaching every day!

For example, in online education, most instructional designers and educators build upon the theory of social constructivism (Mayes & De Freitas, 2004).  This theory says that we construct what we know and understand by actively engaging with others and with our environment (Phillips, 1995).  Now, if you think about how you, personally, have learned things, I bet this makes sense.  How did you learn how to cook?  How to ride a bike?  Or how to pick up a hobby that you love?  More than likely, these things were not learned through a lecture in a classroom.  It may start there, but for most experiences, we learn through doing, talking, trying and failing and trying again.  …and that’s natural!

When we think of learning in this way, then anyone we interact with who has taught us something (and this something could even be a new viewpoint or idea) has become our teacher.  Conversely, when you share your knowledge with others, you are a teacher.

So what are you waiting for?  Go out and teach!

Why I Relay: An Introduction to Relay for Life in Second Life

I am by no means an expert on Relay for Life in Second Life, but if you’re considering joining a Relay team, this post may help you know a little about what is to come.  Relay for Life raises funds for the American Cancer Society.  Last year was my first year participating in Relay for Life in Second life, and it was quite the whirlwind!  This year I am helping co-captain the Builder’s Brewery team, alongside my best friend and fellow contributor to this blog, Blue Myanamotu.


A Pajama Party we threw at the Brewery last year!! What A blast!!

The Relay Season will officially kick off March 6th, but before that we will participate in “Paint SL Purple” February 28th through March 6th.  Once the festivities kick off, Relay teams start to sponsor many different kinds of events to raise funds for cancer research. 

Last year, I helped with many different events and activities last year, which included:

  • A week-long art auction, where all proceeds from the art went to Relay.
  • A masquerade ball and pajama party which kicked off and closed the week of the art auction.
  • A poetry slam, where participants got prizes and the price of registration for the slam contest was donated to Relay.
  • Dunk a Brewer – We dunked a few of the Brewery Staff into water tanks with silly sharks inside. (I think my favorite was Sen, she was such a good sport and it was so hard to want to dunk her!)
  • Jail and Bail – We lock someone up and people have to donate for their release, or to keep them locked up!

There are also many fun things to do outside of your own team, like attend and vote on the Castle contest.  Fly your way over to the Fantasy Faire or the Sci-Fi Convention.  If you want to keep tabs on what upcoming big Relay events on their way, check out their website.

All of these awesome events lead up to Relay Weekend, July 16-17th.  Relay Weekend last year was full of a lot of emotions for me last year.  It was so wonderful to walk the Relay track with my team, and to think of my Dad, who I lost in 2006 to Pancreatic Cancer, as I did it.

For me, that is why I Relay.  To honor my father.  By the time this Relay season passes it will have been ten years since I lost him.  People work so hard in Second Life to honor those we have lost, those that have survived and those that still struggle with Cancer.  I hope you consider participating, joining a team or just checking out the events and donating.

Keep an eye on this blog for more news about the Builder’s Brewery Relay team and our upcoming events.  If you are in Second Life and would like to join the team, there’s a sign-up form here:

Builder’s Brewery RFL Sign-up

Using rubrics to evaluate students and employees

1This post is in response to a discussion last week at the Second Life Tech Soup Friday meeting.  The speaker, Gentle Heron, talked about employee performance reviews.  She gave tips about how to make them more pleasant; such as providing calendar dates, expectations ahead of time, and opening employee discussions.  I added a comment about how rubrics can help with these assessments…which lead to a suggestion that I do a presentation on rubrics this Friday!

A rubric is an assessment tool that helps score and outline performance expectations.

It got me thinking, ‘I bet most people haven’t been taught to use rubrics effectively!’  When people have an opportunity to rate themselves, and when they know that this rating counts, they take more responsibility to develop an awareness for what they do.  As supervisors and teachers, it is only fair to provide these expectations ahead of time. There is a very different feel when one is being judged, versus when one judges themselves.  When people are given the opportunity to critically self-assess, they become more aware of their job, and reflective and critical of their own progress.  A rubric can not only be an assessment too, but it can be an extremely effective teaching and training tool, too!

When I taught biotechnology to high school students, their grade was based on both my assessment, as well as their assessments.  We both filled out the employee rubric separately, then met together to discuss the scores.  Their final grade was an average between my assessment and theirs.

Here’s some tips:

  • Start with a very clear rubric that outlines all the expectations for employee/student performance.  Sometimes, you may not know what all these expectations are, initially.  If you don’t, this is a GREAT opportunity to work with your employee or student to develop the rubric together.
  • Give this rubric to people ahead of time.  Talk about what the assessment looks like.  For example, ask, “What does a score of 5 look like in terms of attendance?  What about a score of 3?  …and 0?”  Begin these conversations now, so that there are no surprises.  That way, the rubric categories set a standard, and will not be taken as a personal affront.
  • Evaluate mostly formatively and occasionally summatively.  
    • Formative assessments mean that you and the employee/student look at performance periodically, and reflect/revise as you go along.  Think of a chef when they’re cooking an elaborate stew.  When they are constantly tasting the soup, adding spices here and there, adjusting things during the process, they are doing formative assessments.
    • Summative assessments are at the end.  Personally, I do not think that these are as useful, but yet the world (starting with education) has somehow used them as standard.  Summative assessment is like the final taste test for the food contest.  The food is all cooked, finished, and there’s no going back.  This is really tough on an employee/student – and if you think about it, where is the opportunity to learn?
  • Provide spaces between evaluations to reflect, revise, and adjust not only employee/student performance, but the rubric, itself.
    • As a supervisor or teacher, be a “guide on the side,” and mentor – encourage, ask questions, and push, but don’t dictate.  From my experience, people “own” their work and their self assessments when they not only understand what is expected of them, but also that their voices, their input counts.
      • Start by asking the employee/student to justify their scores.  This will give you a good idea of whether their interpretations of the rubrics match your expectations.
    • Assessment and evaluation should be a conversation with clear expectations and understanding.

Here’s a list of places to go for rubric designs and example templates.

iRubric – This site provides starter templates for you to design employee rubrics.  I would start with a generic template, then pull out the job description (or your learning goals), and then customize from there.

Rubistar – This is a great rubric website for teachers.  Similar to iRubric, you can take a pre-made template and customize it to your needs.

Cooper’s Rubric Presentation – Talks more in detail about rubrics, and includes several different types of employee performance rubrics, as well as outlines the steps on how to develop one.

You can also Google “Employee performance rubrics,” “Student rubrics,” “Music rubrics,” etc.  to get a base template to begin.  Then, customize it to your needs.

Do you have questions about rubrics?  Comments?  Please ask away and I will try my best to answer!

Next up on rubrics:  Creating them.

A Change of View


change quote

This post started out on a daily prompt, which was entitled, “Can’t stand me.”  It had me thinking about the things I can’t stand about myself.  However, when I thought more about the prompt, it made me realize that I am acutely aware of the the things that I cannot stand about myself, and I have either fixed them, or am addressing them.

For example, in the prompt, it asked about what you disliked more: seeing oneself in a video, or hearing oneself in an audio.  Quite honestly, I dislike both rather equally.  However, with online teaching, it is only natural that you have to make recordings of yourself in both video and audio.  At first, I was very self-conscious of this, because whenever people hear me speak for the first time, especially online, I always get a comment about my voice.  Apparently, my voice is very distinctive.  Also, whenever I see myself in videos, I notice little odd quirks that I’ve picked up – like, when I lecture, I have a little hop that I do when I’m walking around.

In typical INTJ fashion, my initial reaction was to try and fix what I didn’t like.  However, I can’t change my voice without sounding fake, and my weird birdie hop is simply me, curbing my high energy output and enthusiasm when I teach.  I did end up fixing what I disliked about both of these things, but not in the way that most people would think.

I fixed how I looked at the problem.  Meaning, yes, my voice is still very distinctive (and I still get comments about it), and I still do that little hop when I teach, but it stopped bothering me that I did them.  Why?  Because I realized that what mattered was that I got my message across.  If people were only focused on the sound of my voice, or how I delivered my lessons, then it meant that what I had to say had less meaning than how I said it.  I changed how I saw myself – or more like, I changed what I saw.

Instead, I focused more on the things that I could change, and what was most important – my perception, and my message.  So now, when I look at myself giving audio or video, I ask:

  • Is my message clear?
  • Is it important?
  • Is it applicable?

If I can say yes to all those things?  Then I’ve done my job. ^.^


Can’t Stand Me

What’s a Program Evaluator?

In addition to curriculum design and teacher mentoring, I am also a program evaluator.  It did not occur to me that most people don’t know what program evaluators do, until my mother asked me about it.  I floundered over my explanation at the time, since I was caught off guard.  However, after pondering for a bit, here’s a more elegant (and detailed) answer:

A program evaluator analyzes data collected from a program to see whether or not the program is effective in doing what it is supposed to do.  

The evaluator’s data collection and analysis is in the service of answering one very big overarching question:

program working

We then use more specific, detailed questions to outline the actual evaluation itself. These questions will depend on what the program stakeholders want:

  • What are the components of the program (activities, processes, people), and how do they work together?
  • What components are working well?  What components are not working well?  Why?
  • What is the impact that the program is having on the stakeholders that are involved?
  • Is the program fulfilling its mission statement?  Why, or why not?
    • What evidence can we collect to say that a program is or is not working?
  • How can the program be improved?

Of course, it can be more complicated than this, and there are many different program evaluators that are out there; each with their own different styles.

I, personally, take on the role of a critical friend, rather than judge and jury – so in most of the programs that I have evaluated, my analysis and reports are about helping people improve their programs so that they can better serve everyone involved.

It’s a rather gratifying experience, since my job has allowed me to work very closely with people as we plan out the type of data I will collect, what information I can provide to the program in terms of understanding how their programs work, suggestions for how they can best accomplish their goals, and how they can improve.  My data analysis has also been used in publications!

Although program evaluation can be an extremely rewarding experience, you do need quite a bit of training.  Evaluators should have working background knowledge of the programs that they evaluate (for example, I have an emphasis on STEM education), and they also have special training in evaluation, social research and data analysis.  I would also add that they should be a people person – interviewing skills are important for the job!

For more info about program evaluation, start here.

Do you have questions about program evaluation?  Similar to education, I can talk on and on about it!  What else would you like to know, hmmm?

Sticking to the plan –

Congratulations!  We are almost done with week 2 of the new year!  How are you doing with it?

On the first of the year, I wrote a post about resolving resolutions.  One of the bullets on my own annual list was about blogging more.  To kick start the process, I have been taking a Blogging 101 class with Aubrey, the other writer of this blog.  Offered through Blogging University, this class has been incredibly enjoyable, and I have learned so much, and met so many great people already through it!

As I’ve been reading through blogs, I’ve noticed that a lot of bloggers have been writing about their resolutions in one form or another.  It got me thinking about how to approach my own list.  For example, the blog, Brilliant Viewpoint talked about checking your bucket list on a “quarterly” basis.  I thought it was brilliant!  I think I’ll be checking my list on an even more regular basis – at least at the beginning, until things become habit.  Then Ann, in her blog, Ruminations, had me thinking about just HOW do we go about fulfilling our goals?

Goals, and New Years Resolutions included, require a strategy.  Here’s my strategy:

  1.  Break goals down into bite-sized pieces.
    • A big resolution, like running a marathon, can be impossibly huge when seen in one chunk.  However, smaller goals, like, “Run 3 miles every other day.” is doable.  Even of you don’t manage to reach your BIG goal, at least you can go through the year knowing that you’ve taken little bites, and succeeded!
    • HOW will you get the goal done?
    • Make a plan.  Breaking things down in steps will help you focus on putting one foot in front of the other, instead of worrying about dangling off the bridge when you make your journey.
  2. Create a timeline for your goals.
    • WHEN will you get the goal done?
    • When will you get the smaller goals done?
    • Set the timeline, then on a quarterly basis, revisit, revise, and do!
  3. Get support!
    • I use a Kanban table, which helps me figure out what I can reasonably take on in a day.  It also helps me “park” the stuff that may not be a priority now, but keeps me from forgetting to do it later.
    • Find support in the blogging community.  People with similar goals may post ways that they have faced and overcome their challenges.  In Kritika’s Blog, Conquer the Now, for example, she uses her unique background in psychology to suggest different techniques for reaching our personal goals.  Well work a drop in!
  4. Get support from friends and family.  Share your goals with supportive people.  Oftentimes, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to hear, “Oh, hey!  I want to do that, too!”  Then, you end up accomplishing your goals together.
    • For example, Aubrey and I text each other reminders to work out.  I know, for instance, that on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I’m done with my workout, I should text her – even if it’s just a thumbs up – because she’ll be sweating away on the elliptical.  Somehow, holding each other accountable helps than just by doing it yourself.
    • Check out Aubrey’s posts on time management and getting things done.  You may pick up a trick or two to add to your toolbox!
  5. Lastly, don’t give up!  Even if you don’t make a resolution or goal now, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it next time.  This is the third year where I’ve put the goal, “Run a marathon” on my to do list.  Each year, something happens where I don’t end up completing it.  I don’t give up, however!  It’s because this is on my list that I still make my 5K runs, even when I don’t feel like it.

Every step, no matter how small, is still a step forward!  So, don’t be discouraged.  Just keep at it, okay?  How are you doing with your goals?  How do you accomplish them?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!



Clearing out the Cobwebs.

Last year I celebrated the pagan holiday of Yule for the first time, specifically the Norse leaning traditions that go along with it.  As the year begins a new, I started a few new ventures to try to realize the hopes, dreams and resolutions I had for the coming year.

My second year in Second Life has been quite different from the first, my second rez day will be March of this year.  I’ve learned a lot along the way and the more I reflect back on it all, the more I’m glad I came.  Even though it has not been all sunshine, it has definitely changed me for the better.  Though I can’t collect the physical photos of everything I’ve done in the last couple of years, I have lots of fond memories.


Looking over the memories


My newest virtual adventure is a foray into clothing making.  I’m still figuring things out, but I finally got a store up and my first set of shirts made.  I think that trying new things helps us express ourselves.  I did parts of the decal by hand and then fancied them up in photoshop.

My hope is for this year to be a year of learning new skills, trying new things and setting out on new adventures.  So glad to have you all along for the ride!  – Nat



Photo Credits:

1st Photo:

Props – Storage boxes, camera and photo piles – What Next (Storage boxes at Collabor88)

Top – Cathby Shrug & Strappy Cami – Tres Blah

Hair – Elikatira

Pants/Boots – Ison


2nd Photo:

Top – Wonder Woman Tee in Blue – White Queen Designs

Hair – Elikatira

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