Tag Archives: responsibility

This is What You’re Missing…

I hate to break it to you but class isn’t over when it’s over. At least it shouldn’t be.

If you’re like many students, the typical course cycle is something like this:

Class Cycle

But this process is flawed.

It’s missing the critical step known as reflection.

Reflection can be defined as both:

  • a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of meditation, and
  • the consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that you take up the practice of meditation (although there are many benefits to that as well) but I am advocating for you to incorporate some intentional thinking after class is dismissed.

The bottom line is that nobody understands everything the first time. I have encountered my share of frustrated students because they just didn’t “get it” immediately after class. That’s not usually the point. If a student was able to completely understand all elements of the content, theory or practice after pre-preparation (assuming that even happened) and one class discussion, I would gladly welcome her up to the front of the room to run the class for the rest of the semester.

I challenge you to schedule some time after your next class to reflect on what just happened. Grab a tea, an apple, a chocolate bar or whatever floats your boat and ask yourself these questions:

  1. What were the key takeaways of that class?
  2. What do I still not understand after class?  And more importantly, what am I going to do about it?
  3. How does what was discussed or presented in class connect to what I am learning in this course or other courses?
  4. What over and above the course content did I learn today?

I guarantee you will get so much more out of your course experience if you build in an opportunity to reflect regularly.  I’d love to hear how this practice is working for you.

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Effort vs. Success

Long JumpThey are staring at me.  Wondering when I will give them some attention.  Waiting patiently for me to begin making colourful markings in green ink (my colour of choice for grading – much brighter and less harsh than traditional red ink).

They are a stack of reports sitting on a shelf.

Just like everyone else, professors can come up with many reasons and many ways to procrastinate.  Hey, I haven’t written a blog post in a while.  I better get on that today!

When it comes to grading, the one that gets me every time is the fact that I’m just not ready to face the disappointment.  Disappointment that some students didn’t do the work leading up to the testing point.  Disappointment that some students didn’t bother to ask questions when they were unclear about the material.  Disappointment that some students didn’t plan their time well leading up to the test/exam/paper.  And ultimately disappointment that some students simply didn’t understand that effort ≠ success.

Don’t get me wrong.  Some reports will be very well done.  Accurate calculations will be performed, insightful comments will be made and clear and concise writing will flow.

At some point I will take a deep breath, let out a big sigh, pick up my green pen and begin the work.

The grading will get done.  It always does.  But it doesn’t end there.

At least one student will visit me in my office after the report is returned.  Most often this student won’t ask for feedback (remember, there are lots of colourful marks on the paper) but will let me know that she just doesn’t understand her grade because she tried really hard.

What does “trying hard” mean anyway?  And what does “trying hard” have to do with success or a good grade?

The bottom line is that “trying hard” (whatever that means) doesn’t equal academic success.  Just because a student thinks she worked hard doesn’t mean she deserves an A.

How would you define “trying hard” anyway?

  • Does it mean doing what is required (and only what is required)?
  • Does it mean time spent on the task?
  • Does it mean being resourceful when problems arise (like asking questions, doing internet research, hiring a tutor, etc.)?
  • Or does it mean something else?

For the past number of years I have used an activity at the start of one particular course to help my students “recalibrate their excellence meters” (thanks to Keith Starcher for his article on this activity).  The activity forces the class to think about what success means and how it relates to “trying hard”.  Here’s what happens.

At some point during the normal introduction of the course I ask the class for volunteers to participate in a standing long jump competition.  I don’t actually teach phys. ed. by the way (I’m actually an accountant by training).  Most students look a little alarmed at first but then seem to warm up to the idea of doing something different.  I have at least six volunteers – three jumpers and three “coaches”, discuss their strategy for jumping the farthest before the competition begins.  Some teams decide that stretching first is a good idea.  Others decide that taking off their shoes will help them out.  Some take a few practice jumps and others take off heavy layers so they won’t be weighed down.

Then the competition begins.  There are usually lots of laughs and smiles.  I proceed to mark where the jumpers land and eventually send everyone back to their seats.  Instead of announcing the obvious winner I say something like “Although some students jumped farther than others, I believe that everyone put in a great effort.  Everyone tried hard so we will award a gold medal to everyone.  What do you think?”.

Most of the time the students protest this idea.  The one year this didn’t happen I was shocked but maybe more on that another time.  The discussion that follows is often about how success is defined in sports and then how that definition carries over to success in the classroom.  The class always reaches the conclusion that although everyone “tried hard”, clearly one student jumped the farthest and therefore is the winner.

I conclude this discussion by encouraging the class to focus on figuring out how to produce excellent RESULTS rather than being content with the illusion that so-called excellent EFFORT is enough.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/robert_voors/775781834/”>Robert Voors</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

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Does University Prepare You For the Workplace?

OpportunityGreat question.

An interesting young man recently started a discussion in a LinkedIn group for Students and Recent Grads by asking the question “Do you think university prepared you for the workplace?”.  I honestly expected to read multiple posts answering “Are you kidding?  No.  My university education did NOT prepare me for the ‘real world’.  I’m still looking for a job!”.

There were a couple of comments of this nature.  I’ve had my fair share of conversations with upper year (ready to graduate) and new alumnae who expressed shock and frustration over not being able to find employment despite being university educated.  I’ve also heard many rumblings in the halls of my institution over the years along the lines of “Where am I ever going to use [insert topic] in the ‘real world’ anyway?” or “Why do we need to know X?”.  This is why I assumed that most students would respond negatively.

I was surprised.  Very pleasantly surprised.

The majority of comments were really insightful.  Most posters agreed that the university experience (both inside and outside the classroom) provides the OPPORTUNITY for students to develop and refine essential life and workplace skills, gain new knowledge, expand networks and build relationships but it certainly doesn’t guarantee that this will happen.

The posters also expressed the need for students to take action, be proactive, take risks, and even do things that feel uncomfortable in order to get the most out of the university experience.

The bottom line is that a university education does not equal job training but it certainly provides the OPPORTUNITY to prepare individuals to do something meaningful after graduation.

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Advice on Group Work

Group workSooner or later it is going to happen. You are going to have to work in a group! Some of you love the idea and others cringe at the thought.

Group work can provide many benefits to students including the ability to divide and conquer a large quantity of work; the opportunity to benefit from other people’s ideas, perspectives and experiences; and the chance to get to know other students in your course or program (heck, I started dating my husband after working with him on a university group project).

Let’s face it. Group work can also be a real drag. Some students take complete advantage. They miss meetings, have excuses for not doing their part and avoid responding to email, text and facebook messages. Like you’ve cut yourself off from all forms of electronic communication. I don’t buy it.

Personally, I don’t understand how these individuals can sleep at night but it happens again and again and again.

So what are you to do, a simple member of a dysfunctional group?

Much of the success (or failure) related to the group experience boils down to what takes place during the initial meeting. Early in my teaching career I assumed that students understood how to manage a group work project. I spent very little time in the classroom discussing planning and communication strategies. I know that I’m not alone on this.  Many professors assume the same or they just don’t feel like they have enough time in the course to cover the details.  You’re all adults, right?

My approach has changed.  I do spend time on the mechanics of group work in my courses because I find that most students have never been “taught” strategies for managing groups.  I want you to benefit from these tips in order to make your next group work experience more effective.

Planning Advice:

1.  Use a Workplan

This simple tool is by far the best thing since sliced bread.  Many different versions of workplans exist.  Below is a sample which details all of the elements you will want to include (along with an example of how you would fill it out).  Each objective (i.e. what do you need to figure out or do?) would deserve it’s own row in the plan.  The key here is that the workplan provides accountability for all members of the group.  By documenting the “action steps”, “specific output” expected, individual(s) responsible and the timing, there are no misunderstandings.  And if Barry doesn’t do his job, everyone will know.  This document just might create enough social pressure to deter slacking.

Workplan

2.  Develop and Sign a Team Contract

The purpose of the team contract is to establish a set of ground rules.  I provide a team contract template to all of the groups that form in my courses (which they are free to alter to their liking).    A team contract might include a bulleted list of individual responsibilities (i.e. I will show up on time to group meetings, I will let the other members of my team know if I can’t make it to a meeting, I will complete all of my work on time, etc.) and group responsibilities (i.e. As a team, we agree to discuss problems openly, share the “leadership” position, etc.).  You don’t need to get too crazy or fancy here.  Just sit down with your group and decide what behaviours you will accept and which you won’t.  Next time I am going to add a bulleted point to the individual list stating “I will not make excuses” or maybe “I won’t whine”.  That should be interesting.

3.  Get Organized

There are absolutely no excuses here.  I can sob about the “when I was a student” days when we did not have cloud technology or even the widespread use of email (that’s right, I’m ancient).  Decide how you plan to store the documents and files your group discovers and creates.  Many blackboard technologies used by the universities themselves have this capability and there’s always Dropbox, Google Docs, Facebook and more you’ve probably already been exposed to.  Centralizing the document and source storage system will save your group a lot of time and headaches later in the process when you’re wondering where that government report document ended up.

Do you have other ideas?  If so I’d love to hear about them.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/paolomargari/3511791090/”>Paolo Margari</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

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3 Questions to NEVER Ask Your Professor

QuestionDon’t get me wrong.  Asking your professor good questions is definitely ok.  See the It’s Ok to Ask Questions post for exactly what I mean.

Asking questions demonstrates that you care about the course and content.  The interaction is also a fabulous opportunity for you to start building a relationship with your professor which may come in handy down the road (See the Will You Be My Reference? post).

The bottom line is that you need to think about what your questions really say about you before you ask.   I’m not saying that you should never think about these questions and seek out answers to them but most of the time you shouldn’t present them to your professor.

The list below highlights the dreaded questions followed by your professor’s true feelings.  In some cases your professor might actually verbalize the response which will likely result in embarrassed faces and awkward moments and in others you might simply notice that your professor is rolling her eyes while she grunts a short response.

Neither situation is ideal.

Here we go…

1.  Will that be on the test?

Who cares?  Aren’t you here to learn?  It’s impossible to “test” every single topic, concept and idea so…maybe.  That’s right maybe.  All content covered in the readings, lectures, class discussions and exercises is fair game people.

Advice:  Be prepared.  Assume that all content covered in readings, lectures, discussions, exercises and through guest speakers is testable unless otherwise noted.

2.  What did I miss in class?

Who am I?  Your mother?  I have (insert large #) number of students in my courses and I’m a busy person.  I can’t possibly “re-do” the missed class for you.  Figure it out yourself.  

Advice:  It’s your responsibility to get what you need/what you missed from somebody else in the class.  Most of the time professors post lecture notes and announcements through their course websites so some of this information is easily accessible to you.  Get to know other students in the class early in the term so that you can connect with them and find out what you missed in the case you need to miss a class.

3.  Is it ok if I leave early/miss class?

See the initial response above.  You are an adult and capable of making your own choices.  If you choose to leave class early to tend to something else you deem more important then don’t look for my approval.  I manage to schedule my dental appointments, doctor’s appointments, personal training appointments and everything else outside of my teaching hours because class is important to me.  Do what you need to do.

Advice:  Unless you are asked to report absences (perhaps for a seminar session) or your absence will affect the way the class functions (like you were supposed to deliver a presentation) it’s best not to say anything on this one.  If you need to leave early then sit somewhere where you won’t disrupt the class when you leave.

Aside:  I once had a student tell me at the beginning of class that she had to leave early and then pack up and walk out five minutes into the class.  Are you kidding me?

I want to know.  Have you ever asked your professor a question and received a surprising (good or bad) response?  Share!

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/colinkinner/2200500024/”>Colin_K</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Questions

It’s that time of the year again.  Midterm exams and midterm papers have been graded and returned.

What do you do if your result is not stellar?  And by not stellar I mean poor.  In some cases really poor.  Like you are seriously questioning if you are going to make it through the course with a passing grade poor.

Every year I speak to several students who share this same question. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world.  And dropping a course can actually be a positive decision.

All institutions have an official “drop date” (check your institution’s academic calendar for details) for quarter, half and full term courses.  In most instances, if a student drops the course before said date, the course grade and attempt will not show on the student’s official transcript.  On the other hand, if a student continues in a course and ends up failing, this attempt (sometimes shown as “F” or sometimes with the actual number grade) will appear on the transcript.

Before you make your final decision, consider your honest answers to these six questions:

  1. How much effort did you put into the required coursework?  Did you attend class?  Do the readings?  Prepare the review questions?  Participate in the class seminars and discussions?  Seek clarity if you didn’t understand the content?  Etc.
  2. How well do you understand the content?  Do you actually get it but for some reason weren’t able to showcase your understanding through the testing vehicle or assigned paper?  Or do you really have no idea what is going on?
  3. What strategy were you using to learn the content?  Did you keep up with the weekly readings or did you try to cram eight weeks of reading into a 48 hour period?  Did you do the readings before class or after class or never?  Did you think about and document your personal responses to the assignment questions, review problems, cases, discussion questions, whatever, before class or did you just hope to absorb the content by osmosis?
  4. Is this a mandatory or optional course for you?  If it is a mandatory course for your program it is likely a prerequisite for future courses.  How will dropping this course impact the rest of your academic plan?  Will a poor grade impact your performance in future courses?  Should you retake the course at a time when you are ready to give it your all?  On the other hand, if it is an optional or elective course when will you be able to make up this course?  Will that be easy or difficult given your schedule?
  5. What is your grade potential in the course?  By grade potential, I mean what is your projected final grade?  Work out the math using the evaluation breakdown in your course syllabus.  Will it be enough?  Most programs require a minimum average to stay in the program and sometimes a minimum grade for core courses in the program.  Do you risk being removed from the program?
  6. Were there extraordinary circumstances that affected your performance?  For example, were you extremely sick with the flu the day before the exam?  Perhaps you really understood the content but your performance suffered because you were dehydrated, weak and perhaps a little nauseas.  Did you experience a substantial loss that would impact your mental state and therefore your performance?  Will these circumstances continue to affect your ability to perform or are they one-time events that you do not expect to impact you in the future?

Before you make your final decision I highly recommend making an appointment with an academic counsellor to get some answers to the questions above.  If you feel comfortable or if your professor has made it clear that she is willing to talk to students about this issue then by all means, make an appointment and discuss your concerns with her as well.

Dropping a course can free up valuable time for you to put more effort into other courses or to manage other issues in your life.  At the end of the day the decision to stay or go is personal and yours to make.

Do you have enough information to make your decision now?

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/susyna/3643831785/”>susy ♥</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

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New Stage = New Responsibilities

I was inspired to write this post after attending a baptism this weekend.

After the “main event”, the officiant began his sermon on the topic of “House Rules”.  As I listened to the officiant and his partner share their personal experiences, the lightbulb went on when they shared their “stages of parenting” definition.

Light Bulbs

Even though I was hoping to take away some information on how I could be a better parent to my two young girls, all I could think about was how these stages relate to the transition between high school and university.  The transition involves so much more than just moving away from home, meeting new people, finding new interests and studying new subjects.

The transition requires the student to understand the new responsibility that comes with being a post-secondary student.  And that is what many students fail to realize.

I am going to rework the officiant’s “stages of parenting” into my definition of the stages of education.

  1. The first stage in the process is the disciplinary phase.  I consider children from nursery to pre-school age to be in this stage.  The student’s responsibility at this stage is to listen to and watch the teacher model appropriate actions in order to learn the standard rules of acceptable behaviour.
  2. The second stage of the relationship is the training phase where the teacher lets go of some of the control (a little at first and more later on) and the student’s responsibility is to start using the skills, tools and knowledge she has acquired.  Students from kindergarten all the way up to about grade 8 would be in this phase.
  3. The final stage is the coaching phase.  This is the best stage and why I love my job.  In this phase, it is the student’s full responsibility to figure out what needs to be done and how best to do it.  This stage starts in early high school and carries on all the way into post-secondary studies.  At this stage the teacher trusts that the student is capable of formulating a plan and making decisions.  The teacher is there to encourage, advise, support, motivate and guide the student.  You know, remind them of the “game plan” every now and again.

Students in the coaching phase are responsible for:

  • Attending “practices” – classes, seminars, labs
  • Completing “training” workouts – readings, assignments, exercises
  • Analyzing “post-game” – seeking and applying feedback

And so much more.

Do yourself a favour and before you attend a post-secondary institution be ready to take on the new responsibilities that come with it.

Photo Credit:  photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/zetson/3036254720/”>zetson> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

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