Tag Archives: university experience

My Favourite Student

Go ahead. Describe your favourite student. Why are they your favourite student?

I’ve never been asked this question before.

Until yesterday.

This time of the year is the most wonderful time of the year for university faculty as we are often on the conference circuit, sharing research, and learning from other experts in the field. I try to attend as many workshops, speaker events, and conferences on teaching and learning as I can to help me reflect on the past year and to inspire me to make meaningful changes in my teaching practice for the year ahead.

I had a chance to debrief my responses to the statement and question above at a session hosted by my institution’s Centre for Teaching and Learning. The topic of the session was “How Do We Engage Students as Partners in Teaching and Learning?” and the speaker was Dr. Peter Felten from Elon University.

Once in a while I share stories about my stellar students with my colleagues or family, but I have to admit, I haven’t given much thought as to why those students are my favourites. More often, I talk about my frustrations with students. You know, the typical.

They show up late for class or they don’t show up at all. They are online shopping or texting during class. They don’t participate in class. They hand in assignments late. They seem to be struggling with the material, but they don’t ask for help.

Back to the favourite student part.

My favourite students tend to show up with energy, joy and curiosity. They are present, not just in body, but in mind. They don’t check their cell phones every two minutes but instead put their technology away and focus on what is happening right in front of them. My favourite students show me they are engaged by asking great questions, by offering information, by taking notes, by staying awake. My favourite students challenge me and help the whole class learn. They encourage others to get involved. They are kind. They are great team members. They do what they say they are going to do.

The best part of this list is that anyone can demonstrate favourite student behaviours. Notice there is no mention of grades in this list.

Let me flip the question for you. Describe your favourite professor. Why are they your favourite professor? Would your list be much different from the one above? Maybe a little, but I bet that many of the behaviours and attitudes you describe would be pretty well aligned with the favourite student ones.

What does this mean?

It means that we can all pay more attention to those behaviours that make a difference in engaging ourselves, our students, our classmates, and our professors in our classrooms. Learning in a university classroom is a partnership, not a one-sided deal. We each have our roles to play and I think if we understand those roles a little better, we just might have a better experience because of it.

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Stop Multitasking Already and Focus!

Time Lost

How many of you are proud of your ability to “multitask”?  How many of you would add this skill to your resume/cover letter or even share it as one of your strengths during a job interview?

If you answered in the affirmative to any of these questions, STOP IT NOW! 

Multitasking is not something to be proud of and should be avoided at all costs.

Study after study points to the dangers of multitasking in both the workplace and in everyday life.  Has anyone heard of the distracted driving laws in place all across Canada?  See Christine Rosen’s article entitled The Myth of Multitasking for more fascinating examples.

What if I told you that multitasking in the classroom or while studying is ineffective?  This is absolutely true according to my observations.  But if you don’t believe me (fair enough) you can check out the findings from a recent study conducted by researchers from York University’s Department of Psychology who found that students who use a laptop to browse the Internet while listening to a lecture performed poorly.  Get this.  It’s not just the offending Internet surfer who is affected.  The study also found that students sitting near the offender were impacted negatively.  This is pretty powerful stuff.

If you want to experience firsthand how you are personally impacted by multitasking, try this exercise I picked up about a year ago from a professional organizer.  In order to complete this exercise you will need a timer, pen/pencil and this sheet:Multitasking

This is what the finished product will look like:

IMG_1506

Follow these instructions:

  1. Read all instructions first (always a good idea).
  2. Set timer.
  3. Complete section 1.  Fill in the lines by alternating between the two lines (i.e. enter “M” first, 1 second, U third, 2 fourth, etc.).
  4. Document time to complete section 1.
  5. Set timer.
  6. Complete section 2. Fill in the letters on line one first and numbers on line two second.
  7. Document time to complete section 2.

What did you find?  If you are like the students who have completed this exercise in my classes, it would have taken you approximately 60 seconds to complete section 1 and 26 seconds to complete section 2.

What does this mean?  You could save a significant amount of time in your day by FOCUSING.  Forget about bouncing back between your textbook, email, text messages and phone calls.  Remove all interruptions (it is possible to close your computer screen and turn off your cell phone) and get the work done!

Try the 60/40/20 rule and see if it works for you.  This is what you do:

  • 60 minutes of uninterrupted work.
  • 40 minutes of email/voicemail/text checking and returns.
  • 20 minutes for a break.

Why is this so hard to do?  I don’t really know.  But I do know that those who focus will perform better both in the classroom and in the workplace.

Are you up for the challenge?

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/matt_gibson/3281131319/”>gothick_matt</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>

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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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