Tag Archives: class

CollegeQandA asks: Do professors know about Course Hero and similar sites, and what do they think about them?

Do professors know about Course Hero and similar sites?

There are many resources on the internet that will help you in your courses.  Some of these sites do have material that students upload from previous years that you can purchase or upload your work and sell it – such as Course Hero.  Do professors know about these sites?  I would say a good number do, but definitely, not all of them.

Course Hero Screenshot

The existence of test banks (groups keeping records of all the tests and in some cases answers), course notes from previous years, and the accumulation of information as related to a course is not new.  The internet and its all-to-all communication model has just made it a little easier for this information to be archived and searched, and the existence of these types of sites was inevitable.  In the future, there might be some legal battles fought out on who owns what in the case of a course, but until then here are some basic ideas.

What do professors think about these sites?

I can’t speak for all professors, but I’m certain that universities and their faculty have a mixed opinion of this type of information being available, and a bigger concern on how it could be used.  For example, most professors would agree that using this material in the form of copying would be considered a violation of academic integrity.  In other cases, however, this material could be useful for a student to model solutions, answers, or responses that is a goal for a student to achieve.   Using material in this way might be fine.  So there’s a mixed feeling on this information being available.

Note, there are some course syllabi that strictly state that material from the course is not to be shared.  In these instances, uploading that course material is a clear violation that might result in further academic and legal battles that I can’t guess how they might proceed.

The future is active and tailored learning

In my opinion, these types of sites will have less and less impact as we proceed into better higher education.  For those courses that are template based and use traditional information transfer that is assessed through basic tests, then these types of sites are a concern.  For most of my courses, which are active learning with some student proposed work, these sites offer little benefit when a student has to learn to perform.

In the big picture of a degree, information is always available and is ever more accessible.  Information is useless unless it can be used in our ever theme of “doing”.  You won’t get a good job or a great career or achieve anything meaningful unless you learn to do.  Learning to do is hard, and there is no easy path.  Sites like these promise the potential for an easy something, but my guess is they rarely lead to any great achievement – just a way of skipping the work.

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CollegeQandA asks: What should I do the weekend before classes start?

What should I do the weekend before classes start?

Your family has dropped you off at college or you arrived at campus by yourself, and you have a few days before classes start – that first weekend.  Is there anything you should do before classes start to pave the way for a good semester?  At Miami the excitement of the new semester has started, and the streets are alive with youthful vigor.

Uhaul van moving in

Get the basics done

For those of you who are in your first-year or new arrivals to campus, your first weekend is about discovering where things are, how to do the most basic activities, and figuring out who might be your new friends and acquaintances.  In other words, expect to be disoriented for the next few days, but make sure you ask questions to everyone so that you do everything you should to just have the basics down.

Your priorities are:

  • If you don’t have your University ID card, then where and how do you get it.  This thing will do a lot around  campus for you.
  • You need to figure out where and when your classes are.  I would find the rooms ahead of time so you’re not late on class one.
  • How do you get your daily food and pay for it?
  • Where are the people who can help you if you need information or things?

All these basics are also needed for more senior students, but I would expect that those of you in that category almost know all of these.

Connecting with friends new and old

Take some time to socialize and meet old and new friends.  The reality is that this is probably the quietest time in the upcoming semester, so you should spend time with friends to reconnect.  However, don’t overdo the socializing with friends and party too much.  There’s no reason to start off the semester already tired and disorganized.  You can easily balance your reconnect to friends with solid preparation.

Get a jump on course organization

If your upcoming courses have an online accompaniment, then there is no reason you shouldn’t take a peak at what material is already posted (including the syllabus), needed books, and creating a semester calendar (I would suggest google calendars) with your actual next few months (you can tie this into your goals too).

Do you have your notebooks prepared for each of your courses?  If there are slides for the course, then do you have them printed?  What other materials will you need for these courses?

Most important – Set your semester goals

The big thing you need to do the last weekend before the semester is to nail down your goals for the semester (whatever they might be).  This doesn’t mean a general goal statement such as, “do well in my classes this semester”.  Instead, to achieve a goal you need to break it into smaller goals that will help you achieve your bigger picture.

You need to make specific goals both semester long and short term.  So, if I want to “get in shape this semester”, I need to include short term weekly/monthly goals that I can measure to get me to the big goal.  Smaller goals such as: “work out three times a week at the rec center” and “follow a progression workout for the next month” are steps to my bi goal, and if I truly want to achieve the bigger goal I can check in and see if I’m meeting my smaller steps.

Be prepared and have some fun to get you in the right mode for the fall semester.

Credits: Photo titled: Moving Truck; by CJ Sorg

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CollegeQandA asks: How should I take notes in college?

Notes – how should I take notes in college?

musical score

Notes are the general term for information that record in class/lecture that represent what ideas, methods, answers, highlights, diagrams, and/or citations were presented during class time.  The goal is that your notes capture the ideas so you can review what happened during the class in order to learn.  The trick with note taking in class is what to write down?

Approach 1 – Everything

The most common technique I see is trying to write everything seen and heard.  The assumption is if you can write down everything that is written/discussed in class you have captured all the information and can later decipher it.  This approach could work, but the key step is deciphering it later, which should be done ten to fifteen minutes after the class.  The deciphering problem is reorganizing the notes into something you can understand and that captures the main points of the lecture.  That process, unfortunately, is both rarely done and hard to do.  Also, the trick in class is to hear as well as capture what is presented, and this is very difficult if you are stuck in the task of writing down what you see.

Approach 2 – Note Taking Methods

There are a number of systems that researchers and educators have created to help you organize your notes.  These include methods such as Cornell and Mapping methods.  I have a preference for mapping techniques since they can be implemented fast and have a visual component, which I prefer.

Note taking methods are useful in different situations, but they do not necessarily solve the problem of what to write down.  Instead, they provide a means to organize your notes so that it is easier to review and take them.

Define the goals and create your process

You need to understand why you are taking notes.  In a math class, your notes will have two major components which include the mathematical idea, definition, and properties and definitions for example problems.  In an English class, you will be noting arguments, interpretations, and citations related to the material.

Not only do you need to know why you are noting different things for later recall, you need to come to the lecture prepared (another student rarity).  If you have an accompanying textbook, lecture slides, or class topic, then you have access to enough information to come into the lecture with a good idea of what will be covered and how.  This means you have a good idea of how to organize your notes as related to the idea.  If none of these resources are available, then ask your professor what will be covered in the next lecture.  I can’t imagine they would keep these ideas secret.

During the lecture you need to listen.  Professors typically make statements such as “and this is really important”.  Statements like that mean that the stuff coming next is highlighted.

Finally, notes need to be reviewed and revised.  This should happen as close to the class time as possible.  As time passes, what you learned will be lost.

Technology

In my book, I make a specific recommendation for the one piece of technology I think is invaluable.  But in general, technology can also help you capture class more efficiently.  Ask if technology can be used, but keep in mind knowing the goals, being prepared, listening carefully, and reviewing material are all necessary regardless of how good the technology is at capturing the material.   That is until Johny Mnemonic technology comes along.

Credits: photo titled: Worth Noting; by Shawn Carpenter

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CollegeQandA asks: Why can’t I use my phone in class?

Why can’t I use my phone in class?

This question may or may not be something you wonder depending on your professor(s).  In my classes, the syllabus states:

  • Texting, surfing, or any other out of class communication should be kept to the back rows of the classroom. Such behavior has no impact on your grade, but equally, the lack of attention in class means you should not expect me to make an effort in helping you deal with topics you miss in class due to lack of attention.
  • Cell phones should be kept silent (including vibration) during class.

In my classes, I allow devices to be used, but I require two things.  First, you do not cause interruptions for other people who want to learn and focus. This is the reason I ask that laptops and phones to be used at the back.   People like looking at screens, and if you are in the front row of the class on a YouTube page or social media site then a high number of students will be distracted and will look at your screen.  Second, if you are not paying attention, then don’t expect me to repeat materials for you.  Attention (just like attendance) is a choice that you get to make.

Why can’t I use my phone in THIS class?

There are, however, professors who strictly ban devices and screens from their classes.  Is this fair?  That’s an interesting question/debate that I’ve had with many of my colleagues where I come from the allow-in-class side.  What I have found from these discussions is there are two reasons for banning devices.  In their minds, instructors are either trying to help you focus by banning devices or view the activity of checking your devices in their lecture as rude.

I find the second argument, rudeness, fascinating based on my experiences at academic meetings and conferences.  In a room at one of these gatherings of 20 people, I’m happy and surprised to make a presentation where 5 of those people are paying attention without looking at a screen at some point in my fifteen minute presentation (maybe I’m just a bad presenter).  Therefore, since my colleagues can’t separate from their screens, how can I force my students to.  In modern day society, the rudeness of focusing on your screen even in mid-conversation is not considered bad manners in some circles (not all).

cyborg portraitHelping you to focus and control your screen addictions is a noble goal, but I believe that this is a personal challenge for all first generation cyborgs (my designation for anyone with a smartphone).  We all need to learn and practice our ability to focus (to recommended books of interest: Focus and Willpower).

But I need [device X] for …

The counter arguments that I’ve heard from students is the need for the device in class to learn.   Sure, there are certain situations where this makes sense.  For example, I’ve been known to ask my classes if they could look up something online for all of us.

If you think these devices are good for taking note, then you appear to be wrong.  An article (The pen is mightier than the keyboard) written by Mueller and Oppenheimer reports results from their study that finds that a laptop is worse for retaining the lecture compared to traditional pen and paper.

Also, your smartphone is not a good scientific calculator (at present) since it is very unlikely that you will be allowed to use it in exams.  Instead, your base calculator and scientific calculator (my beloved TI-85) need to be used regularly so that you can learn how to use that device.  There’s nothing worse than having to learn how to use a function on your calculator during an exam or quiz.

Some classes have come up with ways to integrate modern technology.  Twitter or other social collaborative methods  (such as wikis) have been effectively used to allow real-time questions and collaboration from students.  There will be other innovations too, but we still seem to be in an era of technology is lauded as the great learning device, but soon becomes sometimes beneficial to learning on rare occasions.

Credit: Photo from Michelle Zell-Wiesmann; title: Cyborg

 

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CollegeQandA asks: Why do my professors write on a board? Are we in the 90s?

Technological Luddites can’t teach me

Why do my professors write on a board?  Haven’t we crossed the 2000s and embraced the electronic slide presentation, the multimedia formats, and technology to teach?  Note, none of these are bad, but there’s a reason the board and pen’s and paper are powerful tools.

Early on in graduate school, I was fortunate to be taught by Zvonko Vranesic.  Not only did he encourage me to understand the world better, he was an inspiration as someone who thought about many things – among his accomplishments included being an International Master of Chess, no less.

He gave me two teaching tips that I have kept in my arsenal as I work towards becoming a good teacher.  Related to the question, he told me why you should teach using the board when you can.

white board writing
Ramblings on a white board

Much of the lecture is about pace

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CollegeQandA asks: What is a lecture?

It’s French for shut up and listen

Pardonne-moi.  Lectures are oral presentations with the intention of teaching you materials in a particular topic.  In modern day universities, though, the lecture is more appropriately called class-time in which a number of activities directed toward learning can happen including a traditional lecture.  What is a lecture, therefore, can mean both a traditional presentation or it can mean the time for a university or college class.

Class-time with a student-centered approach

One thing we have learned about learning, or at least, think we have learned about learning is that a fundamental part of learning is the based on the learner doing stuff – called student-centered learning.  Therefore, under this theoretical model, many schools are moving away from the idea of lecture towards using class time active engagement.

Active engagement can include classes that use various approaches including:

If my class is a traditional lecture is that bad?

 a person talking near a podium
Sage on the stage

A lecture is as much an opportunity to learn as any other, but it comes with challenges.  In your future, you will be asked to sit and listen to someone for greater than 30 minutes, and then be expected to retain important aspects of that discussion.  It might happen in meetings, online presentations, or other forms, but it will happen.  The lecture is a great way to practice learning from listening and seeing alone.

Credit:
photo credit: Michael Wesch – Pop!Tech 2009 – Camden, ME via photopin (license)

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CollegeQandA asks: What are the first few things I should do to prepare for my classes?

What should I do to prepare for my classes?

I’ll answer this question by, first, telling you what I do prepare to teach a class in, roughly, sequential order:

  1. [months before] I think about what I want to do with this course, what previously went bad, what was good, and what ideas I want to try.
  2. [months before] I come up with what are the learning objectives of this course.
  3. [weeks to months before] I layout the calendar for the course deciding when things will happen and what order we will try to progress at to achieve the objectives.
  4. [weeks to months before] I create the syllabus with these dates and objectives in mind including how to assess students on satisfying the objectives.
  5. [weeks to months before] I create the online presence that we will use to communicate in electronic form.
  6. [weeks to months before] I prepare lectures, quizzes, exams, projects, labs into some depth of the course, though this can vary depending on a number of factors.
  7. [weeks before] I check into the lab and classroom and log into the computer to check out the technology for the classroom.  Where are the lights?  What type of writing board do I have?
  8. [weeks before] I start practicing names for everyone in the class who has a photo.
  9. [week before] I run though the materials I have prepared to check if things look good.
  10. [day before] I review my class plan.
  11. [hour before] I review the plan and check all documents.
  12. [15 minutes before] I warmup my voice, head to the classroom, and prepare the room.
  13. [10 minutes before] In the classroom, I play or show some unrelated/related articles/videos/etc. to start a discussion as people walk into the classroom.
  14. Showtime !!!

In summary, I’m the so called expert and I’ve already spent a number of hours preparing for a class before you the learner walk into the classroom.

Based on that what should I do?

Here’s a few suggestions that you can do to prepare for my classes and others:

  1. Have your notebook (separate one per class), recording devices, and supplies organized and ready.
  2. Print out the syllabus and have it pasted/attached to your notebook.
  3. Read that syllabus ahead of time and scan through any online materials that are available.
  4. Learn a little bit about the topic of the class.  A quick search on Wikipedia should give you some basic ideas related to the course.
  5. Decide what you find interesting or curious about this topic to help motivate yourself.  Even if the topic doesn’t relate to what you really like, frame some questions back to your passions such as, “How will topic X relate back and help me with my interest Y”.
  6. Find the classroom the day before classes start so you aren’t one of the many who come in late because they can’t find their classroom.
  7. See if there is anything online about the lecture that you can read ahead of time to provide you with a framework of what will be done in that class.
  8. Arrive early to class, if you can.
  9. Pick a seat in the front or in the center to sit (the closer to the front the better).  Oddly enough, you may sit in this spot for the rest of the semester.
  10. Introduce yourself to people around your seat and ask for contact information before the class starts.
  11. Prepare yourself to be an active listener as opposed to a passive listener.  This might require thinking about your earlier questions or new ones about the topic that you might be interested in.
  12. Take a deep breath and relax…this is about learning and should be fun.
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CollegeQandA asks: What is a syllabus?

What is a syllabus?

Let’s start with this simple question of what is a syllabus?  A syllabus is a document that outlines the details as related to a class and is the contract between you and the instructor.  This can include what will be covered in class, when will it be covered, how you will be assessed, rules of behavior, and other details as related to the class.  The syllabus can be anywhere from one page to many pages depending on what the instructor needs to layout to the learners.  From a student perspective, the syllabus is the first place to look for information about the course, and if ignored it is  a quick way to look bad in front of your professors.

Should you read the syllabus?

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