Category Archives: Professors’ Perspectives

Grade Forecasting: Can a “Reality Check” Motivate Students?

“Optimism is generally a good thing, but it can sometimes interfere with learning,” states Dr. Michael J. Armstrong in his submission to Teaching Professor, February 2015, in which he outlines his grade forecasting strategy for students.[i]

Dr. Armstrong, an associate professor in Brock University’s Goodman School of Business, provides students with an opportunity to predict their final course grade (using test scores early in term and linear regression). This process addresses students’ tendency to be “overly optimistic about their learning process and anticipated course grades,”[ii] encourages a proactive approach (to increase study times or seek support, if needed) and, ideally, improves students’ ability to forecast and self-assess.

Optimism . . .

“can hinder their academic success. There’s no reason to adjust their behavior (say, by studying more) if they believe they are already doing well.”

Dr. Michael J Armstrong, Associate Professor
Goodman School of Business, Brock University

 As a student support provider, I am interested in Armstrong’s strategy as well as his research showing that “weaker students [are] more likely to overestimate how well they are doing in the course”.[iv]   Armstrong’s survey results present an interesting picture of student motivation and behaviour and invite further study:

 “As for the impact of these grade forecasts, 31 percent of the respondents said the forecasting experience made them feel more positive or confident about their course progress, while 35 percent said they felt more negative or worried. Fifty-six percent said their motivation had increased, while 7 percent said it had decreased. Forty-seven percent said they were subsequently studying more than they had previously planned, while 3 percent said they were studying less.”[v]

 These findings illustrate the complexity behind student behaviour. Discovering that they may get a lower grade than expected doesn’t always motivate students to be proactive (e.g., to study more). However, one student commented that “after seeing his forecast, he worked harder to “beat the number,” and was very pleased when he did.”[vi]

screen shot forecasting tool

Student View of Forecasting Spreadsheet

Above is a screen shot of the spreadsheet available to students to forecast their grade. Students fill in their term marks (in red) and the forecast is calculated automatically. My initial reactions to the tool? It’s easy to use and understand. Honestly, I was excited. However, I was also a little shocked and remember saying, “Well, that’s blunt.”

I’ve been thinking about students reactions to the tool: how some are motivated to “beat” the score and how some become anxious or less motivated. I believe that this response relates to students’ confidence and sense of agency. Students with low self-confidence and sense of control may accept the grade as a “done deal,” much like someone might read and accept their horoscope. Other students with higher self-confidence and sense of control may accept their “reading” as a challenge and take steps to improve. Why? . . . perhaps because they believe that they can “do something about it”.

This snapshot of student behaviour relates to my previous blog, 6 Reasons for Student “Apathy,” in which I explore the reasons why many students don’t take advantage of student support services.

Reason #3

Self-Concept and Confidence: Students often make closed statements about their “abilities”, saying “This is how I write” or “I can’t do math” or “I am a 60s student”.  If I don’t believe that I can do better, why would I assess and revise my current strategies? Why would I invest more time and energy?

During an academic-zone.com webinar last month, Tricia from Conestoga College added to my list of reasons why students aren’t taking advantage of what’s available: because students often don’t know what they don’t know.

 So, is the forecasting tool harmful? Will many students crawl back into bed and say why bother?

Overall, I feel that the tool is a fantastic resource to increase students’ awareness—a necessary step for students to become more empowered in the learning process. I also feel that providing students with strategies to improve and information on available services is key. Online resources work well because they can be available at that “Oh oh, I’m in trouble” moment. This was definitely a consideration when our Learning Services team developed Academic-Zone modules to complement our in-person support and offer on-line support 24/7/365.

 I’m also thinking about student control.

 I know the challenge of helping struggling students realize that they have the power to change their behaviour and, consequently, their future. One-on-one, I help students reflect on their past and help them see the role of their choices and actions in the process. I have witnessed their surprise and, as a result,  their excitement and motivation to persist. Is there a way to facilitate this reflective process with the forecasting tool?

I wonder . . .

For more information on Armstrong’s work:

YouTube video describing the application of grade forecasting in a course

YouTube video describing the results of the research study

3c94c98Margaret Groombridge, MEd, BEd, BA, OCT
Lead Designer, Academic-Zone
Coordinator Learning Skills Instruction
A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

[i] Armstrong, M. J. (2015). A grade forecasting strategy for students. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/educational-assessment/grade-forecasting-strategy/

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid

[iv] ibid

[v] ibid

[vi] Armstrong, M. J. (2013). A preliminary study of grade forecasting by students. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 11(2), 205. doi:10.1111/dsji.12003

Riddle Me This: I search. I find. I copy. I paste. What am I? Transforming cheating skills to information skills

riddler

Photography by Alexa Rae, published by reliken at http://imgur.com/gallery/8lU1m

Monday, an article in University Affairs Magazine by Alex Gillis led me to a study by Julia Christensen Hughes and Donald McCabe (2006). The study showed that 53% of nearly 15,000 Canadian undergraduates “reported having engaged in one or more instances of serious cheating on written work” in the previous year (p. 10). Although the study was published in 2006, the data was gathered during the 2002-03 academic year, which means that the ‘cheaters’ made up the majority of students a full 12 years ago. According to Gillis, the researchers are preparing to release a follow-up study that shows that cheating has ‘likely’ increased still more.

Institutions struggle to combat these numbers through awareness campaigns, strict academic misconduct policies, and expensive plagiarism detection tools. Still, the numbers suggest the problem is far from conquered.

It’s easy to attribute the increase in cheating to the advances in technology that have facilitated access to information, but I’m not so sure that’s the real problem.

Maybe the reason why these numbers keep going up is that we haven’t yet adapted our instruction and assessment measures to reflect the ways that we engage with information now. The classic model, still employed by some instructors, is that the instructor holds and controls the course information. The assessment that follows measures how well the students have stored and processed that information. However, this model may conflict with student experience which tells them that they can find any information they want any time they want it.

Maybe a new model needs be developed, one that surrenders the illusion of control over information and instead empowers students by teaching them how to find, understand, evaluate and productively use the information out there.[1] Assessment, then, would be less about the answer and more about the process for finding that answer.

Who better than Google, the company whose name is now a verb that means ‘to find information on the internet,’ to explore this idea further?

google
Once a day, Google asks a question that Google itself can’t answer–a stroke of beautiful and deliberate irony, in my opinion, and a clear statement about what Google perceives as ‘true’ information skills. It’s not what you know that matters. It’s what you can discover.

Here’s one Google-a-Day: ” An 11-foot bird lives less than two miles from 30.891383,-102.885032. What’s his name?”
This isn’t a question. This is a puzzle. It’s learning in its most active form. It’s problem solving and critical thinking. It’s the stuff that actually matters and makes it possible for us to live productive, successful, and meaningful lives.

So riddle me this: why are we asking questions that Google can answer when Google itself knows that that’s not what really matters?[2]

ally1Allyson Miller, Learning Skills Instructor and eLearning Developer, A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

[1] In actuality, problem-based learning is far from new. For more see Queen’s University’s overview.
[2] This line of thought was inspired by a session I plan on attending at Connect 2015, Canada’s Learning and Technology Conference. The presenter is Kendra Spira and the title of the presentation is “If you can Google the answer, are you asking the right question?”

Hughes, J. C., & McCabe, D. L. (2006). Academic Misconduct within Higher Education in Canada. Canadian Journal Of Higher Education, 36(2), 1-21.

Preparing for Chemistry Exams: Get an “A” using one quick trick?

Sorry, it’s not that easy, and guess what, it shouldn’t be. Chemistry isn’t called one of the “hard sciences” for nothing.  🙂

At this time of year, I’m busy running exam review sessions for first-year chemistry students as part of our A-Z Learning Services support at Brock University. I’ve worked at Brock since 1970 as a lab demonstrator, lab coordinator, first-year chemistry instructor, and now (after retiring, ha ha) as an instructor for Learning Services.

A question I’m asked frequently: “Have students changed over the years?”

Pixabay

Sliderule – The precurser to calculators

In my experience, students have always had a tendency to skim information to“look for answers” rather than read for understanding.In the 60s and early 70s, there were no calculators, no cellphones, no online lecture notes, no Google for answers, and no internet (The Horror!).

So, rather than seeing a change in students, I’ve seen an increase in tools that facilitate this skimming approach. Learning can be work. Learning can be hard. Learning can be satisfying (when you finally get it).

When students ask me what they can do to do better in Chemistry, this is what I tell them:

1. GO TO LECTURE-because it is helpful to hear as well as see and write down information.

2. MAKE MINI FLASHCARDS-with definitions of terms, concepts, formulas, and symbols, and carry them around in your pocket. (You are learning while you make the cards, and it is fun.). When waiting in line (for coffee, bus, etc.) pull them out and test yourself (rather than texting). Put the cards you know back in your pocket. Those you miss go on the bottom of your stack. This is the fastest way to learn material.

3. KNOW YOUR VOCABULARY – because knowing your Chemistry vocabulary will make the rest of your studying much easier

4. REVIEW ALL YEAR – because Chemistry exams are cumulative. Your review should be ongoing starting from the beginning of the school year.

5. PRACTICE – because practicing calculations, understanding the use of units, studying with friends, turning in assignments and reading the textbook are important to do too. Remember, ten minutes per day is much more effective than one hour per week.

So . . . Enjoy the good feeling that you will get when you work hard and finally understand.

BRAIN OLYMPICS FEB 2009 033Gail Neff
Learning Skills Instructor
A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

6 Reasons for Student “Apathy”

Did I get your attention? Are you up in arms? Good!

If you’re a student, let’s hear from you. If you provide student support, please share your wisdom on this question: Why don’t more students take advantage of the resources we provide?

people-431943_1280This question has been bouncing in my head since last week’s Academic-Zone webinar, Supporting at-risk students transitioning to post-secondary: Study skills and writing focus.

During the webinar, I chatted with representatives from Loyalist College and Royal Roads University about our respective student support initiatives. The bottom line? We offer students many opportunities. We’re on-campus. We’re on-line. We’re creative, resourceful, flexible,  determined, and approachable. . . IMO 😛

The problem? Student engagement.  Don’t get me wrong. Many students use our services (approximately 5,000 last year); however, some don’t and those who don’t are often those who would benefit most. Based on my own experience at Brock University, I have listed several common reasons why students do not use  support services:

  1. Time management and self-regulation: Procrastination, over-scheduling, or an inability to break down complex assignments often results in poorly researched/written assignments or inadequate studying (let alone time to ask questions or explore support services)
  1. Independence: Many students see “help-seeking” or question-asking as a weakness rather than a strength. No judgement here: I think independence is an admirable quality.
  1. Self-Concept and Confidence: Students often make closed statements about their “abilities”, saying “This is how I write” or “I can’t do math” or “I am a 60s student”.  If I don’t believe that I can do better, why would I assess and revise my current strategies? Why would I invest more time and energy?
  1. Embarrassment: If students are unhappy with their work, they may not want to show it to anyone.
  1. Strategic Decision Making: Students make choices based on “value”. What value are we giving to the extra time and effort needed to improve assignments that require several revisions, like essays? Can we blame students if we accept poor quality?
  1. Motivation: Last, but certainly not least. Everyone is motivated to do what they’re doing, and to not do what they’re not doing. John Hope Bryant raises the question: Have young people “‘checked out’ of the traditional educational system”? Check out his post, A Bold New Approach to Education: Aspiration-Based Learning (ABL).

Our webinar session reminded me of a 2009 post on The Chronicle of Higher Education by Bob Kunzinger, Associate Professor of English and the Humanities at Tidewater Community College: “The $5,000 Approach to Teaching Writing”.

Obviocalculation-390319_1280usly, this post left an impression on me. In a nut shell, Kunzinger argues that many students basically decide to submit poorly written papers—that they know that their professors have to read it, regardless of quality, and that they “know there are usually ways to avoid putting forth a gallant effort on a paper.”

(Selection from Kunzinger’s post)

“What if I had a check on my desk for $5,000? And what if I rewarded the writer whose introduction most caught my attention, who most effectively made me want to continue because of a solid and clear thesis, with a check for five grand? Would your introductions improve even more?”

Cries of “Absolutely!” filled the room —to which I replied, “Then you always could do it. You just couldn’t be bothered.”

Silence followed.                                                    See full article

From my perspective, “you just couldn’t be bothered” is a complex statement and relates to reasons in my “why students do not use our support services” list. So what do we do? Unfortunately, I don’t have $5,000 kicking around.

One of the strategies we’ve employed at Brock University is to develop close partnerships between teaching faculty and student academic services, through which students are rewarded for successful participation in service skill-building activities (e.g., participation or assignment bonus grade for scoring over 70% on an academic-zone academic writing, numeracy, or lab report on-line quiz). Then, we draw students into other resources and supports that are available on a self-select basis, either on-line or on-campus.  This strategy provides an additional “value” to developing skills and increases students’ awareness of services.

Now, back to the list . . .

Your challenges? Strategies? Thoughts?

(I’d love to hear from students, staff, and faculty!)

3c94c98Margaret Groombridge, MEd, BEd, BA, OCT
Lead Designer, Academic-Zone
Coordinator Learning Skills Instruction
A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

Teaching the Science of Writing

eis-01Figure 1. How scientists see writing a paragraph.

I teach a mandatory Scientific Writing course for Chemistry and Physics PhD graduate students to help them write their thesis or dissertation, and hopefully publications.   The funny thing is that I don’t have a PhD, and when I first started teaching the course, I didn’t even have a Masters!

Surprisingly, in the 7 years I’ve taught the course, my lack of a PhD has never been an issue. The problem has been getting students to believe that they can work on their writing while in grad school. I’m not saying that they don’t recognize or value good writing, but with their courses, TA work, lab demonstrating, supervising undergrads in the lab, group meetings, seminar presentations, let alone their research, adding one more task seems overwhelming, even if they know that it’s something that they need to work on.

horses-01Although we can lead horses to water, how do we make them drink? Or in my case, although academic regulations lead them to my writing class, how can I make them think (that it’s worthwhile)?

What do I do? I try as much as possible, to talk their talk. Every example is scientific. Use non-science examples and the class tunes out. Show the same example with chemicals or lab terms and I get buy in. These students need to see the direct relationship between the examples and their writing. It’s a simple thing, but surprisingly effective.

I also try to show that writing is like any lab skill. There are specific steps and rules to follow, but at the same time they can improve with practice and reflection!

Finally, I tell them that I’m their litmus test. I know about as much as a new Masters student who might pick up their thesis for background reading. I might not understand their research, but if I can follow their thinking and believe their argument based on the evidence- their writing is clear! I might not know if the science is correct, but at least their ideas are clear.

How do you inspire your science students to “drink”?

eis photoElizabeth Ilnicki-Stone, MSc (Chem), BSc, BEd, OCT
Academic-Zone Resource Developer
Instructor, A-Z Learning Services
Brock University, Student Development Centre

*Figure 1. Formula for a good paragraph. Elizabeth Ilnicki-Stone, A-Z Learning Services, 2015.

Are you Ready for Fall Classes?

Are you ready for the first week of fall classes?
I’m looking forward to the students, the excitement, the energy, the traffic (well, maybe not the traffic). In Brock University A-Z Learning Services, we are preparing for our student staff training, student orientation activities, and at-risk student success programming.

BROCK LIBRARY-4969

Brock University, Matheson Learning Commons

We’re also busy connecting with our Brock professors to plan support interventions. Here at Brock, students seek out our services (e.g., workshops and drop-in support). However, we also deliver skill development workshops in lectures and offer Academic-Zone online access, as requested by professors. Academic-Zone can be implemented immediately and provides professors with a means to assess and support students’ foundational writing, grammar, and numeracy skills. How? All modules have pre- and post-quizzes and corresponding learning modules. Professors tell us the module they want and the date for the quiz (often before course assignments). Then we give them an academic-zone access code for student registration. Students test online and can explore the modules at their own leisure—to prepare for the post-quiz or as a support resource when completing assignments. Students can also seek additional support through their professor, teaching assistant, or campus services.
Through Academic-Zone, we’ve built strong service and faculty partnerships.

     • Are you a professor who has implemented Academic-Zone in your course? What has been your experience? What are  your strategies?
     • Are you a student staff professional using Academic-Zone in your service or as a support resource for your faculty? What is your story? Do you feel that students benefit from these partnerships?
     • Not an Academic-Zone user? Share your own strategies, challenges, or successes as an instructor or service provider. How do you engage and support students?

Sharing implementation successes and challenges will help all of us in our work.

Margaret Groombridge

What is Good Teaching?

In a post on the Canadian Education Association (CEA) blog, Dr. Bruce Beairsto, a professor at Simon Fraser University, shares his insight on what is effective teaching. He explains that teaching is an art as well as a science—that teaching goes beyond communication and it is the student response that determines the effectiveness of the teacher.

“…teaching is an iterative process of trial and error, guided by careful observation of student response (aka formative assessment).  The teacher adapts instructional technique depending upon student response until the desired responses are achieved.  When that happens, teaching has occurred.”

What are your thoughts? What factors contribute to good teaching?

Read the full post here.

Canadian Education Association website.