Tag Archives: Academic-Zone

Entrepreneurial Thinking—Student-Centred Learning with a Grown-Up Twist

I’ve been thinking of another session I attended during the Cowordlennect 2015 conference: Think like an Entrepreneur by MARS, a member of Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs .

Entrepreneurial Thinking: The conference session was for K-12 teachers, but I found the strategies exciting and relevant for any learning environment. Why? Well, I thought about student buy-in, excitement, and engagement. Students sometimes resist student-centred learning: Can’t you just tell me what to do? This just seems like more work. What’s the answer, the formula? 

Fair statement and questions. Essentially, I think students just want to know WHY. . . an important question. Renaming student-centred learning as  Entrepreneurial Thinking gave me an answer to the question, “Why student-centred learning?”. . .  an answer that makes sense to university students because it has real-world application–inherent in its very name.

During the session, we participated in a Design Thinking activity.

Step 1: In groups, we explored a general problem (our “problem” was student engagement). We were given sticky notes, markers, and a large paper divided into three sections labelled classroom, administration, and national.

Step2: We explored the “problem” from the three  perspectives, writing our ideas on the sticky notes and placing them in the related sections.

Step 3: We clustered the sticky notes according to theme and their relatedness.

Step 4: We identified one underlying “problem” that we felt we could address, and then we explored potential solutions. To guide us, we watched a video of  Clay Christensen’s Milkshake Marketing strategy which frames products (or solutions) as doing a “job” for people. For example, as a teacher choosing an instructional strategy, I might ask myself, “What job am I hiring this Design Thinking activity to do for my students?”.

Download a copy of the activity template

Hopefully you’re getting ideas.  Personally, I thought of our programming for our at-risk students (i.e., students who are at risk of being on academic probation). Using this Design Thinking strategy, students could explore a problem (like social networking and  privacy) in a way that not only develops their research skills but also builds their confidence–confidence that they can  make a real difference in the world.

I also thought of our academic-zone.com online programming and asked myself, “What job did we hire academic-zone to do?” . . . for students, for teachers, and for administrators. To our clients: “What job did you hire academic-zone to do?”. To our future clients: “What job would you hire academic-zone to do for you and your students?”.

The question is direct and focuses on outcomes.

Please share your thoughts.

Cheers,
Margaret

3c94c98Margaret Groombridge
Coordinator Learning Skills Instruction
A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

Superman, Spider-Man, and Me

I really liked Superheroes as a kid. Okay, I admit it- I still really, really like Superheroes. I’m one of those people who will stand in line for hours to catch a midnight showing of a new Superhero movie.   I like that they lead ordinary quiet lives, but when needed, take on their alter egos and use their powers to help people. My favourites are Superman and Spider-Man.

comics

I lead a pretty quiet “Clark Kent” life. I’m a design engineer for a small company that makes motor controllers for electric vehicles and am pretty much a “stereotypical” engineer: detail-oriented, analytical, and meticulous in my work.

Recently, I was presented with an opportunity to work a few hours a week as a Learning Services Instructor in a drop-in help centre offering help in Physics, Computer Science, and Technical Writing. At first, I was reluctant to take on this challenge. It’s been over 20 years since my own “university student” days, and I was concerned that I had forgotten how to study and learn, let alone try to guide others. But my spouse works in A-Z Learning Services at Brock, loves the job, and thought that it would be a good idea for me to get out of my comfort zone and share my knowledge, so I agreed.

I was pretty nervous the first day of work. What if I didn’t know how to solve a problem? What if students didn’t understand my explanation? What if they asked me about a lab I hadn’t done?

I have to say, it was a good learning experience for me (hopefully for the students as well). Here are some of the things I learned over the two terms.

  1. Physics and math haven’t changed in 20 years, but technology certainly has! With the software that professors have available, students can often get instant feedback on their answers. While that’s great, I find it leads to impulsivity. When students get three tries to get an answer, they tend to guess the first two tries and then read the hints before really starting to think about the problem.
  2. The problem solving techniques that got me through university and that I continue to use in my day job, still work. I’ve always approached every big problem as a bunch of smaller problems linked together. So if I can break a bigger problem down into its smaller sub-problems, then it seems less daunting. Solve the smaller problems, and the bigger problem practically solves itself, kind of like putting a puzzle together.
  3. Students don’t take the time to “show their work”. Since they often only get marks for the correct answer, they think it saves time to not put in units and show their work. Unfortunately, this often leads to the incorrect answer.   I tried to model problem-solving including all the units, showing all the steps, and explaining my thinking to help students see the value of showing their work, regardless of whether they got marks for it.
  4. Students are appreciative of the help, either from me or from other peers who had grasped the subject and were enthusiastic to share their knowledge.
  5. Offering learning support is an energizing and rewarding job!

Admittedly, I’m not “Faster than a speeding bullet”, “More powerful than a locomotive” or even “Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound”, but I can help students calculate the speed of a bullet, help them figure out when the locomotive will arrive at the station given its speed and distance traveled, and guide them to the formula to calculate how much time it will take for an object to land from a tall building. Not really superpowers- but I am happy that I was able to help students learn.

Now that my contract is over, it’s back to my quiet “Clark Kent existence”. I’d welcome the opportunity to take on the role of Learning Instructor again, a little wiser about what to expect.

For those of you who have more experience working with post-secondary students, what is the best piece of advice you would give to someone new (or relatively new) to this field?

SupermanIdentify withheld to protect writer’s alter ego

Part-time A-Z Learning Services Instructor (Physics, Computer Science, Technical Writing)

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

Illiterate vs. Innumerate: Why is one okay?

mathematics-327488_1280 (1)Last week, a friend shared an article with me from the Globe and Mail. In it, the author stated that she was “never ashamed of [her] limited numerical skills”. Over the years, I have often ranted about the pride people take in saying that they were never good at math. I have a secret to share: while I love math, I wasn’t always good at it.

There. I said it. My secret is out. I have always found the patterns of mathematics comforting. There was also comfort that there was a right answer. While I worked at math problems, my stubbornness would kick in. I knew that if I worked at it, I would get it. When I did master concepts, I felt a certain pride in my accomplishments. My parents can verify my initial cursing over calculus. Most people think you need to be “smart” to do math. I think you just need to be tenacious.

I firmly believe that ALL people can do math. I also acknowledge that not everyone will enjoy math. However, in order to do math, some of us will require more effort than others. Some of us will have to work hard at addition and subtraction. Others will need to start working harder when algebra is introduced. There will be some people that only start working at math when they are doing graduate level research in a new number theory.   That being said, I think that most people, with a little effort and patience, can get to a point of competence with numeracy.

Admittedly, practicing multiplication tables or solving equations may not be as exciting as a team practice, a new video game or a good book. The excuses of “I will just use a calculator,” or “I am not good at math” don’t preclude you from still requiring math in life. Most people will wonder when they will need to find “x” in real life. However, almost all college and university programs require some type of mathematics course. With the basic numeracy skills, the courses become less of a struggle.

Let’s get rid of the notion that it is okay not to be good at math. We work hard to achieve literacy – let’s put the same effort into numeracy and abolish the idea that just because it doesn’t come easily means that you can’t do it.

Bayless, Maureen. (2015, February 12). A grave mathematical error. The Globe and Mail, p L6.

sueSue Guenther
Special Projects Coordinator, Academic Zone Resource Developer and “Math Guru”
A-Z Learning Services, Student Development Centre, Brock University

The Heart of a Balanced Schedule: A University Perspective

pic 1

“Time is our most precious and fleeting resource.
We never have enough, yet we have all there is.
This is the time-management paradox” (Tom Reilly).

I love these words of wisdom and find my daily experiences reflect this sentiment. As a Learning Skills Instructor at Brock University, I often talk to students about “time management”.  I hear about their struggles, their confusion, and their ongoing quest to juggle and balance a multitude of tasks and activities—yet their loss as to how. As I listen, I see my past self. I know my own approach and attitude towards time management changed drastically over the years from an undergraduate student to a graduate student. So, I will often draw upon my past learnings and experiences, as I explore tips and strategies for time management, aiming to meet students where “they are at” and with authenticity.

In my early undergraduate years, I would say I had a patterned process—beginning as an “extreme optimist” and moving towards sheer panic. Each year as I was positively sure I could fit in every class, work, volunteer, and social activity that my heart desired. What was at the root of this philosophy? I was young and energetic and the world was my oyster. Saying “yes” to presented opportunities could open up new doors—new career paths. If I turned something down, I might lose out. So, I would pack my schedule full. Then, more often than not, only after I was deeply committed, reality would hit. pic 2There are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days a week. Try as I might, I could not alter this math. Yes, I had moved to that “place of panic” where I had no idea how I would complete everything. My solution? Head down—I would forge ahead hoping all would work out. Often it did (which allowed me to repeat this pattern for a few years). But, eventually the stress of the pendulum swing began to take its toll. I needed to discover a better way of figuring out the reality of time limitations.

Here is one of my favourite strategies which emerged —guided by the “experts”, and personally tweaked for different seasons of life. Over the years, during workshops and consultations, I often find that students enjoy hearing about this strategy. Some even return to let me know how successful it has been for them. The strategy? I like to call it, “creating a balanced weekly schedule”.

Basically, you take your computer, or a piece of paper, and create a blank schedule—Monday—Sunday, for every hour you are up. For the next steps, you can choose to use different colours, if you are a visual person like me. Fpendulum old-clock-436495_1280irst, in one colour (say green), slot in all of your fixed activities for the week. For students this will mean their lectures, seminars, labs, and part-time work schedules. For the second step, you take a different colour (purple, sounds good), and block off the time you need to complete your university work (e.g. your times for reading, reviewing, studying, writing assignments, etc.). The general recommendation, which can come as a surprise to students, is to block off two to three hours for every hour of class (e.g. 15 hours of class = 30 hours of school work). Next, in a different colour (maybe blue), you schedule in time for balance (e.g. hobbies, physical activity, family and friends—all the things that make us happier and healthier in life).

During this activity, students may experience an “uh-oh” moment, when they realize they cannot fit everything into their schedules (“hello past-self”). I have met students who are working thirty hours a week in addition to taking five courses. (Yes, these students would discover not only could they not fit everything into 24 hours, but there was also little to no room for “blue” time, or balance). Rather than letting students panic, this is the moment to guide students to feeling empowered to make decisions which work best for their lives. “It is good when we discover the reality of time-math” (Usually at this point, I’ll make a quick analogy to my personal past). “There are just choices to be made. Some people may choose to work fewer hours at a part-time job. Other people may choose to do a course in the spring or summer, in consultation with his/her academic advisor, and fewer courses during the fall and winter terms. And there are other options too. What do you think will work best for you?”…

What is at the heart of the “Balanced Weekly Schedule”?

Pixabay

For me, it is allowing myself to live life to the fullest. When I know that the time-math works and I have created a healthy balance to my week, I can be fully present in each moment and not distracted by distance thoughts of, “How am I going to get everything done?” Is the schedule perfect? No. But it does allow me to better enjoy, even though it is momentary, that “precious and fleeting resource” of time.

What is your best time management tip for students?

Karen karenSmith Herrow
Learning Skills Instructor and Academic Zone Resource Developer
A-Z Learning Services, Student Development Centre, 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.

Integrity is . . .

explosionI talk about academic misconduct a lot. I mean, A LOT. I talk about the underlying issues like anxiety, time management, research skills, etc. I define plagiarism. I talk about the “letter of the law” (AKA university regulations regarding academic misconduct) and about best practices for how to avoid academic misconduct. And it’s all so damn depressing. So negative. So deflating. It’s a mantra of doom and gloom, and I feel the clouds gathering over myself and my students every time the topic comes up.

Just recently, though, the skies cleared and the sun beamed down. Or, to toss cheesy metaphors aside, I had a very good day, and I have students to thank for it.

Our team has been working on a module on academic integrity. (Note that the topic is academic integrity, not academic misconduct.) The module covers all the underlying issues previously mentioned—has to be done—but they’re housed under the larger umbrella of personal integrity. Personal, as in internal, as in not defined by institutional policy. Our goal was/is to help students see academic integrity as a natural extension of personal integrity, which is something that lives and breathes in all of us in one form or another.

The trick with this approach, though, is that personal integrity is wrapped up in personal values, which are wrapped up in family values, which are wrapped up in cultural values ad infinitum. So we struggled a bit with how we could talk about personal integrity without explicitly or implicitly imposing our values onto students. Then we had an epiphany: Let the students speak for themselves. We decided on a video.

That’s where things started getting fun. We invited a bunch of students, set up a fancy camera and mic, got some swag to pass out as a thank you, and started filming. The students were asked to complete the prompt: “Integrity is…” however they wanted as long as it had NOTHING to do with academics or academic integrity.

Devon, Undergraduate Accounting Student

Devon, Undergraduate Accounting Student

The students were a little taken aback by the anti-academic approach, and at first they seemed perplexed at how to respond. (A jaded spectator might attribute this to the downfall of students today. “Academic” and “integrity” are linked so often in post-secondary education, that they’re practically a compound word. Outside of academics, integrity is, what? ) But the students were, as they often are, funny, creative, thoughtful, and intelligent, and before long they had a whole slew of responses ranging from,

Integrity is being true to yourself.
to
Integrity is not ditching your friends to watch Netflix.

Indeed, they had more responses than we had time to film, and we had actual fun as they came up with more and more.

I hope it was a great experience for everyone. I KNOW it was a great experience for me. It was the first time (ever?!) that I talked with students about integrity where we ALL smiled and laughed, as opposed to the usual scenario where I’m in front of the students, desperately trying to dispel the clouds hanging over the room, while the students stare back at me either frightened, slack-jawed, or insulted by the underlying assumptions behind the conversation.

ally1So thanks to all those students who came out to play. I had a blast, and I’ll carry the experience with me as I finish up my part in developing this module!

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