Tag Archives: E-Learning

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.

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

Helping Students Think About and Engage in their Learning

By post-secondary, students often have a “fixed” idea of who they are as learners. Maryellen Weimer’s article in Faculty Focus, “Prompts to Help Students Reflect on How They Approach Learning” explores ways to “motivate students to consider their beliefs about learning”.  She provides a list of prompts to encourage students to reflect on their current strategies and beliefs.

I found Weimer’s prompts useful and use similar ones when working with students individually; however, many students….well, I just don’t see them. Why? Well, we know that struggling students–the ones who really need to see us– are less likely to seek help.

Do you find it even more challenging to engage male students to ask questions or seek support? Research out of Penn State University and University of Akron by Wimer and Levant (2011) explored the relationship between masculinity and help-seeking behaviour (1). They found that males with strong dominance and self-reliance characteristics were less likely to seek help.

Makes sense, but what can we do?

We created out Academic-Zone modules to provide a safe, risk-free way for students to develop their writing and numeracy skills. The online medium seems like a great fit for those self-reliant males. However, we still need to ENGAGE them in the skill development process.

I attended a conference a couple of weeks ago,  Conference on Peer Educators, Nov. 7-9, 2014 at University of South Carolina, by National Resource Center First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.  Ever since the conference, my mind has been spinning. We recruit male and female undergraduate students to deliver our on-campus skills programming, and we’ve been fortunate to always have a mix.

–but I know we can do more….

Please share your challenges, strategies, and thoughts. I’d love to hear from you.

Margaret Groombridge

Image me

Lead Designer, Academic-Zone and Coordinator Skills Instruction, A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

(1) Wimer, D. J., & Levant, R. F. (2011). The relation of masculinity and help-seeking style with the academic help-seeking behavior of college men. Journal Of Men’s Studies, 19 (3), 256-274.

5 Tips to Improve Your Writing

Academic writing is a challenge for most students entering post-secondary education. In response, most institutions developed their own resources to assist students struggling with academic writing. Still, some students prefer the convenience of online resources. For example, a short 12-minute YouTube video with over 500,000 views, posted by the YouTube account “Learn English with Emma [engVid]”, recommends 5 simple tips to improve academic writing skills.

Emma, an English teacher who primarily works with ESL students, outlines 5 ways to improve academic writing with the use of simple sentences, stronger words, and active voice. Emma’s energetic voice, a white board, and several great examples make this video enjoyable and educational.

After investigating “engVid,” I realized Emma is only one of 8 teachers who have posted a collective 550+ lessons online. I would recommend exploring some of their videos if you are an international student, learning the English language, or would like some comedic relief (I would recommend Ronnie’s videos). Similar to “Khan Academy,” in my post a couple weeks ago, Emma and her colleagues have adapted to the fast-growing technology age.

Be sure to like/comment this post if you enjoyed reading!
Let me know if you have topics you would like to discuss in future blog posts in the comments below.
I would love to hear from you!

Have a great day!

Exploring Different Ways to Teach Math

Math. It’s a word that strikes fear into many students. Whether or not you’re a math major, at some point you may have to use math in post-secondary. For example, Sociology students are required to take a course on statistics, but it may have been years since they’ve taken a Math course.

At Academic-Zone, we approach this challenge with our online Numeracy-Zone module. The module is broken down into four topics: Calculations, Statistics, Algebra, and Equations & Lines. Mathematical concepts are explained using real-life examples and the module’s easy-to-navigate design allows students to explore based on their own needs and interests.  Math is learned through doing, and our modules provide students with many opportunities for practice through interactive exercises and quizzes.

There are many different ways to effectively teach math. One approach is through the use of games. In an article on Forbes, Stanford Mathematician, Dr. Keith Devlin, explains why video games are the perfect way to teach math. He explains that math is not something you know, but rather an activity that you do. He argues that games encourage students to do, by providing challenges and rewards.

What are your thoughts on the use of games as a tool for teaching math? What other strategies do you use to teach or learn math concepts?

Check out the full article on Dr. Keith Devlin here.

Will Teachers Eventually Be Replaced?

Is it possible for technology to replace teachers? Some people view it as a strong possibility, while others believe teachers won’t be replaced any time soon. As technology continues to evolve, it may seem as though the possibility of teachers being replaced by technology and online learning is becoming more and more likely.

However, an article on the Huffington Post explains why this won’t be happening. “Technology Will Not Replace Teachers” provides some insight on why teachers are irreplaceable. It talks about how technology is only a supplementary tool to enhance or improve on current teaching methods, and is not a lesson on its own. The author brings up a very interesting point, mentioning that with this increase in technology in the classroom, there is a greater need for teachers. He explains that teachers are needed to figure out how technology works for each student based on their individual needs, and where its use is most appropriate.

The article ends off with an intriguing statement:

“A computer can give information, but a teacher can lend a hand, or an ear, and discern what’s necessary for a student to succeed, and to want to succeed.”

Do you think teachers can be replaced by technology? Why or why not?

For more reading on this topic, check out the original article here.