For Those Who Will Graduate . . .

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graduation hats

Facing the future

I recently saw British workplace adviser Jane Hart give a talk about social media and its teaching tools. Ms. Hart is known for her popular website, Top 100 Tools for Learning, but she also co-authors a site for students that includes interesting resources: The premise is that college students should be thinking about their “life of [many] jobs” from the time they enter college – and they should consider that they’ll need to take charge of their professional development.

Speaking of development, a recent survey from Chegg shows that hiring managers want certain soft skills they believe are in short supply in recent graduates. (Read those results, and see “Guides to Career Success” for students, here.)

If you’re a college student (at any stage) looking forward to graduating, it’s worth your time to check out these resources!

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Responding to Failure: World Series Edition

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Busch Stadium

Outstanding in their field

I’ve been watching the baseball World Series and though I’m a Cardinals fan, something Boston’s manager said after Game 3 really struck me. That game had ended with a stunning (but not incorrect) obstruction call that gave the Cards the winning run in the ninth inning. I saw a reporter ask how that ending affected the Red Sox the following night, and John Farrell replied something similar to “It happened on the field last night, and we left it there.”

How wise is this. Would that more students heeded this message . . . the idea that when something doesn’t go your way, you must leave that thing in the past as much as possible and focus on “winning” the next night. (Again, I prefer to see the Cardinals win, but anyway.) So many of my students, sadly, became defeatist after failing at a small assignment or failing a class entirely; they were prone to give up, drop out, and adopt a victim mentality. Perhaps they were dwelling too much on unpleasant events in the past; perhaps they were letting their anxieties and frustrations determine their fate.

It seems we have a philosophical lesson to take from sports: that is, the best players do take personal responsibility for their wins and losses, and when something out of their control happens, they don’t let it get in the way of their big-picture goal.  Naturally this is difficult to enact in real life, but I have to conclude the champions in the sports world have gotten where they are due to very hard work and persistence combined with the right attitude.

Take this example if you’re a student; know you’ll win a few and lose a few, but focus on the future!

Post script: I wrote a little piece on baseball and what it can teach us (featuring historical tidbits) in October 2011: In Honor of the Fall Classic: “Our Game.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Fredlyfish4

More Negative News about Our Knowledge Levels . . . Do You Yearn?

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Drink up

I suppose if one lives here in the US, one could consider these recent Inside Higher Ed stories to be gloom-and-doom: first, “ACT Scores Slip,” pointing out that this year’s results are the lowest in five years and that reading and English scores are particularly down; and second, “Troubling Stats on Adult Literacy,” pointing out that American adults’ literacy and numeracy levels fall below average.

Naturally, these quick pieces don’t tell the entire story (for instance, the ACT story notes “more students are taking the exam — some of whom are required by schools to do so but have no collegiate aspirations”), and any kind of rankings amongst large groups of people, as well as any kind of measure of skills and intellect, are bound to be sticky as they deal with human beings in different circumstances, cultures, etc. That said, basic knowledge can be tested, and standardized tests for all their controversy do measure something.

So what’s a student of any age to do? Well, first get the right attitude; recall this exchange from the TV show Seinfeld:
Kramer: Do you ever yearn?
George: Yearn? Do I yearn?
Kramer: I yearn.
George: You yearn?
Kramer: Oh, yes. Yes, I yearn. Often, I sit and yearn. Have you yearned?

Ah: but can one be taught to yearn for learning?

Consider this: within “ACT Scores” kinds of stories, it’s generally observed that students who take a more rigorous college-prep curriculum do better on these tests, which suggests students who challenge themselves learn more. Indeed! Of course, students must first desire to learn: it’s very telling, I think, that during my years in higher ed I’ve heard this particular cliché more than any other: “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Teach for awhile and you realize the yearning for learning comes entirely from the student: it must.

As for the article on US adults lacking in literacy and numeracy levels, we could consider the schools of course, and we should; but I firmly believe any and all of us can take, to a large degree, our educations into our own hands. A common-sense action for anyone who struggles with reading would be to read, read, read some more. Too many of my students who struggled with both reading and, not surprisingly, writing, told me they didn’t like to read, so they avoided it. Well, they will stay in that less-than-optimally-literate place unless they take initiative to start reading more and, again, start challenging themselves. I could do my part by assigning readings in class and guiding them, but if they dropped out (which happens frequently in a community college), they then lack formal guidance and must themselves yearn to learn in order to come back around.

What do you think – how might we raise literacy and numeracy levels?

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Wi-Fi on Campus, Studying on Phones . . .

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tiny frog

Smaller is better?

Here is a story about how some universities struggle to keep up with students’ demand for ever-more bandwidth – a demand driven, the article notes, by the laptops, smartphones, and tablets being brought to campus. Though students seem to expect wireless will be there, naturally, on campus and will work at the speed they desire, all this access costs money, and hence the rub: universities across the US are

“exhausting their budgets just to maintain their existing networks while congestion threatens to choke their online traffic.”

Where’s that money really going, after all? Well, one might ask what students are doing on their electronic devices – surely, study some of the time, and surely, engage in extra-curriculars too. Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it a lot – and the healthiness of being “always on, all the time” via mobile device is addressed in this interesting piece: “Smartphone Addiction.”

Back to the studying, though – when it comes to the use of phones for schoolwork, I (like some commenters to the article) wonder how much deep learning can be done on a phone’s tiny screen. As people haven’t had tiny screens on which to study before, I suppose the verdict is still out; but the experience of trying to focus on learning material a few inches square at a time seems to me unnecessarily onerous.

At any rate, if you, students, are attempting to study on a teeny device and are running into problems remembering what you read (as manifested in your grades), try studying via a book or at least a bigger screen. Also, try taking notes and annotating your readings, and do all this in an environment free of distraction. It’s easier said than done, but it could make the difference in your learning and your grades.

Articles cited above: “Device Explosion” by Carl Straumsheim, Inside Higher Ed, 9/5/13.
“Smartphone Addiction” by Stephen Pirog, Inside Higher Ed (“Academic Minute” recording), 3/18/13.

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Back-to-College Articles with Helpful Advice

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backpack girl

Also, don’t strain your back

Whether you’re a new or returning college student, traditional or non-trad, part- or full-time, you’re probably open to some tips on how to navigate what is often a difficult experience – and the resources below offer helpful suggestions:
From MIT Admissions: 50 things for freshmen to consider as they embark upon their college journey (by Ben Jones).
“Back to school: Advice on how to adjust to college from someone who’s been there”: current students reveal their best back-to-school advice for college freshmen. (By Shawn Christ, The Patriot-News,
“Lessons Learned: Seven Tips for Returning to College”: this one is written from the point of view of a nontraditional student (by Suzanne T. Jackson,
This piece gives simple but useful advice to non-trads balancing work and college (“How about a Little Free Homework Help” at The 30 Something Student).
“Ten Tips You Need to Survive College”: This page offers some good basic advice on studying. Check it out for useful refreshers. From Middle Tennessee State University.

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Where Are the Best Professors? (And Is That the Right Question?)

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Star sunglasses


The intriguing piece “Save Us from the Superstars” (published recently in Inside Higher Ed) contains one quote in particular that stood out to me:

Higher education has always had superstars. Big names are lured away for big salaries, only to have very limited contact with undergraduates and very little impact on the day-to-day lives of students.” (John Warner, writing in the Just Visiting blog)

This is relevant, of course, to the college decision-making process of prospective students – and to the difficult yet important question: “But how do I know where the best professors are?” I’ve addressed this before on this blog, here — and suggested an academic adviser is a good resource for that discussion.

The news is good for students overall on this issue, though — I would bet that at every college, no matter the level of prestige, cost, or degrees granted, excellent professors profess. As countless students have discovered, professorial brilliance does not necessarily correspond to teaching ability, or the ability to explain concepts clearly and to engage students. But neither does that mean that the most “highly valued” profs wouldn’t shine in the classroom. Nor does that mean that great assistance can’t be found in on-campus tutoring (I remember grad students helping me to grasp concepts I wasn’t getting from class and my own reading). And of course, many excellent profs are adjuncts (part-time employees) and may not even be listed on the university’s website.

In short, learning is a complex and highly individual process. It’s nice to think “the right professors” will inspire and thrill, making your job of learning all that much easier — and that may be the case at times; but regardless of who’s teaching, learning is work, and the healthiest way to think about your learning at college is to remember it’s your responsibility. If the professor doesn’t explain something clearly, use office hours; form a study group; go to a tutor; ask a librarian; read and re-read your material; search for study aids on the web . . . all these things are within your power, whether or not your learning style seems to “click” with a given prof.

Related on this site: “‘Here We Are Now, Entertain Us’: Edutainment’s Effectiveness”

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For Best Results, Go Away

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What would you bring back?

To consider the non-academic benefits of an education is both pleasant and practical, and a recent item in Inside Higher Ed informs that consideration: “Study Abroad Positively Impacts Personality, Study Says.” That study found that study-abroad students improved various aspects of their personalities, including “openness” and “emotional stability.”

This article made me wonder if, too, study-abroad personality development could be partly due to persevering through being in uncomfortable situations and surroundings – encountering a language barrier, for instance.

Of course this is speculation on my part, but perhaps the inherently humbling experience of being a foreigner breeds maturity by way of humility. I believe humility is a beautiful thing, and (study abroad or not) a valuable trait to a student’s character development. Translate that, if you like, to the need to be reminded “you’re not special” – or at least, “though certainly you may be a unique and valuable human being, you’re only one person in a long string of people and one student in a long string of intelligent and worthy students – and you have much to learn from others (their successes, their mistakes, their knowledge to pass along) in the past and present.”

Image via / Seemann

Also on this blog:
Can’t Study Abroad? 5 Ways to Nonetheless Feed the Travel Bug

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