Friday, 17 April 2015

Demystifying University and College

Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to attend an open table discussion with some of my colleagues and university and college professors from history and geography. The purpose of the discussion was for us to better understand the transition that high school students experience.

A few things stood out to me.

Note: After publishing this, I contacted some former students, and within hours, they had gotten back to me with their thoughts about this post. I have added their information and experiences in blue. Thanks to Teslyn who is at Queen's, Aiden (Waterloo), Kelsey (Laurentian), and Jason (Carleton).

1. Professors are human and care. A lot of teachers try to scare students into thinking that they will just be a number and that their instructors will be too busy to care about them. This just isn't true. The professors were clear that they know that students are coming to them younger, and that this is their first real taste of freedom. They also know that students have other struggles to deal with, personally. And professors WANT students to come for extra help. They are accessible.

Kelsey: "Overall profs definitely do care about their students' well-being and are accommodating for the most part."

Jason: "Professors do care about students. They are always wanting to get to know you through email or extra help."

2. Professors highlighted the skills students need, but they didn't blame high school teachers for the deficiencies. They know that it is a work in progress. Some skills professors want students to be developing include:
  • filtering the vast amounts of information coming at them
  • writing concisely
  • speaking assertively to other adults
  • managing their time
3. Students hardly read in high school, and they don't read in university or college. Just as we have trouble getting students to read (and hopefully read actively), professors are facing the same struggle. To compensate, in first year, professors are giving shorter readings and building in reading response assignments.

Teslyn: This is the "most inaccurate part....If I don't do my readings I will fail the course absolutely. And I find myself reading at least a chapter of a textbook each week per course in my science course".

Jason: Readings are "crucial to success". Essentially, you are reading a chapter for every class (and there are two or three classes a day).

4. Professors want students to be successful. Instructors work to make their courses engaging. To quote one professor, "Students are telling us how they want to be taught". And there has been a shift back to paper and pen notes! Additionally, students are not failing in high numbers in their first year of post-secondary. To explain, one professor brought us the statistics of his first year history course. Of 301 students, only about five failed and the average was in the low seventies! Another professor seems to offer some sort of credit recovery. Despite the fact that her marks were already submitted, she is still accepting assignments!

Aiden: "Kinda sad but I found my first year experience to kind of be the stigma ie the profs need to cut out the weak and class avgs were in the low 60s."

5. Students need to be able to write concisely. The professors were impressed that we are working on shorter writing pieces. As one professor said, "No boss wants to read an essay." Some of the professors are only requiring two page assignments (roughly 500 words). One university assignment that was shared with us required 1000-1200 words--so nothing too long!

Kelsey: The amount of writing depends on your subject, but the profs ease you in.

Teslyn: Students in first year are expected to write ten-page long essays depending on the discipline.

Jason: "In science I found I was writing 1-2 pages, which is great."

6. Citing is important and INTEGRAL to their work. All of the professors agreed that students need to be working with a variety of sources, including academic journals, news reports, monographs, and even Wikipedia (but please use the sources cited at the bottom of the entry). But above all, they need to cite their work!! One professor didn't care what type of citation method was used, as long as one was used consistently. The college professors were adamant about the use of APA, and two other university professors want students to be using Chicago.

Kelsey: "Also totally right. The citing is CRUCIAL. Every assignment, every presentation, every lab, EVERYTHING needs to be cited."

Jason: "Citing was the one thing professors and teaching assistants always repeated doing correctly when doing assignments." 

7. Attendance is an issue. Professors are coming up with incentives to get students to attend class.

Aiden: This sounds accurate.

Kelsey: Attendance is an issue. Some professors have exit quizzes at the end of every class that are worth 10% of the final grade.

Jason: Professors give exam clues during lecture.

8. Professors are not a fan of multiple choice. In fact, some of them have done away with the exam. As one professor pointed out, "Students have been demonstrating their knowledge and understanding all along the way, what's the point of cramming for a two-hour exam?"

Kelsey: Most of her classes have final exams, but they usually aren't cumulative.

Teslyn: "I haven't had an exam yet that doesn't have multiple choice, actually multiple choice is usually a pretty big part of my exam."

9. Overall, the professors are pleased with the students that are coming to them. In fact, one professor told me that he finds Upper Grand students to be well-prepared for university. Another said, "We don't expect fully-formed academic stars in the first year."

Congratulations to us!