Monday, September 7, 2015

Syllabus Page, Student View
Syllabus Page, Student View (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 My youngest son just moved onto campus this weekend beginning his university education. Some things you just have to experience and learn for yourself, like how to live away from home and how to manage your time, but the one area I knew I could give advice to him and other college freshman is how to prepare for courses and enjoy the course material. So I offer here my thirteen suggestions for enjoying and thriving in the college classroom:

1    1.       Do read the syllabus. It is the key to the course and professors are bound, basically like a contract, to follow it. Before you contact a professor to ask a question, check the syllabus! Knowing the syllabus will give you a sense of the flow and structure of the course as well. If you know the syllabus, you will not only know what is due in terms of projects and papers, and your readings, but you will have a better sense of the course.

2    2.       Do pay attention in class. Distractions are even more profound today than they were in the past, due to smartphones, tablets and computers. Paying attention benefits not only the professor and the class, but most significantly, it benefits you. This is your education. It is a great gift and opportunity. Enjoy it! Paying attention will bring you to a greater love of the topic. This has an impact on grades, but more significantly, again, on your education.

3    3.       Do the reading. Even if you have to skim it before class for 30 minutes, when you should have taken 2 hours, do it! Orienting yourself to the topic(s) to be covered puts you way ahead of the game. It makes class more enjoyable and productive and, frankly, saves time in studying down the road. It means the course does not “pile up” on you. You begin to master the course material instead of it mastering you.

4    4.       Go to class! Even if you have not prepared, even if you have not done the reading, you will learn if you go to class. It is always better to be there than be away, unless you are sick or there is an emergency.

5    5.       If you must miss class, which does happen for good reasons, never, ever ask, “Did I miss anything?” This is the worst question ever to ask professors who are convinced, as I am, that what happens in my class is the most important thing ever in the history of education. Of course you missed something. Ask your professor what she/he would prefer, namely, whether you should go and talk to them about what you missed or whether you should get notes from a fellow student. Keep in mind number 1, though, that is, what you missed is probably on the syllabus. Still, in case something else was introduced in class, do ask your professor, “What did I miss?”

6    6.       Ask questions. When you have questions, ask them. Professors love it. Unless you are that rare student who asks 59 to 74 questions a class (with the majority of them covered in the syllabus), professors love questions. It often leads to a deeper examination of the topic under study and, trust me, it often opens up areas that your professor had not himself/herself considered.

7    7.       Respond to the professor’s questions. If you have a response, offer it! Professors love it and hate to be left hanging. If you are not certain what she/he asked, ask her/him to rephrase it, to make it clearer.

8    8.       Hand your work in on time. I know this seems obvious, but you do not want to be the student who is always making excuses. Everyone is busy, everyone has a lot on their plates, since you have to do the work anyway, why not just get it in on time? How will you know what is on time? Because of 1. and 2.

9    9.       Go meet with your professor to discuss the course. Set up a meeting to talk with your professor if there is something about the course on your mind or you want to ask about some other reading or how to prepare for a test or how to produce a good bibliography. Take advantage of office hours or set up another time that works for you. Just keep in mind 11. below.

.      10. Go meet with the professor if you are having trouble with anything or need clarity. If you are struggling, do not suffer alone! Go talk to your professor, who might be able to help you on her/his own or direct you to a tutor or writing center, etc. Your professors are your professors outside of class time too.

1    11.   Do not blow off a meeting without letting your professor or advisor know. Put your meetings in your phone or a planner or something, but do make them! If something has come up, let them know as soon as you know. 

1    12.   Do not e-mail your professor with, “heh,” “what’s up?” or the equivalent. Be professional. You do not have to be overly formal, such as “Dear Professor” or “Dear Dr. Smith,” though you can be for the first contact, but “Professor” or “Dr. Smith” at the beginning of an e-mail is the best.

1    13.   Enjoy your classes. Knowledge is addictive. We all have some academic areas in which we struggle, but there is always something fascinating to learn and to know more about. Focus on the pleasure of learning. Grades will come when you concentrate on learning.


John W. Martens

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