How to Succeed
Expectations of Students
What does it take to successfully complete this course?
4 things: Reading, Writing, Study and Attitude
I assume that you all know how to read English at a High School or higher level. This course will require you to read a lot of material. Be prepared to read, and read, and read. Unfortunately, many professors see students who have purchased the textbook, but do not read the assigned material. They then proceed to fail the first exam, and wonder why?
Here are two questions for you. How much did you pay for the Textbook/CoursePack? How much did you pay for these materials? I know the answer and it isn't cheap - no textbook is, unfortunately. You (or your parents, or your financial aid) paid a good amount of money for the course materials. Now let me ask you this . . . After spending that much money does it make sense to not read it? You paid for it - USE IT! How many of you go out and buy music and then don't listen to it (at least once!)? You buy music to listen to the music, you buy a book to read it. Get your money's worth out of the course materials.
How To Read Your Textbook or CoursePack
This material is not a novel. Don't read it like one. Don't read it all at once. The Textbook is a series of chapters on various topics. The CoursePack is a collection of articles from a variety of sources - newspapers, magazines, journals, essays, conference papers and selected chapters from books. Many of these chapters/articles are long and require you to spend a fair amount of time to understand. Do not attempt to read more than one chapter/article at a single sitting. Read a chapter/article or less at a sitting. After reading it, give yourself time to digest what the chapter/article has said. Ask yourself; What was the main point of the chapter/article? What were the author's main points of evidence to support their thesis? Once you have done this, read the chapter/article a second time. Then, read it a third time. Most people only learn something really well once they have repeated it several times. The more repetition, i.e. multiple readings, the better you will retain the information. In other words, read the material more than once if you really want to learn it.
While you are reading the chapters/articles, take notes while you read. This activity will provide a number of benefits. First, it will force you to focus on what you are reading. You do not have to rewrite the chapter/article, only those important points and key themes. Secondly, by taking notes, you will read the chapter/article slower - taking time to jot down notes. This allows time for your brain to begin the process of retaining this information in long term memory. The third major benefit of note taking while reading is that in writing the information down, you are getting yet another repetition of the material. And repetition means better retention.
Throughout the reading assignment you may encounter words or concept that you do not know and are not well explained in the context of the material. Use a dictionary, almanac or encyclopedia to help you to fill in the gaps.
Writing and Note Taking
At this point in your education, college professors, myself included, assume you already know how to take notes from a lecture. Unfortunately, studies with college students have shown that many of students do not know how to take proper notes, or they take notes on the wrong things. Here are some general rules for taking notes in class. This is not a comprehensive list of rules, and hopefully, they are rules that you have already learned. For those of you who like to use a tape recorder I have no objection to your recording the lectures.
1) If I write something on the board, overhead or computer screen, write it in your notes. If I am taking the time to put it up for you to see, you should be taking the time to write it down in your notes. However, just because I don't write it on the board that doesn't mean it isn't important. You must listen to what is being said as well. Important points may be expanded upon orally - you still need to write this information down.
2) Don't try and write complete sentences - there usually isn't time. Note taking is usually best done in an outline format. Concentrate on key phrases and major concepts.
3) Make note of corresponding illustrations or tables from the text, so that you can go back and study those diagrams.
4) Don't assume you will remember something - write it down. At the end of class, don't begin packing your things until you have written everything down. Once you hit that door, you will be thinking about other things, and will probably forget what you wanted to write down later.
5) Watch and listen for concepts that are repeated - make note of them.
6) Copy important diagrams or figures as completely as possible. Detailed diagrams should be sketched so as to capture the main idea. If a detailed diagram or map is so important that you need to have all of the details I will make it available on the course web page.
7) Some things are not necessary to write down. I will be showing a lot of my own personal pictures and images during lecture, and relating personal stories. These will be used to highlight a main point or idea. You do not need to write down all of the details (unless I tell you it is important!). Concentrate on the main point.
8) As mentioned before, take notes from the text material the same as you would from a lecture. A good rule for taking notes from a text is to take notes as if you had to give a lecture on that material. Focus on the main points, key concepts, important terms.
The average student requires between 2-3 hours of study outside of the classroom for every hour that is spent in the classroom. This is the average amount of time required by the vast majority of students. Some students require more. It is the rare, exceptional student that can get by with less than 2 hours per classroom hour. As it turns out, most of those exceptional students who could get by with fewer study hours are usually the ones that put in the most study hours (and other students wonder why they get the best grades!). This 2-3 hour rule applies to students, and it applies to me as well. I spend that amount of time outside of the classroom reading, writing, grading, studying (lecture material, journals, etc.) and preparing for the time I spend in class. I expect my students to do the same. This 2-3 hours time is spent reviewing notes, reading the textbook, working on assignments. Review your notes (previous and that day's web notes) before you come to class. Review your notes later in the day after class while it is still fresh in your mind.
Finding this time is your responsibility. It is not always easy with other classes, work, family and social life, but it can be done if you are truly interested in advancing your education and learning the material. Do not look for 2 or 3 hour blocks of time. Find 10 minutes here, 30 minutes there, 45 minutes somewhere else - the time will add up. To find this study time requires good time management skills. It may require you to give up something else in your life during the semester to make the time. Trying to work a full time job, care for a family and taking a full load of courses is difficult. It is not possible to do all these things well - something has to give. Set priorities as to what needs to be done in your life. It may mean taking fewer classes so that you have the time to properly dedicate yourself to the remaining classes. It may mean that you give up anything of a social life for the next few months. It may mean playing fewer video games and using that time to study. Do not give up sleep! Seven to eight hours of sleep will keep you alert and help with learning and memory. If your education, and future career, is important to you, a few months of no social life or video games is worth giving up. Only you can decide what is best for you. But make those decisions now. It will save you a lot of stress and problems later. Find the time.
The whole point of this time spent studying is to move the information you are learning from short term memory to long term memory. Short term memory is just that, short term. It needs to be reinforced if it is to move into long term memory. Psychologists call this reinforcement either maintenance rehearsal (repetition of learned information) or elaborative rehearsal (making association links between what you are learning now, and the information you already know). Rote memorization (maintenance rehearsal) can be a powerful study tool when used correctly. However, studies have shown that using only maintenance rehearsal to retain information in long term memory will result in the loss of 65% of the learned information after only one day, and 75% after only two days! Elaborative rehearsal requires making connections between the new information you are learning to the information you already know. This goes well beyond the simple rote memorization or repetition. You must think about what you are learning, and seriously attempt to understand what you are learning.
Here are some tips to helping you to improve your study skills.
All the reading, writing and study in the world won't do you any good if you have the wrong attitude. To get at this issue, you need to ask yourself two important questions:
Why am I in this class? In other words, what is your reason for taking this particular course? Everyone has a reason why they are in a particular class. What is yours? You need to know and understand this reason. It will help to provide a focus, a reason for doing the required work.
More importantly, you need to ask yourself, why am I in college? Why are you attending Black Hawk College? This question always results in interesting answers from students. No one is required to attend college. College is not a state educational requirement, unlike K-12 education. What is your motivation for going through the courses and requirements for your degree program? Take a moment to think about these questions - they are more important than you may think.
When I look at you in class, my assumption, for these questions, is that you are here to learn. You are here to learn about that particular subject, you are here to learn that material which is required for your degree program. This is not high school, if you don't want to learn, then you have no business in my classroom, you have no business being in college. Colleges and universities are institutions of higher learning - emphasis on learning. If you do not want to learn, you will only be wasting your time and my time.
This last statement applies to me as well. I wouldn't be an instructor if I didn't want to learn more. I continue to learn new things and improve myself every semester. I am learning different things than students, but I am still learning. The day I stop learning, or stop wanting to learn, is the day I quit this job and find something else to do (actually it will probably be the day I die!).
You are here to learn - to improve yourself. You do that by reading, writing, studying, listening and most importantly asking questions. The only stupid question is the question you don't ask. I don't have all the answers - no one does - but we'll try and answer most of your questions.
Everyone in here can successfully complete this course - everyone - but it is up to you. I can help you understand the material, but only you can really learn it. That is a process that goes on inside of your brain, and no one can do it for you. Come into this classroom enthusiastic about the subject and you will enjoy it that much more. If you have to - fake it. Your fake enthusiasm will help the person sitting next to you and the class in general. Keep faking it day after day and by the end of the semester, you won't be faking it anymore.
My Expectations of Students
Attendance - Daily attendance is not taken in my courses. However, you are expected to attend all classes. Studies have shown conclusively that students that attend class on a regular basis are far more likely to pass that course than students that miss class. If you miss four lecture hours, either consecutively or cumulatively, you may be officially withdrawn from the class for non-attendance. Your attendance will be monitored and I will know if you are attending or not.
I expect students to be on time for class as I will start the class at its official start time. If you are late, that's ok, come into the class anyway, but please do so quietly. It is better to get some of that day's materials than to miss all of it. I do not lock students out of the class if they are late, nor do I take points off of their grade. Come to class even if you can't be there on time.
I expect you to remain in the class, paying attention to class lecture or discussion until the class is dismissed. There is nothing more disruptive than to have student packing up their bags 5 minutes before the class ends. I almost always use the entire class period. You will be dismissed when I have finished for the day or at an appropriate break point.
Missed Classes - I am not interested in hearing excuses for missed classes. Whether you are in class or not you are responsible for all material and announcements presented in the lecture and lab sections. It is your job to make sure you have all of the current information.
Extra Credit - There is NO EXTRA CREDIT - don't bother asking. Here's my view on extra credit. Students usually ask for extra credit because they are doing poorly in the course and want to improve their grade. If I give extra credit to one student, to be fair, I have to give it to every student. At that point, in my opinion, the extra credit becomes a regular assignment. Generally speaking, those students that are doing well in the course do well on extra credit. Those that are doing poorly in the course do poorly on the extra credit. In other words it doesn't help. Time spent on extra credit should be spent on learning the required material. You can best improve your grade by improving your understanding of the required material. If you feel that you need extra credit, don't ask for extra credit - ask for help on the course materials. There are a number of study techniques available and campus services that can help.
Behavior - You are all adults and I expect you to have behavior appropriate to a college level class - this is not High School. The classroom environment should be professional and friendly. Anyone showing disruptive behavior will be asked to leave. Disruptive behavior includes but is not limited to: a) using profanities, b) intentionally damaging classroom or laboratory materials, c) using cellular phones (Cell phones are to be turned off during class), d) playing video games while the instructor is addressing the class, e) placing feet on the lab table tops while class is in session, f) excessive talking while the instructor is addressing the class, and g) creating an environment that is not conducive to learning for others.
Food in the Classroom - I have no objection to your bringing food or drink into lecture. However, it is your responsibility to clean up after yourself. I am not your maid, nor your mother or father. Other instructors and students use the classroom, don't leave your trash on the lab benches. Put all aluminum cans and plastic bottles in the recycling containers in the hall. Throw all other trash in the waste can in the classroom. If I find trash being left on the lab benches in lecture I will ban all food and drink for everyone for the remainder of the semester.
Due Dates - You are responsible for knowing due dates and exam dates. They are on your syllabus, know them, even if they are not announced in class.
Come to class prepared - I expect you to have read the lecture assignments prior to coming to class. Be prepared to discuss the material. A discussion requires at least two people that have read the material and are prepared to examine that information. A discussion with only one participant is a lecture.
A Hard Class? - One of the comments I most often hear is that my classes are too hard. This is true only if you let it be true. I expect students to know a lot of material. I set high standards in the level of understanding and knowledge that students should achieve. They are not impossible standards, they are college-level standards. By achieving those standards you become a better student. If I only expected students to know that which they already knew when they first walked into my classroom, they wouldn't learn anything. The whole point of getting a college education is to learn and understand new ideas and concepts. I set a high level of learning in my classes, knowing that you will come away from the experience a better and more knowledgeable student. Not everyone in my classes will become an Earth Scientist, Geologist, Meteorologist, Astronomer, or Geographer, and I don't expect you to become one. But I do expect you to learn something about the Earth or the Solar System in my course, and to have a better appreciation for the amazing universe in which we live.
Everyone starts with an "A" in the course - It is up to you to maintain that grade. You will receive the grade that you have earned - nothing less, nothing more. I do not give grades, you earn them.
Take an interest in the course - Students that take an interest in the material are more successful than those that try to "skate by". Students that take an interest in their learning and education are more successful in getting and keeping employment. Doing the minimum amount required doesn't impress anyone, and is not what is expected of a college student.
How to Succeed in Class
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