December 2020 Student Essay
Study. Take Exam. Self-Reflect. Adapt. Repeat.
Enrique Arredondo, Student
Texas A&M University
From elementary to middle school to high school to undergraduate studies, we have been taught to study, take the exam, repeat. If we obtained a grade that we weren't satisfied with, we were told to study longer than we did for the previous exam. However, in my perspective, I saw myself and other students implementing this study longer than the last exam method and still seeing no to little improvement in exam performance.
I was first introduced to the concept of exam wrappers when I started pharmacy school. For those reading this and wondering, "What in the world is an exam wrapper?" an exam wrapper is a tool that many educators in academia utilize to help guide students to reflect on their exam performance and then identify their strengths and weaknesses. Common questions educators ask on exam wrappers are how you prepared for the exam, what kind of errors were made on the exam, and what will you do differently for the next exam (Craig, et al. 2016).
My Personal Experience with Exam Wrappers
When first introduced to an exam wrapper, I was confused and thought how unusual it was for a faculty member to ask me about how I studied, if I was satisfied with my exam performance, and what I would do differently to prepare for the next exam. It was the first time I started thinking about my studying habits and relating it to my exam performance. I realized that it was a form of self-reflecting, and it helped me recognize the strengths and weaknesses of my current studying methods (Global Metacognition Institute, 2020). After completing my first exam wrapper, I decided to implement my OWN suggestions that I wrote down in my exam wrapper to help my studying methods. When the second exam for the course came around, changing my study habits made me nervous by pushing me out of my comfort zone. Through changing my study habits after the exam wrapper, I had studied less time than usual, formatted my notes differently, and decided not to stay up late looking the day before. My mind was running 1000mph with instant regret of changing my study habits. However, after the exam, I felt more confident than ever and realized that I had not been studying efficiently in the past.
I constructed a diagram of what I could identify and what other researchers identified as the difference between using and not using an exam wrapper (see Figure 1). With the implementation of an exam wrapper, I was able to self-reflect on my exam performance and studying methods through the exam wrapper's guidance (Gezer-Templeton, et al. 2017). After distinguishing my strengths and weaknesses, I set new goals and made changes to my studying regimen. I apply these changes, study, then take the exam. The cycle is then repeated. In contrast, without an exam wrapper, there is no guided self-reflective process and it becomes easy to get stuck in a loop of study for the exam, take the exam, study for the next exam. In this loop you do not distinguish whether your study methods are effective and efficient.
Is it OK to Have Different Studying Methods in Different Courses?
As exam wrappers started becoming more common in my other courses, I realized that it's OK to have different studying regimens for various classes. Completing exam wrappers for different courses became more transparent about what studying methods were more efficient for that specific course. Whether that will be re-watching lectures, making study guides, reading the textbook, making a self-testing tool, studying in a group, or change the way you take notes in class. Throughout our whole academic life, we have been programmed to stick to our most comfortable study method and apply it to every course regardless of the subject. The exam wrapper helps you guide yourself out of your comfort zone and experiment with what method will most be efficient for the course.
Pros in the Perspective of The Student:
Identified my strengths and weakness on my studying habits
Adapted my studying habits to each specific course
Increased or maintained my exam performance
My studying became more efficient
Cons in the Perspective of The Student:
Mental fatigue from throughout the semester prevented me from fully utilizing exam wrappers
After a few exams, it’s hard to keep improving studying methods
In conclusion, from a graduate student's perspective, I have become appreciative of the exam wrapper. Exam wrappers help me to realize my strengths and weaknesses specific to each subject and the changes I need to make for the following exam. In my opinion, an exam wrapper is a tool that should be taught to students in high school exams, or even earlier. Knowing how to use exam wrappers could serve as a doorway for preparing young scholars to be more effective at taking college exams. Exam wrappers are important in that they break the myth that by always studying more, you will see better results. It is time to study smarter, not harder.
Exam Process With and Without the Implementation of an Exam Wrapper:
1. Engage in a quick webquest to identify the details of a typical exam wrapper? What aspect of the exam wrapper do you find most interesting? What concerns you about teaching students how to do exam wrappers?
2. How might you make exam wrappers impactful toward the end of the course as semester fatigue progresses?
3. If exam wrappers aren’t scored and made part of the course grade, what are some ways you might keep students engaged in completing them?
1. Michelle Craig, Diane Horton, Daniel Zingaro, and Danny Heap. 2016. Introducing and Evaluating Exam Wrappers in CS2. In Proceedings of the 47th ACm Technical Symposium of Computing Science Education (SIGCSE ’16). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 285-290.
2. The Global Metacognition Institute. Do Exam Wrappers Work? (2020) Blog Post. https://www.globalmetacognition.com/post/do-exam-wrappers-work
3. Gezer-Templeton, P.G., Mayhew, E.J., Korte, D.S. and Schmidt, S.J. (2017), Use of Exam Wrappers to Enhance Students’ Metacognitive Skills in a Large Introductory Food Science and Human Nutrition Course. Journal of Food Science Education, 16: 28-36. doi:10.1111/1541-4329.12103
June 2021 Student Essay
Let Me Help You, Help Me
The Student Point of View
Erin Cassidy, Graduate Student
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Students face daily obstacles outside of the classroom that ultimately impacts their academic performance. Many of these struggles may present themselves as educational yet are personal circumstances. COVID-19 has amplified the struggles traditional classrooms face. These circumstances include difficult home situations, lacking technology at home, employment difficulties, financial difficulties, and maintaining personal relationships. These circumstances are difficult for students and instructors who lack relevant knowledge to assist students who need help. According to the American Psychological Association, the percentage of students with a lifetime diagnosis of mental health issues has almost doubled since 2007. Eight percent of this increase occurred during COVID-19. This essay describes five ways instructors can increase student success in the current circumstances without overwhelming themselves.
Adopt a Holistic Approach
When helping students navigate their circumstances, it is essential to adapt a person first, student second mentality (Luedke, 2017). View the student holistically rather than simply focusing on their academic experiences. Students are more likely to seek help from instructors who recognize the students' backgrounds and cultural capital (Luedke, 2017). When you listen and understand the student's situation and react to them as human beings rather than a number, it will help them fully disclose their situation to you to support the student in facing it head-on. Recognize that being a student represents only one piece of their identity.
Empower Students to Establish a Support System
Remember, even if a student turns to you first for help, you cannot be the only person in the support system; an effective support system encompasses more than an interpersonal relationship with a student.
Nsamba and Makoe (2017) identify the necessary components of a support system, which fall into six dimensions. These dimensions cover study centers, counseling centers, tutoring, feedback, study groups, administration staff, instructors, and support groups. Let the student know that they are not facing these circumstances alone and help them make connections with the services offered by the institution. Keep a list of referral contacts readily available as students may not be familiar with these services or be afraid to reach out independently. Communicating your support and the available resources is easy to do and especially important for students not physically on campus. They most likely do not realize they are accessible.
Create a Democratic Classroom Environment
The democratic classroom is "one where all students have a voice, demands equality of all members, the shared nature of a classroom space, the presence of student's voice in decision-making, and connections to the outside" (Engebretson & Weiss, 2015, p. 63). Creating a democratic classroom environment allows students to feel empowered. It creates a safe environment for them to learn during the assigned class time rather than focusing on their other challenges, also known as a site of healing (Engebretson & Weiss, 2015). To do this involves:
Facing taboo topics head-on
Allowing students to address oppression
Making the content relevant to students.
Granting this agency allows students to feel more connected to the course and increases engagement in the online environment. One way to do this is to allow for open-ended exploration time during class.
The installation of hope in a classroom involves a genuine wish for student success (Schreiner, Anderson, & Cantwell, 2011). Instructors exhibit evidence of hope, such as respectful treatment of students and striving for positive encounters with them. Ancillary staff members who provide hope to students can also make a positive impact on student success. Working to connect and investing time in genuine attempts to help the students is yet another way to instill hope and improve student success (2011).
Adapt and be Flexible
Both adaptability and flexibility within a classroom promote success. Flexibility includes modifying content, lesson plans, or time to meet the classroom's needs better. Flexibility provides freedom to manage various situations that students may need (Gelles et al., 2020). Likewise, the ability to adapt closely aligns with flexibility. An instructor's ability to adapt to various situations allows for better instruction when environmental changes disrupt the scheduled delivery. Flexibility and adaptability become more critical during unforeseen disruptions such as pandemic and emergency remote teaching. Students view flexibility as a mark of compassion and care. The institution's flexibility includes allowing pass or fail grades or working with a student who may need an incomplete at the end of the semester are all excellent options and are appreciated by students. Adapting and being flexible also increases perceived justice in the classroom, making students more comfortable and more likely to talk to the instructor about challenges they may be facing (Gelles et al., 2020).
College is often a turning point for many students. It is worth watching for when they may be struggling and perhaps not assume that the struggle is purely academic. Remember to view students holistically, encourage them to establish a support system, create a democratic classroom environment, demonstrate behaviors that instill hope, and remain open to change. Incorporating strategies such as these can help students succeed, despite obstacles.
How might you add democratic elements to your courses, both in person and online? How adaptable is your course to the various needs of students?
What resources do you have available to you to help students? What might you do to encourage students to talk to you if they need help?
Of the suggestions provided here, which do you feel will be easiest for you to adapt to? For the suggestions that may be more challenging for you to adopt, where might you find assistance prior to implementing these suggestions?
Engebretson, K. E., & Weiss, A. M. (2015). Empowering Teachers and Students in Times of Trauma. Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue, 17(1), 57–68.
Gelles, L. A., Lord, S.M., Hoople, G.D., Chen, D. A., & Mejia, J. A. (2020). Compassionate flexibility and self-discipline: Student adaptation to emergency remote teaching in an integrated engineering energy course during covid-19. Education Sciences, 10 (11), https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci10110304
Lipson, S.K., Lattie, E. G., & Eisenberg, D. (2018). Increased rates of mental health service utilization by U.S. college students: 10-Yeat population-level trends (2007-2017). Psychiatric Services, 70 (1), 60-63. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ps.201800332
Luedke, C. L. (2017). Person first, student second: Staff and administrators of color supporting students of color authentically in higher education. Journal of College Student Development, 58 (1), 37-52.
Nsamba & Makoe (2017). Evaluating quality of student’s support services in open distance learning. Turkish Journal of Distance Education, 18(4). https://doi.org/10.17718/tojde.340391
Schreiner, L. A., Noel, P., Anderson, E. “Chip,” & Cantwell, L. (2011). The impact of faculty and staff on high-risk college student persistence. Journal of College Student Development, 52(3), 321–338. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2011.0044
November 2020 Student Essay
Effective Teaching Strategies That Promote Learning From a
Tyler Snyder, Student
University of Windsor
This essay provides a student perspective on effective teaching strategies so that professors can optimize student learning and success. In my 2-year college and 4-year university courses, mostly in social sciences, I have had the opportunity to see many teaching styles. Below, I identify the best and worst strategies for my learning.
What to Do
Although many factors affect learning, low-stakes classroom assessment techniques (CAT) and issues surrounding PowerPoint slides were two teaching approaches that helped facilitate my learning:
1) Low Stakes Classroom Assessment Techniques (CAT) and
2) PowerPoint Slides structured in outline format
Professor's performing a low-stakes classroom assessment technique (CAT) activity. One example of an engaging CAT activity from a cultural psychology course demonstrated the invisible cultural norms that exist and how difficult they are to decipher. Half of the class was sent into the hallway. The other half was instructed to only respond to students if they both had glasses or did not have glasses on. When the other half returned from the hallway, they were to figure out the cultural rule by only asking yes or no questions. This first-day activity set the tone for the semester and resulted in more engaged students, along with promoting a friendly classroom environment.
Structuring PowerPoint slides in an outline format. This involves providing students with a set of skeleton-like PowerPoint slides with only key terms which are built upon verbally during class. For example, a slide titled, Define Psychology might contain the words or images for; mental processes and behaviour. This promotes class attendance because the students are not able to only download the PowerPoint slides from online and have all of the information that will be covered. Additionally, professors can add a blank PowerPoint slide at the end of the student version of the presentation with the heading, Summary, so that students can jot down key concepts from that class and refer back to it when studying.
What Not to Do
On the other hand, assigning too much reading, not making PowerPoint slides
available before the start of class, not responding appropriately to student
questions, and not being accessible to students are factors that were detrimental
to my learning and success.
Professor's assigning an overwhelming amount of reading. Students are often
taking 4 or 5 other courses each semester. When there is too much reading that
is not directly relevant to the course, it can be difficult for students to comprehend
the content entirely. When this occurs, it can negatively impact other aspects of
students' lives, such as their mental, social, or physical health. The sweet spot is to have
enough reading to explain the content and make the course challenging but not so
much that it overwhelms. The ideal amount of reading depends on the course content.
Making PowerPoint slides unavailable for the class. When PowerPoint slides are
available for students, it allows them to see what is ahead in the lecture and only
have to add the details when they listen to the professor. A way to post PowerPoint slides in advance while still promoting attendance is to use the method mentioned above that only provides keywords.
Professor's responding inappropriately to student questions when they raise their hand. When students raise their hands to answer a question posed or ask one about the content, they make themselves vulnerable. If the student's answer is incorrect, embarrassing a student in front of their peers can have detrimental consequences for their learning and could also discourage other students from participating. Asking the student to explain their answer or helping to guide the student toward the correct answer helps the student, and the rest of the students, feel safe in the classroom. This is a fundamental principle in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) that helps to eliminate barriers to learning for all students (CAST, 2018).
Professors not being accessible to their students. Another issue is when professors cannot meet outside their office hours or are slow in their responses to emails. Many students are taking a full-time course load in conjunction with having a part-time/full-time job, doing volunteer work, and also have a family to care for. Because of this, it can make it difficult for students to be able to coordinate to meet professors during their limited scheduled office hours. Some professors have held additional office hours in the week, or weeks, leading up to exams and major assignments, which is helpful. Another technique I have seen used is professors being quick in email responses or offering to schedule an online meeting via Skype/Microsoft Teams/Zoom/etc. to increase their availability.
A professor's role is to maximize student learning. These are just a few examples, through my experience, of what professors have done to help and hinder my learning and success. Hopefully, this essay has provided some insight into the student perspective and can help educators maximize other students learning.
1. What other teaching strategies do you think would be beneficial or more important than the strategies listed?
2. Of the suggestions described here which counter what you would have expected?
3. If you were to make a list of what teaching strategies you believe are the most effective in helping students learn and a list of the ones you think are the most detrimental to student learning, what would they include?
CAST, Center for Applied Special Technology (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2, Wakefield, MA. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org
September 2020 Student Essay
Features of Online Teaching that Support My Learning
Kathryn Zakrajsek, Student
Durham Technical Community College
Although I do not consider myself a "traditional student," my preferences and expectations about learning are conventional. I value the expert faculty's role in imparting knowledge, sharing current research, and bridging course content to the real world. My program of study has included face-to-face instruction, hybrid courses, and online delivery. Each of these platforms presents benefits and challenges. Overall, I like online courses. In this essay, I describe the online learning features I find most helpful, as an undergraduate student.
Help Forum and Video Recaps
Hands down, the most helpful tool is a hosted Help Forum. Here you can post a weekly recap video of concept(s) that students struggle to understand. At the end of each week, faculty upload a self-made video explaining the concept(s) in greater detail, at a slower pace, with illustrations or examples. In each weekly recap video, faculty commonly answer related questions posed by questions via email or posted within the "help" forum. I find it most helpful when the discussion forum remains open all semester, and at any time, students in the course can post a question for the whole class to consider or for the faculty to answer. Both work well independently, but the video recaps and help forum make a rich resource to clarify content.
Flexibility Accessing Course Content
Most professors typically divide assigned work into folders within online classrooms based on each week of the semester. Each folder is unlocked one week at a time across the semester. I understand the rationale for doing this when considering each unit as a building block; however, it is more productive when professors simultaneously unlock two coursework weeks. With the uncertainty we have been facing in COVID19, it provides a sense of control. I can better manage my time and the resources needed to access and download supplemental readings, handouts, and worksheets.
"The flexibility of choosing where and when I access content and complete
coursework allows me greater control over the environment around me."
It reduces my stress level, making it easier to focus on the work of learning. Accessing course content and completing coursework can be challenging for students who share laptops/computers or have limited access to stable wifi or no internet at home. When access to either a computer or access to stable wifi connections is limited, the priority becomes maximizing the amount of work completed during this narrow window of opportunity.
In traditional face-to-face courses, opportunities to access a tutor is a strain. My personal schedule rarely lines up with the student center's hours. Even if I were fortunate enough to use flex time or personal time off work, successful in-person tutoring was not guaranteed. Hassles include lost wages, finding on-campus parking, long waiting times, delayed schedules, and, most of all, the anxiety surrounding telling someone I don't know about my academic struggles. In contrast, using online tutoring, which most campuses offer, there is a kind of emotional security in having a screen separating yourself from the online tutor. Students I have spoken with tell me they also find it easier to relate with and open up to a tutor over a screen than face-to-face. Personally, I prefer the convenience of online tutoring as it is now available 24/7 on my campus. It eliminates barriers to access and offers assistance in real-time.
The transition to emergency remote learning, most learning for the 2020 spring semester, likened to independent study through textbook readings, online research, and YouTube videos. While this works, I find my learning is more effective when watching a recorded lecture of my professor speaking. When such videos are uploaded and accessible through the semester, I find that I can better understand the course material as compared to the content presented in a traditional face-to-face classroom. When viewing recorded lectures, I pause, rewind, and re-watch the explanations of concepts that confuse or are new to me. Further, this allows me the control to stop the lesson, take extensive notes, then resume when I am ready, which is impossible in a face-to-face classroom. Students also have the option to adjust the playback speed. We can watch lectures at a slightly slower speed for complicated concepts, allowing our brains additional time to process the information. Likewise, we can view portions of the lecture at slightly increased speed for material, which we already know well.
Connecting with Other Students
Utilizing forum posts and discussion boards also encourages
community within an online classroom. The community in an online
setting is facilitated by requiring students to post on weekly
discussion board forums. Students recognize each other's names,
feel more comfortable asking the group questions, and create an
engaging conversation about course concepts. Requiring students
to respond to at least two of their peers is a great way to encourage
these interactions and help students feel connected. Consider
beginning the course with a "get to know me" post in which
students write a short introduction and then respond to at least
two of their peers' posts. It's essential to have clear guidelines
on what the professor expects for each entry, including how many
words, the topic of each forum, and how long the response posts
should be. This clarity prevents students from posting a simple "yes, I agree" to the forum.
Online Office Hours
Online office hours allow me to connect with my professors through Zoom, google voice, or a similar video chat application. Such exchanges build student-faculty connections through real-time conversations, personalized attention, face-to-face feedback, and time to clarify questions about coursework, grades, mentoring, or advising. It also feels much more personal than emailing back and forth and helps develop the student-professor connection. Online office hours are helpful, regardless of whether the course is online, hybrid, or face-to-face.
Ecofriendly and Economical
There's a reason people joke about being "college student poor." Students frequently rely on financial aid and student loans to provide for their course fees, student fees, back to school supplies, housing, food, and more. Having courses online is economically friendly. We can go an entire semester without printing term papers, notes, or documents. Not purchasing toner, paper, or photocopies is a direct saving. Smart devices allow for online note-taking (with or without highlighting), developing separate glossaries, and reference lists; this saves money on school supplies. And the most considerable savings is found at the gas pump! For commuter students, online learning is a direct saving due to fewer miles driven.
As we return to the classroom, student learning can be enhanced by teaching practices regardless of the platform. Part of the educational journey is the process of personal and professional growth. As with any adventure, one anticipates triumphs and setbacks, but preparation, flexibility, and a positive attitude increase the likelihood of success.
1. This student post recounts the experience of one student. To what extent do you think your students would agree to these strategies listed as being helpful?
2. Which strategies to assist student learning may well be more suited to the online environment as compared to face-to-face instruction?
3. What surprised you most about what was written in this post, either because you had not thought about it before or because your perspective was quite different?