Study Advice for Starting University

Following is an article from The Conversation Australia with five tips for starting out at university including support services, time management, reading literature, plagiarism or academic integrity and personal responsibility.

Five top tips to succeed in your first year of university

February 25, 2019 6.15am AEDT

Tips and study advice for first year university students.

How to Study at University (Image copyright copyright Pexels).

This week, thousands of new students from around the country will be starting their first year at university. For many students and their parents, transitioning to university is an exciting but daunting experience. Here are five tips to help students succeed in their first year.

  1. Find support services

All universities offer student counselling, mental health, sexual health, disability services, careers centres, accommodation and financial support.

One of the first places to look for these services is on your university’s website under the heading, Current Students. Students should also attend presentations during orientation week, ask their tutors and course coordinators or contact their student centre to get more information.

 

The best way to get information is to talk to other students….

 

  1. Manage your time well

Learning how to juggle social and academic commitments is one of the most difficult challenges for new students. One of the best ways to manage study workloads is to draw up a semester plan. This can take the form of a timeline or calendar.

Students should start by entering in all assignments and exams on their semester plan and then work backwards to allocate time for researching, draft planning, proofreading and checking references…..

 

  1. Keep up-to-date with readings

One common theme across different faculties is that a good assignment is one where arguments have been debated and claims supported by evidence. In order to do this well, students need to do the weekly readings assigned in their individual courses.

You also need to read beyond the required list. Lecturers are not interested in students’ personal opinions. They’re interested in students’ opinions that are informed by evidence. That is, supported by the readings and research the student has done….

 

  1. How to avoid plagiarism

Learning how to reference reading sources correctly, to avoid plagiarism, is an essential skill. At the start of semester, most students have to complete online modules which explain the complexities of academic integrity.

Students caught plagiarising risk failing a course or being expelled from their degree. What this means for students is everything you read which has informed your thinking must be included in your reference list.

 

  1. Enjoy university life!

If you’re not happy with your course or subjects, you should get advice from your faculty. Students are expected to take responsibility for their own learning progress, but you should still talk to your lecturers about any concerns.’

 

For more blogs and articles about academic integrity or copying and plagiarism, critical thinking and soft skills click through.

 

University Education – Student Teacher Tutors or Professors?

Interesting article from The Conversation regarding university tutorial teaching or tutoring quality, students or academics?  The glib answer would be neither form of pedagogy, in fact ‘andragogy’ for adult learners shows that many should be learning together as students, not through teacher centred direction.

Can students teach as well as professors?

Student Tutorial Teachers or Professors? (Copyright image Pexels)

Research shows students are as good as professors in tutorial teaching

February 19, 2019 5.23pm AEDT

Professors and graduate students are at opposite ends of the university hierarchy in terms of experience, qualifications and pay. But at many universities, both do the same job: they teach tutorials offered in parallel with lectures.

Our research explores whether it makes sense for professors to teach tutorials – and we found it doesn’t. They are no more effective as tutorial instructors than students.

This finding implies that universities can reduce costs or free up professors’ time by asking students to teach more tutorials.

Measuring instructors’ effectiveness

We conducted a survey about tutorial instruction in OECD universities. Our results show that tutorials are used in 63% of OECD universities. At 25% of these institutions, tutorials are taught by students, 29% by professors and 46% by a mixture of the two.

Using professors to teach small groups is expensive, and reducing costs is a central concern given the increases in tuition fees and student debt.

We have studied the costs and benefits of using tutorial instructors with different academic ranks, using data from a Dutch business school that offers four key features. First, tutorials are taught by a wide range of instructors, ranging from bachelor’s students to full professors. Second, the school’s dataset is large enough (we observe more than 12,000 students) to give us enough statistical power to detect even small differences between instructors.

Third, at this business school students are randomly assigned to instructors of different academic ranks, creating a perfect experiment for seeing whether academic rank matters. Finally, we were able to supplement these already excellent data with measures of students’ satisfaction with the course, and students’ earnings and job satisfaction after graduation, for some of these students. This is important since instructors might matter in many ways and we need to cast a wide net to capture a range of student outcomes.

Students just as effective

Overall, our results show that lower-ranked instructors teach tutorials as effectively as higher-ranked ones. The most effective instructors – postdoctoral researchers – increase students grades by less than 0.02 points on a 10-point grade scale compared with student instructors. The differences between all other instructor types, from student instructor and full professor, is smaller than that.

Full professors are also no better than student instructors in improving students’ grades in the next related course or job satisfaction and earnings after graduation. We do, however, find that higher-ranked instructors achieve somewhat better course evaluations, but these differences are small.

These findings are counter-intuitive. Yet they are consistent with the general findings in primary and secondary education that formal education does a poor job at predicting who teaches well.

What could be the reason why all the extra qualification and experience of professors does not translate into better results for their students? The content of tutorials might be adjusted in a way that students can easily teach them. Further, lower-ranked instructors may compensate for their lack of experience by being better able to relate to students and being more motivated.

Key implication

The implications of our findings are obvious. Universities can free up resources by not asking their most expensive staff to do a job that students can do equally well. We show that the business school we study can reduce the overall wages they pay to tutorial instructors by 50% if they only employ student instructors.

There are, of course, reasons why universities might not want to exclusively rely on student instructors. Students might not be able to teach some more technically advanced master’s courses. There might be some research-inactive but tenured professors whose most valuable use of time is tutorial teaching. And, as with other research that rely on data from one institution, future studies need to show whether our results hold in other universities as well.

But even if these studies uncover some benefits to students of being taught by a professor, we would be surprised if these are worth the extra costs.’

 

Unclear what is quality teaching and learning? Higher education or universities put great importance upon narrow and high-level specialised knowledge exemplified by a doctorate, i.e. content or subject matter expert. Further, the vocational Certificate IV of Training & Assessment TAE40116 is included on many job descriptions as a desirable teaching qualification and meanwhile ‘real world’ experience can be ignored by institutions and/or embellished by the beholder (unlike the ID points system, all factors are not taken into account).

Related issues here, theory of teaching and learning, pedagogy (for children) is cited but for adults we should be speaking about andragogy.  Andragogy of adult education focuses upon adults’ need for knowledge, motivation, willingness, experience, self-direction and task-based learning.

Good instructional or learning design for adult centred learning:

  • broad and deep needs analysis based on learners’ knowledge, expertise and real skill gaps
  • motivated when they have input and some control over learning, activities and outcomes
  • participate in learner centred activities, interaction and social learning
  • opportunities to contribute knowledge, expertise and reflect on their business practice
  • contribution to and management of learning activities through tasks and problem solving; post course too.

A more complete qualification is the UK Cambridge RSA CELTA or TEFLA, especially behavioural theories fitting ‘andragogy’, including teaching skills, and dealing with significant numbers of adult students for whom English is not their first language.

Another issue to emerge has been that of ‘ID Instructional Design’ on behalf of university teachers, but not based upon subject matter or teach/learning skills (when ID is implicit for any competent teacher).

Finally, explaining in terms of cost (cutting or savings) may seem mercenary when high fees are now the norm for most students.

 

University Graduate Employment

There is much concern about the employment prospects of school and university graduates and the following article highlights some concerns and points on reasons including high school career counselling, parents, industry, universities and back grounded by ignorance of skills in demand.

One could add that societal attitudes and knowledge about science, maths or data and digital are low in Australian elites, meanwhile working age population aka baby boomers is in transition and meanwhile, many low level positions require university degrees as a minimum requirement.

Are there too many university graduates in the wrong disciplines with few employment opportunities?

Too Many University Graduates? (Image copyright Pexels)

Who’s really to blame for too many unwanted graduates?

By Tony Featherstone

February 7, 2019 — 12.01am

Why do thousands of young Australians enrol in the wrong university degree each year and overlook in-demand professions that are screaming for graduates.

In engineering generally, about 10,000 students graduate at our universities each year and about 16,000 engineers arrive here annually from overseas, according to Engineers Australia analysis. There would be a massive engineering shortfall without skilled migration.

It’s crazy that so few Australian students study software engineering, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and other emerging fields, relative to industry demand, yet there is a growing surplus of graduates in the arts, journalism, law and other fields with fewer jobs.

The obvious culprit is universities. They have fanned a graduate glut – and a generation of students with high debt and diminished job prospects – by accepting more students into fields that already oversupplied….

….Industry, schools and students are part of the problem. Business complains about not enough graduates being developed in a new area, yet runs a mile when it has to fund university research or co-develop teaching courses. It’s easier to outsources graduate training to universities, take no risk and let taxpayers co-fund the learning. Then, whinge about universities.

Schools, too, can do more to encourage students to pursue in-demand occupations. I don’t know enough about career counselling at schools to form an opinion, but something must be wrong if so many students enrol in degrees that have terrible job prospects.

Perhaps school curriculums are not sufficiently aligned with the needs of universities. Industry berates universities for not producing enough graduates in areas with skill shortages, yet schools might not be producing enough students with the skill and passion to do engineering and similar courses at university.

Again, that’s changing as more boys and girls study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at school. But change is slow and off a low base – engineering, for example, has been crying out for more students, particularly women, for years.

Then there’s students and parents. We tell our kids to follow their passion when choosing a career: think with your heart rather than your head about a degree; take a year or two off for travel before university; chop and change degrees if you don’t like them.

That’s reckless advice. I’m not saying students should enrol in degrees they have low aptitude for, or will make them miserable. They must have an inclination, either natural or an ability to develop one, in any field to succeed in the long run.’

 

For more blogs and articles about higher education teaching, work skills, digital technology and science literacy click through.

 

 

Student Evaluations in Higher Education and Universities

While student evaluations or ‘happy sheets’ become routine in higher education and universities, some question both effectiveness and efficiency in using such instruments to assess quality. Further, what is quality in teaching, learning, assessment, technology, administration and student well-being, then how and when should it be applied?

Student feedback and evaluations in higher education

Student Experience Feedback (Image copyright Pexels)

From the AIM Network Australia:

Mutual Decline: The Failings of Student Evaluation

November 30, 2018 Written by: Dr Binoy Kampmark

That time of the year. Student evaluations are being gathered by the data crunchers. Participation rates are being noted. Attitudes and responses are mapped. The vulnerable, insecure instructor, fearing an execution squad via email, looks apprehensively at comments in the attached folder that will, in all likelihood, devastate rather than reward. “Too much teaching matter”; “Too heavy in content”; “Too many books.” Then come the other comments from those who seem challenged rather than worn down; excited rather than dulled. These are few and far between: the modern student is estranged from instructor and teaching. Not a brave new world, this, but an ignorant, cowardly one.

The student evaluation, ostensibly designed to gather opinions of students about a taught course, is a surprisingly old device. Some specialists in the field of education, rather bravely, identify instances of this in Antioch during the time of Socrates and instances during the medieval period. But it took modern mass education to transform the exercise into a feast of administrative joy.

Student evaluations, the non-teaching bureaucrat’s response to teaching and learning, create a mutually complicit distortion. A false economy of expectations is generated even as they degrade the institution of learning, which should not be confused with the learning institution. (Institutions actually have no interest, as such, in teaching, merely happy customers.) It turns the student into commodity and paying consumer, units of measurement rather than sentient beings interested in learning. The instructor is also given the impression that these matter, adjusting method, approach and content. Decline is assured…

…Education specialists, administrators and those who staff that fairly meaningless body known as Learning and Teaching, cannot leave the instructing process alone. For them, some form of evaluation exercise must exist to placate the gods of funding and quality assurance pen pushers.

What then, to be done? Geoff Schneider, in a study considering the links between student evaluations, grade inflation and teaching, puts it this way, though he does so with a kind of blinkered optimism. “In order to improve the quality of teaching, it is important for universities to develop a system for evaluating teaching that emphasises (and rewards) the degree of challenge and learning that occurs in courses.” Snow balls suffering an unenviable fate in hell comes to mind.

Student feedback or evaluations are an essential part of assessing, maintaining and improving quality in education and training.  However, much research and expertise is required for such instruments to be used optimally for positive outcomes.

For more articles and blogs about higher education teaching, CPD continuing professional development, enrolled student feedback, evaluation, student satisfaction and university teaching skills, click through.

 

Skills of Critical Thinking

Featured

Critical thinking and related literacies are viewed as essential soft, work or life skills to be taught and learnt by school students, apprentices, trainees, university students, employees and broader society, but how?

Following is parts of an article from The Conversation focusing upon argumentation, logic, psychology and the nature of science to help people understand and analyse the world round us in an age of fake news, conspiracy theories, anti-science and anti-education sentiments.

‘How to teach all students to think critically

December 18, 2014 2.27pm AEDT

All first year students at the University of Technology Sydney could soon be required to take a compulsory maths course in an attempt to give them some numerical thinking skills.

The new course would be an elective next year and mandatory in 2016 with the university’s deputy vice-chancellor for education and students Shirley Alexander saying the aim is to give students some maths “critical thinking” skills.

This is a worthwhile goal, but what about critical thinking in general?

Most tertiary institutions have listed among their graduate attributes the ability to think critically. This seems a desirable outcome, but what exactly does it mean to think critically and how do you get students to do it?

So what should any mandatory first year course in critical thinking look like? There is no single answer to that, but let me suggest a structure with four key areas:

 

Argumentation

The most powerful framework for learning to think well in a manner that is transferable across contexts is argumentation.  Arguing, as opposed to simply disagreeing, is the process of intellectual engagement with an issue and an opponent with the intention of developing a position justified by rational analysis and inference.

 

Logic

Logic is fundamental to rationality. It is difficult to see how you could value critical thinking without also embracing logic.  People generally speak of formal logic – basically the logic of deduction – and informal logic – also called induction.  Deduction is most of what goes on in mathematics or Suduko puzzles and induction is usually about generalising or analogising and is integral to the processes of science.

 

Psychology

One of the great insights of psychology over the past few decades is the realisation that thinking is not so much something we do, as something that happens to us. We are not as in control of our decision-making as we think we are.  We are masses of cognitive biases as much as we are rational beings. This does not mean we are flawed, it just means we don’t think in the nice, linear way that educators often like to think we do.

 

The Nature of Science

Learning about what the differences are between hypotheses, theories and laws, for example, can help people understand why science has credibility without having to teach them what a molecule is, or about Newton’s laws of motion.  Understanding some basic statistics also goes a long way to making students feel more empowered to tackle difficult or complex issues. It’s not about mastering the content, but about understanding the process.’

 

This article is from 2014, however it is unclear what Federal and State Education Departments are doing to include the explicit teaching and learning of critical thinking skills to students via curricula and syllabi?

For more articles about university teaching and learning skills click through.