Friday, August 25, 2006

School Tips

Well, today is the fifth day of the fall semester at the University of Houston at Victoria, and I am moving along in my studies. I can’t help but wonder how I am doing; although I am following all the actions specified in the syllabus for each class, I remind myself that reading and homework are one thing, how I will do on tests is something else. Partially because I want to be helpful, and partially because this is where my mind is focused anyway, this article is about how to get through college courses, especially online. Who knows, maybe it will be worth reading.

To start, I recognize that by now, if you are a student in school you have already registered for classes and are either about to begin them or, like me, you have already begun the semester. This is part of my intent here; I am not trying to present too broad of an overview about what school you should attend or what calluses to take, but instead share from my own undergrad and present graduate experience, to try to help fellow students make the most of their opportunity.

First, the obvious starting point which so many students fail to address:

Read your class syllabus and know it!

Wouldn’t you like to roll through each semester, comfortable that you will not be surprised by the assignments, tests, and challenges which wait for you? Well, if your professor is at all reasonable, you will receive or have access to a syllabus, which will tell you critical dates and strategies. For instance, from my three class syllabi I have checked, I know the following weights for grades:

Class Discussion – 10% of the total grade
Textbook Quizzes – 20% of the total grade
Case Assignments – 20% of the total grade
Mid-Term Exam – 30% of the total grade
Group Project – 20% of the total grade

Class Discussions – 25% of the total grade
Case Assignments – 15% of the total grade
Mid-Term Exam – 30% of the total grade
Final Exam – 30% of the total grade

Class Discussions – 10% of the total grade
Homework – 5% of the total grade
Textbook Quizzes – 10% of the total grade
Industry Analysis – 15% of the total grade
Mid-Term Exam – 30% of the total grade
Final Exam – 30% of the total grade

From this I can observe, that while I need to do my homework for all three classes, it counts directly towards my overall grade in Economics. Also, while I need to participate in Class Discussions in all three classes, those discussions count more in my Business class than Accounting and Economics put together. All three classes count heavily on the Mid-Term examination, but the Accounting class does not have a Final Exam; instead the group project weighs heavily.

The syllabus is also a great place to make sure you have all your textbooks, especially checking the correct edition. And the professor usually lays out what he/she expects in an ‘A’ student, which is a very important piece of information.

Why mention this? Well, take my Business class as an example. I checked the ‘Getting To Know You’ list, and we have 30 students enrolled. Two Discussion Boards have been opened this week, and for those two, one topic has 61 messages from 13 students, and of those 6 have only one or two messages. 17 students have not yet left any messages on that topic. For the other topic, there are 22 messages from 10 students, and of those I am the only student to have left more than two messages. 20 students have not yet left a message on that topic.

What that means, is that for the two topics we are to discuss this week, only six students out of thirty have so far done what our professor says is expected. Twelve students have not yet left even a single message on either topic. Sure, they could come in before the topics close next Monday and leave a message, but the clock is running, and the longer they wait, the harder it will be to leave a message that meets the requirement of moving the discussion forward. Since the Discussion Boards count for one-fourth of our total grade in this class, that’s an early warning bell for these guys. It also matters that the professor is getting first impressions about her students; it’s much, much better to be seen as eager and quick, rather than slow or unmotivated.

And yes, I am keeping track of these folks. Why? Well, I mentioned already that I have a group project in Accounting, and my project group was actually the first to form up. In later classes, these group projects will continue, and I want to know about the kinds of people I might be considering as team mates. The ones who jump in quick and get a discussion going, are also the most likely to jump in and do their duty on a group project. And down the road, every MBA student will take part in the Case Competition. Knowing the aces as soon as possible will help me know who to recruit for my best results.

Another hint, if you do not already know it, is to do as much reading as possible as soon as possible. Sure, reading textbooks and study guides is not much fun, but it’s a whole lot better than being surprised by something you didn’t expect. Reading ahead helps you see the tricky parts before you get graded on them, and it also helps you build a comprehension that will help you manage your course focus throughout the semester.

And finally, do your homework! I mentioned in this article that only one of my professors is assigning a course weight to homework, but anyone who does not do the exercises will get burned in the quizzes and exams. Count on that.

Good luck to all my fellow students, and remember to thank everyone who is making it possible for you to earn your degree. If you are like me and are paying your own tuition, that still means thanking the people whose support in other ways makes such a difference. My wife Mikki has committed to my study just as I have, and this has made my schedule much easier and stable than it otherwise might be, and even my daughter is being good when Daddy is studying or doing his homework.

Again, good luck!


rightwingprof said...

A perspective from the other side of the desk, so to speak, but I learned long ago never to assign anything for the first week of class because students don't read the syllabus, and they don't buy their packets (or texts). Giving an assignment for the first week is an exercise in masochism.

DJ Drummond said...

Not sadism?

It is, after all, the professor who gives the assignment, and the students who are obliged to perform it.

rightwingprof said...

Masochism, because they don't do it, and that's frustrating.