How to Succeed in College

Dear students,

The science of learning has identified many study strategies that can increase retention and comprehension, yet most college professors rarely talk about these strategies. Below I cover four topics: efficient study skills, accountability structures, distraction blockers, and additional tips. If you apply these strategies to every college course you take, and your life in general, the good news is that you will get better grades and improve your overall success in college, and the even better news is that it will probably take you less time than your current strategies and will improve your well-being.

Efficient Study Skills

The single worst way to remember something is to read it. That is, the single worst way to study is to read your notes. If you want to remember something, you have to practice remembering it. The first study strategy I am going to suggest to you is retrieval. In cognitive science, the retrieval effect suggests that if you want to remember or retrieve something from your memory, you have to PRACTICE remembering or retrieving it from you memory! If you do not practice retrieving it, then why do you expect to be able to retrieve the information on your exam, or, later in life, as most college professors would like you to do as you apply the concepts from your coursework to the real world. In fact, according to science, the more times you have to remember something, the more likely you are to remember it in the future. Thus, practice retrieval.

Try making flashcards, using resources from your textbook which may include flashcards, or use Quizlet or other applications or websites that allow you to create your own flashcards or games. You can try creating regular flashcards, or try a strategy I once heard an ADHD coach suggest – create a visual depiction along with the word you are trying to remember. If you are a visual learner, you may remember better with the visual cue in conjunction with the word. Have a friend quiz you – perhaps a friend you make in this class, or another friend. Take turns quizzing each other on material from your respective courses.

The second study strategy I am going to suggest to you is prediction. In an experiment, UCLA researchers found that the simple act of predicting what you are going to be taught, even if it is wrong, increases retention of material. Specifically, according to James Lang’s book Small Teaching, when you use prediction: “you are compelled to search around for any possible information you might have that could relate to the subject matter and help you make a plausible prediction. That search activates prior knowledge you have about the subject matter and prepares your brain to slot the answer, when you receive it, into a more richly connected network of facts.” (p. 49). If you want a better grade in your courses, try predicting what you think you will learn in a reading, in a lecture, or in a video or podcast before you consume the material. Specifically, try reading the title of a chapter or video. What do you think it is going to be about? What do you think will be the four main points? Read the chapter or watch the video. Were you right? Even better, go back and correct your answers. This strategy will help you retain the material for the exams, and even later in life.

Continue reading

Active Learning Activity: The Motherhood Penalty, at Work and Home

Kermit The Frog Drinking Tea - men are seen as harder workers when they have kids but mothers are "less into the work" but thats none of my business

A student meme from Autumn 2017.

My absolutely favorite assignment every semester is the “family science meme” assignment. I have them make a meme related to our class, and write a short paragraph explaining it. This assignment really helps me understand what stood out to them during the semester, plus the memes are really funny. I noticed last semester that more than half of the memes were about microaggressions! I do a class every semester on microaggressions – what they are and how they affect families. I use these videos from MTV. My students find these videos so compelling, they often end up being one of the most memorable activities of the semester.

I wanted to create an assignment/learning experiences that would be as memorable and profound for a topic I am passionate about – the Motherhood Penalty. I worked with Michael Garrett from my college’s Ed Tech team to create a series of videos in which women (all friends of mine) tell their experience of the motherhood penalty. The students then complete an assignment in which they read an article and watch a video about the motherhood penalty, and watch the scenarios (linked below). Next they describe how they would have handled each scenario and how, collectively, the scenarios illustrate the penalty.

Next, in class, or in an online discussion forum, they watch the resolution videos, where the women describe how they handled it and how it made them feel, if they would handle it differently now, and offer some advice. I follow this with a lecture or discussion of this cartoon which illustrates the mental load that mother’s take on at home, and some of my research on the division of labor at the transition to parenthood (Dads are often having fun while moms work around the house and When the baby comes, working couples no longer share housework equally). We then discuss the motherhood penalty at home. At the end of class, we bring it all together.

My students have just completed these activities, and the student feedback was amazing. Note in the first class period/discussion of this module, we talked about the gender pay gap with these videos, so you will some mention of the pay gap.

“One thing that really surprised me in this module were all of the microaggressions and the penalties that mothers face in the work force. I always knew that it was difficult for mothers to keep a career and mothers often make significantly less money than single women and fathers. I also thought the one fact was interesting: “The pay gap between childless women and mothers is greater than the pay gap between men and women.” This just really solidified how prevalent the problem is to me. I think something that is also troubling is I’m not sure how we can fix it. There is no law-breaking, it is all just stereotypes and stigma and that is hard to rid of. I guess we just have to raise awareness first and educate women on their rights and what to do if they experience this. I am glad we had this module so I, personally, can be more prepared for my future.”

“Overall, the materials from this week really opened my eyes up to some important arguments, and sort of angered me. Why aren’t people talking about this? Why isn’t anything being done about this? How can people just sit back and let this happen? I wish I had answers.” Continue reading

From Distracted to Productive: Time Management Lessons for Students… and Us

I was recently chosen as a Spring 2018 Featured Teacher by The Ohio State University Center for the Advancement of Teaching. As a featured teacher, I wrote a blog post for UCAT. The final UCAT version is a more polished and succinct, but I thought I would post the original, longer version here. Enjoy!

From Distracted to Productive: Time Management Lessons for Students… and Us

I recently said to my husband, “I don’t think I could have gotten my Ph.D. if I had had a smart phone! Or tenure for that matter.” Digital distraction is a real thing, and most of our undergraduate and graduate students suffer from it, as does our staff, lecturers, and faculty – actually, just about everyone privileged enough to have digital devices suffers from digital distraction. When we consider non-content related skills that our students need, we often discuss critical thinking and writing skills. But perhaps the most significant non-content related skill that our students need to learn is how to deal with digital distraction and procrastination so that they can focus on learning and achieving their goals.

This spring, I decided teach my students to deal with digital distractions and procrastination by giving them ALL of my own strategies that I use to be productive. My husband and I both work full-time at OSU, and we have four sons between ages 5 and 14. Because I don’t like to work all of the time and I enjoy reading books, watching TV, and hanging out with my family, I read a lot of books, articles, and podcasts about productivity and accountability. Over winter break, I read a book that I highly recommend to everyone: Small Teaching by James Lang. In this book, I learned that to cement my course material into my students’ long-term memories, they were going to need to be forced to recall that material. I decided to add in a cumulative midterm and final to my course HDFS 2200, Family Development, and as such, I also decided that I needed to give my students non-content related skills for studying so that they would be successful! This led me to take stock of the strategies I use to be productive, and I realized that most of my strategies would also work for my students. I created a video script, then recorded a video, and posted the script, to my online and in-person courses. I required students to watch/read the script and held them accountable by quizzing them over the content. I called it “How to Succeed in HDFS 2200.” I also created a generic version of the script called How to Succeed in College.
Continue reading

Active Learning Activity: Perfect Partners and the Suffocation of Marriage

I have been really busy with life, and work, and lots of other things, so it has been over a year since I have posted! I thought I would share a fun active learning exercise that I do with my family development students related to intimate relationships. Thanks to Kale Monk for some of the inspiration behind this two-part activity.

One thing I want to teach my students is to keep their expectations for their partners in check. One person cannot be our best friend, best lover, biggest source of perfect social support, accountability partner for our goals, etcetera. That is too much pressure to put on any one person! To make this point, I have my students do two in-class activities (on different days) that I tie together. Note I do these activities with a freshman/sophomore level gen-ed class of about 55 students (and I have an online version that I use for an online class of about 200 students).

Class 1: The Perfect Partner

On the first day, in a module of the course called “love and romantic relationships” I have them do a supplemental reading from Aziz Ansari’s book Modern Romance. Here is a quote from the chapter called Choices and Options:

“. . . we live in a culture that tells us we want and deserve the best, and now we have the technology to get it. Think about the overwhelming popularity of websites that are dedicated to our pursuit of the best things available. Yelp for restaurants. TripAdvisor for travel. Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic for movies. A few decades ago, if I wanted to research vanilla ice cream, what would I have even done? Cold-approach chubby guys and then slowly steer the convo toward ice cream to get their take? No, thanks. Nowadays the Internet is my chubby friend. It is the whole world’s chubby friend. If this mentality has so pervaded our decision making, then it stands to reason that it is also affecting our search for a romantic partner, especially if it’s going to be long-term.”

Ansari, Aziz; Klinenberg, Eric. Modern Romance (Kindle Locations 1521-1528). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

No pressure here!

After having an in-class discussion about an assignment related to the chapter, I have them consider how much time they spend researching a purchase or where to go to dinner. Then, I ask “Do we take this “best of” mentality into our relationships?”
Continue reading

Fighting Back: Implicit Bias, Micro-aggressions, and Micro-resistance

I have been planning to do a post on diversity in graduate education, but it requires me being vulnerable and I wasn’t even sure how to even do it. On Tuesday, in my first-year graduate proseminar, we had a session on implicit bias, micro-aggressions, and micro-resistance, and ironically, 2016 was the first year that I have included this session. I thought as I taught that class that the glass ceiling would be shattered that night and that the need for a class on these topics would become less necessary over time. How wrong I was. Now, more than ever, the necessity of promoting diversity, and strategies for dealing with implicit bias in the academy and life, have never been more important.

What is implicit bias?

Implicit bias is a major pathway through which privilege is enacted. Using the definition from Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute: “implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.  Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.”

Continue reading

A Graduate Family Course Syllabus

I have been revising my Theoretical Perspectives on the Family syllabus (see the final product here). [Check out this post for tips on how to design your own interdisciplinary graduate seminars]  In a given week, I only want to assign about four readings. But, given that I have to cover theory and substantive topics each week, four readings is always too few. Further, I don’t want the students only reading work from psychology, but also from sociology and economics, and even from communication, public health, anthropology, and law when appropriate. My courses therefore end up being a lot of work for students, and a lot of work for me in design.

Two principles that informed my design:

First, I spoke with a student last year who was talking with me about race discrimination and overall racial ignorance in her graduate program. One example she gave me was that in her classes, diversity was either ignored all together or relegated to a specific week in the semester. This was insulting as race and diversity issues touch every issue, every week. With this in mind, I tried to incorporate readings about marginalized families every week.

Second, all readings must be accessible online. I will only assign a reading that is not online if I have access to a pdf that I can post to our course management system. I do not want to contribute to grad student debt if at all possible.

Here is a list of theories and topics that I cover each week, and the readings I chose to represent them.

Introduction to the course. What is a fact? Historical changes and the American family. An introduction to theory

Cherlin, A. (2009). Why it’s hard to know when a fact is a fact.

Continue reading

Designing an (Interdisciplinary) Graduate Seminar: The Crowd-Sourced Syllabus

Designing syllabi for graduate courses is a lot of work, particularly when they are seminars, and particularly when you are in an interdisciplinary program.  In an interdisciplinary program, you might want to teach a seminar on a topic, say intimate relationships, but may only know the research in the discipline (e.g. clinical psychology) you were trained in.  This is one instance where crowd-sourcing can really help.medium_5120100

Here is my story. I teach a graduate course in family theory and research. There are several constellations of family relationships (i.e. couple relationships, sibling relationships, parent-child relationships, in-law, grandparent-grandchild, etc.), as well as several theories related to the study of families. Thus, putting together the syllabus for this course the first time was overwhelming.

I began by looking at a syllabus for a family theory/research course I enjoyed that I took in graduate school in HDFS at Penn State taught by Catherine Cohan, HDFS 525 for you Penn State HDFSers. Next, I googled “sociology of the family”, “economics of the family”, “family communication”, “family psychology”, and “family theory”, and variations on these, with the word syllabus to try to find syllabi that might be relevant. In writing this post, I looked back at my folder of syllabi, and I have several sociology, HDFS, economics, and psychology syllabi related to the family that I used to get ideas of what important readings I might want to include.

Next, I put together an initial draft. I circulated the initial draft among 12 faculty outside of my home institution and my colleagues at Ohio State. I sent the following message:

Continue reading