4 Radical Ideas to Help Your Students Excel Academically 1. Test students often. Students don’t like tests. Formal class assessments require more work and frequent revision. However, this is exactly what leads to superior academic performance. Repeated testing increases retention of information and promotes regular study habits. Educational psychologists attribute the benefits that accrue from regular testing to the “testing effect”. In a review of laboratory studies of the phenomenon, Roediger and Karpicke (2006) concluded that testing repeatedly at spaced intervals not only increases retention but that it also encourages students to ditch last-minute cramming in favour of a less stressful but regular method of studying. Try to add class quizzes and tests to your lecture plans. Students might not like it initially, but the results it produces from their hard work will be welcomed. 2. Encourage diverse teams in group projects. In a telling study by Uzzie and Spiro (2005), the analysis of data consisting of 2,092 people who worked on 474 Broadway musicals from 1945 to 1989 demonstrated that the intimacy of a team affected how successful - both financially and critically - a musical was. In essence, this piece of research showed that teams where everyone knew each other well tended to be less successful, most likely as a result of team members all thinking alike. Teams of completely new people fared no better; artists who didn’t know one another struggled to collaborate effectively and this lead to less than stellar musicals. What can students learn from this? Uzzie and Spiro argue that there is a sweet spot. A team of old friends mixed with some new blood tends to work better than extreme cases of high or low intimacy within a team. Therefore, encourage your students to work with a mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces and you will find that their creative and problem solving abilities are enhanced.
3. Promote and facilitate note-taking. We know that taking notes is useful. Students who take extensive notes perform better than those who do not (Kierwra, 1985). So why not help your students get the best possible notes during lectures? One way to do this is to use skeleton notes. A number of lecturers already do this and it can be an effective way of ensuring all the key points are available for a student to review at a later date. Another way of enabling more accurate note-taking is to offer video or audio versions of lectures which students can return to for clarity and completion. When I was at university, lecturers allowed us to use dictaphones and audio recording devices and with this, I could go back to revisit areas I did not fully understand. 4. Get a Twitter account and use it to supplement lectures. OK. Twitter may not be your cup of tea but there is no denying its addictive power in the student population. Some of your students will no doubt be tweeting away during your lectures but instead of fighting this distraction, why not use the technology for good? Other forward-thinking universities are already doing this. Professor Reynol Junco of Pennsylvania State University and her colleagues, for example, recently carried out an experiment where first-year students who used Twitter for educational purposes ended up attaining higher grades than a control group (Junco et al, 2010). The key benefit of using Twitter is that you can continue class discussions online and also offer your expertise to students who may not be able to travel to see you during office hours. Simply set up a specific time when students can ask you questions on Twitter and you are more likely to get engagement this way, than with office hours where introverted and shy students may never show up.
Further Reading: Kiewra, K.A. (1985). Investigating note taking and review: A depth of processing alternative. Educational Psychologist, 20, 20-32. Roediger, H.L. & Karpicke, J.D. (2006) ‘The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice’, Perspectives on Psychological Science September: 181–210. Uzzi, B. & Spiro, J. (2005) ‘Collaboration and Creativity: The Small World Problem’, American Journal of Sociology, 111(2): 447-504 Junco, R., Heiberger, G. & Loken, E. (2010) ‘The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades’, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27(2): 119-132.