Blog
Divya Mathew

8 Strategies To Encourage Interdependence And Help-seeking Behavior In College Students

8 Strategies to Encourage Interdependence and Help-Seeking Behavior in College Students What messages do our students receive from their parents, their high school teachers, their older peers, and siblings before they enter college?  When I ask my first-year students the answers are, “Now you are on your own,” or “No one will help you when you are in college!” and “You are responsible for your own work.” Notice something here? All these messages focus on the individual’s sole responsibility to succeed in college without the help of others. You are independent now. Unfortunately, it appears that these messages negatively impact our incoming students, especially those who are first-generation college students who may not have good role models and already feel somewhat inadequate. Nonetheless, there’s pressure from their families that failing a class or switching majors makes them “less than.” Imagine you are in a student’s shoes facing a difficulty, and not just of an academic nature. Perhaps you feel isolated or overwhelmed. Perhaps your time-management skills are not up to par, and you’re not sure how to approach a professor in a class in which you are not doing well. You have been told to figure it out on your own, and seeking help means you have a deficit and are a failure because you can’t figure it out by yourself. Research and practice have shown that first-year college students have a variety of academic and social support needs, particularly students of first-generation or minority status. To address this problem, universities offer many services but students hesitate to use these. Here is the problem: An individualist culture and society neither encourages help-seeking reliance on others nor admits that you need help. In reality, this is not how people advance in life. All of us are dependent on others—we are social creatures who depend on being nurtured, supported, and coached. We understand that being dependent has a negative connotation in its own right, that’s why we need to look at a different concept: Interdependence. Positive interdependence has predominantly been explored in collaborative practice, but it is gaining increasing importance in other areas, particularly when it comes to community building. Essentially, a campus is a community where students live, learn, and connect. A student’s sense of belonging is extremely important for incoming college students to feel confident and trust that faculty and university personnel have their back. Researchers have suggested that attitudes about academic help-seeking may be contingent on secure attachment to parents and role models. Holt (2014) suggests that students securely attached to their parents may not hesitate to seek help, but those who are insecurely attached, may believe they need to handle their academic challenges and stresses alone. If students who lack role models are dealing with difficulties as challenges to overcome, this may interfere with their adjustment and academic learning. Based on this framework, college personnel are encouraged to initiate positive interdependence through outreach and strategies that encourage help-seeking.,build trust. 1. Try to get to know your students: Make name tents the first day of class and use the back of the sheet to have students provide information about themselves, their expectations for the class, their intended major, and anything that may impact their success, along with their hobbies to add a personal touch. 2. Use check-in questions such as asking about their current stress level and if they may be overwhelmed. Ask them what they need in order to be successful at the very moment. Online tools and apps can be useful for this. Encourage Help-Seeking 3. Having students turn in an assignment early at a professor’s office may take away the fear of utilizing office hours later in the semester.  4. Invite individuals from your academic support center, such as academic success coaches, tutors for your specific course, or Supplemental Instruction (SI) leaders, to make personal connections with your students. Foster Interdependence 5. Tell your own story by showing your web of connections that sustains and supports you, and provide students with the opportunity to create their own web of connections that is crucial to thriving in college. Show your students “famous failures,” and educate them on how others succeeded with the help of their support network, mindset, and persistence.   6. Connect Four: create a buddy system. Have students write down the names and numbers of four students in their class. If one of the four buddies doesn’t show up for class, the others will reach out to make sure they are okay, ask if they need anything, provide missed class material, and make sure they are up to speed. Create Awareness of Thoughts and Challenges 7. You are not your thoughts! Utilize a reflective exercise: Remember a day when you failed in an academic subject or with personal goals, what were your thoughts? How can you turn crushing thoughts into challenges to overcome and develop a strategic plan for success? 8. Have students write letters to one another and address them with, “Dear classmate.” In the letter have them name a problem/challenge they are facing. Then, close with, “What advice do you have for me?” Students can then exchange letters and address their classmate’s problem/challenge in writing.  

Umaprasad Venktesh
Chemistry Teacher

Fostering Student Ethical Development As Part Of The Curriculum

Fostering Student Ethical Development as Part of the Curriculum A state worker fabricates laboratory test results that can lead to false criminal convictions A restaurant inspector disregards health code violations Someone tampers with sports equipment used during a match A health care worker leaks medical information regarding a public figure Ethical issues arise frequently, in every profession and aspect of life. An individual’s decisions and actions (or inactions) can lead to serious consequences.  How can students learn to deal thoughtfully with situations they will face? As part of the educational process, faculty and departments have the opportunity—arguably the responsibility—to help students develop skills in ethical reasoning and decision-making. By fostering awareness of concerns and challenges, resources, and alternative responses, institutions can empower learners to make conscious, informed decisions. There are a number of venues through which institutions can promote student ethical development. These sessions may be conducted in person or online. Among the contexts one may use for addressing this topic are entire courses focused on ethics, lessons within a larger course, and training sessions for student leadership roles or positions.  I have utilized all three settings to encourage student exploration of ethical behavior. A Course Dedicated to Ethics Complete courses on ethics can be connected to a particular project, such as service-learning or practica. Northeastern University has offered a one-credit Ethical Awareness on Co-op elective for students in pre-professional internships. The blended class I taught met in person at three points throughout the term; the remainder of the course took place in asynchronous online discussions. Based on the Awareness-Investigate-Respond (AIR) model, the target learning outcomes included students’ ability to identify ethical issues at placement sites; research, reflect on, and analyze a matter of interest related to their placements; and consider alternative next steps or actions. In addition to defining ethical concerns, participants confidentially shared observations from their sites, determined stakeholders, analyzed videos of entry-level workers dealing with predicaments, and sought resources such as professional codes of conduct. The class culminated with capstone projects that depicted the learners’ journey regarding a particular ethical matter at their sites. Interns examined key issues, determined who and what could be impacted by the situation, explored their own learning in the process, concluded the value and challenges of going through these steps, and finally, delved into how this course prepared them for their careers. Each student determined the format for their individual project. Some submitted traditional papers, while others presented the information in creative and visual formats, such as a board game that took players through the steps involved in researching a particular issue, or an illustrated book where each page led the reader deeper into a situation. Lessons on ethics within a larger course Faculty can challenge students to grapple with ethical issues throughout a particular course. Or they may devote particular lessons to these matters. In my Organizational Psychology class, students were invited to raise and question ethical aspects of all topics under discussion, including the hiring process, job training, motivating employees, and providing performance feedback. Through cases, news clips, and films depicting various situations, students identified core issues, potential ramifications, resources, and options for next steps. Learners led discussions on current events related to organizational matters, identifying ethical components. We also devoted a week to examining conditions, considerations, and potential consequences associated with deciding whether to be a whistle-blower. Workshops that prepare students for specific roles Training sessions that prepare students to assume particular responsibilities, such as Resident Assistants and Tutors, offer opportunities to highlight ethical matters that may arise, as well as expectations for handling these concerns. I conducted Teaching Assistant training that addressed ethical quandaries these individuals were likely to face while supervising laboratory work or holding recitation sessions. Through discussions of specific predicaments they were likely to face, participants considered issues such as grading assignments, maintaining suitable boundaries when interacting with their students, and using appropriate humor while teaching. Common components of the lessons In all of these settings, students were encouraged to: Note ethical issues and quandaries they may encounter Analyze specific situations, including organizational values and stakeholders Reflect on and share initial reactions to gain awareness of varying perspectives and experiences regarding the concern at hand Determine and utilize resources that support decision-making Generate a number of possible responses and discern potential implications of each. In going through these steps, learners realized how seemingly simple circumstances warrant thoughtful action on their part. By being intentional about discussing ethics with our students, educators can help them become more cognizant, skilled, and empowered to deal with ethical matters they will face in their professions and other areas of their lives. As a result, learners can develop an appreciation of considerations, resources, and guidelines available to help them make mature, productive, and ethical decisions.

Umaprasad Venktesh
Chemistry Teacher

Rights And Responsibilities For Group Members

Rights and Responsibilities for Group Members I recently revisited something I’ve always considered a great resource. It originally appeared in a 1992 issue of the Teaching Professor and was published then as a Study Group Member’s Bill of Rights. It outlined what individuals had the right to expect when they participated in study groups. Students not only have rights, they also have responsibilities. Those rights and responsibilities are relevant in any group activity used to accomplish educational goals. The version below attempts to capture those larger expectations and duties. There are lots of ways a document like this can be used, starting with simply distributing it to students prior to their participation in a group activity. During their first meeting, group members could review and discuss the document. They could revise it so that it directly applies to the activity they will complete together. The importance of the document could be underscored by having students sign and submit the document.  Or, you might have group members construct their own bill of rights and responsibilities. Group Empowerment Groups need to be empowered to fix problems that emerge as they work together. Peer pressure can motivate behavior change, but th pressure has to be applied. A document like this won’t solve all group interaction problems, but it does make students aware that groups have collective responsibilities just as they have individual responsibilities. A student in a group has the responsibility to participate, but if that student does not, the group has a responsibility to seek that participation. It’s difficult for most students to stay silent if another group member directly asks for their opinion. Some teachers are reluctant to use group work because some groups work together poorly.  And, with lots of content already in the course, the teacher doesn’t have time to teach small group dynamics. But if using groups, teachers should do what they can to help students learn how to work productively with others. A resource often begins the process. It makes students aware that their membership in a group comes with rights and responsibilities. They have been discussed and doing so establishes that the group has the right to deal with any issues that might emerge. Group Member Bill of Rights and Responsibilities You have the right and responsibility to select meeting times and locations that are convenient for all members. You have the right to expect feedback from the group on work you complete for the group and you have the responsibility to provide constructive feedback on the work of other group members. You have the right to expect group meetings to begin and end promptly and that the group will follow an agenda that outlines the tasks it expects to accomplish during the meeting. You have the responsibility to help the group fulfill these expectations by being to meetings on time and helping the group develop and follow the agenda. You have the right to participate in a group that works cooperative and handles disagreements constructively. You have the right to ask group members to limit the amount of time devoted to socialization or the discussion of extraneous topics. You have the responsibility not to engage in excessive socialization or to bring up extraneous topics. You have the responsibility to help the group stay on task. You have the right to expect that group members to listen to you respectfully and you have the responsibility to listen to all group members respectfully. You have the right to contribute to the formation of group goals, the dividing of the work among group members, and the setting of deadlines. You have the right to expect all group members to do their fair share of the work, and you have the right to confront group members who are not doing their fair share. You have the responsibility to complete the work assigned to you. You have the responsibility to be an active participant in the group process. And you have the right to expect active participation from other group members.

Divya Mathew

Six Things That Make College Teachers Successful

Six Things that Make College Teachers Successful 1. Study the knowledge base of teaching and learning You have chosen to teach in higher education because you are a subject-matter specialist with a tremendous knowledge of your discipline. As you enter, or continue your career, there is another field of knowledge you need to know:  teaching and learning. What we know about teaching and learning continues to grow dramatically.  It includes developing effective instructional strategies, reaching today’s students, and teaching with technology. Where is this knowledge base? Books, articles in pedagogical periodicals, newsletters, conferences, and online resources provide ample help. Take advantage of your institution’s center for teaching and learning or other professional development resources. 2. Accept all who enter the classroom door Much has been written about under prepared students who enter college. Since more students attend college now than ever before, it is only rational that some are not as prepared as we might expect. Institutions are dealing with this issue, but instructors must do some re-thinking about how they teach in order to meet the needs of all learners in their classrooms. Ungraded pre-tests and interest inventories can be used to see what your students already know about the content you will be teaching next. Students in all classes need help learning how to learn the material. You may not have imagined that you would be teaching how to learn vocabulary in your college courses, but that may be just what your students need. Above all, students should not be berated if they don’t know things that weren’t taught in high school. Accept students where they are and help them to go forward. They need a college education! 3. Plan for instructional management For decades, college instructors never thought of classroom management as something they had to plan, but times have changed and today’s college students need to know what’s happening. Posting a visual outline of what will be done during the class helps students follow the lesson and stay on task. Various aspects of teaching, like distributing papers, taking attendance, and making time for students to ask questions, need to be part of course planning. Put policies in the syllabus about attendance, disturbances, cell phones, etc., and then review those policies with students. You set the tone of the class, and management procedures are needed. 4. Teach with a variety of strategies Study the literature and learn about approaches like learner-centered teaching, guided inquiry, active learning activities, lecture, group work, and online discussion. Use what works best given your content and the learning needs of your students. The best advice is to be visual, followed by keeping students actively thinking, writing, comparing, and applying new knowledge. Students learn more easily when they’ve been given the rationale for what they are learning, and when they understand why the teacher has chosen certain instructional methods and learning activities.   5. Use assessment to inform students of their achievement Today’s students are used to checking their grades online so they know where they stand at any given time in the semester. Grading policies need to be clear and grading scales easy to use.  Share your grading policy in writing on the syllabus and then show exactly how it works after the first big exam, paper, or assignment. Remind students that assessment is more than the assigning of a grade. Assessment helps them to understand their achievement and helps teachers meet their needs. 6. Keep the passion It is very easy to become disheartened by student complaints, lack of administrative support, budget cuts, and job insecurity. However, what is it that drew you to your discipline originally? For most of us, it was a true passion for the subject, a desire to learn all about it, and to then share that knowledge. In higher education, we have opportunities to learn, research, teach, and shape the future of our disciplines and influence the larger world through our disciplines. Successful college teachers recognize that many of today’s college students have learning needs. Taking actions like these helps them to meet those challenges successfully. 

Umaprasad Venktesh
Chemistry Teacher

What To Do When A Student Is Failing: A Guide For Mentors

What to Do When a Student is Failing: A Guide for Mentors One joy of a faculty member in academia is the opportunity to train the next generation of scholars who will continue our work to innovate and create, extend human knowledge, and improve the human condition. In most cases, mentoring students is rewarding; we mentors witness the growth, discovery, and learning of our students. On occasion, however, mentoring can be tiresome, frustrating, and even downright unpleasant. Most often this occurs when a student fails to progress in the required and expected manner. Such students are the present focus: how should mentors react when a student fails to progress? We recommend a structured three-step approach to investigate, understand, and then address the problem of a failing student: (a) determine the cause, (b) consider solutions, and (c) act. Determine the cause A mentor can’t possibly help his or her mentee succeed without understanding the barriers preventing success, so the first step must be gathering data to understand the problem at hand. Of course, the unequal power structure of a mentor-mentee complicates data gathering in some cases, so information must be obtained through some combination of direct and indirect sources. In all cases, we recommend talking directly to the student—but we also recommend observation and consideration of behavior patterns over time, as well as consultation with other faculty members or individuals who may have information to share. Every case will be different, and most cases will involve multiple barriers to success. Below we outline several of the more common factors that impinge the success of students. Insufficient ability: For various reasons, students are sometimes admitted to programs without the intellectual abilities needed to succeed in those programs. This is unfortunate as it can frustrate mentors, and also creates inappropriate and unachievable demands of the student. Insufficient preparation: On occasion, and for various reasons, sometimes curricula do not prepare students with the skills they need to succeed. Life stressors: Students have families, friends, and lives outside of school, so of course they face the range of human challenges that exist. Relationship challenges, ill parents, parenting duties, and financial insecurity are common problems. Mental illness: Students can become mentally ill just like anyone else, and illnesses can impede progress in their work. Depression and addictive disorders are common. Physical illness: Chronic or acute physical illnesses also are common. Chronic pain, for example, may restrict scholarly progress. New interests: Sometimes students discover the field they are pursuing is not really their intellectual passion. Without interest, and especially without a desire to pursue the field long-term, persistence to a degree is difficult. On other occasions, students still have passion for the field but they grow disenchanted with their focus within the field. Similar problems may arise. Personality conflicts: A skilled mentor can adjust to student habits and idiosyncrasies, but in some cases a mentor may just not “fit” with the mentee. We suggest this situation is fairly rare, as skilled mentors will adjust to work with mentees’ idiosyncrasies, but it does occur. Consider the solution Again, each case will be distinct and multiple solutions may be attempted or required. We list below some common options mentors should consider before taking action. Additional training: The student may benefit from additional training, which could range from structured and formal (e.g., enrolling in a class) to semi-structured (e.g., mentor guided readings) to completely unstructured (e.g., mentor suggests the student read certain areas and student is responsible for self-training). Medical care: Mentors can recommend but not require their students seek medical or psychological care. Privacy laws limit the information mentors can request from students, but some students will gladly respond and share the outcomes of their care-seeking. Probationary period: Some programs offer opportunity to place students on probation, and this status can be extremely powerful to motivate some students into action. Typically, students are warned prior to probation starting and then are placed on probation with the expectation that milestones will be met by a certain deadline. Failure to meet those deadlines leads to dismissal. Exit strategy: In some cases, either before or after a probationary period, dismissing the student from the program is warranted. This might be done urgently in some cases, but more often it will be done in a professional manner that offers students opportunity to “save face” and exit with grace. A master’s degree might be awarded to a doctoral student, for example, or a student might be granted opportunity to transfer completed coursework to a different program on campus or to a different institution in town. Change in mentor: Encouraging or requiring the student to switch to a new mentor may solve problems in some cases. In other cases, however, it may just transfer problems from one mentor to another, so we recommend it be initiated only when there is clear reason orindication it will be effective. Leave of absence: Particularly when physical or mental health challenges arise, or when serious life stressors emerge, a leave of absence is an effective strategy to help students focus on other life priorities for some period of time, returning to their program only when they are ready to re-focus on the intellectual and emotional challenges of training. Act Once problems are identified and options weighed, the mentor—sometimes in partnership with program, departmental or university administrators—must act. This can be difficult, as emotional, stressful, and sometimes life-changing discussions and decisions will occur. Frank, open, and straightforward communication is recommended. Hiding the truth, or diminishing the gravity of the situation, will more often continue the problem rather than solving it. Transition plans will solve the problem rather than prolonging it. In taking action we urge the mentor to avoid seeing any solution as a failure. A dedicated and skilled mentor sometimes is the wrong mentor for any particular student, and any particular student may fail with any mentor. If probation or dismissal are enacted, firmness is required. Deadlines must be set and requirements adhered to. Similarly, if a change in mentors occurs, then a clear written plan must be specified to enact the transition and ensure the student follows a different and more successful path with the new mentor. In the case of doctoral students, intellectual property and publishing opportunity issues must be clarified with the previous mentor. In many cases, a failing student will be relieved to have an “out” into a new university, a new laboratory, a new mentor, or even a new program or career. They may also be helped greatly through professional medical care. Our point is simple: inaction is usually a mistake and will rarely solve the problem. Action is likely to help all parties. Conclusion It is rarely fun to deal with a failing student. But we as faculty mentors have an obligation to help our students, even when they are under performing. By identifying the cause of failure first, and then determining the optimal solution or solutions to address that failure, we are in the best position to take firm and decisive action that helps the student succeed, either in their current program or by moving to an alternative path without prolonging a stressful and unsustainable situation.