Think about What First-Generation Students Navigate in Academia

Back in my twenties, I spent a couple of years getting a master's degree in Paris at La Sorbonne. Although I learned content that at times took a strikingly different perspective than did similar content for my bachelor's in the States, what I learned most was how to navigate a completely different system of education – how students and instructors interact, what it means to do well in class, how to prepare for exams and where to take them? Remarkably, this experience is evocative of what first-generation students confront when they enter college.

In The Chronicle of Higher Education last month, Chatelain writes about recently-designed courses that help first-generation students successfully navigate the "hidden curriculum" in academia. The courses have students read personal accounts to reflect on their own experiences, such as the imposter syndrome, conflicts between their own physical comfort at college and instability in housing back at home, and look at data about degree completion and lifetime earnings. They connect first year and advanced first-generation students in addition to discussing the ins and outs of relationships with professors.

This kind of course could be helpful across the nation. What are your thoughts about instituting one on your campus?

Gather Some Data about Your Instruction

You assess student work, but how often do you get a chance to assess your own instruction. Recently, a group published a study that describes what instruction in college classrooms look like. They used an instrument developed to document student and instructor behaviors. It's called the COPUS, the Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM, part of efforts to study instruction where students are actively engaged.

Interestingly, a related app allows you to gather data and learn about your own instructional style. It's the COPUS Analyzer. An observer codes instructor and student behaviors every two minutes during class. You upload the data and easily view graphics that characterize it. Perhaps, you and a colleague take turns observing one another, or a student assistant could do the coding. Take a look, give it a try, and share your thoughts.

Kids, Smartphones, and Learning Through the Lens of Cognitive Psych

Do you ever wonder about kids and smartphones? Sometimes when my son doesn't want to do his homework, his attention drifts to his phone. Either Snapchat or Instagram pop up... instantaneously. I've wondered how his flip-flopping attention detracts from learning. Some of his high school teachers have students leave their phones in bins at the front of the classroom. On the more extreme side, I've heard of high school teachers who consider leaving the profession out of frustration with kids distracted by phones.

Last fall Adrian Ward and colleagues published an intriguing study about the effects of smartphones and the cognitive activity of college students. The researchers set up experimental conditions in which students had their phones on the desk, in a bag or pocket, or in another room. They then tested the students' working memory and problem-solving ability. The closer the phone was to the students, the worse they performed cognitively. And generally, they didn't believe they were thinking about their phones at all. 

I think this article has implications for teaching from middle school on up, wherever there are smartphones. While our cellular connections are remarkable, they affect our capacity to think. I'm interested in hearing what you have observed when you teach or how you handle similar situations. Let me know what you think.

Photo courtesy of  Intel Free Press  & creative commons

Photo courtesy of Intel Free Press & creative commons