When I was first making the transition from high school to university (many years ago now), I signed up for a summer “warm-up” program to help ease the anxiety of moving to the next stage in my life. One of the workshops I attended was an overview of what to expect in a university class versus a high school class. There were some valuable tips I picked up in the seminar that helped me survive as a student and I wonder what would have happened if I didn’t take it. How did the other students make it if they didn’t attend that seminar like I did? Many of those tips have stuck with me and I still practice them when attending professional development workshops and classes. Here are some:
1. Go to class – For many, post-secondary is the first time living away from home. Being regarded as an adult and expected to make decisions for oneself can be very exciting. But choosing to party all night and skip class the next day can be a costly mistake. It’s difficult to absorb information and get to know your classmates and instructors if you don’t make it to class. Often, instructors will put questions on exams that pertain only to notes and discussions they hold in class.
2. Come to class early – There are a few reasons why this an important one. Firstly, if you are early then you will have time to go over notes and feel prepared for the lecture. Secondly, you can strike up a conversation with your instructor to reinforce understanding of class content and ask questions. Lastly, even if you do not stand out as an early bird, it is better than standing out as a late-comer.
3. Sit close to the front – As a student who often elected to sit at the back during high school, I realized a huge difference in my marks when I started to sit at the front. I was less likely to be distracted since I was in proximity to the instructor. I could hear better, see better and participate more when I wasn’t separated by several rows of students. I also didn’t have any students to hide behind so I was more likely to stay engaged since the instructor could see me.
4. Make eye contact with your instructor – You will find when you make eye contact with the instructor and gesture that you are genuinely listening to what he/she has to say, they will start to look to you for clues of understanding. This will help you build rapport with him/her and you will probably find you are more engaged when that happens. It will also make it more comfortable for you to ask questions or approach him or her at another time should you have questions or need assistance.
5. Be prepared – Do your homework and readings. This will allow you to be engaged during class and contribute to discussions. You’d be surprised how much easier it is to pay attention when you understand what is being presented. If you don’t understand, you will feel more confident to ask questions if you have at least attempted to read or understand the homework. You will also find it far easier to build a relationship with your instructor when you show him/her that you are putting in the effort.
6. Participate – Nothing makes an instructor more happy than when they have a student who participates in class. Ask questions, start discussions. This is when the real learning takes place. When you start a discussion, you not only let the instructor know that you have been doing the readings, but you are able to engage other learners and learn from them and their perspectives. Not-to-mention, this will help to reinforce the concepts learned from class and homework.
7. Be respectful – The classroom is not the place to snooze, text, listen to your favourite tunes on your iPod, change your Facebook status or tell the person next to you how great the party was on the weekend while the instructor is talking. Some instructors may allow time for such activities but don’t take advantage. Remember, you are there to learn and so is everyone else.