I'm Going To College!

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Month: June, 2012

From Study Buddy to BFF

The value of social networking cannot be limited to helping college students organize their time.  Through the social network groups I used for my research project, I was able to meet and get to know a wide variety of people.  People I would not meet otherwise.  I saw virtual strangers meet, and through a shared desire to do better in school, become friends in reality.  Very different people came together, working as a team to accomplish a common goal.  In many of my social network groups, I saw evidence of  group members compensating for individual strengths and weakness in the group, to make the group as a whole more efficient.  This, in turn, fostered lasting friendships, outside the classroom, that can provide students with social checks and balances.

Students need social checks and balances.  Homework and lectures are not the only part of college life that freshmen must learn how to navigate.  Incoming freshmen get the same old speeches about the dangers of partying too much and the value of turning work in on time.  To be honest, if the kid did not learn that by Sixth Grade, he never will.  Everyone knows this, and it is redundant at best for the colleges to repeat it and think they have covered the social life of freshmen.  The information they impart is good advice, but that is all.  Students have heard it all before and it does not begin to address specific ways to make their first year less stressful.

It is past time for colleges to “get real” about the complicated social connections that students need to succeed in college, and offer practical skills needed to survive the first year.  I rely on the social network I call “family”.  When I am frustrated and confused over an assignment, on the verge of giving up, my grandson, Ethan, tells me that if I was smart enough to get into college, I am probably smart enough to figure this problem out.  Check!  If I am overloaded with writing assignments and suffering total writer’s block, my daughter, Rachel, convinces me there is a rockin’ show in Cleveland, and I need a break.  Balance!  These social checks and balances allow breathing room for students.  Taking a step back, and a deep breath, is critical, at times, to achieving the high standards of work that college demands.

While it was essential that each part of the social network received the help they needed with classes, it was also beneficial for the students that helped them.  Olivia, a first year student in my writing class, had trouble with grammar and sentence structure.  I could not understand what a thesis was.  I helped Olivia with grammar and showed her how sentence structure was similar to building a house, it all has to fit together in the end.  She in turn taught me how to form an opinion into a strong thesis statement and prove my theory with evidence from the readings.  Through this process, that started as a class assignment, we found a shared passion for Shakespeare and new music.  Olivia and I have studied together, attended concerts together, and still “tweet” and text to keep up with our changing lives.  In casual conversation with my study buddy in Media class, Joe, I found he did not have the textbook to complete the homework assignments.  Since I am famous for working ahead, I was able to loan Joe my book, so he could get his work finished.  Joe is a post-secondary student and we discovered that we both like scary movies.  We still email each other to discuss the new releases.

Social networks provide so much more than simply “posting a status update”.  What begins as help with classwork, becomes a lasting connection that can only benefit all parties involved.  Hmm…I should text Laura, in my Communications class, about the limited seating in American Sign Language for Fall Semester, and the sale at Macy’s this week!

Passing Biology With Twitter

Science classes make me nervous enough to break out in hives.  Especially the ones with lab time attached.  Students spend hours planning and executing experiments, only to arrive home and realize they forgot the data needed to complete their report.  The choice a student has in this situation is not much of a choice at all.  They can wait till the next class and retrieve the data they need, which will most probably make the assignment late and lose points, or they can drive back to the school, wait around till the classroom is free, and get the data they need to turn it  in on time.  But the time it takes for the second option is prohibitive to most overworked college students.  This is where Twitter comes in handy.

Setting up a Twitter group is not as hard as it seems.  Seven classmates formed what I call the Easy Response Unit for a first year Biology class.  If any student had a question or was missing data, they simply posted the question or request for data to the Easy Response Unit using Twitter.  Since the posts are immediate, within minutes it was possible to have the answers or material needed.  By pairing Twitter accounts with Twit Pics, students were able to send visual images, such as charts and graphs, that are essential to reporting experiments and assignments in Biology.  However, Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters each, so the message has to be short.  For longer responses, students would simply “tweet” asking the replies be emailed.  Twitter was a resounding success for the Easy Response Unit.  The original seven students added four more students to their group mid-semester, and reported that everyone in the group passed with above average grades.  This included Jerry, a History Major, who was sure he could never pass a Math or Science class.

Social media, such as Twitter, is versatile and can be used for more than one class. There is no need to use one social media exclusively for one class or discipline.  That is the beauty of social media.  The ways to use it are as limitless as the imagination of the student.  I found Twitter worked well in Math classes also.  Students who did the work without mistakes in the classroom, often were lost when at home struggling with homework.  A quick “tweet” to the Easy Response Unit and the issue was clarified.  I credit the Easy Response unit with saving time, grades, and the sanity of a good number of college freshmen in Algebra this semester.

A bonus of using social media to organize college students has to be the social networks that result.  Joining one of these groups encourages teamwork.  Students are working together through the use of social media to get better grades, save time, and pass difficult classes.  But they also form a bond.  A friendship that goes beyond a question on Twitter or a text reminder that a paper is due.  They get to know each other and appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of group members.  Students in these networks know they are not alone, help is readily available in a familiar format.  The stressed out students I saw in my first semester, who joined one of my groups, seemed to relax and concentrate on learning, because they had their social network beside them.

The real proof that using social media to form social networks actually benefits college students, is in the students themselves.  The majority of students who participated reported it took less time to do homework and they earned higher grades.  Many students became friends through their shared experience with the social media groups.  And the consensus was unanimous that every single participant would use these groups for other classes.

I am not surprised by the success I had with my research project.  Like I have stated before, I firmly believe that young people today are “way smarter” than my generation.  I am constantly amazed at their intelligence and technical skills.  I am sure they will be the best generation the world has ever seen.  Now, I just have to get them organized…..

Organization of the Masses

My second semester was even better, and more hectic, than the first.  I was feeling more at ease with classes, homework, and other students, as the awkwardness of being a senior citizen in college diminished.  To be honest, I simply did not have time to feel awkward. Four new classes kept me hopping from the start.  In History class, there were so many writing assignments due, at different times, that even with my syllabus handy and the calendar I carried everywhere, I was sure I would miss at least one deadline.  In Media, my professor promised to post a review sheet a week before each test, but there was so much information to learn for each unit that I seriously had doubts about doing well in this class.  I knew I would need help with my Writing II class, because the syllabus made absolutely no sense to me.  And I was not the only student overwhelmed by the semester ahead.  My friend, Anna,  from last semester’s English class,  told me she was dropping Biology after the first day because she was sure she could not complete the lab work and reports with the other classes she had.  Tyler, who sits behind me in History class said he was leaving college after this semester (his second year) because he just did not have time for classes, homework, family and a job.  Neither of these young students were lazy or unwilling to do the work to be successful in college, yet both were convinced they could not get the work done and fulfill their personal obligations at the same time.  It broke my heart.  There just had to be a way to help them, and I was determined to find it.

The best way to tackle a large project is to break it down to smaller projects.  If the class is considered the “large” project, homework assignments and tests could be divided into smaller, more attainable goals.  I learned from Dr. W. in my first Writing class, that the final paper is not so daunting when you consider the assignments leading up to it are smaller parts of the final work.  This theory was reinforced when I looked at the syllabus for Writing II.  However, all that poor Jill, who sat beside me, saw was a research project that would require hours of library time and even more hours of writing and revising, in addition to her other classes.  I saw short assignments, gradually becoming longer, all on the same topic, from different views that would eventually lead to the basis of the research project.  I explained my way of thinking to Jill, who did not understand, and left class that day fulling intending to drop that class.  There had to be a way for students to help each other, without overwhelming anyone with study groups, or tutors, that take even more time and scheduling.

When faced with overwhelming obstacles, stick with what you know.  My fellow classmates were, for the most part, stressed out by trying to balance school, jobs, families, and social lives.  They were also adept at using the new and improved avenues of social media.  It seemed like everyone was texting, tweeting, using FaceBook and email to keep in constant contact with the world.  It occurred to me that students use social media constantly, but they are not using it to it’s full potential.  Why not take the social media they are so familiar with and make it work for them to organize and get help with their classes?  I believe it is possible to use the current social media to form groups, social networks, in each class that would provide support, reminders, and study aid in a way that everyone would benefit.

Organization is the key to accomplishing more in less time.  Since I am not as skilled in social media as my classmates, I started with what I knew best, which is email.  The first test in my Media class was a disaster for the students sitting around me.  I spoke to each student that complained of low scores and all night studying.  In the end, I had eight students who willingly gave me their email addresses and agreed to take part in my email Study Buddy group.  When the review sheet for a test was posted, I would go through it, type the questions and answers I knew, and email it to the other group members.  They, in turn, would go through my email and correct it,  add any missing answers, and email it back to the other members.  Within a few hours, all nine of us had a complete review to study.  And my classmates did study.  Without having to spend hours combing through class notes and textbooks, there was more time left to study a large volume of information.  All scores on the first test, after we formed the email Study Buddies, went up at least one grade.  We all did better!  The social network we formed through email worked to save time, reduce stress, and help us to help each other.  We continued with the Study Buddy group for the rest of the class and even with sporadic attendance and lackluster homework assignments by some of the group, all nine of us passed with a grade above C.

Bolstered by the success with email Study Buddies, I moved to History class.  There were so many varied assignments due throughout the semester that it was impossible for even the most diligent student to keep up.  I decided to use an Early Warning System, using the social media of texting.  I formed a network of twelve students who each agreed to be responsible for one assignment deadline. Each student would text the other members of our group seven days prior to an assignment due date and text a reminder four days before the date.  In reducing the number of assignments each student had to remember, there was more time to concentrate on other things that needed attention.  The Early Warning System was a complete success in my History class.  All twelve members of this network  turned in their respective assignments on time, every time.

Ultimately, the social networks we form with other people in our lives, are most essential to organization.  Social media, texting, tweeting, Facebook, and email are just avenues to keep us in touch with each other.  But they should also be used to help us organize and succeed in any endeavor we choose.  I left this semester  excited about my discovery and the results of using social media to help my classmates.  But this experiment also left me feeling like this may be just the tip of the iceberg.  There was much to do.

And the first thing I had to do was sign up and learn to work with Facebook.  This is not going to be easy….

Classes, Creations, & Catastropies

My classes left me electrified each day, so why do the other students leave, looking stressful and worried?  I know young people are busy, the world moves much faster than it did when I was in my twenties.  But I live in the same world as they do.  I may not have to balance work, school and friends, but I do have to run a household with a rockstar daughter, genius grandson, and my littlest addition, Alex, who at 18 months, has more energy than our local power company.  We are all busy.  More than ever, the old adage, “Work smarter, not harder” rings true.  I, like most mothers, have become somewhat of an expert at time management.  I just worked school into the existing schedule.  The key is organization, which, like a puzzle, when put together correctly, will all fit together to make one perfect picture.  I learned to study global music while doing the dishes.  I practiced public speaking skills while making beds and sweeping the floors.  I came up with the best thesis for English, while baking treats for Ethan’s third grade class.  And it worked.  My grades, beginning as  low B’s and C’s, started climbing to B’s and even an A on one assignment.  Not bad for a student who graduated from high school thirty-five years ago!  It worked because I simply added schoolwork to what I already had to do, and everything got done.  If my younger classmates could use what they already know, social media and technology would have them organized in no time.

All college students discover that partying all night, instead of studying, does not work.  I am no exception to that rule.  The first test I took in college was in my Human Communications class.  The night before the test, my daughter had a job playing guitar at a very popular college bar in Cleveland.  I must admit, the night was fun.  So much fun that we did not reach home till the wee hours of the morning.  I was confident about the test.  After all, I had been communicating with humans my entire life.  I took good notes, organized and thorough.  I actually paid attention to every lecture and actively participated in class.  I had even “looked over” my notes before we left for the party.  However, when I got the test, I was totally lost.  I struggled through an hour of guessing at the answers and held my breath as I turned it in, waiting for the grades to be posted.  It was an agonizing 24 hour wait.  I was sure I failed, something I had never done before.  Why did I think I did not need to study?  And when I saw my grade, relief swept over me.  I had passed!  It was a low C, but it was a passing grade.  I was grateful that I passed, until I got in the car to drive home.  I began to think about the grade.  I got a C?  Okay, now I am not relieved and certainly not happy with a C.  I never got a C before in my life!  So that is what partying all night, instead of studying gets you, a C.  I have learned my lesson.  Damn, you would have thought I had learned that lesson years ago, when I was in high school!

My English professor does not recognize my brilliance.  I have been told throughout my life that I was a talented writer.  And I have to admit, I bought into it.  I am a good writer.  But seeing the low grade on my first college writing assignment, was proof that I really do not know how to write.  Dr. W. wrote positive, encouraging comments on my paper, along with a full page on what I did wrong.  I was devastated.  I thought it was my best work ever!  So, I had a choice.  I could be angry that she simply could not see the wonderful creation I wrote, or I could put my ego aside and learn from her comments.  I chose to re-read her comments, not as negative as I first thought, and learn from them.  I went to class each day and asked questions, admitted what I did not understand, and thought long and hard about how to write better.  In retrospect, I feel sorry for Dr. W. in that class.  There was much I did not understand.  She was always patient, explaining over and over until she was sure I understood.  I spent hours thinking about what I was going to write, writing it, and revising numerous times.  The grades got better as I read her comments and suggestions with a new attitude, and learned how to write like a college student.

Hard work may not bring immediate results, but it does bring the best results.  I worked hard the first semester in college.  In addition to my lessons, I had to learn how to learn all over again.  But as I listened, practiced, and participated in my classes, I found myself more motivated than ever.  I learned so much in the first four classes I took.  I can identify music most people have never heard before, and tell you what part of the world it comes from.  I can write a strong thesis and prove it with evidence from prior readings.  I can recite sonnets by Shakespeare and explain the meaning, or multiple meanings contained therein.  I can give a speech to a group of people stating my opinion and citing sources that support it.  After such a rocky start, I finished my first semester in college with  a 3.7 GPA.  I am on the Dean’s List.  I am “way cooler” now, because I am the smart kid.

I have decided to go to college for the rest of my life. (Or until I learn everything, whichever comes first.)