By: Tory Dockree
Welcome to the first post of the Student Success Centre’s (SSC) Academic Skills teams Academic Skills Prep Series! Over the next six weeks, these weekly posts will highlight the skills you need to succeed as a university learner.
But first, I’ll introduce myself.
I’m going into my fourth year of Arts & Science with a combination in Philosophy. This final year is going to be challenging but through my undergrad, I have gained skills that can guarantee my success. Outside of university, I love to cook, read, and spend time with my dog.
Each week of the Academic Skills Prep Series (ASPS) will focus on a different academic area or skill:
- Being a University Learner
- Mastering Time Management
- Note-taking in University
- Reading Critically and Efficiently
- Writing for Academic Purposes
- Being an Online Learner
My hope is that by the end of these 6 weeks, you will feel more equipped for your academic transition to McMaster.
This week, the focus will be on being a university learner. Here’s a quick glance at what I’ll share with you:
- What it means to be a university learner
- New terminology in university
- How you will be learning
- Some of my top tips
|Lots of small assignments in each class, many of which aren’t worth a lot of your mark|
|Small classes, most likely around 30 students|
|All of the course content is taught during class time|
|Set schedule from around 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., moving from back-to-back classes with set break times for things like lunch|
|Fewer but larger assignments that are worth a lot of your mark|
|Larger classes, up to 600 students|
|3-5 hours of instructional time for each course which is accompanied by readings, modules, discussion forums and pre-/post-lab assessments that are completed outside of class|
|There will be a day where you tons of back-to-back classes and other days where you have a 4-hour gap or no classes at all|
What does it mean to be a university learner?
Regardless of your living situation, you will end up gaining a lot of independence in university. This is because many things that you may not have had to worry about, like maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, making your class schedule and getting academic accommodations are now your responsibility. I initially found this newfound independence overwhelming, I really struggled to keep myself on track academically. However, over time I learned some tricks that helped me to manage my time better and accomplish everything that I needed to get done. These tricks included:
- Creating a weekly schedule that set aside blocks of time for my classes as well as study time
- Taking time to learn about the different resources on campus so that I knew where I could get support
- Knowing that I should ask for support both when I’m struggling, and before I reach that point
The most important thing to remember is that just because you have more independence doesn’t mean that you’re alone! We are all here to support you. In fact, one of the ways in which we are supporting you this summer through our weekly webinars. Be sure to tune in this Wednesday to learn more about navigating university independence.
One difference between high school and university is that in high school learning is often teacher-directed, but in university, this responsibility falls on us— the students. This is a big change. When I was in my first year, I found that this shift in teaching style had a big impact on how I participated in my classes. Instead of just going to class, I found that I needed to start preparing for them. I began reviewing my notes, would sit at the front of the class and began using the time in between classes to study. By the end of the semester, all of this work definitely paid off.
When exams rolled around, I found I didn’t have to cram like so many of my friends. By continuously reviewing what I had learned throughout the semester, I was prepared for my upcoming tests. For me, the key to effective studying was to develop a routine where I not only reviewed my notes both before and after a lecture, but took the necessary steps to make sure that I was focused during class.
An iclicker is a remote that is used to answer practice questions during in-person lectures. They are used to track comprehension and participation, which can account for 3-20% of your final mark. Professors will let you know if you are expected to answer iclicker questions individually or as part of a group.
TA (Teaching Assistant)
These are the people who will be leading your tutorials. They are typically upper-year or grad students who have already taken the course and done well. TAs are a great resource and can help answer many of the questions that you may have throughout a course.
Both Teaching Assistants and professors typically hold office hours. This is a designated time in the week when you can meet with them to talk about course content, upcoming assignments, or seek general guidance about course expectations. Information about when professors will hold their office hours is available on the syllabus.
Similar to a course outline, a syllabus includes information about who your professor is, what the course objectives are, how you will be evaluated and what the required texts are.
These are the most classic form of lectures. They take in person, and the professor usually gives a one hour talk, accompanied by a PowerPoint slideshow. This is the style of lecture that will be the most common once we get back to campus!
For now, most of your lectures will take place remotely. These lectures come in two forms: Virtual and online.
Online Lectures (asynchronous)
- These lectures are pre-recorded. Your professors will deliver the lecture remotely and upload them online so that you can engage with them at any point throughout the week.
Virtual Lectures (synchronous)
- These lectures are live, but take place online. In order to engage with the content, you need to attend the lecture at the time that it is being delivered.
I’m sure that many of you are curious about what remote learning will look like in the fall semester. Don’t worry, we have an entire week dedicated to online learning later on in the summer!
E-learning modules are meant to help support your learning by providing additional resources that accompany your weekly classes. They are slideshows that are accompanied by a pre-recorded presentation and are usually around half an hour long.
Tutorials are a space where you engage with the content you are learning, discuss ideas and engage with your peers. You can think of these as mini classes where a Teaching Assistant (TA) instead of a professor leads the learning.
Finally, I thought I would end with some of my top tips for navigating university academics:
- Always make a schedule that includes your classes, designated study time for each course, extracurriculars and free time. This ensures that your days have structure, but that you also have designated time for some guilt-free fun.
- Routine! Routine! Routine! Always try to stick to a regular sleep schedule, this will help prevent exhaustion and ensure that you are alert both during classes and when completing assignments.
- When attending class virtually, block notifications and stay focused on the lecture. When you’re in class, turn off your wifi if possible. If you take notes on a computer as I do, this can help you avoid unnecessary distractions like googling vegan cheesecakes recipes.
- Always have snacks on hand. Getting hungry during lecture and not having a snack is not only uncomfortable but can be a huge distraction.
I hope that by the end of this blog you feel more confident with some of the new things that you will encounter this September. Starting university is really exciting and I’m so happy to be able to share this experience with you!
Don’t forget to check out our Webinar Wednesday and Feature Friday Webinar. Both go live at 5:30 p.m. (EST). Learn more about our webinars and contests by visiting the Academic Skills Prep Series page.
Tory is going into their fourth year of Arts & Science with a combination in Philosophy and currently works as a student staff in the Academic Skills area of the SSC.