Online Learning 2.0: Study Aids for Students

You can do your students a world of good in either your face-to-face or online courses by spending some time teaching process issues in your classes. Start by polling your students on how they study. You will likely find a wide variety of methods. You can then comment on these methods, talking about why each would or would not work. Most importantly, you can talk about how you studied for exams, and why it worked. This information will be invaluable to helping your students succeed.

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When Turnitin asked a sample of students to comment on the feedback they receive from instructors, one theme to emerge was that faculty do not provide enough guidance on the process that students should use to prepare work. For instance, one mentioned that when given assignments to read both primary and secondary texts, he did not know the order in which to read them. Should he start with the primary texts, form an interpretation of their meaning, and then “check” his understanding through the secondary texts, or should he start by reading the secondary texts in order to learn the correct interpretation and then use that to understand the primary texts? This lack of understanding of the reading process led to problems with his product. It is easy for faculty to fall into the trap of focusing only on the product when providing help to students. But that product is the product of a process that went into developing it, and often problems in product are a result of problems in process. One area in particular where process undermines product is in student study habits. Many students do poorly because they simply do not know how to study. As Maryellen Weimer notes, students often study for a test by simply rereading the original material they were assigned. But this does them little good. We have all had the experience of rereading a passage multiple times when distracted and not getting anything out of it. Understanding material requires active reading. The best method to study for an exam is to replicate what will be required during the exam—seeing questions and producing the answers to them. This means that students should prepare by asking themselves questions and seeing if they can produce answers to them. Not only does this force them to draw up knowledge in a situation similar to the exam, but when they encounter a question they cannot answer, they then need to go back into the material to find the answer. Now they are reading actively by searching for specific information, which is far more effective than the dragnet method of reading an entire text in hopes of capturing all the information in their neural net. Study aids You can do your students a world of good in either your face-to-face or online courses by spending some time teaching process issues in your classes. Start by polling your students on how they study. You will likely find a wide variety of methods. You can then comment on these methods, talking about why each would or would not work. Most importantly, you can talk about how you studied for exams, and why it worked. This information will be invaluable to helping your students succeed. But then go one step further by showing how various free study aids will help them implement the active study methods that you recommend. New online study aids make it easy to apply active-learning methods to studying and preparing for exams. Students just need a little guidance on how best to use them. Below are a number of good study aids. Take a look at the features of each, and consider which would be appropriate for the particular subjects that you teach. Feel free to even substitute a class on “content” for one on “process.” You will likely find that the time invested in teaching how to study and other process issues will more than pay for itself in vastly improved student performance. Cram is an online flash card system that can be used in two ways. Users can create their own flash cards with specific questions and answers related to their courses. They also can search more than 82 million flash cards that have been created on just about any topic you can imagine. The advantage over paper flash cards is that you can play in various game modes. For instance, one mode uses rounds that recycle the cards that you got wrong. Another asks you to match items from one column to another. A third translates the flash cards into games, such as one that plays much like the old Asteroids video games and even keeps your score, which you can compare to those of other players. Plus, there is an audio mode that will read the cards to users in any of 19 languages. Examtime is another site that “gamifies” the study process by allowing users to either create, or draw from, study material in the form of flash cards, mind maps, and quizzes. Examtime also has a somewhat more sophisticated performance-tracking system than Cram does, in that it monitors areas that users are having trouble with by displaying those areas on users' mind maps and allowing users to click those areas of their mind maps that they have mastered. This gives students a real sense of where they stand in their learning or preparation for an exam. Quizlet is a flash card, game and quiz study system in a vein similar to Cram and Examtime. One nice feature is that study materials can be organized by folders. Thus, study materials for a particular class can be grouped around subjects or specific assessments. Another advantage is that the “Quizlet for Teachers” module allows teachers to set up study materials for their courses. This allows teachers to load the materials they want students to learn. A teacher might also have the students themselves create and load study materials that become part of a permanent repository of aids for future students to use in the course. OpenStudy takes advantage of the fundamentally social nature of the Web by allowing students to form study groups with like-minded students from around the world. While these study groups are unstructured, the mere fact that students must interact with other students on topics related to their courses forces them to reflect on those topics better than they do with a simple rereading. The system also calculates a “smartscore” for users based on criteria such as teamwork, problem-solving, and engagement, thus gamifying the collaboration itself. [Editor's note (12/28/2021): OpenStudy was acquired by Brainly in 2016.] References Turnitin. (2013). Office hours: Students share successful feedback tips. Webcast retrieved from http://go.turnitin.com/webcast/office-hours-students-share-successful-feedback-tips Weimer, Maryellen. (2014). Is Rereading the Material a Good Study Strategy? Faculty Focus, May 14, 2014.
John Orlando writes, consults, and teaches faculty how to use technology to improve learning. He helped build and direct distance learning programs at the University of Vermont and Norwich University and has written more than 50 articles and delivered more than 60 workshops on teaching with technology. John is the associate director of the Center for Faculty Excellence at Northcentral University, serves on the Online Classroom editorial advisory board, and is a regular contributor to Online Classroom.