Saturday, January 31, 2009

Quiz Randomizer

A student has informed me that the quiz questions are still being randomized, even though I have turned off the randomizer. I will address this with the help desk on Monday. dld

Update: It's Tuesday, and I haven't yet managed to address the randomizer issue. Now, I'm hoping to get to it before the weekend.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Extra credit!

Get one point added to your final average. This is the equivalent of a letter grade on an exam or discussion paragraph!

To get the credit, attend Rhonda Ragsdale's "Resistance: African American Style" at the teaching theater (A126, downstairs in the Academic Building) at LSC-North Harris. The presentation will take place at noon, Wednesday, February 18.

Free Pizza!

Update: There will be a sign-out sheet.

Textbook or Lectures--what do I study!?

Quite a few students have expressed some confusion about what they should be paying attention to, the textbook or the lectures? This is understandable, and I would like to try to explain my method here.

The textbook presents what I call the conventional narrative. This is the story that most scholars agree on as, more or less, the American story. It contains much of the stuff you will be expected to know about U.S. history as you move forward through your college education. Further, it provides much of the background or context for the material I present. Consider the exploration of U.S. history like a long walk. The textbook provides a nice, well groomed path that one can easily follow.

I present a somewhat different narrative. It is the story I have put together over years of study, research and teaching. I have described it as a reflection on the problems of freedom, slavery and empire. I tend to think of the classroom as a long conversation about these problems. If we continue with the metaphor of a path, this one is less travelled, wilder and meandering. The two paths—the textbook and the classroom—sometimes merge, sometimes part company and sometimes cross each other. Both paths are important. Both stories matter. But what do you study?

How to use the textbook for study: The chapter quizzes are intended to guide you through the textbook. Think of the quiz as a tour guide leading you along the conventional narrative path. Sometimes the chapter quizzes reinforce the classroom presentations, sometimes they don’t. What they do accomplish is to familiarize you with the textbook material. See my post on chapter quiz strategies. Once you have taken a chapter quiz, you are finished with that part of the textbook. Don’t study the quizzes or the chapters beyond that.

How to study the lectures: Each classroom presentation comes with a student outline published on eCollege. These outlines are intended to guide you in your note-taking by pointing out important terms and concepts and showing how they fit together in outline form. When you study for an exam, you will use your own notes that you have taken in class. Taking notes is part of the learning process. When you take notes, you actually inscribe this knowledge onto your brain. You might think you are going to forget it but it will always be there, waiting to be recalled.

How to study for an exam: Each unit comes with an exam and an accompanying study guide. The study guide lists the terms and concepts I think are important. The exam will be 25 multiple-choice questions that involve identifying a term or concept. Every term or concept on the exam is listed in this study guide. Therefore, when it is time to study for the exam, you will begin with the study guide. Go through each term and concept, and make sure you can identify them. In trying to identify these terms, first begin with your notes. The outlines will tell you where in your notes any particular term should be. If you don’t see the term in your notes, then go to the textbook. Try looking it up in the index. In any case, you should know basically where it is in the textbook (remember, some of this stuff is in the textbook, and some of it is not) because of the chapter quizzes. If you can’t find a term in either your notes or the textbook, it is time to call your study buddy. If you don’t yet have a study buddy, it’s time to get one. Two of my classes have Supplemental Instructors (SI) to lead study groups. Check it out; study groups are fun!

Achieving your academic goals: Now you have to tools you need to achieve your goals but how do you match them up? It depends on what your goals are. If your goal is to make an A, you will need to gain mastery over the material. That means you can identify all the terms and concepts on the study guide when prompted. If your goal is a B, you will want to go over all the terms and make sure you have the material to identify them. You will spend some time reviewing this material but you might not be able to answer some of the terms when prompted. If your goal is a C, you will want to go over all the terms in the study guide and make sure you have the material to identify them. Then you might want to review the study guide the night before the exam, along with your notes and the textbook just to “nail it into place.”
It is my intention that these study skills will serve you throughout your college education and beyond. Good luck!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How to Skim a Book

Here’s the problem:
1) College is a time when you are expected to read a lot of books, and it’s important that you do this because reading books introduces you to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Reading can actually help you become a better person; 2) Few of our students have a lot of time on their hands to spend reading books. They have jobs, families and other commitments. Furthermore academic writing is frequently dry. These things make is hard for many students to get the required reading done.

Here is the solution:

Skim. But if you’re going to skim, do it properly. Begin with the introduction or preface, whichever the book has. Almost all academic books begin with an introduction or preface. This is where the author tells you why she wrote the book and what she hopes to accomplish. She tells you what is in the book and why you should care. Just about every academic book you are assigned will be arranged in the same way: 1) the author tells you what she’s going to tell you; 2)she tells you; 3) she tells you what she told you. The introduction is where she tells you what she’s going to tell you. The body of the book is where she tells you, and the conclusion is where she tells you what she told you.

For that reason, I read the introduction very carefully. I am looking for the author’s argument. In other words, what is the main point she is trying to make? What is the central message of this book? I also look for the author’s strategy in the introduction. An academic book is a little like a murder trial. The prosecutor in the trial tries to convince the jury of something. He introduces evidence. He explains the importance of each piece of evidence and how it logically fits together to prove his case. Academic arguments are presented the same way. The author makes a central claim and then introduces evidence to support that claim. She then uses logic to show how the evidence fits together to support her claim. In reading the introduction, I keep the following questions in mind: what kind of evidence is this author using to support what claim, and how does she fit it together logically?

Then I go straight to the final chapter or the conclusion. This is where the author sums up her case. This is where she tells me what she told me. By the time I have read the conclusion, I am usually pretty sure what the author’s central argument is and what strategies she is employing to make her case.

Then I go to the first chapter. I read the first chapter the same way I read the overall book. The first paragraph tells me what she is going to tell me; the following paragraphs tell me; then the concluding paragraph tells me what she told me. Here again, I begin with the first paragraph, then read the last one and then read the introductory sentence of the next paragraph.
In this way, I am digesting the main points of the book and getting an idea of how it all fits together. As I skim through the following paragraphs I will pay careful attention to those parts that seem directly related to the book’s central argument and its main supporting themes. When the paragraphs appear to be laden with a lot of details that I probably won’t remember anyway, I skim down to the next paragraph and keep doing that until I get back to the main ideas.
Using this technique, you can effectively skim a book in 3 to 6 hours depending on the length of the book and the complexity of its topic. Some books are so good that you’ll want to read every word. Others will lend themselves well to skimming. It’s up to you to decide based on how much time you have and your level of skill. Good luck!

Syllabus correction for HIST 1301 (face-to-face)

A student pointed out to me in class that I had an exam scheduled for Friday, February 6. Of course, we don't meet on Fridays. That was my mistake. I have loaded an updated syllabus onto eCollege, and made announcements during class. We will have our first exam Wednesday, February 4. The topic I had scheduled for February 6--sugar and slavery in the Caribbean--you might have already noticed that I worked it into last Monday's presentation. Sorry for the confusion. dld

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Due dates and glitches

I generally spend the first week of class dealing with eCollege glitches. This time it was due dates for my online courses. I set up all the due dates a couple of weeks before class started. It wasn't long before emails started coming in to let me know that the due dates were wrong. The program had reverted all the due dates to last summer. At first, I thought it was just a few random errors on my part but eventually it bacame clear that all the due dates were wrong. So I reset the due dates for the first week or two for all the quizzes in all my classes, and we made it through the week. Now, I've reset all the due dates for the remainder of the course. I hope I got them all right but I do make mistakes. Let me know whenever something like that comes up, and I will fix it if I can. In the meantime, have fun with the course, and treat this as an open thread for any questions or comments you would like to make. dld

Chapter quiz strategies

A student asked me, in an email a couple of days ago, about the best way to read for taking a chapter quiz. Do you read the chapter like a novel? Good question. My answer below:

I recommend the following approach, which you can adapt your own reading and comprehension level:
  • First take a fairly quick look through the chapter, paying attention to the opening matter at the beginning of each chapter wherein the author presents his overview of the topics and time period at hand. Look at the subheadings and glance at the first paragraph of each subheading just to get an idea of what this portion of the material is about. Remember: most academic writing follows the same structure: 1) Tell them what you are going to tell them; 2)Tell them; 3)Tell them what you told them. In English classes, this might have been presented to you as 1) Introduction; 2); Body;  3) Conclusion. Either way you look at it, it works to the advantage of the reader who has a limited resource of time. If you invest time reading the Introduction carefully, you can study the body of the chapter much more efficiently. Look at the charts, tables, and images. They were all chosen for a reason. They signal what the chapter is focusing on. In this way, you can avoid getting bogged down in the details of the narrative but retain your focus on the major themes. After you have gone through the chapter in this way, start the quiz. By the time you have finished it the first time, you will have gained some familiarity with the narrative.
  • Begin the assessment and look up each question in turn. If you have printed the outline from Study Space, you can use the outline as a roadmap to locate that topic in the textbook. Doing this also helps create a roadmap in your mind. This is the mental map you will follow when you take the exam later. Some answers will be obvious, and others might require more careful reading and some thought. By the time you finish the quiz, you will have familiarized yourself with all the main points of the chapter. You will retain much of this knowledge when you retake the quiz and, later, when you take the exam. If your score is lower than you'd like, just relax--you'll get another try at it, and the highest score will be recorded.
  • Retake the quiz. You'll probably find yourself well in command of the material by this time, especially if you've used the flashcards and outlines from Study Space.

  • All of these steps are designed to give you confidence and help you do well on the exam. That is what studying is. Good luck!