Thursday, January 30, 2014

A new semester...a new year. Resolve not to be passive.

Passive learner: what does that mean? Is it even possible to learn just by sitting and listening? Perhaps. But it sure isn't easy or effective.

Think of this: you're in college. Either you (through work and/or loans) or your parents (through their work and/or loans) are paying for this. A lot. So, why wouldn't you want to get the most out of it? You shop for bargains in your cellphone plan and for that pair of shoes you want, so why would you not apply the same kind of thinking to your very expensive education?

You pay for it; you should get something out of it besides a diploma and a 2.0 GPA. So, how? It's really quite a simple answer.

Here's the action plan:
1. Read and understand your syllabus--for every class. Underline important things. Put due dates on your calendar so your phone will remind you.

2. Come to class. Sounds obvious, but it's so important that it has to be repeated.

3. Read whatever is assigned BEFORE the class in which it is due. If you're not doing the reading, you're only going to get so much out of the lecture or discussion that is meant to accompany it. Not doing the reading may seem like a good idea the night before class, but it's a really bad idea ten years down the road when you can't remember anything from the class you took (trust me: by then, you'll really wish you could) and when your GPA comes back to bite you because you;ve decided you want to go to grad school. 

4. Be active in both the class part and the reading part. In class, take notes--lots of notes. Write down as much as you can. If you're always listening for what's important, your brain will be more focused and you will learn more. When you're reading, highlight or underline. Make notes in the margin (hey, the bookstore is not going to give you one dime more if you turn that book back in pristine, so you might as well mark it up). If you read actively, always looking for what's most important, you WILL remember more--and that always translates to better learning and higher grades.

So, here's a new year's resolution for you: give this plan one semester. Just one semester! Resolve to do this for spring semester 2014 and I assure you that your grades will rise and you will be much happier. The old adage about nothing succeeding like success? It's true. Once you try this, and you see the results, you'll never go back to passivity again.

How much time do you spend on social media?

In a couple of classes over the last few semesters, I have asked groups of students this question: how much time do you spend on social media each day?

The answers have ranged from none (amazingly enough) to all day.

But here's a little story I want to share with you. A few years ago, when I first asked this question, I got what seemed a mostly hostile response from the group. Their manner suggested that I had crossed a line by hinting that maybe they were spending their time unwisely. I walked out of that room resolved never to ask such an impertinent question again.

A few weeks later, as the semester end approached, I had an email from one student who had seemed particularly unreceptive to my suggestion that students were wasting their time. He wrote that until I asked that question, he had never considered the amount of time he spent each day staring at his phone. I got him to thinking about it, he said, and he realized that it was four or five hours every day. That realization made him consider that if he spent just half that time studying, he could do better. And sure enough, he said he was checking Instagram and Facebook less frequently and his grades had gone up.

So, at the risk of my being impertinent, I'll mention this: just think about it.How much time do you spend this way?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Super Bowl time: what has MetLife Stadium done for New Jersey lately?

To answer the question, what has MetLife Stadium done for New Jersey lately, most people would think of the upcoming Super Bowl. Surely that's worth millions to the Garden State and the urban area around the stadium.

Indeed, that's the argument often heard by stadium project proponents who want to pry loose millions of taxpayer dollars. "It will benefit the area," the proponents claim. "It will revitalize the central city," proponents claim. "It will fill the city's coffers," proponents claim.

In many cases, urban stadiums have not fulfilled those kinds of expectations. Here is a story of the stadium in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. Read it by clicking this link.

In posting this article, I got a bonus. Not only is it relevant because this is Super Bowl weekend, but the story also involves Governor Chris Christie. It's a BOGO!

Update: this post generated a marvelous debate in my American City class this past Tuesday night. I had originally referred to the stadium as "Giants Stadium," but some in the room (Jets fans, perhaps?) took some umbrage at that name, and so I have bowed to their suggestion. And, in truth, the formal name of the stadium is the MetLife Stadium, and so, in the interest of accuracy, I stand corrected. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Another semester...and too much reading!

Why do professors give you so much reading on those syllabi? Along about now, you're probably starting to fell overwhelmed by what those nasty multi-page nagging documents expect you to do. (I used the word "nagging" because the syllabus always seems to me like such a scolding thing--it seems to say "do this, or else you can expect to fail my most-important-in-the-world course").

So, if I feel that the syllabus is meant to "nag" students, and I don't like the whole idea of nagging, why do I give you so much reading?

That's an excellent question that deserves an answer.

Here it is: because I only see you for three hours a week, I can't possibly go over everything that a college course needs to accomplish. That means that you have to read (because that's what historians turn out--books and articles.)

On the flipside, though, historians also talk--a lot. And we produce documentary films--a wonderful thing. So, you also get to listen to podcasts and lectures and watch some very fine documentaries if you follow my syllabus.

I can't apologize for all the outside work I assign (although something makes me feel that I should) because college is "higher learning," and that means more work. So, please remember: we don't give you all that reading and listening and viewing to do because we enjoy torturing you. We do it because we're committed to your learning.