Archive for the ‘undergrads’ Category

Depression at the Undergraduate Level

A couple days ago, I attended a teaching workshop that focused on issues facing current undergraduate students. One reoccurring theme was that today’s students suffer from stress and depression much more than earlier generations. Some of the causes could be heavier workloads, too many other things taking up their time (cell phone, internet, etc.), not taking care of themselves physically (sleep, diet, exercise), and lack of ability to deal with emotions.

A lot of time was spent discussing what the signs are for depression and what can be done to help, such as making students aware of the issues in the first place, knowing who to call for help on campus, and being sympathetic.

Although it was interesting, I was left feeling even more confused on how to deal with these types of situations. How do we as teachers (i.e., not trained psychologists, psychiatrists, etc.) tell the difference between a student who is just having a rough day from one who is truly suffering? What about students who try to take advantage of such situations (for example, I went to school with someone who’s “grandmother” died 3 times – all during exam times)? How are we supposed to know when to just lend a sympathetic ear, or when a student needs more than that?

Has anyone else been to a workshop like this one? Did you get any concrete advice?

Has anyone had to deal with such a situation in their classroom or lab? If so, then what did you do? Did you feel you did the right thing?

In a more general sense – do you believe that more people suffer from depression these days, or is it just more accepted/more diagnosed?

If anyone is interested in seeing more of what was discussed during the workshop, one of the speakers has his PowerPoint slides available here for download.
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The Millennials

I attended a teaching workshop the other day that was all about the Millennial Generation (aka. Generation Me, Generation Y, or the Entitlement Generation). This includes people born between 1982-2002, although most typically thought of as the current college/university student population.

The first talk gave a general description of what this generation is like: they tend to be tech-savvy (having grown up with it), are team-oriented, have high self-esteem (thanks to the self-esteem movement of the 80s and 90s where you’re told you can do anything), are good multi-taskers, have shorter attention spans, etc.. These are things I’ve heard before so, although interesting, nothing really surprised me.

The second session though, was a bit different. Instead of some “expert” talking about these students and how they want to be taught, there was a panel of 5 undergraduate students from different disciplines (English, Media Studies, Computer Science and Health Science). They shared their thoughts about the first talk and discussed what their expectations are when it comes to teaching.

This was an eye-opening experience, and I wish more people could have been there to listen to what these students had to say.

A familiar theme that cropped up while they were speaking was that they all craved relevance. Why are they learning what they’re learning? What is the motivation behind it? Will it be useful to them in a future class or in a job situation? Basically, they said that if a prof can do this, then the majority of the class will be engaged and interested in the material.

What surprised me the most was the audience interpreted this as the students wanting to be “entertained”, and that we shouldn’t “cater” to this need of them wanting to know why they are learning something (that they should make these connections themselves).

It was interesting to hear the students respond to such statements. First, they flat out said (a number of times) that they do not expect to be entertained. They do not come to class for the prof to put on a show, nor do they want the prof to juggle while riding a unicycle. Second, they also do not want profs using technology just for the sake of it. Finally, because they grew up with the internet and other technology, information is right at their finger tips. So, what’s the point of going to class if they can just look it up in 5 minutes? They can do that on their own – what they need to learn is how to make connections between the information.

What do they want? They want the prof to love what they are teaching and to convey what they love about that subject. They want the prof to use whatever style they feel the most comfortable with – nothing is worse that watching a prof flounder around with some technology that they aren’t familiar with! If a blackboard and chalk is your thing, then go for it!

All the students told a story about their favorite prof – not one of them said “I loved the prof because they used Facebook/podcasts/blogs” or “I loved this prof because they were really easy markers”. All of their favorite teachers used different methods (mostly “old school” methods!), but one thread joined them all: they loved what they were teaching, and were enthusiastic about sharing that passion.

I am so glad that I attended that session. It gave me a new appreciation for the students of today, and what kind of pressures they have to deal with (they have to basically decide what career they want in 7th grade!). Maybe next time I am teaching a class, or even see a bunch of them on laptops in the cafeteria, I’ll be able to better understand their wants, needs, and actions.

Teaching Workshop II

To receive a certificate for the teaching workshop, each of us has to do a final (capstone) project. This entails choosing a topic in education related to our field, and writing a 3-5 page summary of a seminar we would give on that topic, listing the motivation, objectives, and pedagogy.

Based on my experiences (especially over the past few weeks writing this thesis) and on a very interesting paper I posted last week, I have chosen my topic to be the Impostor Syndrome. This topic is extremely important because it is rampant in the sciences, it has greatly affected me personally, very rarely do people accept its existence, let alone actually addressing it, and it’s just plain interesting.

The project is due at the end of June, so I have some time to do some research. That is where you come in, my readers! I am planning to use group discussions throughout, but I want to make sure certain key points/strategies are hit on before moving on in the seminar.

First, a short summary: The Impostor Syndrome is an inability to internalize accomplishments. People that suffer from it do not believe they deserve the success they have achieved, even if there is evidence to the contrary. They often minimize their successes/abilities (i.e., it’s because of luck, timing, etc.) and feel like they don’t belong or that they are a fraud and will be “found out”. It is especially prevalent at the graduate level. My seminar will discuss the syndrome, what events cause/perpetuate it, ways to address it at the undergraduate level, and the importance of not knowing in scientific research.

What I want you to help me with is some answers/examples for the following two major discussions/brain-storming sessions in the seminar:

1. A group discussion on the causes of the Impostor Syndrome. These can be examples from personal experiences, or just general thoughts (i.e., in undergrad, you’re taught to get the right answer, and this might not be possible in research; professors are made out like they know everything already; etc.).

2. A brainstorming session on how to address the issue at the undergraduate level (i.e., giving problems where only the method is asked for; having guest speakers talk about road blocks in research, and how they overcame them; etc.).

So, let me hear it! How have you felt like an impostor in academia (or otherwise)? When did it affect you the most? What situations perpetuated it? Did any situation help alleviate it? What would you do to address it with undergraduate students?

I look forward to your thoughts!!

Getting Out of Hand

This morning one of my labmates showed me two assignments that were a little strange. The students were told to put a cover page (for FOIP purposes I assume). These two students, however, decided to take it one step further and add a photo and quote. Cute idea, sure, until you read what they wrote.

One wrote “100 A++ or else…”

The other included a photo of a dog, and then wrote something along the lines of “This dog hunts graduate students who don’t give perfect marks.”

Since when did it become acceptable to threaten TAs? Undergraduate students are getting completely out of hand with what they can get away with. They feel so entitled to a good grade (and to everything else) that they resort to making threats!!??

I’ve found, since being at this university, that the quality and level of education has decreased dramatically, Take these cases in point:

1. When I TA’d the first year physics labs, the students were guaranteed a 70% if they handed in their report (which was fill in the blank for the most part). They received marks for putting their name and student ID correctly on the report and for tidiness. The TAs were told to make sure that the average was at least 80% — 80%!!!

2. The second year physics courses no longer include any calculus. Seriously!! Physics is pretty much based on calculus – how can they be taking second year physics courses with out it???

3. In the high school system here, teachers are not allowed to set deadlines for assignments. This, of course, leads to students being unable to complete their university work on time, causing many extensions – even into the next semester.

This situation with the students threatening the TAs brings me to another thought: our society as a whole has gotten to the point where rudeness, ignorance, entitlement and general asshole-ness rules. Why? Because no one wants to confront anyone who behaves poorly! We all just “let it go” or assume “someone else will deal with it” because we don’t want to “get in the middle of it” or “it’s not our place”- this is bullshit! It’s time we all start taking a stand against this crap!!

Yesterday we had our weekly soccer game, and the ref was a complete tool. He kept making calls in the other team’s favor and decided as the game went on what rules to follow. One of the most annoying points was when our team scored a goal right off the center kick (which is directly in the FIFA rules) – the ref did not allow it. We then showed him a copy of the rules and his response was “I don’t care, take it up with [sports coordinator].” He could not even admit that he was wrong when confronted with the correct information!!

Instead of just “taking it” or “letting it go”, I decided to write an email to the sports coordinator. I discussed the issue of the goal and how the other team broke many of the outlined rules that would have actually made them forfeit the game. I’m so glad I did because here was the response:

Hi Mrs. CH,

Thank you for sharing your concerns. I have forwarded this message on to the referee-in-chief and she will be following up with her referees to clarify these rules and ensure that they are all on the same page. We will also be following up with official in question regarding his behaviour in this instance.

If you wish to officially protest the game, you may write a letter of protest, identifying that there was a misinterpretation of the rules and outlining which rules those were.

Regards,
Sports Coordinator

How awesome is that?? Of course, I didn’t want to formally protest the game, and no-one on my team did, we just wanted to bring the issues to their attention so the refs could be more consistent (and maybe less rude??).

I seriously believe we, as a society, need to start standing up to the BS that people bring into our lives. I’m sick of the rude and entitled attitude that is becoming common place. Join hands with me and let’s get back to a society we all want to live in!

Who’s with me!???
CHARGE!!!!!

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