Archive for ‘college life’

August 25, 2014

Buying and selling college class notes is made easier by technology

by Grace

Selling class notes can be a way for college students to make extra money, but is it a good idea?

Every student could use a little extra spending money, and selling your class notes and study materials is one way to make some on the side for something you’re doing for free already. Flashnotes lets you sign up by school, post your notes for specific classes, and sell them to other students.

Sharing class notes and tests has been going on for years, but somehow using technology to escalate this practice to an efficient business transaction seems to go over the edge.

… Flashnotes says their average students pick up a couple hundred dollars on the site, and that their in-house team reviews and monitors materials uploaded to make sure the notes being sold are actually of decent quality before they’re posted. Plus, you can preview any notes before you buy them, to make sure you’re not shelling out for what amounts to be useless. They also offer a money-back guarantee if you’re displeased with your purchase. For their part, Flashnotes doesn’t add listing fees, but they take 30% of every sale, so price accordingly….

Some pushback in the comments to the original article included a discussion about the legality of profiting from someone else’s intellectual property, which apparently is not a problem since the students’ notes are considered “their own personal interpretations of what has been taught within the class”.

At least one commenter gave several reasons why buying and selling class notes is generally a bad idea.

Speaking as a college professor of 4 decades’ experience, please, please don’t do this. Buying classnotes is a lucrative business for the resellers, but leaving aside the issue of intellectual property, buying classnotes is no substitute for being present and taking notes yourself. Buying notes is to entirely misunderstand why we take notes: it’s not in order to capture a set of objects, but in order to process heard & seen data intellectually into our own words, which form unique mnemonics and significantly enhance recollection, synthesis, and critical thinking. With respect, Alan: please reconsider this recommendation—it is highly problematic, possibly unethical, and certainly unstrategic and counterproductive for learning. I respect Lifehacker enormously, but this is a very bad idea.


Alan Henry, “Flashnotes Offers College Students a Place to Buy and Sell Class Notes”, Lifehacker, August 8, 2014.

July 31, 2014

Procrastination is ‘a common pulse of humanity’

by Grace

Procrastination has been a problem since early in recorded history, and recent research suggests new ways to address it.

The twenty-first century seems no different. Students procrastinate instead of doing their schoolwork. In one study, thirty-two per cent of surveyed university students were found to be severe procrastinators—meaning that their procrastination had gone from being an annoyance to an actual problem—while only one per cent claimed that they never procrastinated at all. Employees procrastinate instead of taking care of their office tasks. The average employee, one survey found, spends about an hour and twenty minutes each day putting off work; that time, in turn, translates to a loss of about nine thousand dollars per worker per year. In a study conducted in 2007, about a quarter of surveyed adults reported that procrastination was one of their defining personality traits. In addition to Americans, the sample included Europeans, South Americans, and Australians.

It turns out procrastination is linked to impulsivity — “a failure of self-control rather than a failure of ambition”.

Both traits are moderately heritable, and related to goal-management ability.  Recent research suggests that learning to manage long-term goals is an important positive step in reducing procrastination.  Two strategies are suggested.

Tackle one specific step at a time
Break up the postponed job into smaller tasks.  It’s easier to convince yourself to tackle a 15-minute task than to commit to an afternoon of work.  Once you get started you often develop momentum to accomplish more than expected.  I know this works with me, and just getting dressed to exercise is sometimes the impetus needed to complete my entire routine.

Reduce distractions
Find ways to minimize distractions. Try using apps that prevent or limit access to distracting websites, for example.  I use a timer to limit my web surfing breaks, but I have not graduated to a tool that will take control of this restriction.  My system usually works, but I do find myself cheating and ignoring my time limits.  Maybe I should try one of those apps, but for now I’ll put it off . . .


Maria Konnikova, “Getting Over Procrastination”, The New Yorker, July 22,2014.

June 5, 2014

Finding your spouse while in college

by Grace

Facebook data offers some information about users whose spouses attended the same high school or college.

  1. 15% of individuals attended the same high school as their spouse …
  2. About 28% of married college-graduates attended the same college….
  3. 12 of the top 25 colleges for women also make it into the top 25 for men….

Religion, STEM, and military service

For Facebook women, the top schools for meeting future husbands are either affiliated with religion or specialize in STEM education.  Some service academies also made the list.  All this makes sense.

Top 25 colleges where women find spouses

For men, religious schools are the top ones for meeting future wives.

Although this study has its limitations, it offers some insight that may be useful for those who want to find a spouse while in college.  Susan Patton, the Princeton mother who advised women to “find a husband on campus before you graduate”, might agree.

Keep in mind that the Internet has surpassed college as a way to meet marriage partners.

March 20, 2014

Reading time compared to TV time

by Grace

Many of us assume that Americans spend more time watching TV than reading, and here are some graphics that show the numbers within various age groups.

These charts show what percent of the population is engaged in the stated activity at that particular time.

Older people read more.  Fewer than 2% of 18-24 year-olds are reading for pleasure at any hour of the day.


 However, young people are presumably doing more school-related reading.


Americans of all ages watch a lot of  TV.


The source is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey (2012).   More charts on other activities can be seen at Chris Walker’s website.

Related:  Asian-American students spend significantly more time on homework (Cost of College)

March 3, 2014

Advice to college students: Get a job!

by Grace

College graduates’ biggest regret is not getting more work experience.


… Pew Research survey asked college graduates whether, while still in school, they could have better prepared for the type of job they wanted by gaining more work experience, studying harder or beginning their job search earlier.

About three-quarters of all college graduates say taking at least one of those four steps would have enhanced their chances to land their ideal job. Leading the should-have-done list: getting more work experience while still in school. Half say taking this step would have put them in a better position to get the kind of job they wanted. About four-in-ten (38%) regret not studying harder, while three-in-ten say they should have started looking for a job sooner (30%) or picked a different major (29%).

This is consistent with the advice that focusing exclusively on academics in college is a mistake.

Students become more valuable to employers by spending time in the real world.

But many have never been in an office setting and had the experience of having to work hard for a difficult boss. They may not understand the sense of urgency that permeates the fabric of most work environments, and they may misread the cues and signals of prospective employers and recruiters as they search for a job.

Advice to college students:  Get a job!  (But don’t slack off on studying.)

Related:  Put kids to work to fix the problem of delayed adolescence (Cost of College)

January 23, 2014

Watching TV with our smartphones by our side

by Grace

It appears I am not alone in keeping my smart phone handy while watching television.

About 44 percent of Americans utilize another device while watching television — but among that group, only 13 percent say that it makes the program-viewing experience “much more enjoyable.” A significant 67 percent report that it makes their TV viewing “somewhat more enjoyable.”

Hungry for more information

I would say it makes my viewing experience more enjoyable.  Most of the time I use my phone to look up information about a particular person appearing on a news or reality show, which is mostly what I watch on TV.  So if an expert is opining on a particular topic, I might look up his background to consider how credible I consider his views.  Or if a starlet is embroiled in some scandal, I might Google her to see how many times she’s been married.

… 67 percent of those using a second screen while watching TV are searching for program-related content. And the most commonly used second-screen device is a smart phone. Those most likely to use their phones in this way are millennials (ages 13 to 34). Women are also more likely to be second-screen users than men.

Millennials are more likely to access Twitter for shows they are watching (22 percent) and mostly go to social network sites where they can interact with or track a community of other viewers.

The use of what the study calls “synchronized content” is most often done during reality shows (29 percent) and for participating in contests to win prizes (24 percent). An overwhelming 72 percent said such content is only appropriate for certain shows.

Too distracting?
Does this use of “synchronized content” create a negative distraction as much multitasking does in other areas?  I usually check my smart phone while pausing the program or during commercials, so I don’t consider it multitasking as much as “data-enhanced” viewing.

Social or anti-social viewing?
Checking Twitter or similar social media sites can make TV watching more of a social event at times.  For example, if I’m home alone watching the Super Bowl, I might want to check in with Facebook friends during the game to make it a more exciting event.  Or would that just make me feel lonely for not being invited to a Super Bowl party?

Related:  Distracted by digital devices (Cost of College)

January 10, 2014

To overcome procrastination, start small

by Grace

Procrastination is a serious obstruction to high productivity for many of us, and new research suggests ways to overcome it.

About 20% of adults claim to be chronic procrastinators, based on research by Joseph Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University, Chicago, and others. Other studies suggest the rate among college students may be as high as 70%. The habit predicts lower salaries and a higher likelihood of unemployment, according to a recent study of 22,053 people co-authored by Dr. Ferrari.

Procrastination also predicts such long-term problems as failing to save for retirement and neglecting preventive health care. Studies show men are worse procrastinators than women, and researchers suspect the habit plays a role in men’s tendency to complete fewer years of education.

It does seem that the college years are a time of heightened procrastination.  For many students, it’s the first time they have so much freedom in how to structure their day.

Stay off Facebook!  Instead of distracting ourselves with the strategy of “giving in to feel good”, we would do better by trying to focus on the positive feelings we’ll have after we accomplish the dreaded task.

Often, procrastinators attempt to avoid the anxiety or worry aroused by a tough task with activities aimed at repairing their mood, such as checking Facebook or taking a nap. But the pattern, which researchers call “giving in to feel good,” makes procrastinators feel worse later, when they face the consequences of missing a deadline or making a hasty, last-minute effort, says Timothy Pychyl (rhymes with Mitchell), an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and a researcher on the topic.

Here are specific ideas from this latest research.

Time Travel: If you are rebelling against the feeling of having to work, try projecting yourself into the future. Imagine the good feelings you will have if you stop procrastinating and finish a project (or the bad feelings you will have if you don’t finish).

‘Just Get Started': If you are feeling frightened of possible failure, just get started. Tell yourself you don’t have to do the whole project. Just do the first one or two steps on it.

Forgive Yourself: If you are feeling guilty about procrastinating, stop beating yourself up. Replace the negative thoughts with something more positive.

Easy Things First: If you are feeling a lot of dread about one task in particular on your to-do list, start with something else, preferably the task you feel most like doing. The momentum you gain will help you start the toughest task later

Start with a small step.20140109.COCPlanking1

I have found the combination of ” ‘Just Get Started’ and Easy Things First often helps me beat the procrastination demon.  Some New Year’s resolution ideas recently posted on the Internet seem to follow this strategy.

30 day plank challenge
Start with a 20-second plank on day one, and by day 30 you will be up to five minutes.  As a novice planker, five minutes sounds very impressive!

One bag a week decluttering
Fill up one bag a week with household items to donate or to throw away.  Slowly but surely, the house will become less cluttered.

One sentence a day journaling
It’s not hard to jot down one sentence each day.  It is surprising how that meager act of writing captures memories that become more valuable over time.  280 Daily is an online tool that allows 280 characters for each journal entry.

Dopamine flow is generated when small steps are completed successfully.

… The brain can be trained to feed off of bursts of dopamine sparked by rewarding experiences. You create the dopamine environment, and the brain does the rest. One way to achieve this is by setting incremental goals, according to neurologist Judy Willis. In essence, what you are doing is rewiring the brain to attach a dopamine response to the task you want as a reward. Allow yourself to experience frequent positive feedback as you progress through a series of goals. Dopamine will flow as a result of your brain’s positive reinforcement every time you complete a step and meet a challenge.

December 19, 2013

Higher cell phone use linked to lower grades among college students

by Grace

Frequent Cell Phone Use Linked to Anxiety, Lower Grades and Reduced Happiness in Students, Kent State Research Shows

Results of the analysis showed that cell phone use was negatively related to GPA and positively related to anxiety. Following this, GPA was positively related to happiness while anxiety was negatively related to happiness. Thus, for the population studied, high frequency cell phone users tended to have lower GPA, higher anxiety, and lower satisfaction with life (happiness) relative to their peers who used the cell phone less often. The statistical model illustrating these relationships was highly significant.

These findings are not surprising, but causation was not confirmed.

While it is plausible that spending a lot of time calling and texting affects academic performance, it could equally be argued that these results suggest students who are more anxious, perform less well in class, and are more unhappy are more likely to use cell phones.

Meanwhile, “Hispanic and African-American students lag behind white students in academic achievement, but surpass them in using smartphones for homework“.

Related:  Distractions, focus, and IQ (Cost of College)

November 29, 2013

Call it helicoptering or snowplowing, coddling kids stunts their growth

by Grace

Helicopter parents have graduated to become “snowplow” parents to their college children.

Everyone has heard of parents who do their grade schooler’s science project or are overly involved in their kids’ social lives. But the infamous helicopter parents, hovering over their younger children, are now transitioning into so-called snowplow parents, trying to smooth a path for their kids even after they’ve started college.

Aided by technology, some parents are overly involved in the lives of their college children, who “are not developing the skills they need to become fully functioning adults”.

“Teacup” students have never been allowed to fail.

“Parents have the delusion that what they’re doing is helping,” she said, “but it’s okay to let your kid fail in safe circumstances.”

College has always been, in part, an education in separation, a time of transitioning from adolescent to adult. But some administrators say they see greater parental involvement postponing that.

“It’s to the point where some of our students not only have never experienced adversity before, but they have no idea how to deal with it when they do face it,” says Chebator. “What to most people might be a relatively minor issue becomes a major life crisis.”

Such students are referred to as “teacups.” “They’re so fragile, they break easily,” he says.

Helping or Hovering? The Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students’ Well-Being is a study that examined over-controlling parenting of college students.

…  Students who reported having over-controlling parents reported significantly higher levels of depression and less satisfaction with life. Furthermore, the negative effects of helicopter parenting on college students’ well-being were largely explained by the perceived violation of students’ basic psychological needs for autonomy and competence.

 Are Kids Too Coddled? is the question asked by Frank Bruni in the New York Times.  Given the “Bubble-Wrapped” environment parents have created for their children, he believes we may be “paying the price of having insulated kids from blows to their egos and from the realization that not everyone’s a winner in every activity on every day“.

“Our students have an inflated sense of their academic prowess,” wrote Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, in Education Week. “They don’t expect to spend much time studying, but they confidently expect good grades and marketable degrees.”

Doing well in school can be stressful and often requires hard work.

Aren’t aspects of school supposed to be relatively mirthless? Isn’t stress an acceptable byproduct of reaching higher and digging deeper? Aren’t certain fixed judgments inevitable? And isn’t mettle established through hard work?

Doing well or even simply surviving in life often requires hard work.  Whether we label it helicoptering or snowplowing, failing to teach that lesson does no favors for our children.


October 24, 2013

The best study techniques are ‘practice testing’ and ‘distributed practice’

by Grace

The most effective study strategies–practice testing and distributed practice–are not sufficiently taught or emphasized by teachers.  That is the conclusion reached by John Dunlosky of Kent State University, who lead a team of researchers that included Daniel Willingham in reviewing the efficacy of various learning strategies.

Part of the problem lies with schools of education, where “teacher preparation typically does not emphasize the importance of teaching students to use effective learning strategies”.  This seems ironic, considering how fervently educators promote “lifelong learning” as a 21st century skill.


Details about the two most effective study techniques:

1. Practice testing: self-testing or taking practice tests on to-be-learned material.

Students and teachers can use practice testing in several ways.

… First, student learning can benefit from almost any kind of practice test, whether it involves completing a short essay where students need to retrieve content from memory or answering questions in a multiple-choice format. Research suggests, however, that students will benefit most from tests that require recall from memory, and not from tests that merely ask them to recognize the correct answer….

Second, students should be encouraged to take notes in a manner that will foster practice tests. For instance, as they read a chapter in their textbook, they should be encouraged to make flashcards, with the key term on one side and the correct answer on the other. When taking notes in class, teachers should encourage students to leave room on each page (or on the back pages of notes) for practice tests….

Third, and perhaps most important, students should continue testing themselves, with feedback, until they correctly recall each concept at least once from memory. For flashcards, if they correctly recall an answer, they can pull the card from the stack; if they do not recall it correctly, they should place it at the back of the stack. For notes, they should try to recall all of the important ideas and concepts from memory, and then go back through their notes once again and attempt to correctly recall anything they did not get right during their first pass….

Not only can students benefit from using practice tests when studying alone, but teachers can give practice tests in the classroom….

I notice that some local high school math teachers don’t give quizzes or grade homework, both of which would help student learning and serve as valuable formative assessment by providing feedback that could improve instruction.

2.  Distributed practice: implementing a schedule of practice that spreads out study activities over time.

Students use this method naturally in other endeavors such as sports or music.

… In these and many other cases, students realize that more practice or play during a current session will not help much, and they may even see their performance weaken near the end of a session, so, of course, they take a break and return to the activity later. However, for whatever reason, students don’t typically use distributed practice as they work toward mastering course content.

What teachers can do:

To use distributed practice successfully, teachers should focus on helping students map out how many study sessions they will need before an exam, when those sessions should take place (such as which evenings of the week), and what they should practice during each session. For any given class, two short study blocks per week may be enough to begin studying new material and to restudy previously covered material…..

Teachers can also use distributed practice in the classroom. The idea is to return to the most important material and concepts repeatedly across class days. For instance, if weekly quizzes are already being administered, a teacher could easily include content that repeats across quizzes so students will relearn some concepts in a distributed manner. Repeating key points across lectures not only highlights the importance of the content but also gives students distributed practice….

I’m a little surprised that summarization is not a very effective study technique.  While it might seem to be a form of practice testing, in reality it only helps “with training how to summarize”.


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