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Thiessen's Top Ten

Yesterday I returned to the Ambrose University College classroom after the Christmas break – it was a joy to interact with students, to probe their minds on issues of the day, and to test the waters for what the semester might entail.

Recalling my days as a student, wanting to know what I ought to do to obtain a good grade in any given course, this semester I compiled what I called “Thiessen’s Top 10” – my witty yet functional attempt to provide students with a professor’s perspective on how to do well in this course (and likely other courses they are taking) and how to stay on my ‘good’ side (I know it is hard to believe that professors could have a ‘bad’ side!). I could probably list 20-30 reflections, but below are my reflections that hopefully aid students in their educational pursuit.

(1) Have Fun and Pursue Excellence

Learning should be enjoyable and you will reap what you sow. Sure, there are times where you will not enjoy a professor, or reading, or course, but on the whole you should find yourself in a program that interests you, so enjoy your educational experience and make the most of it. Along with this, know that mediocrity is problematic for many reasons – in school, in a job, in relationships, and so forth – so always give your best to all things throughout university.

(2) ‘The Syllabus is my Friend’

Everything you need to know regarding assigned readings, expectations for assignments, and evaluation methods are in the syllabus; keep this close by, read it, and follow it. This is my sixth year teaching and I remain amazed how often I receive a four page or eight page assignment when the syllabus calls for six, or a paper on a subject that is not connected to the assigned research question, or a paper that is submitted four days late just because.

(3) Communicate

If you have a question/comment/thought, bring it to the professor. We do want to help and see you succeed (or at least we ought to), so use us as a resource throughout the course – we might push you to think or work harder in different ways, but know that you are not an interruption or bother; this is what we are here for.

(4) Become an Active Learner

Who wants to sit passively and watch the educational experience go by? Take an active role in your own learning, in and outside the classroom; read (not skim!) and think about the subject in advance of class, talk to others about what you are learning (e.g., friends, family, co-workers), pay careful attention in class, ask questions, and in all things, keep an open mind to different perspectives. Doing these things will not only help you to retain more information, they will help you to hopefully develop a greater appreciation and interest in the things you are learning.

(5) View Class as ‘Sacred’

A lot of money is required for you to attend university and learn from experts in various disciplines; make the most of your (and others’) class experience and opportunity by always showing up on time, actively listening, and participating. I view this time as sacred – a concentrated and set apart time for a learning community to ask important questions and to pursue meaningful answers, and often times, to raise even more questions; make the most of this opportunity … too many graduates regret not doing so after the fact.

(6) Comprehend, do not Memorize

Almost anyone can read something and memorize it for a short period of time and then forget it a few minutes later. The best students will move beyond memorization toward comprehension. Understand how different ideas are connected and understand them in their totality rather than memorizing individual bits and pieces.

(7) Plan Ahead

Due dates are not intended to surprise you, so plan your time/life accordingly; fostering this skill will help to prepare you for multitasking after university in the ‘real world’ (i.e., job, family, kids, bills, friends). Believe it or not, there are some days where I would rather not get out of bed to teach, or where I am finishing a lecture a few minutes before I enter the classroom. Regrettably, I cannot show up to class and say ‘sorry, my week was busy and a few unanticipated curve balls in life came my way’ (what week isn’t like this?) – cultivating this skill to plan ahead will serve you well in many domains of life.

(8) Write, Write, Write

Writing is an acquired skill that comes with time and practice; keep your old assignments and learn from and correct your writing errors, work through several drafts before submitting an assignment, and ask another skilled writer to edit your work beforehand. I continue to do all of these things. I attempt to write around 500 words a day (minimum), I have folders full of old assignments where I have worked to develop my common writing mistakes, I always work through multiple drafts of articles that I write, and I continue to exchange my writing with others – and will spend this weekend reading part of a colleague’s book manuscript to offer feedback.

(9) Follow the News

Pay attention to what is going on in the world and allow your education and the ‘real world’ to intersect; social scientists are interested in the real world after all, so it behooves us to be aware of what is going on in the world. Whether you read the newspaper, or follow on Twitter, or watch the evening news, allot yourself time each day to see what is currently going on in your city, province, country, and world … and ponder the connections between current events and what you are learning at university.

(10) Make a Difference

How is what you are learning shaping who you are and are becoming, and how can what you learn be used to make a difference in the world? I’m interested in students learning many things, but it matters little to me if this knowledge is trapped in one’s head or in the ivory tower – use your knowledge for good, though of course what we mean by ‘good’ is a matter of interpretation; what is good, who decides, and why do they get to decide?

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