How do undergraduates experience the learning environment and broader campus climate at U-M? Of course, teachers regularly gather information about such questions from their direct interactions with students. The campus-wide UMAY survey offers a broader, systematic way of collecting and tracking student perceptions about their learning and their more general experience of U-M. In this post, guest blogger Karen Zaruba of the Office of Budget & Planning describes some of the rich findings generated by the survey and highlights reasons you might encourage your students to complete it.   

Have you heard about the University of Michigan Asks You (UMAY) survey? Just as important:  Have your students heard about it?

Sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the UMAY survey is the university’s annual effort to learn more about the undergraduate experience on our campus. Each spring, we invite all undergrads (regardless of class year) to respond.  We want to know how they are doing as students, and how we are doing as an institution. 

The survey questions cover a lot of ground: self-assessment of skills and growth since enrolling, perceptions of climate, use of time, academic engagement, and goals. Students report on their satisfaction with their experience in the classroom, academic department, and on campus overall, including their participation in research, study abroad, internships, service learning, and other high-impact learning activities. There are over 600 items in all (though no student has to answer all of them: some questions are randomly assigned). This broad range of items enables us to assess program effectiveness, benchmark with other universities, and gather unique insights about students' experiences.

To get a flavor of the kinds of things we can learn, here are some findings from the 2013 UMAY survey:

  • 86% of students report that faculty provide prompt and useful feedback on student work.
  • The majority of U-M students complete at least half of their assigned reading. However, there are differences by gender: 79% of female students do, while just 68% of male students report the same.
  • 43% of students said they chose their major in part because it provides international opportunities.
  • 65% of students agree that they have trouble remaining focused on academic work due to personal use of technology. However, those students who never bring a laptop or tablet to class do better: just 53% agree.
  • First-generation college students are more than twice as likely as others to report that family responsibilities are a frequent obstacle to their academic success.
  • By senior year, LSA student report their greatest gains in understanding a particular field of study, understanding international perspectives, and research skills. They report the lowest gains in quantitative skills, speaking skills, and fine arts appreciation.
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The final days of the semester can be a great time to engage students in reflective thinking about their own learning. End-of-term reviews often focus solely on course content, but you can also use this time to prompt student "metacognition," or thinking about their own learning, asking students to notice how they learn best, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and plan future approaches to learning. Such reflective thinking is an important component of learning that can easily be overlooked in the rush to cover content. But by helping students develop metacognitive habits, you can help solidify their learning in your course, increase their ability to make use of it in future courses, and enhance their capacities as self-directed learners.

What are some effective ways to prompt metacognition in the final days of the term? Good ideas we've heard at CRLT include:

  • Review your syllabus, reminding students of your learning objectives for each unit or assignment. Have them write a 'minute paper' assessing their mastery of each goal.
  • Invite students to analyze one of their first assessments of the term, considering how they would approach the assignment or test differently now. What knowledge, skills, or habits of mind they have developed that were not evident in the early part of the semester? 
  • Collect advice from current students for future students who take the course. What were their most and least effective study strategies or writing practices? What were the most challenging concepts to learn and how did they (or could they have) overcome those challenges? 

Of course, these activities not only help students assess and plan their learning--they can also help you understand in greater detail what students have gained from your course. For additional ideas about teaching metacognition (including bibliographies of the research into how it improves learning), check out these resources:

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If you teach using presentation software such as Google Slides or PowerPoint, do you ever wonder whether your slides are more of a distraction than an aid to learning? At CRLT, we regularly consult with instructors who want to maximize the instructional value of their slides but aren't sure how to do so. 

In this CRLT video, Assistant Director Rachel Niemer identifies some common problems with instructors' use of presentation slides and provides concrete strategies for effective slide design, drawing insights from research on how attention, memory, and recall work in a learning environment. One of the most popular videos on our website, her presentation on "PowerPoint Supported by the Science of Learning" offers guidance on:

  • How to create slides so that students can focus on what is most important
  • When it's most effective to use slides vs. when it's best not to
  • How to create slide presentations efficiently by using a simple template that minimizes distractions and focuses attention on key concepts 

For more on teaching strategies informed by the science of learning, click on the tag below.  Read more »

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GSIs across campus are being recognized for their excellent teaching this month. CRLT warmly congratulates winners of Rackham's Outstanding GSI Award and the College of Engineering's Richard and Eleanor Towner Prize for Outstanding GSIs. Selected from large pools of nominees, all of these instructors have demonstrated extraordinary commitment, creativity, and overall excellence in their teaching.

The four Towner awardees were honored at the College of Engineering's Student Leaders and Honors Brunch on March 16. Rackham will be hosting an awards ceremony to honor its nineteen prize-winners, along with outstanding faculty mentors, on April 14. For more information, including the names and departments of all of the winners, see this Rackham page and this College of Engineering page

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As memories of Spring Break fade and we head into the final stretch of winter term, it's a great time to think about student motivation. How effectively are your courses engaging your students and motivating them to learn? 

While it can sometimes feel that students simply choose to be engaged or apathetic for their own reasons, the research on motivation clearly indicates that instructor choices significantly affect students' investment in learning. And motivation plays a key role in how effectively students master course material. As Susan Ambrose and her co-authors argue in How Learning Works (Jossey-Bass, 2010), research shows that people are motivated to learn when they:

  1. See the value, either intrinsic or extrinsic, of learning the particular material or skills, and
  2. Believe they can succeed.

What teaching strategies do these motivational factors suggest? To help students appreciate the value of the learning goals in your course, you can: Read more »

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