it’s different at uni

I know that if you’ve finished, or have almost finished, your NCEA exams, probably the last thing you are thinking about is university study! More likely, a relaxing break is foremost in your mind 🙂 (Mine too, actually…) But I was talking this morning with colleagues about how different university is from school for many students, & thought it was a good topic to write a bit more on.

I know from student feedback – most of my teaching is with first-year students – that for many the biggest difference between school & uni is the perceived freedom. Or, to put it another way, the lack of nagging from teachers 😉 No-one’s going to remind you to turn up at class on time, finish that assignment, revise for tests. There isn’t the opportunity to re-sit a piece of assessment. You’ll find that study is a lot more self-directed.  And if you’re not used to that, it can generate a few early problems. But – we are still there to help you – you just have to ask.

For many first-year students, that can be a bit daunting – having to go up to the lecturer & ask for help, for an explanation of something, for an extension on a bit of work. "After all," you might think, "they’ve got a PhD & I’m just a first-year, they won’t want to be bothered.’ Not true! For starters – we were students ourselves, & we do remember what it was like for us. And, it’s our job to help you – teaching & learning don’t stop just because it’s not a formal lecture situation. And speaking for myself – I rather like it when students come up with questions out of class (and in it, actually). It shows that they’re thinking about what they’re learning, & that’s great. It might turn out that I haven’t explained a point as well as I might, & that’s good too as it helps me to improve my teaching. So do come up & ask those questions.

If you find the idea of speaking to the lecturer a bit off-putting at first, do remember that there are heaps of other people you can turn to. In the papers you’re studying, you’ll probably be taking labs & tutorials as well as lectures. These are often taken by other people: tutors, maybe, or grad students who act as demonstrators. They’re usually closer in age to students & you might find it easier to approach them. And labs & tuts are good places to ask questions, not least because you’re in a smaller group of people.

Which reminds me – don’t think ‘oh, I can’t ask this, it’s a stupid question & they’ll have heard it before anyway.’  If you’ve given thought to the question, tried to work it out, & can’t, it’s not a stupid question. It’s just one that you can’t answer. And it’s our job to help you work it out. You’ll find that your teachers (& demonstrators, & tutors) are not very likely to just tell you the answer, but they’ll guide you in working it out for yourself. Which is much better for your overall learning, even if at the start you want them just to tell you & get it over with, so you can get on to the next thing 🙂 Asking the question is the first step to deeper understanding of a subject; working out the answer is the second – & equally important – step to take.

And if that question comes to mind in a lecture – you don’t understand something the lecturer’s said, for example – try to pluck up courage to ask it at the time. A fair proportion of the class will be glad that you do – because if one person doesn’t understand something, it’s a fairly safe bet that others are in the same boat. And they’ll thank you for it 🙂

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