6 ways to have your best class ever

September 8, 2021 | Campus Life

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In August, MacEwan University hosted a series of informative New Student Orientation sessions to help new students get off on the right foot.


Everyone at MacEwan University is rooting for you to have your best year ever — from your professors and advisors to all the staff at MacEwan and your fellow students.

Led by Dr. Joanne Minaker (associate dean and associate professor in the Faculty of Arts and Science) and featuring advice from two of this year's Distinguished Teaching Award recipients, Dr. Sara Grewal and Dr. Cameron Macdonell, Best Class Ever (part of a series of informative New Student Orientation sessions) sets you up to have a successful academic experience.

1. Read. The. Syllabus

A syllabus is essentially a contract for what you're going to experience and learn in your course. And like all contracts, it's worth taking a bit of time to read carefully.

Your professor will share it with you through Blackboard or via email at the start of your class, and if you absolutely want to do well, you must read it.

The syllabus is a summary of what you're going to experience in that particular course over the term. Curious about how your assignments and exams are weighted or when your faculty member's office hours are? Be sure to check your syllabus because it's chock full of important information like that — as well as where to go when you need help, how to understand academic integrity (like cheating and plagiarism), what textbooks are required and what your prof expects from you (including their attendance policies).

BONUS ADVICE: Regularly check your student email account (or have your emails forwarded to whichever email account you check most regularly) because that is how your professor is going to communicate with you.

2. Plan for success — and failure

Not everything is going to go perfectly according to plan — and that's okay.

"The reality is that not everything is going to go as smoothly as you expect," says Dr. Macdonell. "As you might expect, there won't be the same level of support as you received in high school, so it's about planning ways for you to seek out your own level of support."

Prepare yourself to find help when you need it and figure out your comfort level for engaging with your prof.

3. Tune in and turn on (your camera)

Be prepared for your class, show up and be proactive — these lessons, says Dr. Macdonell, will help you through all sorts of experiences in life.

One of the easiest ways to engage in an online class, say Dr. Grewal and Dr. Macdonell, is to turn on your camera. Many professors will continue to offer hybrid classes (meaning a mix of online and in-person lessons) this term, so being engaged is important.

And whether your classes are online or in person, your presence and involvement in that class will make a difference to your student experience.

BONUS ADVICE: If you're consistently having trouble engaging or focusing, you can find support through Wellness and Psychological Services, Access and Disability Resources and other student services at MacEwan.

4. Manage your time

You probably have more time than you think, say the professors, but making the most of it comes down to how willing you are to create good habits — like turning off your phone and avoiding the lure of Netflix when it's time to study.

"Part of your first-year experience is going to involve figuring out which time management strategies work for you," says Dr. Grewal. "A lot of it is going to be trial and error as you figure out what works and learn how to estimate how long an assignment is going to take."

5. Communicate respectfully

Being able to respectfully address your professor in an email — especially when so much of our communications is taking place online — is more important than ever.

To help you out, the Student Life team has prepared a guide to email etiquette.

Take the time to double check that your prof's name is spelled correctly (refer back to your syllabus), and err on the side of formality — Dear Professor… or Dear Dr. …

"You will never make a bad impression by being too respectful," says Dr. Grewal, whose first assignment in her English class tasks students with writing a respectful email to a professor.

BONUS ADVICE: Put your course name and number in the subject line to help your prof know who they're replying to and what class you're in.

6. Reach out

Your profs won't always know when you're struggling, so prepare yourself to reach out and ask for help when you need it.

"Don't silently drown," says Dr. Grewal. "We may have no idea what's going on or if you're out of your depth. Reach out and ask questions."

Dr. Minaker adds that you should also reach in. "Think about what you need to prepare and develop habits to follow along and make informed contributions," she advises. "That will benefit your fellow students, your instructor and yourself. Teaching and learning are social interactions."

BONUS ADVICE: Your university experience is about academic and personal growth. "Take your studies and grades seriously, but remember that you are not your marks," says Dr. Minaker.
 

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