Higher Education Blog

  • Summer break in the midst of a pandemic

    For those who are students, summer break just might be around the corner for some of you.  For many, this may mean staying in your community instead of taking a road trip or flying out to a distant destination.  With that being said, what can you do to connect and work better online?  Here are a few ideas:

    Develop your contacts and better understand potential career opportunities

    For those of you who are looking to increase your chance of professional success, engage in opportunities that will help you increase your professional network. Sign up for sites like LinkedIn to connect with other professionals online. Collect the presentations and publications you may have already developed and showcase them. If you are working towards a degree in a certain field, take the time to research those that have stood out in that area and send a quick email or a hand-written note asking them to take some time to engage in an informational interview.  While some professionals may not respond to the offer to share their knowledge, others will.  Make a short list of questions that will help you gain the knowledge you need to develop the roadmap for a great start to your career.

    If you are working towards a degree in a certain field, take the time to research those that have stood out in that area and send a quick email or a hand-written note asking them to take some time to engage in an informational interview.

    The virtual interview

    So now that you made the initial connection with professionals in the field, what about the virtual interview?  Whether it be for an informational interview or for a new position, it is important to become familiar with the technology used. If you haven’t yet done a virtual interview, now may be the time to practice as there are a number of organizations that are choosing to conduct these during the pandemic.  If you do have a virtual interview coming up, practice with a friend to ensure that you can do your best. 

    If you haven’t yet done a virtual interview, now may be the time to practice as there are a number of organizations that are choosing to conduct these during the pandemic.

    Improve your virtual work skills

    “Hey, sorry I was on mute...” begins a blog post by Ashley Peterson-DeLuca that focuses on digital soft skills.  She goes on to quote Pearson’s Global Learning Survey which indicated that 77% of respondents believed that teleworking during this time has taught “that working remotely requires different skills than working in an office”.  She goes onto share some tips from two Pearson researchers to “...build more on empathy and keep your soft skills sharp while working at home”.

    With virtual work and education becoming the norm rather than the exception, take some time to sharpen your virtual work and collaboration skills for better results.

    Written by Sophia Guevara, MLIS, MPA. Sophia is a columnist for Information Today and a member of the Special Libraries Association and the Nonprofit Technology Network. 

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  • Teaching Organic Chemistry: Q&A with award-winning professor Richard Mullins

    Organic chemistry is considered one of the more difficult subjects to teach and learn. Even award-winning professor and author, Richard Mullins struggled with the course during his undergraduate.

    We caught up with Rick to learn about his experience with organic chemistry as a student, why he chose to author a textbook, and his approach to help students tackle one of the toughest science courses.

    Organic chemistry is notoriously one of the toughest courses for students. Tell me a little bit about your organic chemistry experience as an undergraduate.

    Yes, organic chemistry is known for being a “weed out” course. Students have to take it if they want to go to medical school. When was in college, that was my plan: I was going to be doctor; nothing could change my mind.

    As a student, I had felt really good about my ability to study and learn. But when I took my first exam, I got a C. I was devastated.

    But being a hard worker, I thought: “It's OK. I'm going to double down. I'll do what I always do for biology, for high school, for general chemistry.” I studied the same way, even harder. My reward was a D. I went from a C to a D from exam one to exam two.

    Oh wow. How did you go from a struggling organic chemistry student to an award-winning organic chemistry professor?

    After getting my grade back from that exam, I went to the professor and asked for help. Through that conversation and the hundreds afterwards, he helped me to learn organic chemistry.

    Since I was never great at memorizing, he taught me to understand the logic, to connect concepts, and to look for trends. In some ways, I was weeded into organic chemistry because, at that point, I fell in love with the subject.

    If I look back on my life, my organic chemistry professor changed my direction. I really idolized him and wanted to have the effect he had on me with students in my own class. Eventually, I decided to go to graduate school. Fast forward and here I am as an organic chemistry professor.

    "I really idolized my organic chemistry professor and wanted to have the effect he had on me with students in my own class."

    What eventually prompted you to write an organic chemistry textbook?

    Over the course of my time as a professor at Xavier University, I pledged to see organic chemistry through the eyes of the students. I wanted to try and encounter organic chemistry as they would, as I did as a pre-med, biology major.

    However, I still encountered some challenges teaching organic chemistry.

    When I started teaching, one thing students often said on Rate My Professor and teaching evaluations was to not read the book and just go to lecture. The question came to mind: why is the lecture so much better for the students than the book?

    "I pledged to see organic chemistry through the eyes of the students."

    This made me think that maybe there’s a need for a better book—one that is more like lecture. In lectures, I can form relationships with students. I can get to know them. They can ask me questions. We can work on problems together.

    Think about when you last studied a book that can do those things too. So I began thinking:Can we write a book that takes the best of lecture and puts it into a textbook?

    Can we establish a relationship with students through an organic chemistry book? We all read novels and develop relationships with the story or characters. But can an organic chemistry book establish a rapport with the students?

    Can it meet them where they are? Can it anticipate questions? Can it ask questions for them? Can the book have a personality?

    That was kind of the beginning of the idea for this project. Personality can engage students—that’s what we do in the classroom. If we can do that in a textbook, we can engage them in the same way.

    "Can we write an organic chemistry book that takes the best of lecture and puts it into a textbook?"

    We’ve heard students say that reading your textbook felt like having a friend in the course. How did you manage to build this rapport with students through a textbook?

    That’s lovely to hear. The book’s introduction starts with me telling my personal story and sharing advice on how to best succeed in organic chemistry with tips like having a growth mindset, grit, and study strategies.

    I think this does two things:

    1. It shows students that learning and being successful in organic chemistry has value beyond passing this course when they head into medical and graduate school.
    2. It acknowledges that students are fully capable and competent to learn even the most difficult material with the right toolkit.

    Throughout the textbook, there is a cartoon called Rick. That’s another thing the book does to lighten the mood.

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  • 4 Study Tips for Students Who Left Studying to the Last Minute

    Whether you’ve fallen behind because you’re a master procrastinator or missed a lot of classes, not all is lost. In university and college, cramming is unhealthy and unsustainable.

    However, if last-minute studying is your last resort right now, you can still use whatever time you have left to your advantage and learn better time management next time.

    Here are 4 tips and tools you can use to make the most out of studying last minute:

    1. Focus only on topics you’re struggling or unfamiliar with

    When studying last minute, you may not have time to review all your class materials and study notes. Focus on what you don’t know yet.

    To identify what you don’t know, take a practice test. It may not be fun to realize how much you have to study for, but this preliminary assessment will let you clearly see where you need to spend time studying.

    After you’re finished, review all the questions you got wrong and see if there are any trends. Maybe they are all from the same chapter or involve the same concept.

    If you’re using MyLab or Mastering in your course, use Dynamic Study Modules to save time. It will not only learn what topics you’re struggling with but also adapt its questions to give you get extra practice on topics you’re not familiar with.

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  • 7 common student procrastination excuses and how to overcome them

    “Nothing is so fatiguing,” famous 19th century philosopher William James explains, “as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” This fatigue of procrastination is a university and college student’s worst enemy. When we asked what your biggest struggle is as a student on Instagram, most of you said procrastination and motivation.

    Here are 7 of the most common procrastination excuses we hear from university and college students and how you can overcome each one:

    1. I’m too tired, lazy and stressed.

    Tell yourself you only have to do 10 minutes of work today. Find an easy task (i.e. read over your assignment, write one paragraph) and just start. When you finish, you can put it away guilt-free.

    Chances are, starting will create a momentum for you to do more. Even if you don’t, doing a little every day is better than not starting at all.

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  • Healthy Eating: The COVID Contradiction

    By: Lynn Lafave

    From education to eating, the pandemic has impacted every aspect of society. We asked Dr. Lynne Lafave, the co-author of Nutrition: A Functional Approach, how COVID-19 has affected our nutrition and how students can learn to build healthier eating habits during these stressful times.

    How has COVID-19 affected nutrition habits?

    A great deal of research world-wide has investigated predictors of healthy and unhealthy eating habits. Food prepared and eaten at home has been generally found to be healthier with higher nutrient density (more nutrients per calorie eaten) and lower energy overall. As a result, preparing and eating food at home is considered an eating habit associated with improved health and nutrient sufficiency.

    In contrast, what we know is that adults, adolescents, and children are more likely to eat nutrient-poor energy-dense foods when the food is eaten away from home, school, or work. Examples of these nutrient-poor energy-dense foods include pastries, chips, soft drinks, and confections (candies and chocolate). The connecting characteristic is the ultra-processed nature of these foods and consuming larger proportions of these foods is a strong predictor of lower dietary quality and weight gain. Therefore, frequent eating food away from home is considered an unhealthy eating habit.

    So, when various physical distancing restrictions were implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and people spent more time at home, it seemed a reasonable hypothesis that this could lead to improved healthy eating. But nothing could have been further from the truth.

    It seemed a reasonable hypothesis that spending more time at home during the pandemic could lead to improved healthy eating

    Researchers quickly began to investigate the effects of COVID on eating habits and found some surprising results.  In Italy, one of the first countries to institute lockdown measures, there was a significant increase in chips, sugary drinks, and red meat consumption among children and adolescents.

    Evidence continues to trickle in demonstrating that poor dietary choices and increased drinking behaviours have increased world-wide as a result of the pandemic. In fact, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, used her year-end 2020 address to caution Canadians about their higher alcohol consumption and encourage non-alcoholic options.

    Why is the pandemic having a negative effect on eating habits?

    To understand the impact of the pandemic on eating habits, we first have to understand factors that influence them.

    Food choices are driven by a whole host of factors such as physiological aspects (hunger and appetite), cultural and social pressures, dietary components, familial and genetic factors, and cognitive-affective factors. Cognitive-affective factors such as perceived stress, anxiety, and depression may influence food choices which may help us to understand pandemic eating patterns.

    Research has linked anxiety and stress to unhealthy lifestyle choices including the desire to eat and drink to feel better. This type of eating as a coping mechanism represents a stress-avoidance strategy of emotional eating to manage negative emotional experiences.

    Popular culture addresses these ideas in media and comedy. Just think of a cartoon story about someone who has just broken up with their significant other, diving into a container of ice cream to drown their sorrows. Research evidence demonstrates that being in a state of sadness predisposes individuals to increased consumption of unhealthy foods.

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  • Educators celebrate their remote teaching wins of 2020

    2020 proved to be a challenging year for educators, to say the least. Many instructors, however, rose to the challenge by bringing creative and collaborative teaching ideas into their online classrooms.

    To celebrate all the good things that happened in a tough year, we asked instructors to share their successes from the fall 2020 semester.

    Here are 4 trends describing what worked well for instructors:

    1. Keeping it short

    For a generation of students growing up on social media, instructors found that bite-sized activities kept them most engaged and attentive.

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  • Game-changing startups: Re:Coded

    Alexandra Clare, CEO & Co-Founder, Re:Coded​ | December 1, 2020 in Professional

    Unreasonable FUTURE is a unique multi-year initiative bringing together disruptive entrepreneurs to create a more sustainable and equitable future for all. Its founding sponsors are Pearson, Fossil Foundation and Accenture. This Q&A series spotlights a few of the ventures in the program to provide a glimpse into the innovative work that is being nurtured.

    Training youth in conflicted affected areas to join the digital economy

    How would you describe your business to your grandmother?

    Our goal at Re:Coded Labs is to democratize access to quality learning and ensure that youth from underserved communities are prepared for the rapidly changing workforce of today and tomorrow. We do this by offering transformative learning experiences to talented youth and educators, in a range of technical and non-technical skills, with the goal of facilitating high value employment in the digital economy.​

    We offer three core products / services under one umbrella:​

    Immersive Career Driven Learning Programs

    Each of our immersive programs has one goal: to help launch a new tech career for talented youth being left at the margins of the global digital economy. Throughout the programs, students apply theory to real-world problems, learn software development or design skills, and receive instruction and support from industry leaders while maximizing their personal growth. Our students then receive dedicated career support to help them land their first job in the tech sector.​

    Educator Innovation Programs

    Our intent with these programs is to achieve systemic change in outdated learning models and education systems. We do this by empowering educators to reimagine learning for the future of work using our own pedagogical and metacognition framework.​

    Education Products

    We develop a range of educational products that enable learners to learn faster and more effectively.​

    What problem does your business solve for society?

    We’re in the midst of a digital revolution and traditional education systems and outdated learning models are failing to prepare youth for the future of work. Nowhere is this more evident than in countries that are already affected by conflict, violence, poverty and disaster.

    Meanwhile, COVID-19 has caused massive economic disruption, exacerbating the effects of this technical transformation. While the net impact of this pandemic is uncertain, youth who were already at the margins of the global digital economy risk being further left behind and entering a dangerous cyclical relationship between economic disenfranchisement and instability, unless we ensure they have the skills, resources and networks to thrive. We exist to reconcile this global digital inequality divide by providing youth with in-demand skills and networks in order to create opportunity and good jobs for entire communities.

    Where did you source inspiration?

    The inspiration behind what we do comes from witnessing the problem firsthand. In June 2014, I first traveled to Iraq to implement a peace-building initiative for Syrian refugees who had been displaced by the civil war. Upon seeing the lack of access to meaningful education & employment opportunities for youth, I set about researching initiatives that could bridge the education and employment divide in the wake of conflict.

    Two years later after securing seed funding, I teamed up with my co-founder Marcello to create an organization with a startup mindset and a mission to empower youth by teaching high-end technical skills for the digital economy. My background is in human rights law whilst Marcello’s is education in emergencies.

    What’s something you know now that you wish you knew when you started your business?

    Everything and yet nothing! Starting and growing this organization has been one of the steepest learning curves of my life. I came from a legal background without an MBA or any experience running a business. Yet, every failure has been an opportunity to learn and grow. From designing our first programs to managing complex operations in conflict zones to hiring — it’s been a fun challenge. I’m not sure any business book or course can prepare you for what is to come on the journey of social entrepreneurship.

    What’s the best place for people to learn more about your company’s work or to follow your progress?

    Subscribe to our newsletter here or follow us on social media @recodedofficial.

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  • 7 Little-Known Features of MyLab, Mastering, and Revel (Part 2)

    While many educators use MyLab, Mastering, and Revel to assign homework and assessment, these platforms host a wealth of other engaging activities students can use to improve their understanding of class concepts.

    Here are 7 little-known features in MyLab, Mastering, and Revel you can use today. Find 7 more lesser-known features of MyLab, Mastering, and Revel in Part 1 here.


    1. PhET Simulation Tutorials, Mastering Physics

    Many students find physics really difficult. Even students with great math skills struggle with the abstract concepts and theory application. To help them visualize concepts better, you can use PhET simulations in Mastering Physics.

    These interactive simulations gives students a way to apply what they’ve learned to a real-life scenario by making decisions or changing variables. This low-stakes environment encourages experimentation where students can learn from their mistakes. Not only will students be able to see concepts and theories in action, but also see how physics is used in the real-world. 

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  • Retired Waterloo professor on how he created simulations for his engineering textbook and why they can inspire students

    Technology has impacted almost every aspect of our lives, and education is no exception. With the rise of educational technologies, educators have been exploring new ways to leverage these tools to create more engaging, personalized, and active learning experiences. One of the most effective tools is simulations, a form of experiential learning where students are placed into a real-life scenario to make decisions, take action, and respond in real-time using concepts they’ve learned in class.

    We have been creating simulations to supplement our textbooks in collaboration with our authors, one of whom is Dr. Niall Fraser. We spoke with him to hear about his experience in creating simulations for his engineering textbook, Engineering Economics, and his thoughts on how emerging technologies will impact learning.

    Tell us a little bit about your experience creating simulations.

    I was approached to develop some simulations to supplement my textbook ‘Engineering Economics: Financial Decision Making for Engineers’. In the end we developed four simulations through Ametros, nominally designed to each cover a quarter of the text. I had not done this before, so the first one was very much a learning experience for me. As I grew accustomed to creating them, I found it easy to create compelling and useful simulations that exploited the features of the platform.

    What were some key components you had to keep in mind as you developed the simulations?

    The course I was designing around has a mathematical basis, and I felt that the chapter material and end-of-chapter study exercises would be sufficient to fully develop the student’s analytic skills. But the course is also very practical. Engineers will use what they have learned frequently in both their professional and personal lives. My goal in the simulations was to create realistic situations where the student had to develop a deeper understanding of the course material in order to apply it to realistic practical issues. Consequently, the calculations in the simulation were very straightforward; the focus was on knowing what calculations to make.

    “My goal in the simulations was to create realistic situations where the student had to develop a deeper understanding of the course material in order to apply it to realistic practical issues.”

    Over the last 20 or 30 years, there has been a strong shift in engineering education to broaden the awareness of engineers’ social and moral responsibilities. Each one of my simulations involved some element of integrating the student’s calculations and decisions within a social/moral/political context.

    What value do simulations bring to students?

    All students are busy and distracted and sometimes even uncommitted. Many students will learn the course material and study enough to pass the test, and then move on to the next course. Some material will be retained, but often when it is need later in life—either in another school course or in their employment—they have to resort to reviewing their old textbooks and relearning the material. I think simulations, when properly done, can break that cycle.

    A good simulation will engage the student. It won’t be just another exercise to complete and forget, but rather a compelling view of a future where the student can use the course content to exert power in the world. It can give them a clear vision of their potential professional life, motivating the very studies they are undertaking. They can more deeply understand the course material, so that the exercises and tests they take are easier because they are not just regurgitating what they have memorized. I think simulations are incredibly valuable and wish they existed when I was a student.

    “[Simulations] won’t be just another exercise [students] complete and forget, but rather a compelling view of a future where the student can use the course content to exert power in the world.

    How is AI shaping the future of learning?

    I think AI is the future of learning. It is the natural extension of the textbook. Imagine a textbook that interacted with the reader like a skilled one-on-one teacher, attuned to the student’s pace of learning. That teacher can extend beyond the text material to guide the student in how to apply the course material in their future job or broadly in society. That teacher is also completely up to date with current events and the latest contributions to the student’s discipline and course subject. I believe this is the future of AI and the future of learning, and this is all being accelerated by COVID-19.

    Given the rise of new technologies, where do you see the future of experiential learning heading?

    Experiential learning, in my view, is just a steppingstone in a shift from a classroom-based model to an AI-driven model. Instead of lecturing, the role of the instructor will be to increasingly guide students to the right AI-based support tool. Eventually the instructor will be an administrator and/or last-resort tutor, and most teaching will be AI based. 

    Clearly this has enormous implications for the current education system. Universities will physically shrink, and lectures may disappear altogether. On the other hand, I think learning will be far more efficient and students will be far better prepared for their careers.

    “I think learning will be far more efficient and students will be far better prepared for their careers [with AI-based learning].”

    What tips do you have for educators who are wanting to teach with simulations?

    Jump into it. This is the future, and it is good. There will likely be glitches at the beginning, but I think you will see the value very quickly.

    Also, if given the opportunity, invest the effort to make some simulations of your own. I found it relatively easy and certainly lots of fun to create compelling simulations that I know will be very valuable to the instructors and students who use them.

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