Valentine: Starting over

Robert Valentine Senior lecturer in advertising

“Nothing is written in stone,” says the old Irish adage. “The future is yours to create with your own hands.”

When the sun comes up on the next day, if the adage is true, we get a second chance. The same is true of a new semester. No matter what happened last fall, spring offers an opportunity to get it right. It’s one of life’s real second chances.

Oddly enough, both students and professors seem to have the same concerns and aspirations. In a short, highly unscientific poll I took over the holiday, here are the big three goals for the new semester.

TAKE NOTES. Every semester I get someone who complains about something on a test, or the amount of time spent in lecture covering something that didn’t seem important. (See: we do read those yellow sheets you fill out in the course evaluation!) I look back at lecture notes and tests and, on many occasions, I decide that the student is right: we need to shorten a discussion or ask a more relevant question on the exam. Times change.

Likewise, students told me that they need to take better notes in lectures. You can’t remember what some guy said three weeks ago in a lecture unless you write it down. You won’t remember when the quiz will be given if you didn’t make a note. Lecturers don’t expect you to remember what they said; they expect you to take notes, and remember them. Take some notes.

SHOW UP. A major complaint from faculty was that they didn’t get out enough. The University provides plenty of things to do in the form of recitals, plays, lectures and other events — sports, too — but some professors are kicking themselves because they headed home to the easy chair and prime time TV instead of meeting a couple of friends for a sandwich before heading for the concert or lecture. In the real world, these things cost a fortune; here, they are free. Mostly.

“Showing up” may have a different meaning for students. Many told me they resolved never to miss another class. It often takes two or three years before some people figure out that the instructor is not chatting away because he or she was bored with filling out accreditation reports (which accounts for 50 percent of faculty time). Showing up impresses instructors and offers note-takers a chance to write down test answers every time they darken the doorway to ye old lecture hall. Who knew?

PROCRASTINATION. Everybody, on both sides of the lectern, has regrets about procrastination. After nearly 40 years in the game, I’m still appalled that I’m recording quiz scores 15 minutes before returning quizzes in class.

I should be editing my lecture notes to get rid of the stuff that is no longer relevant. “As soon as we get the quiz,” I should be telling myself, “we go back to the freezing office (did I say that out loud?) and grade them.”

Other emergencies often intervene until it’s too late to grade in a timely way. What emergencies, you ask? Probably a lack of coffee, or the absence of fresh doughnuts — life threatening stuff, you know?

Students say the same thing: they put off studying until the night before an exam instead of having started the process two weeks before. Science tells us that the more repetitions of a word or idea we experience, the greater the likelihood that we will recall it.

Procrastination puts an absolute limit on the number of repetitions and, thus, is an accurate predictor of failure. “I work best under pressure,” is the rationalization employed by those who, miraculously, didn’t flunk out last year.

So, we’re at the start of a new spring; let’s make the most of this second chance. 

How long ’til Spring Break?

Column by Robert Valentine, Senior lecturer of advertising