Please activate JavaScript!
Please install Adobe Flash Player, click here for download

uni'wissen 01-2016_ENG

The organization of bachelor’s degree programs into modules demands that students show a lot of initiative. They have to prepare for courses and do follow-up work after completing them, and the amount of work hours required is deter- mined via a point system. This structure has given degree programs a concrete temporal frame- work, four-fifths of which consists of independ- ent study in some subjects. The university has no means of monitoring this independent study – it’s a black box, says Matthias Nückles, an edu- cational science professor at the University of Freiburg who is studying how independent study works. He has conducted several projects to test mechanisms designed to encourage students to engage in thoughtful independent study. Two of them have received the University of Freiburg’s Instructional Development Award. Facts Rather than Feelings Students aren’t the only ones to allow them- selves to be distracted by all manner of things when they are actually supposed to be concen- trating. Some clean the apartment, others surf the Internet, and still others go shopping rather than studying for an upcoming exam. The aim of such procrastination is to escape fears of failure – by simply not engaging with the material to be learned. “The fear of failure is both the starting point and the product of procrastination,” says Nückles. Before they know it, the students are caught up in a vicious circle of procrastination: The greater their fear of a performance situation, the more they try to avoid it. Nückles and his team have developed a method to describe this dynamic: the learning journal. “Students have a tendency to put off studying because they don’t have enough control over themselves,” says Nückles. The project group’s approach was to confront the students with their own behavior and enable them to achieve a more objective perspective on it. “Studying is no different from many things we occupy ourselves with. When we go on a diet, for instance, we keep a list of what we eat so that we can rely on facts rather than feelings later on.” In cooperation with the Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources, the researchers set up an online portal on which students of forest and environmental sciences can document their learning process. Each Sunday for 19 weeks, the 150 participants recorded in a personal profile how they perceived their learning behavior in the past week and what learning goals they had for the coming week. By comparing their entry with those from previous weeks, they were able to see which goals they had reached and which they had not. In other words, they were able to review their own learning process. “Simply taking ten minutes time, planning one’s own learning, and reflecting on it makes learning more effective, thus improving one’s chance of success in a subsequent examination,” stresses Nückles. The study showed that people who allow themselves to be distracted less achieve results that are 1.24 grade points higher than those who tend to procrastinate. The Vicious Circle of Procrastination The cycle of self-directed learning describes the learner’s progress through various phases. Learners begin by setting goals and planning an approach. During the learning process itself they apply various strategies to understand and remem- ber the material, and they monitor the process. As Nückles has determined, students prefer revision strategies in preparing for exams, such as reading over their notes from lectures again and again. On the other hand, they are evidently a lot less likely to apply elaboration strategies – such as thinking up examples of abstract concepts or ex- plaining material to one another. Yet these strat- egies are also important for succeeding in an examination: “They help the learner link the learning material with prior knowledge, enabling a deep understanding and long-term retention.” Finally, the learners assess whether they have “The fear of failure is both the starting point and the product of procrastination.” 45