Studying is supposed to challenge you – it is part of learning. Sometimes even a small idea may help to overcome an obstacle that feels difficult. Suitable guidance and sufficient study skills are key factors for succeeding in studies.
What belongs to the process of writing an essay, from the assignment to returning the essay? You must locate and read the source literature, write the required sections, combine data and theory with concrete examples, approach the theme from different angles, and analyse it. At the same time, you have to remember to write down the source references and take care of the form and expression of the essay.
“I had already written quite a lot of the essay, but it was still unfinished and I felt it difficult to start writing again, even though the Moodle learning environment provided good instructions,” says Sonja Julkunen. She studied basic studies in business skills as part of the Introduction to Management and Leadership course at the Open University in the spring. She already had a prior master’s degree and work experience, and now she is also a degree student at the Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics. Nevertheless, the assignment was challenging and she needed support.
Knowing about the availability of support improves confidence in studies
For Sonja, the timing was perfect for the voluntary interactive study skill workshop, a pilot project developed by University Teacher Tuisku Takala. The workshop offered her suitable guidance and peer support as well as inspiration and confidence in her work. A preliminary assignment and a ninety-minute online meeting in a small group gave her the push she needed to complete the essay.
“The workshop helped me set realistic goals, find peace for studying and confirm that I am studying for myself,” Julkunen says. “In discussions with other students, I got ideas and new perspectives for the content. I wasn’t alone with my essay anymore. One benefit was that it was easier to ask questions after you have met the teacher. You are confident that it is ok to ask.”
Academic study skills tackle many challenges
What feels difficult in university studies?
- Scientific writing is the most common topic for questions related to study skills, especially at the beginning of studies.
- Sorting out basic concepts and theories in your mind may feel challenging. However, it builds a foundation for accruing knowledge as your studies progress.
- Students often long for ideas and new perspectives on finding examples for learning assignments and to apply and concretise their knowledge.
- Study-related fears or the lack of confidence or motivation can hinder learning.
“University studies are not meant to be easy,” says Tuisku Takala. “They require academic study skills, which you can learn. Once learned, you can utilise the skills throughout the studies. The feelings of challenge and even frustration are common, but that is not the right place to give up.”
Interaction and suitable guidance help in these challenges.
This is also proven by strong evidence. For example, it has been demonstrated that guidance in academic text skills improves not only students’ text skills but also their skills to construct knowledge.
In university studies, students are active agents and responsible for their learning.
Nonetheless, many students still think that the teacher’s role is to give feedback and the student’s role just to take it. However, the aim of university studies is to educate experts who can assess their own work and call for and utilise feedback when needed.
“At its best, feedback is about searching common understanding,” says project researcher Laura Ketonen. She is writing her dissertation at the Department of Teacher Education.
“You need diverse skills to utilise feedback. For example, you must be able to control of your feelings and understand that corrective feedback is a good thing. It is important to practice this with other students and the teacher through self and peer assessments during studies.”
Tuisku Takala is part of the Open University’s pedagogical development team, which develops the interactivity of studies and guidance practices in a goal-oriented manner, and adopts them as practice as well. The workshop is an example of practical implementations, as is giving feedback on a study unit in mid-course.
“When the teacher is giving students feedback from assignments already during the study unit, the students get to know what needs to be developed and what is going well,” Takala says. “Intermediate feedback guides the assignment and motivates you to continue it.”
Success results in more study skills workshops at the Open University
There were more students interested in the Open University’s pilot workshops than there was room for participants. Because of high demand and good feedback, the number of workshops has been increased both in Introduction to Management and Leadership and other study units. Participation is voluntary and does not affect evaluation.
“A student crystallised the spirit of the workshop as ‘from despair to hope’,” says Takala.
“In the encouraging atmosphere of the workshop, you can express matters that feel difficult. There are no stupid questions. Interaction in the studied matter helps to learn and direct thoughts.”
In the workshop, everyone has a chance to speak, and the teacher’s role is to support and guide discussion about issues that students find problematic. The workshop may have students from different starting points, from new secondary school graduates studying at the Open University while aiming for degree studies and to those with doctoral degrees. What is common to both is the desire to progress in their studies.
“The diversity of students make interaction fruitful,” Takala says. “All students should have the right and opportunity to complete studies at the open university and receive guidance that is suitable for their life situation and which supports their goals.”
Free study skills webinars are open for all who are interested in studying (in Finnish)
On Tuesday, 2 February at 17:30–18:30, teachers Sanna Uotinen and Heli Tyrväinen host a study skills webinar about being present online and creating positive interaction in an online course.
Read a blog about the topic on the Open University website
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