A Wikipedia for the invisible rules of college

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A Wikipedia for the invisible rules of college

New students want guidance on how college courses work, what the expectations are, and how to succeed in class. But for low-income or first-generation students, this type of insider information can be difficult to find, writes Beckie Supiano for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Students who grow up in a “culture of college” often arrive on campus with an understanding of how institutions work and what is expected of them, gleaned from parents and older siblings. First-generation students, however, have no such guides and are left to figure out this hidden curriculum all on their own, explains Ed Venit, a managing director of student success research at EAB.

So Princeton University created an online forum to collect and disseminate academic intel to every Princeton student. The forum, called Principedia, allows current students, faculty, and staff to write detailed analyses of courses. The forum aims to help students learn how to succeed in college, says Dominic Voge, the senior associate director of the university’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning.

The forum has entries for about 200 courses and each entry is essentially a “written-down version of a learning consultation,” says Voge. Entries discuss a variety of topics, including which study strategies to use, how the class time is structured, or how to best approach assignments and exams.

Two ways to help first-generation students navigate your college’s ‘hidden curriculum’

One entry, for example, offers insight for students considering an “Introduction to Microeconomics” course: “Most students in ECO 100 will earn B-range grades, but this should not discourage them from continuing to take economics courses out of interest. Students might also find that they prefer a certain subject within microeconomics, but it will receive only a lecture or two within ECO 100. Once this prerequisite is finished, students can take more advanced courses that usually give out more A’s, have fewer students, and focus more on specific topics.”

Principedia aims to level the playing field by giving all students access to the invisible rules of college, says Voge. Like many other elite universities Princeton has recently made efforts to admit more students from diverse backgrounds. The forum aims to help these admitted students actually succeed once they’re on campus, says Voge.

Princeton has built a plug-in for other colleges that want to create a similar forum that you can access here. But colleges don’t have to create a new online platform to share course information with students. Institutions can make other small tweaks to help students make informed academic decisions, like making student evaluations available, posting syllabi online, and more effectively promoting courses, writes Supiano (Supiano, Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/26; Principedia, accessed 8/1).

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