Published on October 15, 2011  

The transition from secondary to higher education is difficult for many students, especially if they find that their study skills don't match the challenge of college-level work. Stephen Chew, chair of Samford's Psychology Department and resident expert on this problem, has created a unique online video series to help students learn to study. They couldn’t be in better hands.

Chew earned Samford’s John H. Buchanan Award for Excellence in Classroom Teaching award in 1999. In 2001, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named him Alabama Professor of the Year. The American Psychological Association honored Chew with its 2005 Robert S. Daniel Teaching Excellence Award, recognizing him as the nation’s best psychology teacher at a four-year college.

"These students are hungry for information on how to succeed academically and Dr. Chew has a way of boiling down the content into useful, practical advice," said Dana Basinger, Assistant Dean for Howard College of Arts and Sciences and former Director of Freshman Life.

Ingrained Misconceptions  

Beginning in 2006, at Basinger's request, Chew began addressing freshman in an annual convocation program dedicated to effective studying. "What I've tried to do in the convos is say that it's not just about desire to learn or how many times you read over something--it's more about how you think about it as you read over it, so if you do it wrong you can do it over and over again and you're not going to learn anything," Chew said.

The convocations proved to be popular with students, and by 2008 Chew had added a follow-up session to reinforce the initial lesson. Chew's evaluation of the session revealed both an overwhelmingly positive response but a tendency for students to forget best practices for studying. "Under stress and over time, students often reverted to their old, ineffective study strategies because they were familiar and well practiced," Chew said.

"Based on my research and my teaching experience I knew that students, just like most teachers, possessed ingrained misconceptions about learning that undermined their academic performance, and that these misconceptions are also exceedingly difficult to change, especially in only one presentation," Chew said. He realized that a video series, hosted online, would serve as a readily-available refresher for those who had taken part in the sessions and provide a unique, stand-alone resource for those who had not.

The logistics of creating a professional, multi-part video series proved too formidable at the time, but by 2011 Samford had a professional videographer on staff in the university's Office of Marketing and Communication. This summer, Samford videographer and New Media Specialist Nathan Troost worked with Chew to finally bring the project to life as a five-part series, including:

• Beliefs That Make You Fail…Or Succeed 

• What Students Should Understand About How People Learn 

• Cognitive Principles for Optimizing Learning 

• Putting the Principles for Optimizing Learning into Practice 

• I Blew the Exam, Now What? 

No Other Resource Like It 

As he began to transform his lectures and research into a video series, Chew investigated similar resources nationally. He didn't find many, and those he found were lacking in important ways. "Some offered information that was at odds with cognitive research," Chew said. Those that relied on such research were "tip" oriented, suggesting that students practice recalling information, for example. None of the guides he found offered a comprehensive approach to studying.

Chew's video project differs from those others in significant ways. For a start, his are thoroughly grounded in research on how people learn and draw from Chew's personal experience of more than a quarter-century of undergraduate teaching. Chew's videos also offer a more comprehensive and systematic explanation of how people learn, ranging from student beliefs and misconceptions to cognitively based strategies for studying. Rather than focus on tips or a specific method, Chew's videos explain the general principles of effective study and allow students to develop their own effective study strategies according to those principles. "A single study strategy will not be effective for all students in all classes," Chew said, "but all effective study strategies follow certain basic principles of learning".

The videos are distinctively Samford but also have the potential to influence students far beyond Samford's gates. "As far as I can tell," Chew said, "there is no other student resource like it on how to study effectively".

By September 1--after the series was posted on YouTube--it was in use at five colleges, at least, and had been Tweeted, linked and posted to many university and academic society blogs. It remains a popular YouTube resource and also is hosted on a dedicated Samford page.