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Making academic decisions

1. What is the difference between an uninformed and an informed decision?

Uninformed decisions are often made when:
It doesn't seem all that important which choice you make.
The problem is not that complex and the decision doesn't have large consequences.

  • You can make uninformed decisions intuitively, impulsively or randomly.
  • None of these methods of decision-making is necessarily inappropriate.
  • For example, you might decide intuitively to wear your raincoat because you have a feeling that it might rain.
  • You might decide impulsively to go to a concert at the very last minute.
  • You might pick your choice of movie randomly by flipping a coin.
  • If your decision involves more complexity and has larger consequences, you should make an informed decision.

Informed decisions:

  1. Lead to focused, planned action.
  2. Are the result of gathering information, identifying alternatives, visiting your values and designing strategies.
  3. Choosing your departmental program of study, or where you want to live, are both examples of consequence-holding decisions that can benefit from informed decision-making.

2. How can you make an informed decision? - a decision-making method:

1. What is the problem?
Identify and name the problem.

2. What are the possible solutions?
List all possible solutions.

3. What do you need to know in order to choose a solution?
Gather information that will help you decide what to do.

4. What would happen if you chose a particular solution?
Identify the outcome of each solution by listing the advantages and disadvantages of each.

5. How do you decide which solution to choose?
Prioritize the advantages and disadvantages in order of their importance to you- check your values.

6. Choosing a best solution.
Choose the solution that has the greatest number of most important advantages and the least number of disadvantages.

7. What if there is no 'best' solution?
Choose the 'next best' solution, one that is not ideal but which you can accept and live with.

8. Putting your solution into gear.
Make an action plan.

9. Act.
Carry out your action plan.

10. Monitor.
Observe and evaluate the results of your actions.

11. Apply what you have learned for next time.
Keep actions which generated positive results; eliminate those that didn't.

3. Applying the method to an academic problem- an example:

Let's try this method out on an academic problem.

Scenario: Susan is enrolled in five courses for the fall semester. She is struggling with one of her 3-credit required courses and is worried that she might fail it. The withdrawal deadline with refund has already passed, but the withdrawal deadline with no refund is still one week away. She is unsure if she should withdraw from the course or not. Her finances are tight and she doesn't want to have to pay to repeat the course if she does withdraw. On the other hand, she is concerned about the effect of a low grade on her average. She is also extremely stressed and is having trouble sleeping and eating as a result of this stress.

1. What is the problem?
Identifying and naming the problem.

Problem 1:
Susan is struggling academically with the course.

Problem 2:
She has financial problems.

Problem 3:
She is experiencing stress.

2. What are the possible solutions?
Listing all possible solutions.
To withdraw from the course. To remain in the course.

3. What does Susan need to know about each of these solutions in order to pick one over the other?
Gathering information that will help her decide what to do.

Some questions she should answer:

  • Is her stress caused by this problem, or by something else?
  • When is the withdrawal with no refund deadline?
  • What would the withdrawal look like on her record?
  • Would the withdrawal affect her average?
  • What are the implications of having a withdrawal on her record?
  • Must she make up the 3 credits in the next semester, or can she do it later?
  • What minimum grade does she need in the course?
  • If she stays in the course and gets an "F", to what extent will this affect her average?
  • Can she obtain extra help to try and improve her performance in the course?
  • What are possible sources of extra help?
  • If the extra help isn't free, can she afford to pay for it?
  • How important is completing this course this term to her?
  • What effect will not completing it, or failing it, have on her winter course choice?
  • Is it a pre-requisite for any of her winter term courses?
  • Are there additional questions she should answer?

4. What would the result be of choosing to withdraw? To remain in?
Identifying the outcome of each solution by listing the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Susan now lists the advantages and disadvantages of each solution.

Solution 1 - Withdrawing:

Advantages Disadvantages
Would no longer be stressed about failing Would complete 3 fewer credits this term
Would have more study time for other courses Would lose the tuition for these 3 credits
Grade will not affect average Would have to repeat course if required
Would have a "W" on her record

Solution 2 - Remaining in:

Advantages Disadvantages
If passes, earns 3 credits Anxiety about failing will remain
If earns a grade of "C" will not have to repeat it Resultant stress may affect ability to cope with courses in general
Efforts to pass may affect other grades
If does poorly, low grade will lower average
If passes with "D" will still have to repeat it
May cost money for extra help

5. How to decide which decision to choose?
Prioritizing the advantages and disadvantages in order of their importance to her- checking her values.

Susan feels that doing well in the course is more important to her than having to pay to make up the credits, despite her tight financial situation.

She feels that it is also important to reduce her stress level, which she thinks has worsened as a result of worrying about her performance in this course. She also wants to do well in her other courses, and does not want this course to affect her other grades.

Susan has labelled each advantage and disadvantage according to its level of importance to her as follows:

MI= Most Important

I= Important

SI = Somewhat Important

NI = Not Important

Withdrawing:

Advantages Disadvantages
Would no longer be stressed about failing MI Would complete 3 fewer credits this term I
Would have more study time for other courses MI Would lose the tuition for these 3 credits I
Grade will not affect average I Would have to repeat course I
Would have a W on her record NI

Staying in:

Advantages Disadvantages
If passes, earns 3 credits SI Anxiety about failing will remain MI
If earns a "C", will not have to repeat it SI Resultant stress may affect ability to cope with courses in general MI
Efforts to pass may affect other grades MI
If does poorly, low grade will lower average I
If passes with "D" but course is required, will still have to repeat it I
May cost money for extra help I

6. Choosing the best solution:
Choosing the solution that has the greatest number of most important advantages and the least number of disadvantages.

Susan feels that there are 2 best solutions, neither of which is possible. One is to have withdrawn from the course during the withdrawal with refund period. The other is to complete the course with a strong grade.

7. What if there is no best solution:
Choosing the 'next best' solution, one that is not ideal but which she can accept and live with.

Susan chooses Solution 1 - Withdrawing.
It contains the greatest number of advantages she has labelled as MI or I, and contains only those disadvantages which she can accept.

The advantages include:

  • no longer being stressed about failing the course
  • having more time to study for her other courses.

The disadvantages include:

  • finishing less credits this term than she had planned
  • losing her tuition
  • having to repeat the course

She feels this is the next best solution. She will lose her tuition if she withdraws, but she doesn't believe it is possible for her to complete the course with a strong grade. However, despite losing her tuition and having to repeat the course, she feels that this decision is acceptable to her, because the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

8. Putting her solution into gear:
Making an Action Plan.

Susan makes an Action Plan:

  • Accesses Minerva and withdraws.
  • Inform her instructor that she has withdrawn.
  • Make an alternative study plan for the remainder of the semester; allot extra study time to her other courses as necessary.
  • Look at her winter course choice and adjust it accordingly; consider delaying courses that have this course as a pre-requisite.
  • Talk to instructors and departmental advisers about winter course choice.
  • Plan when she will repeat the course.
  • Monitor her stress level as the term progresses; notice whether or not the withdrawal has reduced it; if not, explore other reasons for her stress level; consider talking to a counsellor about her stress level..

9. Acting:
Carrying out her action plan.

Susan completes each step of the above Action Plan.

  • Accesses Minerva and withdraws.
  • Informs her instructor that she has withdrawn.
  • Makes an alternative study plan for the remainder of the semester; allots extra study time to her other courses as necessary.
  • Looks at her winter course choice and adjusts it accordingly; considers delaying courses that have this course as a pre-requisite.
  • Talks to instructors and departmental advisers about winter course choice.
  • Plans when to repeat the course.
  • Monitors her stress level as the term progresses; notices whether or not the withdrawal has reduced it; if not, explores other reasons for her stress level; considers talking to a counsellor about her stress level.

10. Monitoring:
Observing and evaluating the results of her actions.

Susan assesses whether or not withdrawing had a positive effect on:

Her stress level:

  • Is she able to eat and sleep?
  • Is she able to concentrate when studying?

Her fall grades:

  • Did her other grades improve?
  • If so, does she think they did so as a result of withdrawing?
  • Or was it for some other reason?

11. Applying what she's learned for next time:
Keeping actions which generated positive results; eliminating those that didn't.

  • Susan draws conclusions about her decision by analyzing the results.
  • She applies what she has learned to her next academic problem.
  • She uses strategies which worked and, and changes or eliminates what did not.

4. Making Your Decision: Your Decision-Making Worksheet

Use this worksheet to analyze the problem and make a decision.

1. What is the problem?
Identify and name the problem.

Write a sentence that names and describes the problem.

2. What are the possible solutions?
List all possible solutions.

List all the solutions you can think of. Don't evaluate- just list!

3. What do you need to know in order to make an informed decision?
Gather information that will help you decide what to do.

List all your questions and where to find the answers. Then, answer the questions.

Question 1:

Sources for answer:

Answer:

Question 2:

Sources for answer:

Answer:

Question 3:

Sources for answer:

Answer:

4. What would happen if you chose a particular solution?
Identify the outcome of each solution by listing the advantages and disadvantages of each.

List all the advantages and disadvantages you can think of for each solution:

Solution 1:


Advantages Disadvantages

Solution 2:


Advantages Disadvantages

Solution 3:


Advantages Disadvantages

5. How do you decide which decision to choose?
Prioritize the advantages and disadvantages in order of their importance to you- check your values.

For each solution, label each advantage and disadvantage on your table as follows:

MI Most Important

I Important

SI Somewhat Important

NI Not Important

6. Choosing the best solution:
Choose the solution that has the greatest number of most important advantages and the least number of disadvantages.

Examine your list of solutions, advantages and disadvantages.
Choose the solution that contains the greatest number of advantages that you have labeled as MI or I.
If the solution you are choosing contains disadvantages, are they ones which are acceptable to you?

Write your solution here:

Solution:


7. What if there is no best solution?
Choose the 'next best' solution, one that is not ideal but which you can accept and live with.
Choose a solution that contains as least some advantages that are important to you, and a minimum number of disadvantages that you can accept.

Write your next-to-best solution here:

Next-to-Best Solution:


8. Putting your solution into gear:
Make an action plan.
What will you do to put your solution into action?
What will your action plan consist of?

ACTION PLAN:

Action Date to be completed Date actually completed

9. Acting:
Carry out your action plan.
On the Action Plan, write the date you actually completed each action.

10. Monitoring:
Observe and evaluate the results of your actions.
A you carry out your action plan, evaluate the results of your actions. Make a list of questions you want to answer as a result of having made this decision. Write down the answers as you discover them.

Question 1:

Answer:

Question 2:

Answer:

Question 3:

Answer:

11. Applying what you've learned for next time:
Keep actions which generated positive results; eliminate those that didn't.

Make a list of things you would do similarly the next time you are trying to make a decision. Explain why you'd do these things again. What was useful or workable about these actions?

Write your list here:

Why would you do these things again?

What actions would you change or eliminate? Why?

When you are working on your next problem, review this list. Use it as a starting point for your next decision-making process.

5. On-campus resources:

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