The futures Collection: A Tool for Academic Advancement

This article was written by Ciara White and posted on the MSU RCPD Ability Blog on January 12th, 2021. You may view the original article on the Ability Blog: https://www.rcpd.msu.edu/news/ability-blog/futures-collection-tool-academic-advancement


Leah Ellis remembers exactly what inspired her. “As a single mother and returning student going back to school, I noticed that when taking all the information in, it was insane. How are all these kids sitting here and looking at all these notes? I couldn’t keep up. I had to figure out a way to separate these notes.” This moment is what influenced Leah to create the Futures Collections, the next generation of educational tools to suit all course needs.


The Futures Collection is a motivational, notetaking and study guide system designed to address barriers that students face as a result of their learning or psychiatric disabilities. Beginning in the Spring of 2014, the Futures Collection has been growing and evolving with the goal of prompting student success. Leah sought out student and professor feedback and used their suggestions to change what started out as a planner into a notetaking system.


Leah understands test anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and attention deficit disorder (ADD). With her experience in dealing with the difficulties that similar students may face, Leah wanted to address the needed structure that would enable greater educational success. She felt that creating an organizational system that focused on habit development, experiential learning, and conceptualization encouraged guidance and allowed for better absorption of the information.


“How discouraging is it when you get to the end of the semester, and you know the information, but you are so overwhelmed with what to study that you end up getting a bad final grade? What can we do about that? How can we change it?” Leah expresses. “The benefit is that students can have more competence and confidence, while also encouraging them to continue their studies. They may have learning disabilities, everyone learns differently, so if we can highlight the learning strategies, then we can present a system where they are naturally learning materials.”


Comprised of three sections: Future Lecture Notes, Future Chapter Notes, and Future Exam Study Guide, students are met with a repetitive system that communicates information at the pace of the user. One of the most important components of the notebook's success is probing. Probing, defined as inquiring closely, is a strategy that looks intensely at textbook material to decipher course information. From uncovering the chapter title to recognizing chapter learning objectives, this step breaks down the desired content, into small portions, and allows users to ask questions, recognize test material, make connections and more.


Also featuring inserts of motivational words and encouragement, these notebooks thrive to stabilize positivity and provide an external support system to student success. Leah states: “We have to understand that everyone doesn’t have a support system. They don’t have a friend that they can call, or a positive influence for them that’s going to care about their emotional well-being.” The presence of motivational quotes allows for gradual encouragement, speaking to the importance of wellness in education. For many students who may be struggling with depression and anxiety, this system provides a sense of support for emotional well-being which can contribute to academic self-confidence.


Interested in students gaining experience in evidence-based learning strategies that they could carry throughout their educational and professional careers, Leah collaborated with the RCPD to help other students who may struggle. Guided by RCPD Ability Access Specialists Kelsey Foote and Darryl Steele, Leah is currently working with students in need of better notetaking and study skills, including participants of the RCPD Stern Tutoring and Alternative Techniques for Education (STATE) program. STATE provides disability-specific instructional, tutorial, and peer mentoring components to students with learning disabilities, as well as strategies for academic success.

“I am so happy Leah developed a tool that helped her find academic success and I am glad she is sharing it with our office. We are piloting the notebooks with students who have experienced learning challenges, and it is my hope the notebooks help them with academic difficulties such as focus and memory and provide an overall more engaging learning experience,” says Darryl.

“I’m super excited. I think it’s really cool to have another unique thing to try. So many students have trouble with notetaking, and finding the right system is what it takes,” says Kelsey.


Not limited to students struggling with learning and psychiatric disabilities, the Futures Collection is a system developed to help dismantle learning difficulties and heighten the absorption of information. Whether it be assignments, quizzes, or exams, this system is working to assist students in learning material, rather than memorizing it.

Leah shares: “My hope for students is the forming of habits. This system requires a lot of dedication and commitment. My hope is that students will gain the discipline and the focus they need commit to their education. I want to see success; I want to see people win. This is for everyone.”

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