How google revolutionised study

10 01 2013


As the beginning of the school year rolls around (for the southern hemisphere) and I am once again tempted (but resisting) going back to university, I have been reflecting on the changes since I undertook my first degree, in the early 1990s.

I studied recreation management and planning, which was a fabulous degree. It was a very small intake, 40 students per year, so we all knew each other very well. To get into the course you not only had to have the right high school marks, you also had to write a couple of essays about why you wanted to do it, what your career ambitions were, and then sit and interview. I remember how excited I was when I was accepted!

Because we were such a small tight group, we cooperated for resources. At the beginning of each semester, we would form a production line at the photocopiers in the library and photocopy off the required readings for each student. These were the days before easy access to resources on computers, and before every student having a computer in their home. Microsoft dominance had not yet become entrenched and hence part of the course included being taught how to use the university’s computers. When deadlines rolled around the entire year would set up camp in the computer room at the university and stay there, sharing resources, ordering pizzas, and proof-reading each other’s assignments. Assignments had to be handed up in hard copy and bound, and hence the battle with the printer was a shared one.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago when I completed my most recent degree (I am a serial student with the university debts to show for it). I studied online with students from all around the world. In fact one of the really interesting things was hearing about people’s career paths in other countries and other fields.

All materials were sent electronically. Assignments were submitted electronically. Research could be done electronically. During this entire degree I did not set foot in a library for research purposes – when Google Scholar and PubMed can provide us with a wider range of peer-review journals and free access to books, photocopying sources in the library is no longer the time-consuming (and costly) exercise it was. As a result, hopefully there is a wider range of material being used for references….although too much information can be difficult to manage. (When I lectured at University, the undergrads all used to use the same quotes from the same sources. Very monotonous to mark. Post-grads were better.)

Studying as an activity has become entirely different. Possibly for those who study on-campus, ie: attend lectures rather than distance education, the experience might still be similar – the camaraderie, the networking. I still occasionally come across people I studied with in my work life and it is always great to look back on those days.

But as an adult with work and home responsibilities, the convenience of being able to log on at night without having to travel to campus has significant benefits. If distance education weren’t available I wouldn’t have done so much study.

And I wouldn’t be so tempted to go back again…..

Life would be so much easier if……

15 12 2011

It’s almost time to start thinking about those New Year’s Resolutions again. I love goal-setting. I actually do it four times a year, not just annually. I have specific dates for the reviews: My birthday (March), End of Financial Year, Halloween, and of course New Year’s Eve. For those of you not into goal setting that probably seems a little obsessive, but it works for me. Any longer and I lose motivation, any shorter and I can’t actually achieve anything noticeable in the time period.

I have achieved a number of goals over the years: saving money, getting a new job, investment, study etc. However, there are some that seem to come up every time and never seem to really get anywhere. And I know all the tricks about phrasing them in the positive (you don’t lose weight, you gain fitness), making sure they are specific, measurable, and have a timeline attached to them. Developing baby-steps and plans to sit behind each goal. Keeping them written somewhere obvious so you need to keep reading them adn reminding yourself. Yes, yes, done all that.

But I’m guessing some of these might plague you as well. So here are some of my “wish list”, should a Fairy Godmother come flying by….. If these things could come true, life would be so much easier (and I would be achieving those stubbornly resistant goals).

If only……

photo credit Charlie Brewer

1. Buying a book counted as having read it (and you absorbed all the knowledge through osmosis). Particularly educational literature.

photo credit Adactio

2. Buying diet food counted as having dieted.

photo credit Magnus D

3. Signing up for the gym counted as having done the workouts. Ditto for buying the exercise equipment, clothes and running shoes.

phto credit: all day I dream

4. Printing the journal article counted as having read and absorbed the information (for study purposes)

phot credit getzzy photography

5. Buying the clothes and/or makeup counted as becoming the model in the advert for the clothes

Unfortunately life doesn’t work like that. SIGH! Off to diet, exercise and read now.

I am sure there will be a posting about goals setting coming along shortly, so please pop back if you are interested, or sign up to get updates delivered by email.

The joys of Slideshare

18 11 2011

After a considerable amount of procrastinating, I have finally got around to getting a Slideshare account.

Ah – the joy!

As a study-junkie (I have just about finished my third Masters degree – I sometimes wonder if I am single-handedly keeping the Australian University system afloat with my fee repayments), I have a large number of academic documents and powerpoint presentations lying around. And really, once you have handed them in, perhaps presented them at a conference, they sit on your computer hard drive gathering dust.

Might as well be out there in the real world, hopefully offering some value to someone, perhaps adding to my public profile.

So I spent this morning loading up some old powerpoints (and some are a little dated) and my Masters Public Health thesis. And discovering that i can’t actually find my Masters of Arts, Communication Management thesis, which is a little concerning. I can find the literature review, but not the actual thesis.

I have posted the links on my Facebook page, twittered a couple of them, and linked the account and a couple of the documents to my LinkedIn account.

And within an hour, one of the documents had over 200 hits on it! Amazing.

So the moral of the story is, documents that had done their value for me, are suddenly of use to others! (I am avoiding the trash and treasure cliche, because they weren’t ever trash.)

If you are interested, my Slideshare account is here.

the benefits of study

12 11 2011

photo credit: CCAC North Library

It is that time of year when the universities are madly hawking their wares (in Australia anyway), trying to sign up students for various courses. Education has become a huge business, at all levels.

Usually the benefits of study that the schools, colleges, institutes and universities will tell you are:
– get a better job (and therefore have a better life)
– ummmmm…………
– education is good in and of itself (this argument only works for teachers – they are marketing to themselves).

OK, so they all pretty much say the same thing in their advertising. Despite this, I am a serial consumer of higher education. I finish a degree, exhausted, swearing never to study again. On one occasion I even put a message on Facebook that said “if I ever say I am going to study again, someone please slap me.”

And then a year goes by, sometimes just a few months…..and I am bored. I need something to be working towards. So I sign up for something else, get stuck into it and close to the end, too close to consider giving up, I think “How did I get here again?”

Of course I know the answer – I am not that self-unaware. So in case you are thinking of undertaking some study and want some real reasons to do it, some reasons the universities can’t really tell you, here are a few from me.

1. It’s good to have some “big thing” to be working towards. So much of life is stuff you just do again and again. Housework. Commuting. Housework. You get the picture. The little things you do when you study actually count for something bigger in the long-term. Delayed gratification is an important skill for success in any field of life and study helps you practice it (as this posting on marshmallows explains more thoroughly).

2. Intelligent thought. So maybe it’s just me, but generally I find when I don’t have something guiding my thoughts, I resort to trivia. Like pondering on the pretty lit-up map of proximity to McDonald’s locations in the US that someone sent me recently. Study makes you use logic and engage in new thoughts, new thought patterns, stay on topic. You can’t just wander off and look at the pretty lights.

3. Unlike life, study gives you immediate feedback in a clear unambiguous scale. Yes, marks. I get good marks (Rik from the Young Ones would call me a girly-swat) so this is a nice little ego-boost for me. However in much of life you don’t get clear unambiguous and immediate feedback. You might self-assess “I think I did a pretty good job of that email / job application / craftwork” but it isn’t the same. (Note for mature age students returning to university. A “C” grade is not average, it means credit. Likewise, “D” does not mean you have failed, it means Distinction.)

4. Helps practice other life skills such as planning and scheduling, focussing and concentrating, reading, writing and typing. Of, and thinking, let’s not forget thinking. (A Note on typing: when I went to a girls’ school in pre desk-top computer days, the only students who did typing were those who were destined for secretarial jobs. Those destined for professions were not taught typing. Fast-forward not very long to the introduction of computers and suddenly typing has become an important skill – as ubiquitous as computers, in fact. I just say this because it is interesting and shows how much things have changed in the two decades (oh OK, two and a bit!) since I left high school. I still don’t use the correct fingers on the keyboard though.)

5. This is something that is completely under your control. OK, maybe not completely, but hear me out here. At work, you do what the boss says. At home there are parents, partners, spouses, children to negotiate with and hopefully come to some sort of satisfactory compromise. That’s life! Most uni assignments are you, yourself. You get a topic or a question, then you get to decide how you want to approach it, how much effort you will put in, etc etc. (The exception to this is group-assignments. As I do my study online, this usually involves a lot of negotiation via email, entirely unlike any realistic work situation. None-the-less, the universities persist with it – I suspect because it means less marking.)

So that’s it. I have almost finished my third Masters Degree and every time I get a mark back I feel a little self-affirming buzz. When things are tough and you feel unappreciated in the world, it’s good to get that largely objective mark back that says “you’re good at this”.

Lessons from e-scrabble

15 10 2011

As a form of procrastination from study, I have become addicted to e-scrabble.

Now I have always loved scrabble, but e-scrabble (I play the version attached to facebook) is even better because I can play many games at once.

I play the one week version, which means you have one week to make each move. This has an advantage to me because I can then stop playing at any moment to get on with “real life” (or occasionally, study) and come back to the game days later without having forfeited.

So if someone isn’t playing fast enough, I can open another game and play that at the same time. At one stage I had about 30 games going at once – then as I was going overseas on holiday and didn’t want to have to find data connections to keep my scrabble games going, I had to finish the games. I am now back up to 15.

So as someone who started her scrabble life on the board game and now is e-hooked, here is what e-scrabble has taught me:

1. It is always worth trying any letter combination – even foreign words. E-scrabble has the advantage of letting you try anything – and rejecting whatever doesn’t work.

2. The hard letters are worth the effort. After you achieve a certain level of proficiency, it becomes impossible to win scrabble without getting some of the difficult letters – and preferably not at the end of the game. While my children will exchange X, Z, K, Q and J, I avidly collect them. A high-scoring letter on a triple letter score, particularly when the word is going both ways so the letter scores 6x – well, that is a winning play! Moral of the story: Doing the hard stuff is worthwhile.

4. Zol is a South African word for cigarette. It is also a very useful word to remember. Euoi is also a useful word to remember when you have nothing but vowels.

5. Children are very adept at find cheat programs on the internet. And have no shame in using them. They appear to consider it to be an “aid” and a valid competitive strategy.

6. Anyone who gets more than one seven letter word is probably cheating. If they get 3 or 4 they are undoubtedly cheating. If you are going to cheat, please be subtle about it!

7. While the seven letter word will get you a BINGO! and bonus points, clever placement of other letters can see even a two or three letter words reap points in the 50s.

8. Sometimes it is best to throw some letters – even all of them – back in the bag and get new letters. While I prefer to trade my way out of a bad hand rather than miss a turn, some letters are unrecoverable and it is best to cut your losses early.

9. If you have a dodgy computer connection, it is best not to start a two minute or five minute game. If your computer goes down, your stress levels will go up! Be realistic about what you are actually going to be able to maintain for the entire game.

10. Scrabble is a much more satisfying form of procrastination than housework.