Module 7: Final Reflection

At the beginning of this class, there were already a few strategies I used to stay organized and on top of things. I wrote out hour-by-hour schedules for weeks with classwork, had a good place to study where I wouldn’t be disturbed, and had a thirty minute work then five minute break timer for studying to try and keep myself focused and on-task. However, there were some important things that I learned in this class not only about different tools and strategies to manage my time and effectively participate in an online (or in person) class, but also about myself and what personal shortcomings I need to seriously take into consideration.

The single most important thing I took away from this class is that you can use all the tools and strategies ever invented to try and work effectively, but they won’t help you if you don’t hold yourself to them. It’s easy to find a neat new tool or strategy and go through the motions; ‘oh, I’ll make this schedule’ or ‘I’ll buy this study app’ are great if you hold yourself to using them. If you start to use them and don’t actually follow through, it can be more detrimental than if you hadn’t started them in the first place because it lures you into a false sense of getting something done. The activity we did with the excel sheet showed me that; while there were no missed or less than satisfactory assignments done that week and I got everything done, it didn’t really match my planned schedule for the week. There were things done or turned in a little too close to the absolute deadline than I would have liked, and it would have saved myself a lot of stress otherwise. As said on slide 3 of module 2, it is very easy to fall into the trap of rationalizing procrastination.

Now, I have a better feel for myself as a student. The time tracking activity was extremely valuable to me, and now I do a log of what I did and how much time I spent on each thing every day. I then evaluate how well I followed the idealized schedule I set for myself in advance, and make adjustments to the schedule for the next week based on that. It was a little rough in the beginning, but as the weeks have gone by I’ve noticed a definite improvement with how well my planned schedule and actual schedules match up. My next project will be to try and use this as a tool to even out my sleep schedule before next semester hits by shifting my planned schedule a little earlier every few days, now that I’ve gotten much better at following it. It’s something that I definitely plan to use in the future, and I believe that as I go forward and take more difficult classes within my major (and after that, get a job), this strategy will be absolutely invaluable.

One last piece of advice that I have would be to be very careful about why and how you use the tools you do. Make sure you’re actually using them as intended, and not just to feel better about procrastinating.

Module 6: Searching and Researching

One of the things I’ve always struggled with when preparing to write a research paper is finding sources that are precisely tailored to what I need. The range of topics a research paper might cover is vast and the number of questions one might pose is infinite, and so I’m certain that there is potential for someone to not find any relevant sources at all. But in most cases, it’s more than likely that that perfect source exists. You just have to know how to find it.

Before this semester, my go-to method for finding sources was to chose a key word or phrase and plug it in to an appropriate data base. I’d never heard of advanced searching, and in retrospect producing searches with enough relevant sources to sustain a full paper felt a lot like using a knitting needle for fine embroidery. The one thing I was doing right was finding specific databases; if I were to teach someone how to perform a good search I would have to say this is probably the second most important thing to finding the advanced search feature. Other than that, I would say the most interesting thing I learned in this module is that you can search subject headings instead of keywords, as discussed in the “Related and Alternative Terms” section of the reading.

Educational Videos

This video covers a general overview of the Roman Empire. One topic covered that sort of spans the whole video is how Rome transitioned from city-state to empire, and then how the Republic was subverted until it was only a Republic in name. It largely focuses on Julius Caesar and how he came to power, and then the events leading up to his death. The host John Green then goes on to discuss what happened after Caesar’s death and various struggles for power.

This video enhances my learning on the topic of the Roman Empire by making it interesting to learn about. John Green is an author and youtube personality that I am already familiar with, making it easier to want to watch it regardless of whether or not I’m tired of learning about Rome in my ancient cities class. While fine details are glossed over and the information covered is focused on a few specific topics with some jokes about fine details thrown in, the video makes for an excellent refresher when reviewing material.

Module 4: Web-Enhanced Reading & Study Strategies

I was kind of surprised by the inclusion of a section dedicated to how to read online texts, because it’s something I’ve never really thought about. Now that I have, though, I do feel like I take in information differently when I read it on a screen versus physical paper. One of the options presented for helping to engage with digital text, copying and pasting important bits to a Word document, is something that I already use. I find it much more helpful than highlighting in a PDF file or on physical paper, because I find when I start highlighting it’s easy to stop paying attention to the actual text and just highlighting sentences that have a higher density of relevant words. We had to highlight entire novels as summer reading homework in high school, and I know that I walked away from those books feeling like I hadn’t actually read them.

I also feel like interactive texts tend to be more distracting than helpful, unless done well, and if given the choice between an interactive text and a static counterpart I would advise going with the static version. I have an interactive text in a theatre class I’m currently taking, and it honestly feels like a distracting mess that makes the passages harder to read because the way they’re broken up for the interactive bits disrupts the flow of reading. In a C++ class I took last year, though, the interactive text was invaluable because it allowed me to use and play around with the skills covered in the reading. I don’t think they would’ve stuck otherwise. I would definitely advise asking around to see which version of the text is better, if possible.

Module 3: Communicating and Collaboration

My favorite tools for collaborating on group projects are Google Docs, texting, and Trello. Google Docs is my favorite for use on group papers and the actual meat of other projects because of the ease of which it can be used by everyone. Most people already have an account since it is tied to Gmail, and people can edit and work on the same part at the same time without fear of interrupting or accidentally erasing what someone else is doing. That’s a big problem that I have with using wikis, since only one person can effectively edit or add to a page at a time without it quickly becoming an editing nightmare. Though slide 25 of module 3 pointed out that Google Docs does not have all the features of a full Microsoft product, I have yet to find a situation where something that was needed for a college-level collaborative project was unavailable.

As mentioned in the module, Trello is a great tool for parceling out tasks and keeping track of who has done what. By assigning ‘cards’ with tasks, everyone knows exactly what they are responsible for and by when it must be done. It is a great way to eliminate confusion and ensure that work is divided fairly, and I have used it several times for both group assignments and for larger personal projects. I also appreciate that the core features are all free and simple to learn, which smooths over grumbling from those who need to make accounts.

While there are numerous tools for long-distance group discussions, I still prefer texting. Skype tends to lag, AIM is being shut down soon, and there always seems to be squabbles over what software to use. Of them, I prefer Discord as you can build your own message-forum hybrid, but for smaller projects this is usually unnecessary and not worth potential confusion. Almost everyone has a cell phone, and I find group texts to often be the fastest and most efficient way of holding group discussions, so I would recommend this method over others to fellow students. That said, using blogs to detail larger ideas in a group project and then discussion in the comments over that specific proposal as suggested in the module is a great idea that I will have to try soon, as texting is often unwieldy for long chunks of text and Googld Docs are easily cluttered when used for notes.