Classes at start this weeks. I think I’m ready and I’m hoping my students are too.
What can you do right now to make the first week of the new school year the beginning of a wonderful semester?
All of my classes, both online and face-to-face, have a web component. Depending on the school I have either already opened the BlackBoard component for the class or it will open automatically over the weekend. I encourage all my students to spend some time browsing the site and getting a feel for what we’re going to be doing in class this semester. When you get to the discussion board, go ahead and introduce yourself to me and the rest of the students. If others have been there before you, read their introductions and respond. Whether we’re in a real or a virtual classroom, we can form a learning community and help each other make this an enjoyable and enlightening experience.
If you haven’t gotten the books for the class, now is the time. Of course, all the paper books are available at the bookstore but you can often find what you need cheaper through online sources. Just be sure that if you’re ordering books that they’ll arrive soon. You don’t want to wait weeks for the books and fall way behind in your reading.
Get a calendar, agenda or other some other way to track your assignments. The class web components have calendars you can use. In the past the schools have passed out student agendas you can use. If you like using the web, sign up for a Google calendar, Zoho calendar or other electronic calendar. If you like electronic but prefer to keep your calendar on your own computer, set up your iCal, Outlook or other electronic calendar. If you prefer a paper calendar, all of the office supply stores, department stores and the like have academic and regular calendars for sale. Once you get your calendar or agenda, look at the syllabi for my class and all your other classes and go ahead and enter all the assignment due dates, scheduled exams, class projects and other events right now. Pay attention to times when you might have multiple assignments or exams due during the same week or even on the same day. Think ahead about how you’re going to juggle those assignments to get everything done on time (or maybe even ahead of time). Be sure you schedule enough time to study for my class and all your classes. Average students need 3-4 hours of outside study time for every hour in the classroom. That means for every 3-hour class you need 9-12 hours a week study time. Don’t short change yourself. I know many of you are paying for your own education. You don’t get what you’ve paid for if you don’t do the out-of-class work.
Think about how you’re going to take notes. My classes are reading and writing intensive and a lot of learning takes place in the classroom–but not all. You’re going to want a system for taking both reading and lecture notes. Some students get a notebook for every class, while others get one multi-subject notebook for the semester. If you are taking classes in your major or think you might want to keep the notes for a class beyond the end of the semester, individual notebooks might be the way to go. If you prefer to take notes on the computer, think now about how you want to organize them. One long file for the class or individual files for each class meeting? Reading note integrated into the lecture notes or separate? You might want to explore Evernote as a way to keep electronic notebooks for your classes. Do you have a backup plan for you computer? All those notes won’t do you any good if your computer crashes midway through the semester! Think about using DropBox or some similar cloud-based backup. If you’re note-taking in the past hasn’t been too successful, spend some time exploring alternative techniques. Maybe the Cornell method would work for you.
Finally, when you get to class, look around the room for those other serious students in the class. Introduce yourself. Suggest setting up a study group. Discussing the ideas from class with fellow students will help you solidify your understanding and prepare you to do well on the exams. Of course, everyone has to do their own work, but you can help each other think through what we talk about in class and clarify your ideas about class topics.
This blog is all about ideas for being a successful student. Use the comments to let us know what has helped you be a better student.
And welcome to another exciting school year!