‘Screw your courage to the sticking place, and we’ll not fail’ might be the most famous piece of advice given to someone with chilly feet in the face of an overwhelming task. While Lady Macbeth might not be everyone’s first choice for a motivational speaker or life coach her famous line is a great rallying cry for digging into our studies, even if you are not an English major.
It is a little daunting to start our new courses from scratch. The big questions on everybody’s mind right now in our VLE and social forums are how to begin the study process, how to locate answers to the questions in the study guides’ learning outcomes, how to find the balance between working with primary and secondary texts, and how to apply critical theory to primary material we read. Studying at degree level is not as easy as looking up answers. We need some special skills to read and analyze the material we are studying and to begin developing our responses. While none of those big questions has a simple answer, for me, it comes down to focus on study methods and resources. We have to start where we are and make the most of our unique perspective, experience, and the tools at our command.
I located some great tools for note taking and organization, for summarizing and revising, and for managing my study plan that were mentioned in previous posts. Those tools get me up to the gate at exams but not necessarily through it. Succeeding at exam time means having the skills to research, analyze, summarize, and argue points of relevance in the courses I am studying. To do that successfully it is important to begin focusing on that kind of process now, at the start of the term. For me, starting my study process is difficult if those skills are weak.
To help strengthen those skills I found some great resources on information literacy, research methods and methodology, composition, and academic writing on a site called writingcommons.org. Writing Commons is a free, open source platform with videos, definitions, skills advice and other resources that help me begin and sustain my study process throughout the term.
Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives, or DALN, is another helpful site. DALN encourages people from around the world to share narratives about how and why they write, how they learned to write, encourage others to write, the challenges they face, and the circumstances that inspire them. Everyone is welcome to contribute narratives as well as their original creative work in text and multimedia. It is an inspiring, encouraging, free, and open source.
Content on the Writing Commons site focuses on skills that help me organize and stay focused on some high-level critical thinking and communication skills. Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives is more contemplative, but like our VLE and student chat areas, it helps me learn from other people’s experience.
Studying for my degree over a few years helped me to realize how incredibly complex and important the skills that allow us to take our first steps each term actually are. They are essential to my academic and professional success but can seem a little elusive or even intangible at first. Working with process topics like information literacy and research methods is how I begin managing my courses, while keeping an eye on how I will improve my argumentation skills and ability to communicate effectively. I use these tools all year because for me, developing these areas takes time, patience, and application that cannot wait until revision and exam time.
Chatting with my new and returning colleagues is refreshing and reminds me that I must really focus on taking sound first steps in my study plan by managing the material well and developing specific skills. It is very nice to have resources on hand that give me a little nudge through the door.
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes.