I am very excited to say that I am officially halfway done with my degree program. (That’s probably why Bon Jovi has been playing in my head all week – Living on a prayer!) I’ve known for a long time that I’m a very process-oriented person, and yet I am still surprised by the fact that how I do my homework has changed and evolved over the past two years. As I’ve mentioned before, I take three courses a year, which means I’m in the program longer, but I get breaks twice a year to catch up on other things. As I celebrated being halfway there (ooohhh, living on a prayer. I’ll stop now), I wanted to share with you how my process has evolved and some of the resources I’ve used to get this far!
So, let’s start at the beginning!
I order my textbooks a month before the class. I look on half.com, which has $3.49 shipping on all books and a wide variety of used books. I’ve found a lot of great deals on this site, especially some of the more expensive books. Of course, I also check amazon.com, which as a free Amazon Prime trial for students – just make sure you remember to cancel it after the trial if you don’t want it! After you’re done with the class, keep those text books. Kris wrote a great post about preparing for the capstone course and highly recommended resisting the urge to sell them.
Onto lessons and assignments! I have found that a mix between digital and print has done wonders for me. Once I get access to the class, I put all of the lessons into one word document and all of the assignment into another. I keep those in Dropbox and print them out to put into a binder. I find that I retain things better when I am able to highlight and make notes. I like keeping the digital file because I can keyword search if I am having trouble locating a specific section.
**If you don’t have Dropbox, get it now! It is an amazing service that houses your files on line. You can download the application onto your computer so it acts like another folder, but you can also access it online. It is free to use and if you invite your friends you get more space. In addition, you can share folders with people, so everyone can access documents and you can link to files in your folders so others can view (and proofread) them.**
I do the same thing with readings. I download them and keep them in a file in Dropbox, but keep a printed copy in the binder so I can highlight and make notes. There are apps that allow you to do this, but that’s one area that I prefer a pen, highlighter, and paper! I also create folders in dropbox for discussion posts, assignments, readings, and materials for the final project. Keeping everything in Dropbox means that I can access it quickly at work, at home, or if I have some down time while I’m out and about. When I first started, I would download everything to my iPad and read off of that. It worked well, but I didn’t feel like I was retaining enough information.
I also keep my discussion posts in Dropbox. I create my discussion posts in word and then copy and paste into blackboard. I do the same for my weekly responses (I can’t live without spell check). I read the discussion posts and then pick the four that I want to reply to. I copy and paste them into a word document, write my responses, and transfer them into blackboard when I’m done.
I recommend taking notes on the computer as well. I started handwriting notes, but found that it was time intensive and also didn’t allow me to easily search for information. Now, I type all of my notes in one word document and life is much easier. I would recommend putting things in quotes that are copied verbatim from the book and putting in page numbers so that when you go back and look at the notes, you know exactly where to find things and what is paraphrased and what is a direct quote.
Here’s a little sample of what my Dropbox and file organization looks like.
After the class is over, I take the entire folder and put it on my computer until I need to access it again! This frees up Dropbox space, and reduces online clutter.
I would highly recommend backing up your files. My sister learned this the hard way and lost all of her grad school work. She was fortunate that it was after she graduated, but all of that hard work is gone. I am a bit of an information hoarder when it comes to grad school. I’ve saved all my grade comments, readings, discussion posts, assignments, and most of my responses. I want to make things as easy as possible if I need to reference this information again. I’ve used material I saw in one class as discussion post content in another. Keeping things organized makes sharing great content much easier.
You’ll also notice that I have a resources folder. I use this for cool things that I find that aren’t applicable to any one particular class. I keep this as an idea folder so that when I need some inspiration or other material I have a supply to look at.
If you’re like me and try to plan everything, I’d encourage you to think very carefully about what electives you’d like to take. I thought it would be best if I completed all my required courses before my electives. Something to think about is that the electives aren’t offered every term, but the required classes are. So, if there’s an elective you want to make sure you take, register for it early to make sure it fits into your schedule!
I hope you find some of these tips and tricks useful and would love to hear what you guys have discovered! Any great suggestions you’d like to share?