How to do better than just survive the course material battle?

Stephan Roosen

Published by Stephan Roosen on December 8, 2016

Thinking back…

Thinking back to my years as a student (which, admittedly, aren’t that long ago), there are many warm memories that instantly come to my mind. Strong friendships were built, both on serious and not so serious grounds. But let’s stick with the more serious ones. At least for the matter of this blog post. Above all, let me share a couple of thoughts on how my friends and I struggled to do better than just survive the course material battle.

Get all the information together as soon as you can

I don’t know what your experience is. Mine is that every student has his or her very own way to work through their curriculum towards their examinations. But whatever method or approach my friends and me were using, we had one thing in common. We all recognized that the best place to start is getting all the information together as soon as you can. And that proved to be a real battle.

Already dazzled by the sheer volume of information we had to process, all of us found it even more difficult to merge the different sources of information into a well-structured whole. Just glance through the list of items we had to deal with throughout our life as a student. Books, codices, peer-reviewed articles, printed and digital presentation handouts, notes, summaries, and so forth. I’m sure you understand the challenge to bring all these together in a manageable set of information. A set of information that helps prepare in the best possible way for the end-quarter exams.

If you can’t win the battle all by yourself, build a team

So our obvious initial reaction was: why don’t we focus on what’s most important? Why don’t we start centralizing the most relevant information right away, while we are in class? Not an easy thing, at least not when I was a student. We soon learned to appreciate that all professors had a slightly different way of teaching. Some of them provided us with printed handouts at the beginning of their lecture, only to come up with a presentation that didn’t match the handouts. Others made digital handouts available on the university’s digital platform. But they didn’t do so until after the lecture, giving them the freedom to make last-minute changes. And what to think about those lecturers that simply neglected to distribute an up-to-date version of their course handouts?

It didn’t take long for my friends and me to decide we should deal with this as a team. At least if we wanted to be successful in winning this battle.

Define rotating roles and responsibilities to share the burden

So that’s how we ended up defining rotating roles and responsibilities for everyone on the team. To make a long story short: we wanted to provide everybody with as much opportunity as possible to be doing in class what really should be done. Listen to the lecturer’s story. Ask questions and interact with the lecturer. Summarize the lecturer’s main thoughts in writing, and complement that with personal remarks and ideas. In the meantime, our on-duty task force was taking care of everything else. They were taking pictures of slides presented during the lecture, speedily writing down the nitty-gritty of the lecture, …

That approach proved to work quite well. It provided us with a reliable set of detailed information along with relevant summaries and personal comments. And by changing roles on a regular basis, all of us shared the burden and reaped the benefits. But even then, it remained a struggle. A struggle that continued beyond the classroom. Getting down the information on paper was one thing. Making it available to everybody on the team was quite another one.

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The battle goes on, even beyond the classroom

Although, once we’d come this far we gladly took on this challenge as well. Sharing all information in a digital format proved to be the most effective way to make all information centrally available. Some of us preferred to directly use the digital documents while preparing for the end-quarter examinations. Others found it easier to work on printed copies. But in the end, that didn’t really matter. The important thing was that we all had access to a central repository of information. And that we could make use of it in a way that we considered to be most comfortable for ourselves.

Things always come at a price. Even if we were able to build a system that worked quite well for all of us, it really took a lot of time and effort from everybody involved. But whenever my friends and I reminisce about our time as a student, we still agree it was worth it.

Sometimes, I still ask myself: was this the only way to do it?

I’m sure you all acknowledge that we did a great job in fighting the course material battle. And while I fully agree with that (what did you expect?), I’m quite conscious that others may have come up with other solutions. So I am actually quite curious to know how you deal(t) with this course material challenge? Did/do you do any better than we did? What was/is your secret weapon? Let me know, I’m all ears.

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