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E-xcelling: Using Tech to Get a Jump on Your Studies

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In the world of academia, some things never change… and some things never stop changing. The wave of new technologies has altered how students approach their studies in a number of ways (and I don’t just mean giving you the opportunity to play Cut The Rope during uninspiring lectures)! What are the best ways for you to turn technology to your best advantage? Here are some winning ideas:

Squeaky Fresh Facts

In many fields, new research comes in faster than textbooks can be revised. Use the internet to discover the latest findings, them bring them to class with you—the professor might learn a thing or two, and as long as you aren’t rude in the way you present the research, you’ll be guaranteed to make a positive impression!

Get Answers Your professor has limited office hours or, time slots that conflict with your work schedule? No problem—just drop him or her an email for questions that nobody but the writer of the syllabus can answer, and use the enormous research capacity of the internet to answer other questions for yourself.

Study with the Planet Students all over the country and all over the world are studying the same material as you, albeit with different materials and perspectives. You can benefit from these differences by opening channels of communication with your peers, using chatgroups, skype, and other online tools. You’ll be surprised at the insights you’ll gain from students studying the same material from a different curriculum, and they’ll benefit from your knowledge as well.

Go Digital Digital textbooks not just save money, but make annotating and linking to sources easier. You won’t run out of space in the margins. The downside? You can’t sell it back to the bookstore when you’re done. On the other hand, you can keep your college texts for as long as you like—without a heavy crate of mouldering books to cart around the rest of your life.

Original Research By “original research” I don’t mean being the first in your class to quote Wikipedia (A bad idea for many reasons!) Instead, original research consists of getting answers directly from the experts, instead of books. Turn email and social media into your own research tool! Well performed and well-documented original research may have the power to boost a paper a full letter grade or more. You could email a paleontologist to ask him what is the most surprising find of his current dig, a neurologist to ask her about rising rates of brain tumors, or a chef to find out what’s hot in fruit desserts. One caveat: many people are understandably too busy to have a conversation about their work with any undergraduate who asks. When performing original research be prepared to take “no” for an answer.

Virtual Podiums Don’t see your dream course in your school’s catalogue? Take it online! The enormous number of schools offering online classes allow you to study anything from anywhere at any time that is convenient for you. Do your research first, though—some online course providers value quantity over quality, and many cannot offer credits that will transfer to your school. Make sure you get value for your dollar by only taking online classes that count towards graduation and offer information and perspective not already available at your school.

A parting word of advice: Although research and other learning tools are easily available through the internet, don’t forget to read class guidelines on sources carefully. And finally, resist any urge to use the ease of technology to plagiarize—that’s an excellent way to find out that the faculty at your school is a step ahead of you and waste the chances in life that higher education afford you.


Elisabeth Bailey+

Elisabeth Bailey is a freelance writer and editor with particular interests in academics, food,and sustainability . She is also the author of A Taste of the Maritimes: Local, Seasonal Recipes the Whole Year Round and writes regularly for Canadian Farmers’ Almanac and the National Wildlife Federation. Elisabeth and her family live and enjoy great local food in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

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