“It is Wednesday afternoon, and I am in class. Online, as most days now. The teacher has just instructed us to move to our individual Teams chats to work on a group assignment. I find the instructions on Moodle and click to join the meeting, which has already been started by another student in my group. As I enter the meeting I overhear one of my classmates saying, ‘I am still getting over the shock that we have an exam next week’. Wait what? Did I miss something? Had I started daydreaming while the teacher had mentioned an exam? I am sure I was listening! Not wanting to admit to my fellow students that I had missed something I open Moodle and feverishly check the calendar and there it is: an eExam scheduled for next week Monday based on the required reading of about eight scholarly articles. How did this happen to me… again?”
In my first semester I continuously got surprised by assignments, especially since classes were (as they still are) online and I never got to talk to my classmates about what’s coming up next. I quickly realised that, for a slow reader like me, I had to manage my learning more carefully than others. I had to schedule time for reading in advance and I had to find alternative ways to consume knowledge. Now in my 4th semester, I want to share the tools I picked up along the way. If the above scenario fills you with as much anxiety as is does me, the below list might have some useful tips for you to help with your studies.
1. Snip & Sketch (Windows+Shift+S)
This may be more of a generic tool, but I use it all the time – all the time – both for my studies and in my private life. It’s a free app that should be preinstalled on all Windows computers. So far, I have always had to go into the Start menu and manually find it but I recently learned there is a keyboard shortcut to quickly open the app. The app allows you to take a screenshot of either your entire screen or just the section you select and saves it to the clip board. This means you can instantly paste it into a message or document, or you can open it in the app, crop it, doodle on it, and save it to your computer. I can’t imagine my life without it!
2. Gantt Chart
Figure 1. Screenshot of a Sample Timeline Created in Excel (Siippainen, 2021)
Some semesters are more stressful than others. When I have a semester that is laden with reading and assignments, I find it helpful to visualise deadlines. Personally, I like to use a Gantt-chart (Figure 1) inspired approach where I mark the dates in an Excel calendar and highlight the week leading up to the date. This way I can see when assignments are overlapping and can adjust my time accordingly.
Figure 2. OneNote for Windows, Version 16001.14326.20674.0. Example of Organisation and Handwritten Note. (Siippainen, 2022)
When I first heard about OneNote I was unimpressed. Since then, I have been converted: when it comes to taking notes, OneNote is superior in every way to a traditional word processing program such as MS Word and Google Docs and here is why:
• You can sync it to multiple devices
• Rather than creating folders and subfolders to organise your notes you can use sections and pages – all visible in one look. You can even colour code your notes to distinguish between semesters or modules
• You can use a stylus with it and take hand-written notes or even draw (if you are a manual person like me)
• You can link between pages, when – like in my studies – modules are connected or related. In OneNote you can link one page of your notes to another to quickly switch between them
• You can share notes and collaborate
• You can dictate your notes or thoughts. I only learned about this tool recently, so I have not yet had a chance to give it a try but I can imagine myself using it for when I am stuck in an essay and just need to get an idea on paper without worrying about the wording or grammar.
At the moment I use it mostly just to take notes and to keep track of books and articles for quick referencing. But the OneNote is so versatile, I can even imagine using it instead of Power Point or Prezi to present the results of online group work.
Some of the information I listed above I got from a YouTube video aimed at GMs (Game Masters). While the video is intended for a different purpose the tips are relevant also for students so if you would like to check it out follow this link: https://youtu.be/2GBwxzRYOXE?t=240 (timestamp: 4:00-17:00).
Concentration is an issue for most students. The amounts of times I have sat and tried to read a scholarly article only to be reading the same sentence over and over again are uncountable. There are benefits though, to picking up a book on the topic you are researching:
• Read the table of contents of several books – Which themes are repeating? Which sources are referenced a lot? Even if you don’t read anything else in the book this will help you narrowing down your Google search.
• Books are less compressed than YouTube videos or Wikipedia articles. This means they might expose you to issues adjacent to your topic which may lead you to discover new ideas or form new connections.
• The library has more than just books. Especially during those times when most of the lectures were online the library offered me the perfect study location: it’s quiet but not too quiet, a lot of information is at my fingertips, I know I am not on my own in my struggles because I am surrounded by others equally fixated by their screens. We are alone, together!
5. Podcasts, Video Essays, & Blinks
The production value and quality podcasts and video essays is increasing every day. If you have trouble focusing on reading something while sitting still in a stuffy room, see if there is a podcast on your topic from a respectable resource. As an example, the CIPD is a reputable HRM association and regularly interviews industry experts on current issues Figure 3.
Figure 3. Spotify for Windows Version 184.108.40.2065.g5ea20b00 (Spotify AB, 2022)
If you love to absorb new ideas but you just can’t find the time, consider Blinkist (Figure 4) – an app that summarises non-fiction books into short 15-20min reads, so called “Blinks”. With a free account you get one Blink per day, and it gets even better: if reading just isn’t for you they also have an audio version of each Blink so you can listen to it on the move. Since I signed up in 2018 I have gained knowledge on many topics new to me like, what pirates were really like and what we can learn from them (Be More Pirate by Conniff) or how understanding our decision making can help us make better choices (Think Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman).
Figure 4. Screenshot from Blinkist App for Android Version 8.14.3. (Blinkist Labs GmbH, 2022)
It is important to note that you should distinguish between media that provides inspiration (Blinkist, most video essays and podcasts) and media which can be used as an academic resource (only some video essays and pod casts from respectable resources).
- Liisa, tourism student -