Saturday, October 31, 2015

Doing Homework While Distracted or Otherwise Occupied

Homework is frustrating enough on its own without any distractions, but a minor life-catastrophe can make homework into an overwhelming problem. For instance, if my computer dies and I lose an almost finished project, or something goes wrong with the program I’m using, homework can go from frustrating to maddening. If I come down with a fever and I feel slightly delirious, my homework pile can seem insurmountable. The list goes on, and when I consider all the various distractions that can happen in life, it’s easy to imagine how having homework can easily escalate into a full-fledged crisis.

But what is a distraction? By my definition, a distraction is any non-homework related issue or interference that gets in the way of my ability to complete an assignment. Based on this definition, I like to classify distractions into two groups: external and internal.

External distractions are self-explanatory. Anything non-homework related that gets in the way of doing assignments is an “external distraction.” One distraction that I run into a lot (those who don’t own cats probably won’t be able to relate) is when my cat walks in front of my computer screen, or decides to cough up a fur ball when I’m in the middle of a thought or have just gotten into a workflow. A possibly more relatable example would be a phone call or a text from a friend in the midst of a heavy homework session.

I’ve found that the best way to deal with an external distraction is to take care of them immediately, if possible. For instance, if the phone rings, I can either take the call or turn the ringer off. Obviously, some external distractions can’t be dealt with, like loud construction projects going on nearby, or a catfight right outside my window. I usually deal with these sorts of things by putting my headphones in and trying to drone out the noise, and if I can, I move to a new, less distracting location.

Internal distractions, on the other hand, are persistent thoughts that refuse to be ignored. In my opinion, this is the most bothersome type of distraction. Whenever I have an internal distraction begging for my attention, I try to address it right away so that I can continue working on my project. Sometimes I go for a short walk to work through some of my thoughts. Other times, I stare off into space for a couple of moments. Some thoughts require more attention than others, but if I take a short break to at least work through my thoughts somewhat, my work goes more smoothly and is usually of a higher quality.

Distractions, although not directly related to homework, add to the stress of deadlines. I know that in any given hour that I’m working on an assignment, it’s likely I’ll get interrupted by some distraction. Some days are better than others, but it’s rare for me to get into a workflow that’s totally focused and free of external distractions.

Every week when I sit down and work out my schedule, I take into account all of the distractions and inhibitions that might arise while I’m working on my schoolwork. The way I prioritize my homework assignments is often based on two things: 1) the amount of resistance I have toward doing certain projects and 2) what homework assignments can be done efficiently even with numerous distractions. Most often, the last thing on my list of priorities is whichever assignment can be done even with frequent interruptions and distractions. Then, if something comes up and I can’t work on said project for an extended period of time, I can stuff work time into gaps in my day and I’ll still be able to finish the project. Meanwhile, the assignments that require the most concentration tend to go further at the top of my list of priorities.

Ultimately though, factoring in the potential distractions and interruptions that could happen in any given day is practically impossible. There are set times when I know I won’t be able to work on homework, like when I’m in transit to a class or appointment. I can work with these interruptions pretty easily by planning my homework schedule around them. It’s the unforeseen distractions and interruptions that are annoying. They slow down my workflow, interfere with my ability to think straight, and even lessen the quality of my work.

But distractions aren’t all bad. They are frustrating, no doubt about that, but they’re a part of life. I’ll probably always have to grapple with distractions, and find ways to get around them as obstacles. College is like a training ground that lets me safely and comfortably practice working with distractions before I go out into the real world where I’ll have to deal with distractions within the context of whatever work I do. I prefer to look at the distractions that arise when I’m doing my homework as an opportunity to practice self-control and discipline, rather than as a major interference. After all, the distractions aren’t going to go away anytime soon.

Lydian Shipp

Webzine Team Member 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Pros and Cons of In-Person Classes

Normally, I don’t take in-person classes, but this term I decided to go ahead and take a few. Because I travel for up to six months of the year, as mentioned in my post, “The Pros and Cons of Online Classes”, I don’t usually have the option to take in-person classes. But this term I had the opportunity, so I went for it, and signed myself up.
One major pro of in-person classes is that they give me the chance to ask the teacher questions about assignments and class material in real time during class. When I’m taking an online class, I almost always have to send emails to ask questions. Asking questions in writing is complicated, and sometimes it can be difficult to know if what I’m asking will be clear to the teacher. I have basically one chance to ask my question when I’m working online, so I better get it right. However, in in-person classes, I don’t have to worry as much about this problem; if I have a question, I ask it in-person, and if it doesn’t make sense, I clarify on-the-spot.

Being able to ask teachers questions during class also has opened up the possibility for me to explore subject material in more depth. Sometimes teachers provide their thoughts or opinions on subjects in addition to factual material. This can spur intelligent discussions among students, which makes the information more interesting and therefore easier to retain. It’s easier for me to form my own impressions of the class material when I get to work in-person with an instructor.

Aside from the purely educational benefits of in-person classes, though, one other benefit has to do with socialization. In-person classes have given me opportunities to meet new people. Working in-person gives me the opportunity to get to know my teachers and even make new friends with fellow students. I interact with classmates and instructors on a regular basis. I think that having regular social interaction is important. For me, I’ve found that socialization is a sort of emotional moderator. If one day I’m feeling down, or if I’m obsessing about some tiny little issue, sometimes it helps to go to class. It keeps my mind off my own problems, and usually, I walk out of class with a fresh, positive perspective on life.

But despite the positives of in-person classes, there are some negative aspects.

One thing that gets on my nerves about in-person classes is how they influence my schedule. I have to arrive to class at a certain time, and then stay in the classroom until the end of the class. Class is usually in the middle of the week, and thus, I get my homework assignments in the middle of the week, and have to turn things in at that time as well. This middle-of-the-week scheduling tends to throw a wrench into my life. I prefer to get my assignments at the beginning of the week because then I can complete them by the weekend. With my in-person classes scheduled on Thursday this term, I tend to have a lot of homework over the weekend. I’ve learned to deal with it, but I don’t like it. Flexibility is really important to me. To get myself through it, I’m looking at this term as an exercise in patience and self-control.

In addition to the tight schedule, I also don’t have the option of working ahead in in-person classes. I get my homework week-by-week, and that’s that. As I’ve mentioned in one of my other posts, I’ve often tried to figure out ways to get assignments done ahead of time, but in my in-person classes there’s just no way. Working ahead is out of the question.

As I discussed earlier in this article, I do like the social aspect of in-person classes, but I also don’t like it. Although I believe that having a moderate amount of socialization is important to a person’s health and well-being, I also think there’s a point when a person can become over -socialized. Generally, I like to regulate my socialization time by deciding (on a whim) when I feel like I need to socialize. My needs in terms of socialization tend to vary. One week, I might feel that brief interactions with the grocery store clerk and a person I pass on the street is enough. Other weeks, I might wind up talking to and interacting with a whole bunch of people by purposefully putting myself in situations with lots of socialization opportunities. In-person classes don’t give me a choice about socialization and some weeks, I get really irritable before my classes because I just want to hole up and be at home.

Even when I’m in a bad mood, though, I still go to class with the knowledge that after class is over, I’ll probably feel better. And this rarely fails me. By the time the class is over with, I tend to feel happier, and more content with my life. My problems seem significantly smaller during and after class, and I’m able to look at them in a more realistic light. So, despite the fact that I really don’t like having to follow a strict schedule and I don’t like doing homework week-by-week, I do like the fact that every week when I go to class, I come out with a fresh perspective. And that definitely keeps me on track.

Lydian Shipp

Webzine Team Member

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Taking Classes I Don't Want to Take... But Have to.

Sometimes I have to take a class I don’t want to take. Maybe I have to take a particular class as a prerequisite to a class that I want to take. Or perhaps I have to take a class because it’s a requirement for a certain degree or certificate. But either way, at some point I have to take a class that I don’t want to take, and that’s that. I know that I probably won’t find the class’s subject material interesting, and that I most likely will not look forward to doing the class assignments. This lack of interest has nothing do with anything other than the fact that I just don’t want to take the class. But I still have to take the class, whether I want to or not. And taking the class means doing the assignments and reading the textbooks.

When it comes to classes I want to take, although I sometimes don’t want to do my homework, I do enjoy doing my assignments and reading my textbooks, even if there’s something else I’d rather be doing other than homework. However, motivating myself to do homework for classes I don’t want to take is a whole different story. I procrastinate. I give myself “more important” things to do so that I don’t have to do my homework. I find myself thinking about other things when I’m reading my textbooks, even if I’m trying to focus. But somehow, after I finish a class I didn’t want to take, I wind up with a new body of knowledge, and ultimately, I feel good about what I’ve just done. By the end of the term, I’ve usually found something interesting about the subject that I initially had no interest in.

How does this happen?

I’ve often attributed this phenomenon to the class assignments. Even if my mind wanders while I’m reading the textbook, when I’m doing an assignment, I have to focus on what I’m doing and the subject at hand. Even if I’m not interested in the subject itself, I may still find some connection between it and something else that I am interested in. In which case, I have a thread that I can cling to for support. If the subject that I’m not interested in is in some way connected to something that I am interested in, then there could be even more connections between the two subjects that could deepen my interest in both.

However, if I don’t find any connections, doing assignments still forces me to focus on the material, and what it means to me. When I’m doing assignments, sometimes I can find a way to relate some part of the subject to my day-to-day life. The relationship between my life and the subject may be small or tenuous, but if I can find something, I have a greater chance of absorbing the material and making it interesting for myself.

Although I get something out of doing assignments because they make me explore material I might not have otherwise explored, there’s a lot to be said for textbook reading, too.

Textbooks don’t exactly force me to learn material like assignments do, but they can offer more opportunities for exploration of a subject. Given, every week I’m on a timeline to both complete assignments and read textbook material, so I don’t always read textbooks as thoroughly as I’d like to. Yet, when I do get the opportunity to really read textbooks, I enjoy reading the vast majority of them, even the ones for classes I don’t want to take.

After I finish a class I didn’t want to take, I often find I’ve developed an appreciation for the subject. I don’t necessarily want to pursue the subject further, but I’ve still found aspects of the topic that are interesting to me. I’m happy when the class is over and I’ve learned something new, but while the class is in session, I have a hard time coming to terms with the material, and finding any enjoyment in it at all.

So sometimes I have to take a class I don’t want to take - big deal. In the end I’m happy with what I learned and what I did. After all, sometimes I have to take a class I don’t find interesting to learn something new about something really interesting to me, or just to be able to move on to a higher level class in a subject that I enjoy. But either way, I’ll have just obtained a new body of information about something I wouldn’t have otherwise pursued. Who knows, someday it might come in handy.  

Lydian Shipp

Webzine Team Member

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Pros and Cons of Online Classes

I take a lot of online classes through Mid-Plains.

Being able to take online courses has made it possible for me to pursue personal endeavors while also getting a college education. But online classes aren’t for the faint of heart. Many of the positives of online classes have negative aspects, and some of the negatives even have positive aspects. Online college students have to be responsible, committed, and able to discipline themselves to complete coursework. Although the ultimate outcome of completing an online college course is the same as that of completing an in-person course, the journey to the end is very different.

In my opinion, one of the primary positives of online college classes is flexibility. When enrolled in online classes, I can do my schoolwork from anywhere in the world, work ahead on assignments to clear time for important events, and complete homework on my own timeline. All I need is a computer and a reliable Internet connection. I travel overseas a lot, and can be gone for up to half of the year, so being able to take online classes to continue working towards my degree is extremely important. Aside from the fact that I can take my schoolwork with me wherever I go, leaving on a big trip is much less stressful when I can get ahead on my assignments beforehand. However, when I’m home, the benefits of flexibility are still there. I’ve found that during terms when I’m taking mostly online classes, I’m able to regulate my schedule more efficiently, and I feel significantly less tense than when I’m taking a majority of in-person classes.

But there is a dark side.

As much as I enjoy the flexibility provided by online courses, there are times when it can negatively influence my methods of time management. In fact, having flexibility can even cause me to be more stressed, rather than ease the tension. Making decisions about my schedule carries more weight than it seems like it would. Having flexibility doesn’t mean that I get to do whatever I want, whenever I want; it means that I get to organize my week, instead of somebody else organizing my week for me. I still have to structure my life and keep up with my responsibilities, such as promptly and satisfactorily completing coursework.

The flexibility of online classes comes with a selection of disadvantages, though. One relatively common issue I run into is where an assignment is explained in a somewhat confusing or unclear manner. In this situation, even if I’m relatively sure of the instructions, I email the teacher for clarification. In an in-person class setting, if the assignment instructions are unclear, I can ask for clarification in the moment; in an online class, I can still ask questions, but sometimes it takes some time to get a response. I must say though, this negative isn’t always negative. In fact, it has a positive aspect. True, the process of asking questions via email can be time-consuming, but it also develops communications skills. Asking questions verbally in real time isn’t as difficult; I can rephrase my question until I’m asking exactly what I need to ask. But writing an email requires me to recognize exactly what I don’t understand, and then communicate it in an easily understandable manner.

In addition to the occasionally slow process of communication, there tend to be a lot of distractions that arise when I’m working on my assignments for my online classes. These distractions can range from something as minor as a loud catfight outside, to something more major like an unforeseen illness that inhibits my ability to finish assignments. Either way, there are usually a few distractions every day that interrupt my thoughts while I’m working on my coursework. However, although distractions may be annoying, they force me to really focus on what I’m doing, rather than tuning out and thinking about something other than the assignment.

Ultimately, despite the distractions and minor annoyances that come with online classes, I’m grateful that I’m able to do my schoolwork from home. Even when I have trouble scheduling my week, or run into a major technology or communication issue, I’m still able to resolve the conflict in relative comfort. In my opinion, the benefits of online classes far outweigh the costs. I’ve been able to resolve many of the conflicts that arise when taking online classes through a change in my mindset. This mindset requires some upkeep, but it’s worth it. When I resolve these minor conflicts I enjoy doing my schoolwork, and appreciate the freedom and flexibility of online classes.

Lydian Shipp

Webzine Team Member