Monthly Archives: May 2014

Observations, Musings and the Joy of Learning

Probably the biggest obstacle I had to overcome in going back to school was me. I am pretty set in my ways and definitely hold some engrained perspectives that I feel would either hinder or help me. As I hadn’t attended college in more then 15 years I had this preconceived notion as to how my experience would be. Some of that has definitely come to fruition but also I remain pleasantly surprised at the environment that learning fosters.

At first, as with most of my classes, people were a little ‘stand-offish’ as we all got acclimated to one another. But as the weeks went on people began to open up more. Hopefully early on I was able to set an example by volunteering to answer questions and cite examples. I have noticed that people certainly seem to be at this point either interested in passing their classes or suddenly realizing they may not. It is quite curious either way. Anyways, I have already made strong relationships with people who are in my same career tract and look forward to seeing them in future classes.

One thing I think most have noticed is that I am quite serious and quite direct. I think that I have established myself as a leader and as someone willing to help. Even though I may gripe about people not taking school seriously, I do enjoy helping out with any information I can provide. Although I do put in the time with my classes, I do enjoy coming off as well prepared and smart. It can be a fun time to give fellow students the wrong information as a prank and then let them know I was kidding. I do hopefully also make a point on preparation. Good times!

One of the best surprises has been my interactions with international students. I have met students from all over the world. Russia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Bahrain, Ukraine, China, Senegal and Egypt. As I am not always open to other cultures I have been extremely grateful in getting the opportunity to learn more about different world views and understanding cultures which are distinctly non-American. For example, a classmate from Bahrain is undecided in finding a major. I mentioned nursing and he scoffed as males in his country do not engage in that profession. He could be a dentist or a doctor. We often forget that places outside of the United States still may not accept things we see as common place. I certainly have been mindful in expressing my beliefs and when asking questions about someone’s culture. However I have yet to encounter anyone who is not willing to answer my questions or open up about their culture. I have also enjoyed getting to know the stories of the many young mothers who are obtaining their first career and conversing with young students just staring out with their education. Everyone has a unique story and that is enhancing my college experience.

One gratifying experience began during the second week of school when one of my fellow students approached me and asked if I would be willing to be a note taker for her and aid the Services for Student with Disabilities. I was given a form to fill out and given a brief orientation once I had agreed to do it. As compensation you can either receive priority registration or a small stipend of $50. As I already am eligible for priority registration I chose the $50. Every little bit helps, right? Also it was something that I could help a fellow student with and do so in the future.

So far I can say that there is very little I am disappointed with. One thing is how little some students seem to have vested in their education. They do not read, take notes or seem to remember when there is a quiz or assignment due. I am always willing to study with anyone and help as I am able but this group of under achievers simply seems to not care. Maybe with time these youthful learners will understand that getting it right the first time is very important. I certainly would never preach to them or suggest they get their acts together but it does bother me. Maybe it’s just the paternal instincts in me that wants them all to succeed.

So far with some planning, studying and engaging my fellow students, returning to school has been a very satisfying experience. I look forward to sharing more about my experiences and registering for the Summer term.

Time Management and Organization

I want to reiterate that my situation is unique as yours will be. These are some actions that I have found that fit into my life and have served me in making me a more diligent and successful student. Also keep in mind that not all of us will have as much time to focus on school because of overriding obligations such as family or work.

So let’s fast forward a little bit. As I am nearing the end of my sixth week of school, I wanted to share more about the things that I do to make it through the school week. As we know time management and organization are two vital components of being successful upon returning to school. I am going to detail more about time management and organization skills I use to stay on top of school. Likely you will find as I have that managing school allows for less stress in your non-school life. But I will talk more about that down the road.

Although we all know that time management is hugely important, I invest a lot in staying organized. It’s mind boggling to me at times just how unorganized my fellow students seem to be. I personally believe that self organization with school is fundamental number one. If you are forgetful and have poor organization skills you may want to ensure you enroll with a manageable course load or seek help through the many resources available for returning adult learners. If you are changing careers and spent the last several years in the Corporate World you will probably do well. Again everyone’s organization skills will be different but they ultimately do benefit one beyond school.

I talked before about how I use four different colored folders for each of my classes and one could go even farther and label them front and side for easier identification. I also keep each subject separate from the other. I don’t stack all my things in a pile. I keep everything where I can see them. I also pack my pack back at night with the right notebooks and books for the next days classes. Saves time in the morning that I can use for relaxing, breakfast or catching the news, traffic and weather. When I get home each day I unload my pack of any unneeded materials and replace it with materials I need for that days homework if that’s on my plan for the day.

The next organization and time management technique I use is keeping a current “Day Planner”. No, I didn’t go out an buy one I simply use a notebook I got with my school supplies. For each day I note the date and class, then add check boxes with tasks I need to complete for the coming days or even weeks. When I complete a task I check the box and cross it from the list. When I am still working on something but the day has passed, I leave the box unchecked and cross it off from the list and move it to the current day where I can see that it still requires completion. This I find allows me to keep everything in front me. My motto with my professional work was always, “Everything in front of me, nothing behind me.” So I use that mantra with school. You may find that you want to buy a preset Day Planner with calendar pages so that you can also add other important dates you know of ahead of time. I prefer writing each each date in so I in fact have to know what day it is. I add tasks as they are presented in class and when I have easy access to the syllabus. It’s not always easy to look up the syllabus if its in a folder or online, but this way I’m not having to. Speaking of the syllabus, it should be a priority for everyone.

Each instructor provides a syllabus at the start of the quarter. I am surprised that so many of my fellow classmates act like they never got one or do not know where to find one. If you are a new adult learner and have never attended college or come from a more ‘Blue Collar’ profession which kept you in the field, you definitely need to familiarize yourself with Canvas and a computer. Many of the retraining careers require computer fundamentals and most classes require interaction with Canvas. Plus all of your grades, assignments and discussion threads will be found there. I cannot stress enough how you need to be prepared for this. As an adult learner if you are not well versed in these types of skills I implore you to seek help. EdCC has many Computer Services and FAQ Tutorials for assistance with this. As I came from the Tech Industry this wasn’t a huge challenge for me once I got my log in information after enrolling. In fact the integration of technology into education is a refreshing and welcome change for me.

In order to do well in school you are obviously going to have to study and find the time for reading and completing assignments. If at all possible set up consistent blocks of time for your homework. You will have lots of it. Look at your schedule and start formulating an idea of prioritizing available time for studying. Before School started I knew that I would be treating school like a fill time job. So in addition to going to classes during the early part of the day, I would basically have weekday afternoons and evenings, all day Friday and parts of the weekend, if necessary, as blocks of time to study. I would also have two hours of free time at school, two days a week, before one of my classes and be able to utilize that time if needed. I have been extremely diligent and stick to my blocks of time for studying. For example, Monday afternoon allows me to work on school work for Tuesday’s classes. Additionally Tuesday afternoon allows time for Wednesdays class and so forth. I can work on anything during those times but mostly stick to what I have written down in my Day Planner tasks lists. Some days I’ll need to focus on one class exclusively, or work on assignments for two different classes, regardless I know I have the block of time to do so. Just having these blocks of time to study allows me complete flexibility in choosing what I need to work on.

Even though I do study a lot, I do try and set a time goal within each block, whether its the full block of time or only a portion of hours within that block. I adjust according to how much work I need to get done. I find however that by staying on top of my workload I rarely have any surprises. I also think once you get into a set pattern you find a rhythm and it becomes easier to manage and know your studying time. You will know how much time you need to devote to each class based on the workload. I find that by knowing I am going to have a set time I can focus more closely on the task at hand and get done what I need to in that block of time. Also as we all know life happens. Setting a set time time allows you to focus on other things when you need to. For example, my spouse arrives home usually about 4:30 pm each day. So I usually study and do school work in that block of time up to about 4 pm. I can then focus solely on the interaction with my family and not have it interfere with my studies. I usually then return to studying for that evening but again setting a time so I can also give my mind a rest for the night.

Friday is a day I use to get the majority of any school work done. I usually try and start about normal class time which can be anywhere from 7:30 am to 10:00 am. I may even start later but never fail to set a time goal. I’ve studied anywhere from 8-9 hours to being able to take the Friday off after being caught up. You will just have to map your own study blocks based on your schedule and situation. But if you do take the time and stick to your plan I have no doubt that you will also be as successful as I have been.┬áThis also helps with forming a routine for the entire duration of your attendance at school. If you have Friday off as most students do this may be the perfect time for you to get in the majority of your studies.

I do usually take Thursday afternoons and evenings off from studying, as being diligent at school all week does earn me a mental break for an afternoon and evening. This weekly break from studying goes a long way in keeping me focused and on top of my studies overall.

I also definitely use time blocks on the weekends, because its the weekend and who doesn’t like to enjoy them? Even during school. I am usually up early and use that time so I am free in the afternoon or evening as need be. We all know that we have many obligations on the weekends but it is still possible to find time to study and not lose any time that you can likely benefit from overall.

That being said, be flexible when life issues arise. Sometimes you may not feel like studying or prefer to do something that comes up. This is okay. I find that if I am preoccupied with some thing else while studying there is almost no point in doing so. And remember it’s okay to put your family time in front of studying and may just provide a nice break and allow you to focus more later on. But if you have taken the time to set up study blocks and stick to that plan, you will likely find anyways that you can easily incorporate school into your already busy daily life and succeed in both.

Getting Into the Groove of School

Edmonds Community College’s Spring Term began on April 7, 2014. I was as ready as I would ever be. The commute from Seattle on my first day took all of about 15 minutes once I merged onto I-5 North. It has remained constant each day in the past four weeks and has not been an issue. Again you should plan your class schedule according to your commute and personal needs. Unless something changes this will likely be the last mention of this pleasant and wonderful reverse commute.

I am currently enrolled in four classes. Most of my classmates I’ve spoken to seem to be taking one, two or three classes. I felt I could handle four classes as I had done so in the past. Plus I have a set time frame to complete my chosen program and I want to stay on target. Also it is confidence in myself that really makes this a non issue. I recommend taking as many courses as you can handle, or to finish within your set timeframe for the career path you have chosen.

The first day in each class was seemingly typical. Roll call, syllabi review, expectations, and course introductions. I knew that all my courses would have assignments the first week so that wasn’t a surprise and something that I was actually prepared for. I was eager to get started with the chapter readings for each of my courses. I would get my wish. Although one of my goals for getting my books ahead of time was so that I could start reading the first chapters, it just didn’t happen.

It didn’t take long for each class to get going pretty quickly. I soon found myself inundated the second week with multiple assignments that were due back to back to back. Also the Easter Holiday weekend was looming and I wouldn’t have that weekend for much studying. It was completely overwhelming at first but then I simply became determined to better prioritized my time. I forced myself to set priorities as to what I needed to work on first. I made a clear list of due dates that were coming for Week 2 and 3. I then began to methodically knock out each assignment or chapter that I needed to complete. Since I was taking classes Monday through Thursday only, I already knew I would have at least an entire day each Friday to work on school assignments. For me this has been the crucible of staying on top of and ahead of my work load. If you can plan your schedule accordingly and not have to use that day for other commitments, then it will be a great way to perhaps free up other time that you can spend elsewhere. I ensured also that I would not be bothered by outside influences by making it clear that I would need to be studying. This may be difficult especially with family, but it was necessary. I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but all of my classes currently end before Noon with one flexible exception. So I also use the afternoons after my daily classes to work on and complete my class assignment as they become assigned. I put in a lot of hours to ensure I met all deadlines. Fortunately a number of assignments were related to one specific class and once those were completed I have found that the my workload evened out some and my schedule for study time is now working quite well. By Week 3 it was definitely clear that managing my time for studying was well worth the effort and making it a priority reflects in my current grades.

Everyone will have a different experience and from speaking with classmates I seem to be extremely lucky to be able to focus solely on school. My organization skills have definitely been noticed by my classmates and I have shared with them the things I do to stay on top of my work load. Some of course have other obligations but any help I am able to offer is gladly given. I know some of my classmates have adopted use of the ‘calendar’ style day planner which I learned many years ago at a previous job. I seemingly have also become the ‘go to guy’ for due dates and class assignments. As I go forward I will talk more about studying and some of the interactions I have made while at school. After all, we cant study all the time!