The Internet and Graduate School

Carol blog2013 picDigital v Paper

By Carol

I imagined I’d be a paperless student. I thought I would lug my laptop to each class, take notes on it and, unless I was actually handed a piece of paper by an instructor, I didn’t think I’d need any. I was partially right, but mostly wrong, about this.

I tried to digitally annotate digital files. After a lot of frustration I learned that this only works with pdfs that were created digitally then converted to pdfs. If the information had started in book-form and then scanned and saved as a pdf, there’s not a whole lot that you can do to the digital file. I think rasters and vectors are involved in the explanation but I don’t really remember. Anyway, it seemed to me that someone MUST have figured out how to covert this second kind of pdf into a digitally annotatable document.

Indeed, I found a website that, for what seems a reasonable fee, would make this conversion. I used it for a few weeks. It worked fairly well although sometimes the conversion process would leave out chunks of text that I’d then have to hunt down in the original scanned document and re-type. But, I also missed having the original document. I found that I preferred to be able to see and hold the document. I remembered more information when I could physically underline passages, quickly scribble notes in the margin, and flip through a document quickly. I’m glad I tried it out; it didn’t work for me but it might work for someone else.

On the other hand, I found a free program to contain and organize digital files. This software has really helped me organize digital documents and stay on top of deadlines. It doesn’t eliminate paper but it does help stay on top of the myriad deadlines in Foundation because it very easily creates to-do-lists, which I like.

Blackboard (BB), the software the university uses for the on-line component of classes, is something you’d best learn to love. It was often difficult to find information, whether it was the detailed rubric, or a specific reading or PowerPoint because BB offers so many different places to store similar files and allows different ways to organize information and files. You might be asking, why don’t you just look at the syllabus? The best answer I can give is that it seemed that foundation course work was integrated, classes were referred to as modules, so each “class” didn’t have the same independence that they usually do. Second semester, as an advanced curriculum student, things are different. Classes are traditionally stand-alone and the earlier challenges with content organization are not an issue.

The upside of articles posted on BB is that you never have to go to the library for, what we used to call “reserved room reading.” These were articles that instructors assigned that would be xeroxed and held at the library. You’d need to schlep to the library and check them out for a limited amount of time. BB allows instructors to post all these readings on line and you can access them for your computer at any time.

The real genius of BB is the ability to have online “discussions.” Each student is required to post responses to class activities and then other students can comment or ask questions related to individual posts. If you have gmail, it will seem familiar. Responses to a single post get grouped together in a chain so that you can read and/or add to a discussion. There are some quirky things about the text layout in this discussion area so I find writing and editing in word processing software and cutting and pasting into the BB discussion is the way to go. One of my classes this semester, Advance Social Policy with Professor Patrick, uses the discussion to create a salon. This enables us to discuss currents events regularly, even though we only meet one day per week.

Faculty and students embrace the digital world to different degrees. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to be based on age. I was surprised to see a lot of the younger students, those who’d gone to undergrad in the past five years, printing everything out and bringing the documents to class. At the same time, many older faculty are perfectly comfortable managing entire courses on-line.

Finding the right mix for me took about a month. When it’s time to order books I still struggle over kindle versions versus hard copies, price and the extent to which I’ll need to search the text help me decide. At the end of the day, I’m probably saving a few trees but surely not as many as I thought I would.


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