With the new school year about to start, we’re discussing six academic resolutions you might want to consider for getting the most out of the opportunity. Yesterday we looked at the first three: grades, relationships, and health. Here are the rest.
4. Ask Questions
The way we approach education, it sometimes feels like memorization is the key to learning. It’s not. Questions are.
Most people think the value of a question comes with the answer. And there’s some truth in that. Obviously, if you don’t know something, asking and getting more information is a good idea.
But I think the real value of a good question comes from thinking up the question in the first place. Coming up with good questions requires you to engage the material deeply, reflect on its significance, and wonder what to do with it. A good question makes you think.
Questions have value long before you get an answer.
So you might want to consider resolving to make this academic year all about asking good questions. And you can do that in at least two areas:
- Reading: Make it a goal to come up with a good question or two for everything you read. It could be about something you didn’t understand, a point you disagreed with, or a question on how to apply what you’ve read. Keep a reading log of some kind, and write your questions down. That will help you monitor whether you’re accomplishing your goal, and such a list of questions would make great discussion material for when you “put yourself out there” (see resolution #2).
- Class Discussions: The same principle applies to your classes. Try to come up with one good question that you could ask in every class session. Again, even if you don’t bother to ask the question, the process will force you to engage the material differently. (Of course, I also recommend asking the question.)
- End of Term: At the end of the term, do the same for each class that you’ve taken. Walk away from every semester with questions about what you learned, what you’d like to learn next, and what difference this all makes for what you’re studying.
If you’re not asking questions, you’re not learning. It’s as simple as that.
5. Stop Multitasking
If anyone can multitask, it’s a student. Reading a book (or two), listening to music, texting friends, making dinner, and solving global warming all at the same time. It’s an impressive sight.
Of course, it doesn’t work.
I won’t bother citing all of the research pointing out the myth of multitasking and its impact on learning. I’m sure you’ve heard all about it by now. The human brain just doesn’t like to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. It’s quite effective at switching from one task to another quickly, but every shift slows and impairs the learning process. And yes, this includes the way you use your laptop in class (check out The Laptop and the Lecture: The Effects of Multitasking in Learning Environments). I love my laptop, but I’m well aware of how easily it distracts me from learning.
So if you really want this year to be about learning, stop multitasking. Set aside a regular time that you will use just for studying. (Some people do shorter periods every day, while others prefer longer periods several times a week. Go with whatever works for you.) No TV, no telephone, no surfing the internet. Even music can be a problem if it’s the kind of music that will draw your attention away from what you’re doing. (Full disclosure: I routinely listen to music while studying.)
If you need more suggestions for distraction-free studying, check out my “How to Get More Done by Pretending You’re on an Airplane.”
6. Minimize Debt
I could have picked any number of things to use for our sixth resolution, but I decided to go with debt for a couple of reasons. The obvious one is that educational debt is a growing problem that has the potential to impact you for the rest of your life. (Even after you’ve paid off those loans, you’re still impacted by how much time and money you had to invest into paying them off.) So the less debt you accumulate as a student, the better off you’ll be later.
But I also think minimizing debt is a good new year’s resolution because debt impairs learning. At the very least, excessive debt increases stress significantly. And many studies have pointed the detrimental impact of high stress levels. And that includes learning. Being a student can be stressful enough all by itself, add the stress of debt, and you’re just compounding the problem.
Debt is bad for learning in another way, though. When I talk with students, I’m constantly surprised at where their debt comes from. A good chunk is educational, but a fairly large portion is consumer debt: credit card bills stuffed with charges for new electronics, nights out on the town, fun toys, and other expenses that are basically designed to keep you from studying. So you’re basically borrowing money (at a pretty high interest rate) to pay for things you probably don’t need that will then prevent you from doing what you’re supposed to be doing in the first place! Fortunately, though, if you do that long enough, the financial stress will kick in and make it virtually impossible for you to study anyway.
Make this year different. I know that debt is unavoidable for many students. But it can be minimized. Resolve to live simply enough that money, whether spending it or worrying about it, doesn’t get in the way of your learning.
We could keep going, but I think six academic resolutions is enough to get us all thinking. Whether you use one (or more) of these to set the tone for the next school year, or come up with something that fits you a little better, it doesn’t really matter. The point is to spend a few minutes here before the school year kicks in to think about what’s ahead. This next school year is a gift God has given you to use for his glory. What is one thing you can do this year to make sure you steward that gift well?