Taking Charge of Learning: Tips for Students
My recurring pedagogical theme is that each student is at
the center of his or her learning. As teachers-professors we catalyze. We coach.
We connect. In the end, however, each student must take personal responsibility
for learning. Properly used, each student’s computer is an efficient and
very effective tool that enhances the pursuit of this responsibility.
Along those lines, here are some views that professors may find useful to pass
along to their students. First, use e-mail to form a learning support group
with students in the same class and keep in touch throughout the course. Consult
with the professor to clarify a confusing assignment. Share the response with
the rest of the class. Use e-mail to help others, and to get help from others.
Second, use the Web to gain access to alternative views and examples that
match interests and needs. Become proficient in the use of a search engine,
like Google, by reading about and using some of its special features. Above
all, constantly evaluate the validity of the material you are reading: Look
for sites that are endorsed by credible groups of experts and/or sponsored by
respected organizations without an axe to grind
Third, keep it simple. Settle on one or two passwords to protected sites (so
they can be remembered). Make a conscious decision about when to turn off Instant
Messenger and similar programs that allow others to interrupt studying and thinking
Fourth, limit dangerous uses of the computer. E-mail is a wonderful medium
for good news and positive reactions, and it is a very bad way to deliver bad
news and disagreement. In the same vein, send copies of memos only to people
who will be able to place them in the proper context and interpret the messages
in the same way. Don’t forward an electronic memo you’ve received
from someone else without gaining his or her permission. Avoid offensive material,
and remember, material that may not offend the person receiving the memo may
offend one of the copy recipients.
Recognize that there is no such thing as a confidential, restricted access,
or sufficiently deleted computer message. Once you have typed and sent an e-mail,
it may be seen by almost anyone and it will likely become a permanent part of
Finally, anticipate breakdowns. Don’t expect friends or professors to
respond to an e-mail in less than 48 hours. Complete network-dependent, time-critical
assignments a day or two early, so that you can tolerate an unexpected crash
of the network when it is impossible to access any material through your computer.
Keep both electronic and print copies of all personally authored (or team
authored) papers. Back up your computer hard-drive (for example, by burning
a CD) at least twice a month. At the end of a course, anticipate that you will
not always have the same access to electronic materials used in your course
by transferring key items to your own computer, a CD, or a server that will
continue to be accessible.
These five simple principles—use e-mail, use the Web, keep it simple,
be cautious, and anticipate breakdowns. All of the above will go a long way
toward enabling each student truly to profit from computer usage.
David Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president and dean of the International
Center for Computer Enhanced Learning at Wake Forest University.