It’s been a few years since you were last at school and learning in a traditional format – perhaps even a few decades – and starting your first year can be daunting. A friend of mine, a 30-year-old, single mum has just started the bridging course to her first degree, and called me on the first day in a fluster, ‘How do I read all of this material?’
When Ellie and I went to school, books were hard-copy loans or purchases, that you could sidle up on the couch and get cozy with. With electronic resources exceeding plentiful, we are faced with the question: to print or not to print?
The electronic flurry of information is both a blessing and a curse. It means that – particularly for science and law students – we may need to dig through an extensive multitude of research articles, spending ten times longer in front of a screen than recommended. In contrast, where once we might have spent hours tracing the shelves of libraries to find that the books and journals we needed were unavailable, we now have constant access to the most current information.
Old study habits are quick to remember such as holding paper copies while curled into your favourite chair, highlighting and marking comments with ease. While some articles and most e-books allow this feature (including ability to curl up!), many university and discipline libraries have scanned physical copies of book chapters and articles. This means that the format is restricted, and that either the document needs to be printed, or any of your ideas or questions may need to be noted separately to the document.
Printing these documents isn’t the most resourceful option, but it does allow to keep your notes together. Although, keeping notes separately is not unmanageable, it merely requires new habits to be established. For one, it extremely important to record page numbers and document locations so that when it comes to referencing you aren’t searching frantically for that ‘thing you read that one time’. Therefore, not printing requires learners to be more organised and diligent in order to be adequately prepared for assignments and exams.
Then again, there are always tablets. Tablets, which also didn’t exist when we went to school.
Tablets (iPads, Surface Pros etc) assume the flexibility and comfort of reading physical copies, with an added cost. Not all students can afford a tablet, but if you can, it might be an ideal for reading mobility and a solution to endless printing. The downside of tablets, however, is that they require a higher amount of user discipline: what is the likelihood that your reading will be interrupted by social media or other internet trends? My suggestion is to turn off all app notifications, and set yourself reward breaks for when you can check these platforms.
I manage my studies without a tablet, but at the beginning of my degree, I viewed reading as a duty and regularly procrastinated. I was attached to the glorious idea of reading for hours on end, with legs sprawled across my bed, and without being weighed down by a laptop (which can be ridiculously light these days, so I can’t complain!). I printed if the documents were small, and particularly if I needed a break from the computer screen, but overall it was just a new learning style that I needed. To begin with, I set small reading goals such as reading ten pages in one sitting before taking a break, and by the end of the year my tolerance for online reading was greater.
Habits aside, I was still feeling quite tired by the end of a heavy-reading day, and I attributed this as being unaccustomed to the volume and method of reading. The reality was though, as I discovered after second semester, that I needed reading glasses. Maybe I’m not the only mature-aged student who needed a check up!
Ultimately, printing should be a last resort. From an environmental point of view, we have a responsibility to minimise our landfill contributions in terms of unwanted paper and used ink cartridges. From a financial point of view, the vast number of pages that require printing accumulates, along with a financial and space cost (more printing, more room taken up).
Printing habits that you can change include:
Print small documents only (under 6 pages)
Double sided printing
Re-use discarded paper as scraps for notes/to do lists
Condense notes – if printing lecture notes, briefly read and convert to short handedness and abbreviations before printing.
So, what did Ellie do with her first day after our conversation? Set aside her reading and set up her work station instead, of course.