Studying in College


MACOMB, Illinois (WC) – What is Studying? We hear this term every semester at the beginning of the terms and near the end when our final exams approach.

The Oxford Dictionary defines Study as the activity of learning or gaining knowledge, either from books or examining things in the world. But how do we approach studying? It might be difficult to quantify something so subjective but perhaps if we understood it from a point of view that is not what we would consider our own.

Over the next few weeks, the Western Courier will be sharing interviews with some of our professors we were able to interview and get to hear. We’ll read their perspectives and the many factors they deal with when approaching our classes and their expectations.

The following is an interview with Professor Casey Lafrance in the Political Science Department:

Q: What does studying for your class mean?
A: Because I teach in the FYE program, teach major courses, and teach graduate courses, there are some different expectations. My former prof told me that early undergrad education is about “soaking up knowledge into the sponge.” Later, as one moves into advanced major coursework or early graduate studies, they might be expected to “wring out” the sponge (apply what they have learned to novel situations/problems/research questions). Finally, as one completes graduate training, they are expected to “create a sponge.” There is some degree of truth to this analogy, though it is premised on learning a particular (Western) canon. Some argue this approach can reproduce hierarchy and limit conversations in an academic discipline to what Western scholars have concluded at the expense of newer ideas or ideas from newly recognized participants in academia (i.e., members of historically oppressed groups whose voices were essentially banned from academic discourse for centuries).

I am looking for evidence of critical thought. To study for my classes, I would encourage students to seek out and consider a variety of scholarly and popular sources and compare/contrast with lecture notes, assigned readings and class discussions. Every professor is biased in some way or another. For instance, I specialize in public administration and policy. Thus, I am weaker than many of my colleagues when it comes to understanding legislative behavior in Congress or all the nuances of foreign policy. A genuinely curious student may want to read works by those who specialize in other subfields or who take different epistemological and/or methodological approaches to studying political science. This not only helps you with assignments and exams, but also gives the student an opportunity to augment our class discussions with additional observations and information. So, first and foremost, I would encourage active critical thought.

Second, I would encourage students to take advantage of the sense of community that exists in our small classes at WIU. Your classmate may have caught some notes that you missed. She may have made some connections that weren’t as readily apparent. Sharing ideas and notes is something I have always found helpful. Some of my classes use a shared Google doc to keep notes for class. Some form study groups. Some text or meet up to quiz one another. In addition to the insights one might glean from classmates, the sense of espirit de corps that this fosters is also important.

Third, I would encourage introspection and self-reflection. Many of us learn in particular ways. Knowing whether you are more visual, auditory, tactile, etc. will allow you to choose a method of studying that is most beneficial or relevant.

Finally, I would also encourage students to use every resource available in their quest for knowledge. Beyond just reading and re-reading a text or note cards, many students find help using Youtube videos, quizlets, book reviews, summaries, interactive games, supplementary books, articles from scholarly databases available through WIU libraries, discussions with practitioners in the field, and perhaps most importantly, meetings with their instructors. We all have office hours and most of us are excited when you choose to visit us (even if it’s over zoom or the phone).

Q: What does studying mean to you as a professor?
A: When I “study,” I am looking for gaps in the literature on a topic in my academic discipline. I begin by reviewing relevant literature to get a sense of the key ideas, issues, and puzzles associated with this area of study. I then look for the lacuna in the topical arena and design a study or a series of studies bent on accumulating empirical evidence in support of a hypothesis I have generated. I then carry out my design through interviews, surveys, analysis of datasets, textual/content analysis, or whatever methodological tool is most appropriate to the question. Once I analyze findings, I draw conclusions and become aware of the limitations of the work I have produced. This, in turn, leads to future research aimed at ameliorating flaws in my prior work or augmenting my understanding of a phenomenon. For instance, I conducted a large-scale interview project in order to know how to word survey questions and responses related to a topic. Thus, I was able to get a good degree of depth (from the qualitative methods) and, later, conduct a study with a higher degree of external validity (generalizability).

If profs want their students to think critically, it makes sense that we would also do the same. I try to consider a variety of sources and perspectives in producing my work, and I often play “devil’s advocate” with my own results so that I can be more certain in drawing conclusions regarding the relationships between variables that I claim to exist.

Q:What did studying mean to you as a student?
A: Studying back in the age of dinosaurs meant that there were many fewer resources, especially Web 2.0, Koofers, Quizlets, Moodles, etc. I read. And Re-read. I memorized dates and formulas and blocks of text. I helped make sense of what I read by writing reports, term papers, memos, essays, etc. In some ways, I envy modern students who have so many resources. However, I am also aware that having so many more sources available can make it more difficult to know which ones are trustworthy and accurate, so maybe it’s a draw? I’m just glad we don’t have to carry floppy disks around to save papers!


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