For most Athabasca University students, finding adequate study time is a challenge. We have so many other activities and responsibilities that demand our attention. Prioritizing is often the key to managing to put these other activities to the side and focus on schoolwork.
When I first started university it did not seem as difficult to study. I was eager to devour my course materials and my first assignments were exciting and fun to do. Gradually it became harder and harder to keep up the momentum, especially once I started full time studies. In the past year I’ve all too often found myself getting frustrated with an assignment and unable to concentrate. At times I actively avoid schoolwork. When faced with a choice between cleaning toilets or tackling a particularly difficult essay:I’m finding myself getting really pumped about getting on my hands and knees on the bathroom floor with a bottle of bleach!
Fortunately I’ve managed to slog my way through even the worst assignments and completed my courses eventually. But lately I’m finding yet another distraction – the research itself. I love doing research, and I’ve always found that I learn far more from the research I do for a course than from the course curriculum itself. This is, of course, a good thing, a positive outcome of course-based research. Well, at least most of the time it is.
To illustrate: I’m currently taking CMNS 421, Personal Implications of the Internet. It’s an enjoyable course, with a discussion board component that encourages students to share website resources with others in the course. It also encourages students to investigate online interactive games, chatrooms, newsgroups, and so on. The first assignment requires researching a topic that demonstrates the psychology of the internet, referring to a variety of different internet-based resources. I chose the topic of gambling support groups online due to my interest in the psychology of addictions. I’m not much of a gambler myself. The few times I’ve been to Vegas I play the slot machines and have fun doing it, but its not something that really draws my attention. However I’ve become increasingly aware of the prevalence of gambling addiction and am curious to learn more. The Internet is also a great place where people can talk about their addictions and remain in a safe, anonymous environment, and support groups abound for every possible need.
My topic had two components, first a discussion of the available gambling resources online, then a look at how online support groups are helpful. I decided to start my research by seeing what it was like to gamble online. It was easy enough to find places to gamble. A Google search using “gambling” as the search term brings up 4,900,000 results!
I began my “research” at http://www.gamblingtimes.com, an informative site with all kinds of gambling links, jokes, and forums where gamblers can share information about great places to play or talk about their winning experiences. At this site I also discovered several free online gambling games, and decided that rather than risking “real” money I would get my feet wet with some freebies. I selected a slot game, “Triple Crown,” and was allotted $1000.00 worth of credits. I decided that $200 would be my limit, and when I lost it all I would quit, so I loaded it into my virtual “machine.” I was placing $1.00 bets and playing the maximum of 3 credits ($3.00). It was around midnight when I started my “research”. For the first few hours my wins were small, but I still had most of my money. Then I started winning, first $400, then $300. For a long time I was ahead $600, and could not seem to drop much below that.
Daylight was already peeking through my windows before I finally managed to stop compulsively hitting the “spin” button. I cashed out at $1377.00. I briefly felt the urge to try my luck at a real game, but resisted. Past experience in real life gambling has taught me that my likelihood of making $ 1377.00 on a real slot machine was minimal (plus I did not have the luxury of $200.00 real dollars I could play around with!).
Nonetheless, my research was getting out of hand. While I was playing I kept reminiscing about a computer game I used to play years ago, “Leisure Suit Larry and the Land of the Lounge Lizards,” in which a significant element of the game involves Larry’s trips to the casino to earn enough money to continue his pursuit of “love” (Sierra, 2002). So strong was the memory, that in spite of already having been up half the night gaming, I went in search of my old DOS version of Larry and loaded and ran it. My daughter was getting up for school before I finally quit playing, bleary-eyed and head buzzing. Addictive indeed!
Needless to say, I did not get much real course work done on the project until late the following day, and I had to resist the impulse to check out Triple Crown & Larry when I turned on my computer! I had not learned my lesson though. I decided to start work on the second topic, which would require research on gambling support groups. I remembered a friend I used to chat with on ICQ who was addicted to online gambling, and we used to have some great conversations that were encouraging for both of us. Since I’ve started university I’ve rarely had time for chatting online, and I had not been on ICQ for a couple of years. So I decided to install ICQ on my school computer. I had slept half the day due to my excesses of the previous night, so I was once again wide awake well past midnight.
Once it gets into the early hours of the morning MST the “aussies” start to come online, and I soon connected with an old friend in Australia. We chatted for a couple hours getting caught up on things, and once again I was up all night with no schoolwork done!
This is not the only course where I’ve started doing Internet research and ended up pursuing something online that is quite different. I’ve had this happen when doing research in a library as well, becoming distracted reading other things unrelated to what I’m looking up. But it is far easier to become distracted when researching on the Internet. I love being able to do so much of my course work research online, and I appreciate that AU recognizes the validity of this type of research. There are some wonderful resources on the Internet. At the same time, as students we need to learn how to budget our time and not become distracted by the sheer magnitude of the information available on the Internet.
I’ve since managed to avoid Internet distractions and complete my assignment. But I see trouble ahead – my next assignment involves a comparison of how people present themselves in online communication and the differences between one-to-one and group communication online. Guess I have to go find a chatroom to hang out in – and try really hard not to forget my essay project in the process!
Debbie is a native Edmontonian, a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students’ Union.