March 12, 2003

This week: The first edition of Sounding Off
Pets and Peeves: Tell us what you love; Tell us what drives you bananas

Last week I announced a new column, Sounding Off. The idea is simple – I introduce a topic, and readers send in their comments to be printed in the next issue.

This column was created in response to feedback from several readers, indicating that you would like to know more about your fellow students, and that you want a place to voice your own opinions. Given that the name of the paper is The Voice, it was a perfect idea!

Council members then suggested that I provide a forum where students could comment on current events and hot topics, and the idea of Sounding Off was born.

I’m delighted with the response [see below]. Not only did many of you choose to comment on our first topic, the US war on Iraq, but you also chose to express yourselves in a variety of ways, including poetry, and photography. This is a trend that I’d love to see continue, because we are all individuals and many of us are better able to express our feelings in mediums other than prose. Again, this column represents the diversity of AU students, and our creativity as well.

I realize, however, that many of you have things you would like to say but that you are not interested in such a topical forum. So, again based on the suggestions of readers and members of the student’s council, I’m also launching a second student comment column, Pets and Peeves, where you can make brief comments on things you like and things you hate.

Send us your pet peeves – you’ve posted so many of them in the AU forums already – and the things that lift your spirits. They can be related to school, distance study, or just life in general.

The Voice is also currently seeking articles on some new topics. Suggestions have included more political commentary, more education-related stories, study advice, a food column, home and garden news, and a comic.


Few resources exist to help the home student. Not only is distance education a relatively new phenomenon [actually, it’s been around a long time, but at the post secondary level it is still rather innovative] it is not yet a universally accepted mode of study.

Distance ed students attest to the value and quality of home study at AU. Nevertheless, these students face a number of special challenges, and they may find that there is nowhere to turn for advice on how to best succeed with this unique study method.

In the future there will probably be an entire shelf in the library devoted to books for distance learners, just as today there are reams of materials for home office workers and traditional university students. Until then, we must adapt information from other sources to help us develop good home-study habits. The aforementioned books for home office users are one good source of information on setting up a home work environment, and maintaining a consistent but flexible schedule.

If, like many other distance students, you find it hard to remain motivated or you have trouble fitting schoolwork into your schedule, try some of the following tips to get back on track.


We’ve all been there – you set aside time to study, and someone calls. Not only do they call, but when you mention that you are reading your course materials or working on a paper, they assume that means that you are not very busy and therefore available to talk.

Now suppose that you are attending a traditional university, and your friend calls while you’re in the middle of a lecture. If you happen to answer your cell phone and tell them where you are, in all likelihood they will apologize for disturbing you and offer to call back later. If you work at a full time job, it is unlikely that friends will call you during the day, or if they do, they will be brief.

It can be difficult to convince people that home study is work. However, it can be more difficult to convince yourself. If you find that people are consistently disrespecting your study time, then your own attitude toward your schoolwork may be part of the problem.

Often distance ed students do not feel comfortable telling people that they are too busy to talk when they’re working on their courses. You may feel as though home study is not a legitimate reason to hang up the phone, or shut your door and tell your children to give you some quiet time. After all, you make your own schedule so you’re responsible for being busy when people need you, right? I may be wrong, But I suspect that women are particularly susceptible to the latter misconception.

Get it in to your head that school is work. Important work. Valid work. Work that may alter the course of your life. If nothing else, the amount of time and money you’re putting into courses is a very good reason to approach them seriously, and to demand that others do the same. The next time someone interrupts you in the middle of your studies, don’t be afraid to say “can I get back to you later? I’m studying now.” Make sure that your family members, especially children and spouses, understand that you will be studying for the next few hours – or even the next few minutes if that’s all you can fit in – and that you are not to be disturbed except in case of emergency. Your schoolwork should command as much respect as a paying job; after all, you’re working for your future, self improvement, and possibly a better paying career.

If you are beginning a particularly time consuming project, make sure that you tell people that you are going to be busy and they will have to fend for themselves. If you were to work overtime at the office and only come home at 8:00 pm, your family would probably understand if you didn’t have time to make dinner or pick up the cleaning. However, when doing home study we often feel guilty if we haven’t completed all of our household tasks. Clarifying ahead of time that you have a lot of work to do will help others adapt to your new student schedule.

Planning ahead can also help. Sometimes when I’m working on a really big project, I’ll put in twelve, fourteen, or even sixteen hours in a day, and then feel bad because I did not get supper ready. I also may feel guilty for being so tired. After all I didn’t leave the house or do anything physical! It is important to remember that brain-work is exhausting. Thinking, planning, and writing all day long is as taxing as any job outside the home. Keep this in mind, and let those around you know that you are working hard. Don’t feel bad about being wiped out after putting in a lot of study time and allow yourself to relax.


One way to help emphasize that your course work is work, is to make a home office for yourself where you can study in private. If you do not have room for an office, at least define one small section of the house – even if it’s just a desk or a table – as your workspace. Approach this like you would a home business, and make sure that your family members respect your workspace and don’t disturb your books and papers.

It is important that you have somewhere that you can leave your work open and available, so that you are not having to constantly put things away and take them out again. Having to do this can make you daunted about sitting down to study for just a few minutes. Also, when you are constantly shoving your course materials under beds, in drawers, or in other out of the way places, you are indicating that your schoolwork is not important enough to take up space in the home.

A full course load worth of materials can take up a lot of room. Between your workspace, course books, library books, papers, magazines, and drafts of assignments – not to mention a computer – you may find that AU materials begin to take over every part of the house. Find a place for your materials, and take pride in that space. If you have no choice but to put a desk in the living room, don’t feel that you have to hide your work away when company comes over – this is your space, and a significant part of your life – it is not clutter. It is important to your success that your materials be available at all times so that you can read for a few minutes whenever you can, or so you can jot down a quick idea when it occurs to you.

Make sure you that if have to share your computer with other household members, that your studies are a top priority. Don’t wait to use the computer if others are playing games or surfing the web for fun. You have invested a lot in your courses – kick them off and get to work! If your spouse uses the computer for work, then make sure your studies get equal time, or try to get your own computer. The same goes for office space. Don’t share a home office if your school work won’t be given the same space and time considerations as the other home business.

Make it clear also that when you are in your study space people are not to disturb you. Put a hanger on the door that says “Student at Work,” or schedule times that you will be in there studying so everyone knows. If you tend to get distracted during the time you have set out to study, make a resolution that you will only use your study area for schoolwork, and nothing else.


Speaking of distractions, they can be your worst enemy. It is hard enough setting aside time to study, but many students may find that even though they spend one or two hours in their study space intending to work, very little gets done. You may become distracted on the computer and end up surfing the internet or playing games, or you may end up planning what you’re going to do the next day or the next week. Perhaps you so seldom get time for yourself that you spend your study time just thinking, resting, or reading for pleasure.

These things are all important, but when they infringe on your studies too often, they can prevent you from completing your courses. They can also lead you to feel very guilty for spending so much time and money on courses that you are unable to complete.

As mentioned above, one of the best ways to ensure that you will get work done in your study space is to decide to never use that space for anything but studying. This advice is very similar to the common advice for insomniacs: never get into bed unless you are prepared to sleep. If you want to read, sit up in a chair so that you don’t associate your bed with sitting awake. The same advice can be applied to your office.

Another way to get things done, is to set very specific goals. If there’s still time left in your course schedule it’s very easy to put things off because you feel that you’re not ready, or because you don’t have enough information yet. Nevertheless, when your deadline arrives you manage to cram 3 weeks worth of work into a single marathon session. Clearly, you are able to just sit down and write without a lot of preparation. Often, you just don’t do it until you have to. The problem with that is, you then do not have time to let your paper sit so you can go over it with fresh eyes. If you are someone who can’t get anything done until the last minute, set some firm goals. Tell yourself that when you sit down tomorrow you will get your outline done, or you will write the first four pages of your paper. What if you are not prepared? Write them anyway. It’s what you’ll end up doing it the long run, but at least this way you will have time to rework it later. It can be helpful to approach your paper like a final exam. What do you do when you enter the exam room, with a three house deadline and a topic? You just write, and hope for the best. If you never seem to be able to get going, try setting aside three hours and writing your paper as though you were in an exam. Rush it if you have to. Then you can go over it later, and use what you have as a starting point.

Think of the part of your brain that you use to write papers as a muscle. It needs exercise. The more you write, the easier it is to begin next time. Exercise this muscle and writing will get easier and easier.

Tamra Ross Low
Editor in Chief

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