Tag Archives: education

Perspectives: Drop the laptop!

The beginning of a new semester is typically similar to the beginning of semesters past. But this semester is particularly different for me, not only because it’s my last semester at McGill, but also because it’s the first semester at the beginning of which I have resolved to only take handwritten notes in class.

After three and a half years taking notes with my laptop, listening to the pounding sounds of the laptop keys, I decided that I would try something new. Little did I know how much I would actually learn.

I don’t mean to criticize those who take notes on the laptop—or to tell you how annoying it is. But I’ve started to avoid sitting next to anyone who brings a computer to class because it’s hard to concentrate while someone’s loudly typing every single word the professor says. (Seriously, when professors tell anecdotes, there is no reason to write it down verbatim. You also don’t need to write the same concept five times, just because the professor repeated it five times). Concentration becomes even more difficult when someone is browsing Facebook or playing Tetris right beside me.

Taking notes by hand is indeed more difficult. When I initially tried to write down the majority of the important points my professors were saying, I usually wrote too slowly and missed key information, while my laptop-using peers got down every word. But the point of going to class is not to have every word memorized; it’s to understand the material. This semester, I’ve been slowly training myself to think about the concepts the professor mentions and then take notes—rather than just writing down everything he says and trying to understand it later.

One of my professors has recognized that students who take notes on their computer are often multitasking, instead of solely paying attention to the lecture, and are therefore disrupting their peers. She banned laptops in her classroom, claiming that grades were significantly higher in courses where students didn’t use their laptops.

In a 2008 study, a professor from Minnesota found that the more students used their laptops in class, the lower their class performance was, the less attention they paid to lectures, and the less they understood the material. These findings go against older ideas which suggested that technology in the classroom actually assisted student learning. So what happened? Has technology failed students?

I don’t think so. Rather, we’ve failed ourselves. Instead of using technology to be more efficient, to take notes more quickly or to enhance our learning, we use it to check our email when the professor is answering a student’s question that isn’t important to us. And our insecurities, which make us feel like we’re getting smarter only if we do have every word down, don’t help either. I understand this insecurity, because I used to think that way as well. It’s much harder to trust that you’ll write down what is actually necessary—and that’s not every word that comes out of the professor’s mouth. It requires trusting your own judgment and knowledge.

Becoming a non-laptop user in the classroom isn’t an easy path to take. However, I wish I’d made the change earlier. I would have spent more time listening and learning, instead of just typing, and would have appreciated my classes that much more.

This was published in the McGill Tribune as part of my bi-weekly column, Perspectives.

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A Prized Possession

This article was posted on the MASA Israel Blog on Sept 7th 2010.

When I made my decision to study abroad at the Rothberg International School of Hebrew University, my home university, McGill, required me to attend a pre-departure lecture. At this lecture, they informed us of the basic protocol to arrange a study abroad program. Health tips, packing advice and room accommodations were all reinforced throughout the lecture. It was one thing, however, that stuck with me: You are embarking on a trip that not many students take, and that all students treasure. Keep a journal and record everything you do, see, learn and feel.

It sounds simple enough but it was only once I was actually in Israel that I realized how important this tip was. Even for a girl who loves writing, keeping a daily journal was difficult. I tried to record all the adventures and trips I went on, the people I met and attempted to evaluate my feelings. But time flies, as it always does, and as I settled into a routine, I wrote less often until I was writing weekly or monthly.

I may not have as many entries as I would like, but I do have something. I have an account of my journey and more importantly, of everything I learned. I have a story to tell and proof that my semester was valuable. When I meet future employers, I can easily look up the skills I used and the experiences I had and explain how they will benefit their organization. I studied in a foreign country for five months, met friends from all over the world and learned how to live with strangers – now my close friends. The ability to plant yourself in any situation, and feel comfortable, is a skill employers treasure. Proving I can master another language is also a great asset.

When I continue my studies, I have a record of the things I learned and the people I met along the way – people who will become important contacts in my future career and education. One of my professors told me to contact him if I need a reference for graduate school. Among many of his impressive jobs, he once worked in the Ministry of Finance and in financial companies in the US. Another professor told me to always keep in touch. A knowledgeable and well-respected person, who works in Israeli politics, is another great contact for me – a Political Science student. A friend of a friend who I met works at a top newspaper in Israel and offered to help me break into journalism in the future. While researching possible fall internships, I came across a great program in Montreal. It turned out the program has offices all around the world and one of them was in Israel. I met the coordinator for coffee to discuss my future possibilities.

Most importantly, when the memories fade, and years pass, and I ask myself did I really just see a six year old helping his two year old off the bus? Did those two old ladies really just physically fight for a seat on the bus? And is my bus really stopping right in the middle of a highway? I’ll have the blog posts and the journal that reminds me it happened.

Studying abroad can benefit your education, your career and most importantly – yourself.

This article was published in The Canadian Jewish News. and posted on TalentEgg’s online magazine, The Career Incubator.

When I decided to study abroad last year, I knew that the decision would open new doors for me, academically and personally. But I never really imagined the impact it might have on my life.

As a third year student at the University of McGill, I knew that although I loved Montreal and the educational institute I was in, I needed a change. I felt that to truly benefit my education, it would be in my own best interest to take time to learn things from a different perspective – a new perspective.

As a political science student, I focused on international relations and my search for an exciting place to study led me to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. With a fantastic reputation and great incentives, I completed the long application form with just a couple months to spare before the term began. In early December, I received my acceptance letter, booked a flight to Israel, and left for a new experience.

Studying abroad is a new phenomenon among university students. A Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) study indicated that “91% of employers (interviewed) identified the importance of cultural and other benefits (from study abroad).” Learning a new language, living in a different culture, becoming more independent and self-sufficient are only a few of the skills students learn, and bring back, to their home university.

Abby Plener, an English Literature major at McGill University, spent a semester at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. “My semester abroad taught me a lot – probably more than I will ever realize or could even begin to process now,” she said. Employers and academics are remarking the importance of studying abroad in allowing students to have a well-rounded education.

Thevi Pather, Associate Director at Camosun College, said “After 15 years of work in International Education, it never ceases to amaze me when I see the profound changes that occur in a student after their return from a study abroad experience. Many leave our shores with nervous excitement, but very visible fear of the unknown. Most students return brimming with confidence, and ready to tackle the next big challenge in their young lives.”

Researchers are now even attributing an improved academic performance after students return to their home campus from studying abroad according to an in-depth analysis on study abroad headed by the Georgia Learning Outcome of Students Studying Abroad Research Initiative (GLOSSARI).

Eden Sagman, a McGill graduate who now works in the high-tech industry in Israel, where she spent a year studying abroad in 2008, said her program has helped her break into the business she always dreamed of working in. “Studying abroad enhanced my education. It opened my eyes to other perspectives about controversial issues,” she said. Learning about new cultures is key to a flourishing economy, which needs new ideas to breed entrepreneurship and start-up companies.

Although studying abroad has been seen as beneficial, it can be difficult to arrange. Picking a school, approving courses, planning a budget and often enduring a longer semester are all part of the difficulties of studying abroad. You can look forward to meeting with ten professors just to get one course approved, and once you return, you have to ensure all your information is received in a timely fashion. However, don’t let this bureaucracy hold you back. Studying abroad helped me realize so much about myself that I never would have discovered. I learned to be independent in a foreign country, navigate across cities and met incredible people along the way. And I know next semester, my education will have benefited because of it.

“While at UCT, I often got the question, ‘Why are you studying here? The universities are so much better in North America.’ In general, studying abroad made me reflect a lot on the degree to which Western countries have a monopoly over education – defining the standards of what is “good” education, how the university system should work, what we value in or educational institutions, and even the texts and authors we focus on,” Plener said.

There are so many other viewpoints out there – and studying abroad makes us question everything we’re learning, and helps us become better people. We learn to always strive to demand the best out of educations and ourselves.

Choosing Cheese Toast

What makes a student choose cheese toast over home cooked meals? What makes a student leave her loving parents and choose to be on her own, in the middle of nowhere, to do her own laundry and shop for her own groceries?

Some parents might think they did something wrong if their child has to move to another province or country to attend school. Others might want their child to have life experiences and may encourage moving away for school. Every-time I board the train at Union station in Toronto, my parents get a little misty eyed and wonder why their daughter chose to attend school in another city. If a girl who has the most loving parents, the most supportive family can leave home for school, then surely there’s no hope left for anyone else?

I didn’t even think twice about leaving home – I assumed it was something everyone did. After high school, all my friends left for fascinating places – Europe, the Middle East, Vancouver and without thinking much about the decision, I thought I should have a ‘worldly’ experience as well so I decided to go to McGill, a great mix between campus life and city life. After living in Montreal for two years, I have never been happier. The ability to walk to the library in under three minutes puts a smile on my face – since at home,  it would be a 15 minute drive. I don’t have the luxuries I had at home – my mom does not come into Montreal once a month to help me cook or do my laundry or to give me advice on my “teenage drama” and if I don’t wake up for class, no one comes knocking on my door (I know I say I hate it when my mom does that, but it is pretty convenient). Is it the lack of luxury that us students love – a world in which we are solely responsible for ourselves – or is it the comfort that living on campus brings that draw us here?

There are so many things I question now that never even crossed my mind while I made the decision to attend McGill. I wonder if I will ever live at home again – who knows what I will be doing after I finish McGill? Perhaps I’ll work in Ottawa or maybe I’ll get married, relocating me to somewhere other than my childhood home. I never thought about the time that goes by – four years in the grand scheme of what will hopefully be a long and healthy life is not that much. But when I left for McGill my brothers were 9 and 11 and when I graduate they will be 13 and 15, a time when the last thing they want to do is hang out with their sister. I’m missing out on their awkward puberty stage and even though it means I don’t have to share zit cream with them, I also don’t get to witness their shyness around girls or watch their baseball games. I’m like the divorced parent they see once a month and on holidays, but I rarely bring gifts.

I’m not sure why I chose Montreal – maybe students just need to get away for a few years and it could have been Tokyo or Kingston, Ontario. Maybe the prestige of “America’s Harvard” attracted me. Or maybe it was my selfish desire to develop my own thoughts and my own perceptions about the world, no matter the cost. Or maybe, just maybe, leaving home is a part of growing up – and it would have happened eventually.

I was never one to resist a good piece of cheese toast.