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Here's how studying has evolved throughout the decade

UNC-Chapel Hill students prepare for exams in Park Library on Dec, 3, 2019.

As the 2010s progressed, the ways students study has adapted — online resources are now plentiful, and students have a variety of options to study, from study tools on Quizlet to study guides on SparkNotes, as well as library databases designed to help students research.

But the prevalence of these sites doesn’t necessarily mean they are the preferred way to study.

Will Hager, a junior majoring in peace, war and defense, said given the choice, he would rewrite his notes and synthesize information in a group, rather than using sites like Quizlet, which he finds to be most useful for foreign language courses and other memorization-based classes.

“I think, in general, I prefer to just write stuff down," Hager said. "Just the act of writing stuff down reinforces it because you’re writing and remembering it. And that usually works decently for me.”

Dafna Kaufman, a communications Ph.D. student and teaching assistant, has found the shift to online resources to have pros and cons. When students use online resources to share notes, she said it can be difficult to assess whether or not they are reaping the benefits of the course because they may not be directly engaging with the work.

“The beautiful thing about the internet is that you can share knowledge, like students can share Google Docs, but I also feel like there’s a lot of pitfalls,” Kaufman said. “Because people think they’re studying, but really they’re just reading other people’s studying.”

Kaufman said while people think the internet makes them more efficient while studying, she doesn’t know if it actually does — especially since students rely on sites like SparkNotes, which are meant to give plot summaries and overviews of a text. 

She said she doesn’t think this reliance is the fault of students. Rather, it speaks to the culture of overwork placed on high school and college students because it means they don’t have time to read assigned material on top of their other obligations.

“There’s this kind of overwork, where you just have to drive everyone crazy with the amount of things they need to do, and then they can’t actually process or take in what they need to from those tasks,” Kaufman said.

Hager had similar sentiments, and said sites like SparkNotes are useful as a supplement to make sure he’s on the right track, but not necessarily as an alternative to reading. Throughout the next decade, he said resources will only get more plentiful, with more unique options and varieties.

Some useful resources can already be found through the library — especially with the help of the librarians.

Suchi Mohanty, the head of the Undergraduate Library, said over the past few years, the library staff has made strides in terms of accessibility when interacting with the different research platforms that the library offers. When Mohanty first started working at the UL 17 years ago, she said there were a number of research databases that required manual searches, which meant getting to know the unique characteristics of each one.

Mohanty said now there is a universal search interface that makes it easier for researchers to access quality information efficiently, instead of having to learn the quirks of a dozen different platforms.

“You can get the content you need and start absorbing it, analyzing it and then working it into your own research projects,” Mohanty said.

The increased accessibility of these research methods allows for students to experiment with traditional research styles.

Mohanty said incorporating media into research projects and studying has been one of the most exciting things to see over the past decade because it allows for students to share their research with others in interactive ways — like social media graphics or podcasts — rather than turning in a paper that only a faculty member will see.

“We always think of research as people consuming information, but then you also create your own information, and you’re putting it out there to the world,” Mohanty said. “And sometimes that’s a research paper, but more and more, particularly over the past 10 years, we see students expressing that work creatively.”

Mohanty said she encourages all students to take advantage of the opportunity to have one-on-one appointments with campus librarians as a way to uncover new research strategies, conduct research more efficiently and consider new ways to convey ideas. 

Looking ahead at the next decade, Mohanty said she wants the push for study tool accessibility to continue so students can be as successful as possible.

“We don’t want to throw up barriers,” Mohanty said. “We want to break those barriers down across the board.”


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