Beware of distractions

In our recent Learning Futures Festival 2011: Follow the Sun presentation (click here for Adobe Connect recording), one of my colleagues, Alison Ewing, raised “healthy question” about technologies (starting at 32 minutes into the recording). One comment, tied directly to my section, included Twitter. She spoke of the potential of Twitter and other technologies to “lead me [her] down avenues which are interesting but distracting, and take me away from actually what I want to be doing, what I should be doing….” Well, Ali, that makes a lot of sense.

The hours in a day are finite, and there are competing demands. Ali finds that Twitter and other technologies can be helpful, as I wholeheartedly agree, but we concur we must be careful to avoid the drain on time. It is easy to follow a link and delve into a new direction. Also, I’m not sure how many times I have seen a question asked that has caused me to do a little searching to provide an answer, be it education, community, or work related. It is good to do, and others respond to our questions or discussions. But, there are times to turn off and focus.

Working on my master’s degree a number of years ago (late 90s), the very early hours of the morning were best for uninterrupted study. With family sleeping and the telephone silent, I was assured that the only thing coming between me and the readings was the desire to nap. True, I had a computer and online communications, but the level of social media that we have today was not happening.

Now, while I still love the early morning studies, I can be sure that emails or other messages await me, and there is someone online with whom to connect. An outstanding question may await an answer or comment. Of course, this continues throughout the day and distractions are magnified when others are up, the telephone rings, and family asks for attention because I am working and studying from home. Some seem to do well with constant switching between activities, but that is not me.

I often crave more time to read, and I know I must make concerted efforts to have uninterrupted hours. Perhaps this means letting a call or two go to voice mail or posting a sign indicating I am busy. I have removed the data from my mobile telephone, so I no longer see constant emails.

Getting away from email, sometimes for hours, I have discovered something. There is never a message needing a response that could not wait. If something is really urgent, I have my telephone with call display. If I am away from my home office for any length of time, I likely have my computer and mobile Internet for when I do need/want to ‘check in.’  My (slightly) adult son says I shouldn’t spend so much time at home if I want to reduce his calls for attention, so more mobile I will be if it will allow more focus!

If you are studying, what do you do to manage your reading or time for other assignments? Are you finding enough hours to do the amount of reading you plan?

A.E. (Tony) Ratcliffe
PhD Research Student, BDRA

Reflections from our research day

On Thursday 24 February we held our second research day at BDRA. It involved Natalia, Ali, Brenda and Tony, plus several BDRA staff including David Hawkridge, Palitha Edirisingha, Simon Kear, Ming Nie and I. The day was organised as part of our doctoral programme and had the following intended learning outcomes for participants:

1.  Gain further experience in presenting work in progress and having it critiqued by peers and tutors

2.  Benefit from opportunities to critique the research of others and relate that critique to own work

3.  A shared understanding of key issues and concerns in relation to:

            a) the literature review

            b) chosen research design

            c) writing, including habits, sustained motivation and quality outputs

4.  Be in a stronger position to tackle research-related tasks, and

5.  Build stronger links with peers, tutors and the wider BDRA community.

It was rewarding to see how our students have progressed in the last few months – and in Tony’s case, his motivation to get started on his research. Tony joined us less that 4 weeks ago and joined the full-day session from Edmonton, Canada, via Skype! We had excellent presentations and ran a series of activities with input from students and tutors alike.

Perhaps one of the key messages that once again became clear to all is the need for sufficient amounts of protected quality time to conduct our research. We all appreciate how difficult this can be, especially for part-time students studying at a distance. Life does get in the way sometimes. Honest procrastination confessions were made too (though it was also argued that part-time students don’t even get time for that!) However, without a sustained commitment, motivation and enough periods of ring-fenced time for research, a PhD is not achievable.

We very much look forward to the next PhD research day, scheduled for 8 June.

Dr A Armellini
Beyond Distance Research Alliance

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