Below are some suggestions for use of technology in your studies. First, some words of caution:
- Hyperconnectivity has many disadvantages and even dangers.
- Beware the temptation to mistake the tool for the end goal (studying, thinking, writing, learning). If technological tools help you devote more time to these core skills and activities then well and good, but if they hinder you or distract you then reconsider your use of technology. If you are reading, thinking, writing, you should probably close down email, twitter, RSS readers etc.
- Don’t try to master all these at once in your first week – develop your use of them over time! Some suggestions (eg bibliographic databases programmes) are more suited to postgraduates.
- Institutional systems. Your university will have its own resources. Learn how to use these in the induction period, as you will need to check them all regularly once your studies begin. These will likely include email, Library catalogue, student registration management system, subscription access to ejournals and databases and a virtual learning environment (VLE).
- Time management #1. Use a calendar to plan how you spend your time; as well as programmes installed on your computer, you can use a calendar which syncs data to your smartphone if you have one (eg Microsoft Office Outlook, Google Calendar).
- Time management#2. Also make use of software which tracks how you actually spend your time: there are smartphone apps which allow you to record how much time you spend reading, preparing for tutorials, attending classes, etc. If you have a smartphone then Time Recording does this job well and there are other similar programmes.
- University licensed software. Your university may offer you discounted or free access to some software you can install on your own machines – get an anti-virus software as your no 1 priority and see what else is available.
- Backups. Keep back ups of all your important documents – your university may well have file storage on a server and you should use this. If you think the security matches your needs, then you can also use cloud based resources (Dropbox, Google Docs, etc). An external hard drive is also a possibility.
- Word processor#1. Learn how to make the most of your word processor – explore the options and customisable features. Figure out how to do footnotes and endnotes. Check how to avoid orphaned headings (format paragraph … keep with next). If doing a dissertation check out university courses on ‘using long documents’ in your wordprocessor.
- Word processor#2. Check the options in your spelling and grammar checker, as sometimes these have useful ‘check for style’ options. However 1. always use your own judgement when accepting changes; 2. proofread the old fashioned way in addition to using a spelling and grammar checker!
- There are also programmes which help you check your grammar on blogs, emails etc: eg Grammarly offers a free version for this purpose.
- Legal databases – Westlaw and Lexis. Practise how to access primary legal sources and secondary sources from these databases.
- Other databases (for secondary literature): Hein Online (subscription required), ZETOC (subscription required), Google SCHOLAR, SSRN, Ingenta, Academia.edu. These databases have different features, quirks, advantages and disadvantages. ZETOC offers table of contents information, not full texts. Google Scholar has a handy alerting option, but often takes you to subscription only sites: frequently you will use Google Scholar to find a citation and then have to download the paper from a database to which your University has a subscription. SSRN hosts many working papers and pre-publication versions of papers: your tutors will probably expect that if you find something on SSRN that you use a published version in a book or journal rather than a working paper or pre-publication version.
- Blogs. ‘Research’ at university level does not mean googling a term and finding a couple of web pages. University lecturers tend rightly to be suspicious of information found on ‘random’ web pages – see the Internet Detective; they will expect you to focus on primary legal sources, journal articles, monographs etc. However there are reputable blogs – see the weblog on the right – which are useful for keeping up to date with legal developments and sometimes these provide legal analysis.
- RSS readers (eg Feedreader, Feedly, the Old Reader, etc). This is where blogs can come into their own. Checking five or six or twenty blogs every day is time consuming. An RSS reader will collect all the ones you are interested in and put them in one place. Some of these like Feedly and Google Reader are also available as apps for smartphones. An RSS reader also keeps your email inbox manageable.
- Twitter. Messages of 140 characters are not really suitable for developing critical thinking skills. However used selectively twitter can keep you abreast of the latest blog pieces, new cases, etc. Some university schools, modules and even lecturers have their own twitter account. First year law students, check out Mark Elliott’s advice on twitter and blogs here: http://publiclawforeveryone.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/new-law-student-who-to-follow-on-twitter-and-which-blogs-to-read/ or see my lists of academics, journalists, lawyers, international organisations etc at https://twitter.com/rjjoconnell/lists. Note that many tweeters mix professional tweets with ones of mainly personal interest (Eurovision, Euro football, Strictly Come Dancing, Rugby World Cup, etc).
- Be warned though – anything you tweet is instantly viewable by anyone with internet access; what you post on social media can give rise to legal consequences!
- Bibliographic databases (especially for postgraduate work). If you are going to have a large number of references and are thinking of a career in research it is worth investing in a bibliographical reference manager like REFWORKS, ZOTERO, Mendeley or ENDNOTE to manage bibliographical details. If you decide to use one, check that it can handle footnote references, legal sources and if possible OSCOLA referencing. OSCOLA provides styles for Refworks and Endnote; there is also an OSCOLA style for Mendeley; but even so you may have to customise the styles. See http://www.kcl.ac.uk/library/nhs/it-software/bibsoft.aspx http://www.law.georgetown.edu/library/research/citation-tools/features.cfm and http://library.law.yale.edu/research/research-management-and-citation for a comparison of these systems.
- Mind mapping, note-taking, and deep zoom software. Sometimes it is useful to see how concepts link together or to have a place to put notes in a form other than prose. These programmes may be useful for brainstorming or note taking in lectures. Prezi also offers mind mapping templates: http://prezi.com/
- Meeting organisation. Need to sort out a time your study group can meet up? Try Doodle.
Usage: © Rory O’Connell, 2015. Please feel free to link to this page or make use of it for teaching purposes provided the source is acknowledged.