Why is it important to sharpen the saw?
In academia, or pretty much any walk of life, it’s easy to be so focused on what’s right in front of us that we forget or don’t take time to develop our knowledge and skills. I’ve written earlier about the need for prioritizing our tasks in a more strategic way than just what is most urgent at the moment. We need to find a way to take a step back and think about those areas of our lives that are important, but not urgent. It may be that we’ve been putting off reading an important new book in our field, learning a new piece of software, or developing a new skill. Of course, our goals can also be focused on personal enrichment, but for the purposes of this piece, I’ll focus on work-related opportunities.
If we don’t take time to focus on these important, but not urgent, areas of development, we can’t maximize our potential for growth. For example, if I’m aware of a promising new research reference manager (e.g., Mendeley) that would be helpful for me personally or for the students with whom I work and don’t make the time to learn about it, it’s a wasted opportunity. In many cases, these growth opportunities take time to develop proficiency. And while it can be hard to muddle through on our own, fortunately, there are a number of resources available to assist us in this development that are both helpful and enjoyable.
Three Resources to Learn More
- Lynda.com is an excellent repository of rich, well-designed courses to learn about software and technologies. At this time, there are more than 3,700 courses to choose from in a range of categories. One category is specifically geared to Higher Education. Each course is rated as, beginner, intermediate, advanced or appropriate for all and includes a detailed table of contents. The content is primarily video, but is often supplemented with additional resources. A monthly subscription provides you with unlimited access to all the courses and the ability to view the content on your computer, tablet or smartphone. You may find that your institution offers faculty- free access to Lynda.com.
- Udemy is similar to Lynda.com in that they also provide a range of video-based courses in a number of different categories. The courses have a similar feel and can be accessed across devices. There are two primary differences that I see between the two services. First, with Udemy, you don’t purchase a subscription. Rather, you create a free account on the site and then purchase courses that interest you individually. While some courses are free, paid courses range from under $10 to several hundred, depending on the topic. The content of Udemy courses is a little more far-ranging than Lynda.com. You can learn software as well, but the 30,000 courses offer additional opportunities for personal development, instructional design and a whole range of ways to explore personal interest like music, cooking, and photography. Each course has a trailer and set of user reviews to help you determine which courses would best fit your needs.
- Podcasts have become increasingly popular over the last several years as a way to learn and grow in a variety of areas. Podcasts are essentially serialized audio programs that explore different topics ranging from music, business, and academic topics. Through podcast indexing services like iTunes, you can find multiple podcasts on just about any topic. You can listen to podcast episodes directly on the Web, but you can also subscribe to podcasts and have new episodes automatically delivered to your iPod, smartphone or tablet. I’ve listened to podcasts for several years and have learned about topics that I would never have been exposed to. Highly rated general podcasts like NPR’s This American Life and TED Radio Hour are wonderful ways to be introduced to new topics and ideas. If you’re looking for new ideas, resources, and interesting people in higher education, there are some great options as well. Bonni Stachowiak’s Teaching in Higher Ed and the Teach Better podcast Doug McKee and Edward O’Neill are my two “must listen” podcasts each week. Of course, you might also want to explore the Luminaris podcast, too. :)
Where to Start
You might be wondering where you could get started. I think the key is to identify some area of personal or professional growth that would enrich your life. Once you’ve identified what you’d like to learn more about, you could begin to explore options. The library or the Web is a great place to start. I strongly suggest finding a mode and format that resonates with you. For me, podcasts are great, because I love to listen while I’m walking or exercising. I love Udemy because of the range of courses and I really enjoy video as a medium for learning. The important thing to remember is that a range of options exist, and you’ll be more likely to follow through if you enjoy the process.
So, what are you going to learn this week?
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