Time spent reading through text-heavy packages like the prospectus, hall ticket or lesson plans is a good investment.
It is a time of beginnings. Many of you would have carried home (or to your hostels) files full of papers and stapled booklets, rules and regulations, syllabi and course outlines. Many of you will be returning after a break, and others, starting out afresh. For the latter group, there is a lot that is going to be new and unfamiliar, and so, understandably, there is anxiety along with excitement.
I would bet that very few students actually read through the material they are given. It does not take much to figure this out. As someone who routinely has to pick up the phone and field questions that could be easily answered by simply reading through the prospectus, or looking closely at a hall ticket or admit card, I have plenty of evidence to support my claim! I can of course understand that sometimes our nervousness prevents us from seeing things which are right in front of our eyes, but perhaps that is a charitable viewpoint. There is a big part of me that is more inclined to believe that many of us these days just do not want to take the trouble to read anything carefully, especially if it is plain text running into several pages. We want to be told in as few words as possible or in tweet-sized morsels, we want it posted on our Facebook walls, and possibly followed up by a text message on our phones.
These text-heavy packages are actually handed out for a reason, and time spent reading through them would be a good investment. Of course, there is a lot of unnecessary prose that rambles through these pages, but as students, you also need to quickly learn the art of scanning documents in an intelligent and strategic fashion to get to the main points. I know it is not always the most interesting reading and most often it is not even presented particularly well. No matter—it is important stuff, and you do need to know what is in there. Pay particular attention to text marked in bold and to bulleted lists, including such items as attendance policy, registration and fee deadlines, details about where forms need to be turned in and what the main “go-to” places are—including the financial aid office, the registrar and controller of examinations, heads of departments, etc.
In terms of academics, it makes good sense to ask for and, once you have it, actually look over, the course outline for each of the courses you will be taking. Most institutions will hand these out as a matter of routine, but where they do not, perhaps you could start asking for them. Good educational service is after all encouraged and fuelled by conscious and demanding learners. But where outlines or syllabi are provided, do take the time to read them carefully, and once done, put them where you can find them easily, because they provide important reference points as you go through the course. I often find that I (mistakenly) assume that students will keep track of deadlines I have clearly indicated in the course outline and turn in assignments as specified. They, on the other hand, assume that (as in school) I will tell them about deadlines and remind them from time to time! While it is not unreasonable to expect a teacher to reinforce such information in class, it might help if you inform yourself ahead of time and plan your work accordingly. An organised teacher will usually put a lot of important details into the course outline, such as the expectations from the students in terms of presentations and participation, readings to be done ahead of class, and what exactly assignments entail. Reading through these when they are given to you can help you ask the right questions, clear your doubts, and most importantly, plan your time through the term. If you are the super-organised type, you could go through the syllabus with a highlighter pen and mark out the important bits that you need to keep on top of your mind!
The orientation packets also (usually) include valuable information that will structure your academic life. This would include: library location, policies, and privileges; Internet access and how to get it; holiday and examination time tables; gender-sensitive policies; where to go to have complaints redressed, and so on. Now, when we have all this information so clearly and readily available at (practically) our fingertips, why would we not make use of it?
Another reason reading through these is a good idea is because the information in these documents comes from a reliable source—the institutional administration or the teacher of the course. When you depend on hearsay—or other people’s interpretations of what they’ve read and heard—you could miss out getting details that you yourself might have picked up. Reading it yourself allows you to understand it more fully and flag what you think is important, instead of receiving filtered and incomplete information hand-me-downs from someone else! So do not throw that orientation package into the recycling pile—it could actually make your life easier.
The writer teaches in the department of communication, University of Hyderabad and is the editor of Teacher Plus www.teacherplus.org.