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A practical guide to managing coursework

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VOL: 97, ISSUE: 35, PAGE NO: 65

ANN FOWLER, RGN, BSc, DPSN, is clinical nurse specialist, burns, Mount Vernon Hospital, Northwood, Middlesex

MARY EAGLE, RGN, NDN, CPT, DPSN, is tissue viability adviser, Aldershot Health Centre, Hampshire

As part of their commitment to post-registration education and practice many experienced practitioners undertake post-basic courses at undergraduate or postgraduate level as evidence of their professional development. Tissue viability and wound care courses offer these practitioners not just the theory and research on which to base care but also the opportunity to share their expertise and patient problems with like-minded individuals, to analyse and, where necessary, to change practice and ultimately improve the outcomes of their patients.

As part of their commitment to post-registration education and practice many experienced practitioners undertake post-basic courses at undergraduate or postgraduate level as evidence of their professional development. Tissue viability and wound care courses offer these practitioners not just the theory and research on which to base care but also the opportunity to share their expertise and patient problems with like-minded individuals, to analyse and, where necessary, to change practice and ultimately improve the outcomes of their patients.

Tissue viability courses have more to offer than simply teaching the application of a dressing, for example - they have the potential to equip practitioners with the confidence to exercise judgement and skill in patient care and the ability to respond more fully to patients' needs. Academic and theoretical qualifications will not only complement their clinical competencies but give credibility to their role - especially those already employed as specialists in the field.

The following are some practical suggestions to ease you through the educational process.

Sharing
Share articles and the cost of photocopying with your fellow classmates, especially if the availability of books, professional journals and time are limited. Identify from the reading lists which papers and studies you need and split the searching between a group of students. Retrieve papers and research studies as soon as you are given the lists.

Learn to collate information and salient points from each article or chapter and keep a list of all references. Keep this by you at all times to prevent unnecessary searching for that key reference for your final piece of work. Do not throw anything away until that piece of work has been marked and returned.

Discuss your findings with the other students: this helps you (and them) to critique with confidence and also allows a different perspective on the topic. Make a telephone list of your fellow students and keep it handy - contact can be supportive and one of them may have that reference you have been looking for.

Planning study time
Plan your time and how you will manage studying in conjunction with other commitments, such as work, family and social activities. Consider time management that suits you, not what your friends found worked for them. If you need to study for two hours every day then get up earlier, or have that time once all the family is in bed. Keep your weekends free for your children or grandchildren. If you have no immediate family commitments, keep your weekends for studying and have Friday as your time out with friends or family.

You will find many non-essential tasks that seem to take precedence over your studying. However, put these to one side and strive to achieve at least 500 to 1,000 words each time you sit at the computer. In this way the essay will be completed before you know it.

Use your attendance at lectures and tutorials effectively. In lectures, be an inquisitive student and ask questions, challenge speakers, ask for handouts and seek out commonly used references. Commit yourself to attending tutorials and plan these according to each assignment. Tape your tutorials to listen to later and ask your fellow students to tape sessions you may miss.

Use of resources
Make sure you use resources effectively. Build library time into your day at university. There is often an hour at the beginning or the end of a day that you could use more effectively.

Learn how to do a literature search. Librarians are there to support you, not to do all your work. You may find that librarians are more readily available to teach and/or supervise you at the weekend or during evening sessions. Book an hour with one of them at the beginning of your course or attend tutorials (if provided) on how to use the facilities.

Planning assignments
Plan to have a friend or colleague read the assignment at least two weeks before the date of submission to check grammar, accuracy of information and whether it makes sense. This time gap also allows for minor crises, such as losing disks, computer failure or ill-health.

Do not forget that you are writing to show what you know. Do not assume that the lecturer is the expert. His or her role is to assess whether you have the knowledge, that you can apply it in practice and that you have learnt something.

Retain a paper copy of your work as well as the file on disk. Always find a second computer and a back-up printer you can use at short notice. Do not count on the computer at work - experience shows these crash more than most. Keep a copy of finished work, as it has been known for lecturers to misplace assignments.

When formulating essays, make a structure or an outline and use a strategy guide to help you (Box 1). The outline can be used at tutorials to give the lecturer an indication of how you are progressing. If you find essay construction difficult, ask other students or colleagues for help, especially those who have already gone through the process.

Once you have been given the topic or question, mark the date of submission in your diary and then work backwards to make your time plan. Include in your study plan additional time for printing, checking of the final document by a friend or colleague and some contingency time in case something or someone interrupts you at any stage.

Make sure references are accurate and complete and presented in the style appropriate to that university. Remember to utilise feedback from your tutorials and previous assignments to inform what you write and do not make the same mistakes twice. Use quotations and references to justify your writing and to give substance to your essay. References signal that evidence is available and are used to turn a personal opinion into a justified view. Quotations have a variety of uses: to support a previous point, to set up a comparison or for analytical discussion. Bear in mind that there is no such thing as a 'stand-alone' quotation. Include in your structure a beginning, a middle and an end.

Rewards
Reward yourself for studying; take regular breaks from the computer by listening to music, watching your favourite soap opera, going for a walk or simply having a cup of tea away from your study area. Once the assignment is completed, celebrate in some way, by cooking a favourite meal or eating out, watching a video, having an aromatherapy bath - whatever is a treat for you.

Use your lecturers effectively
Never blame your lecturers for your poor performance or expect them to show appreciation for your personal or work problems. They have outside commitments too and expect a certain amount of self-discipline from adult students. Any excuse you could possibly muster for a delay in submitting work has probably been used before.

Lecturers have many demands on their time. However, they can provide immense support, especially for those students who have never studied at university level before. Remember, the further you develop academically the more the process of learning is self-directed. Once you get to degree level you are supposed to be an adult learner - one who has sufficient expertise to ask for help when needed but who does not need to be spoon-fed for the duration of the course.

Take the time to evaluate speakers and lecturers on the day they 'perform'. It is difficult to remember what you felt you learnt from someone at the end of a course. Lecturers and speakers tend to be booked well in advance, so providing feedback early is essential for the university to prevent a bad session being repeated.

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