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Organizing and Integrating Information

Skills in organizing and integrating information are an important component of thinking critically and of applying the abstract material that you learn at university, and are a prerequisite to independent thinking and problem solving in your discipline. Your education will take on a new dimension when you begin to organize what you learn in your own way, and connect what you learn in your discipline with how you interpret your world.

Guidelines and Tips

You can begin to think independently simply by working from memory. Reorganize the material you have learned from your lectures and readings in ways that make sense to you; then asking challenging questions about the concepts, and trying to answer them. Try to figure out what kinds of questions are appropriate to ask, and what sorts of answers are required.

Another advantage of organizing information is that organized information is much easier to remember than unorganized information, particularly if you organize it yourself. When individual items can be "chunked" into meaningful named groups, learning is facilitated, even though it may appear that you will have more to learn since you will have to learn the names of the categories as well as the items in each category. Keep the number of items in a category small -- try for less than six (if you have more, make up new sub-categories).

The following procedures incorporate active learning strategies, and will help you make sense of, and remember, the key concepts and detailed information in your courses.

  • Work toward developing a rigorous and coherent organization of the information in your course. Start with a concept map, to get a picture of the information, as it stands -- this format will allow you to include all relevant information, but will not commit you to a rigid scheme. Then see if you can fit this information into a standard format, such as a grid, list or linear sequence, Venn diagram, flowchart, logical argument, hierarchical "tree," standard outline, or whatever seems to work best.
  • Form a study group to discuss the abstract concepts in your course. The university is a community of open-minded but skeptical learners. An effective way to integrate concepts is to see them in a variety of ways or perspectives, and to allow your own interpretations to be challenged. Other people can often do this more effectively than you can, since you may have "blind spots" with regards to weaknesses in your own ideas.

Learning Skills Program Resources

  • The Learning Skills Program has a number of handouts with material that you can use to practice a variety of organizational techniques.
  • We can help you organize a study group, by meeting with your group and discussing effective strategies. We can also arrange for a room on campus in which your group can meet once a week.

Individual Help

If you would like to work individually on any of these strategies, be sure to make an appointment with David Palmer-Stone. We can help you figure out an organizational strategy appropriate for your needs, and work with you until you can apply it effectively.

Courses

The Modular Learning Skills Course contains information related to organizing the content of your courses, so that you will be able to use it to prepare efficiently and effectively for exams and assignments. For example, you can build organizational strategies directly into your notetaking and reading activities.

Handouts

The following handouts on organizing information are available at the Drop-In Center .

 

   
 
 
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