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Study Rails: A Web App To Study

Study Rails: A Web App To Study

Study Rails

    In high school, I had a great routine. About five minutes before I had to leave to get to school on time, I would be hitting print on the paper, project or homework assignment due that day. If I truly had timed things perfectly, I might be printing out anything due in the afternoon in the school library during my lunch period.

    To put it mildly, I was a great procrastinator. College put a little bit of a kink in that approach, though. Professors think nothing of setting due dates all on the same day, forcing me to actually plan ahead. I struggled a little with that sort of planning, to be honest. I had never really needed to plan my time out for studying: I could make a project take as much time as I thought I had before it was due, and prioritizing wasn’t exactly my strong point.

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    Looking at my list of must-haves for a good study planner, I noticed that Study Rails (in open beta) seemed to have most of them. I’m taking one class this summer. I figured that maybe Study Rails might be able to help me out.

    Study Rails Set Up

    Setting up a Study Rails account is pretty easy — although only a 14 day trial is free. After that, there’s a subscription fee of $10 per month. Once you’ve confirmed that you really do want to register, the site asks you some basic questions. You will need to put in your class schedule, so I’d recommend have that handy. You’ll also need your cell phone, for Study Rails’ text message capabilities. There is one optional piece of software that the website asks you to download.

    The Benefits of Study Rails

    At first glance, Study Rails seems like little more than a calendar application with a few study skills bells and whistles. You input your class schedule, along with any other appointments that block off your time. You list out your upcoming assignments and estimate the number of hours you’ll need to complete it. Nothing fancy, right?

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    When you start marking off hours for your study time, you start to see a difference. Study Rails automatically prioritizes what assignments you’ll work on during a given hour. The program doesn’t automatically assign you to work straight through on a project, either. It breaks up your study session so that you do a little work on all your assignments and projects.

    Study Rails also tells you when it’s time to hit the books. During the setup process, the site asks for your cell phone number. That’s so it can send you a text message 10 minutes before you’re supposed to start studying. It also text messages you when you need to switch over to a different project or assignment.

    As far as calendar applications go, Study Rails is a pretty aggressive taskmaster. But for many of us not used to planning study sessions on our own, a stern calendar may be necessary. I wouldn’t recommend it for a student who has a good planning system, and it may be a bit overkill for part-time students. It is worth $10 a month to students who need a little help, though.

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    Study Rails, the Software

    As you provide the site with your class schedule and cell phone number, Study Rails offers something in return: a software download. This download is available in both Mac and Windows flavors — although Linux users are out of luck. When installed, this program, known as Study Rails Blocking, will prevent you from accessing any applications and websites you chose. You can prevent yourself from opening up a chat client while you’re supposed to be practicing your Latin vocab or browsing YouTube when you’re supposed to be doing math.

    I’ve seen plenty of plugins and websites that limit your web surfing but most of the methods I’ve seen for blocking AIM and other distracting applications have required a bit more complicated setup than Study Rails Blocking. Interestingly, settings for the blocking software are handled through the web application’s dashboard. Furthermore, you can’t change blocking settings (eliminating sites, etc.) while the calendar says that you’re supposed to be studying.

    I can think of a number of problems that sort of limitation could create — what if you had to IM a classmate to get the question numbers for your math homework? Overall, though, I think it’s a good idea for some people. I know I struggle with checking my email and other distractions when I’m supposed to be working on a specific project. It isn’t the most elegant execution, but it is a decent implementation.

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    Who Should Use Study Rails?

    Study Rails isn’t the perfect web application for every student. Its niche is students who have difficulty managing their studies on their own. For most other students, I can’t recommend spending $10 every month for a calendar — even if it is a great calendar. I think, however, this application is perfect for parents working with their kids to better manage study time. It would be great if Study Rails added some functionality to allow parents to check up on their kids’ schedules down the road, but as is, Study Rails works well as training wheels for study skills.

    I can’t imagine anyone sticking with Study Rails forever. Even for perpetual students, it isn’t a lifelong system. But I could easily see a student using it for the full four years of his high school or college career.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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