Eyes on the Prize: Charting Your Course Through School

iStudent Blog

Published: January 11, 2022 by Leslie Parry

The flexibility and efficiency of online education is what drew many of us to the San José State University School of Information in the first place. We have the ability to learn at our own pace, integrate our coursework into busy schedules, and choose from a multitude of superb classes. This autonomy, of course, also requires a certain amount of proactiveness and strategic thinking. That’s why planning ahead for a successful academic experience is so critical. Whether it’s choosing the right classes or preparing for graduation, the iSchool has dozens of resources to help you get organized and stay informed. I talked to Sheila Gurtu, student outreach specialist, as well as to recent graduates about everything from time management to e-Port prep. Here are some ideas to help you flourish.

Prepare for Academic Success

Review the New Student Checklist. Once you’ve been accepted into your program, be sure to go through this checklist so you know what to anticipate. It will give you a solid overview of financial aid resources, basic technology requirements, registration and enrollment steps, and tools that can help you plan your coursework.

Make financial arrangements before fees are due. If you don’t adhere to the tuition due dates (which can be found on the MySJSU Student Center) Gurtu says you risk “having a class dropped by the Registrar without warning.”

Be realistic when considering your course load. Says Gurtu, “Students need to balance their desired pacing through the program with the reality of how many hours they have available per week in study time. Completing a realistic audit of one’s own weekly duties and available hours in study time before registering is essential, as well as reaching out to instructors and the student services team if a sudden life event requires an adjustment in course load during the semester. Overloading, or not feeling prepared to support the number of units a student has enrolled in, can result in the student having to drop classes late via petition. Unfortunately, this may also have an impact on student finances and academic standing. Another byproduct could be an impact on teammates left behind on a group project.” Wherever you are in the program – the beginning, the midpoint, or even the final stretch – it’s important to take a course load that you can manage alongside your other commitments. 

Consider Your Coursework and Pathway

Take the long view. Think about the end from the very beginning. A number of useful tools can help you plan your path to graduation. Be sure to determine your program’s required courses, the units needed to graduate, and the competencies you’ll need to demonstrate when you finish. 

Explore your options. “For students who are still exploring their interests, I recommend the following,” says Gurtu.

She adds, “For students who are interested in more than one MLIS pathway, career self-assessment tools are readily available from the iSchool Career Development Resource.” 

Read the syllabus before registering for a class. “Doing so can help students gain an understanding of the instructor’s course content and rigor, types of assignments, scope and sequence of student deliverables, late work policy, as well as the learning outcomes of the class, and how the class may fit in within the student’s own career outcomes for the program. Ideally, this reflection starts when schedules are first announced on Dr. Main’s Curriculum Center blog, so ample planning can go into creating a personal wish list before registration opens and classes start filling,” says Gurtu. Syllabi from current and previous semesters can be found on the iSchool’s website.

Utilize the iSchool’s support resources. “Researching and reflecting on elective choices, using the eAdvising tools and reaching out for support with questions from the student services team and faculty advisors is essential,” says Gurtu. Good planning resources include:

If you’re planning to switch from Regular Session to Special Session, stay ahead of the deadlines and be sure to submit the webform on time!

Many other excellent resources are just a click away. “It’s all there,” says Gurtu. “Just dive in and start using them!” Additional resources include:

Plan Ahead for the e-Portfolio

Save everything. As one MLIS student advises, “Keep your assignments!” Saving coursework is essential for a successful e-Portfolio, and it’s the student’s responsibility to save and track all their materials. Thankfully Canvas has a tool that allows you to download all your submitted assignments each semester, but pay attention to the deadlines and be sure to do it early. You will lose access to course content one month after the start date of the next term.

“Besides your assignments, save your discussion posts with the prompts,” says Natalie Daily, MLIS ’20, who recommends saving these as personal documents before posting them in Canvas. In addition, she adds, save “all assignment directions and course readings that align with a comp in any way, especially those articles and chapters that keep coming up in multiple courses (I’m looking at you, Smallwood & Becnel)!” 

Additional e-Port evidence may include Zoom recordings, group projects, quizzes, and web or social media presentations. A full list of evidentiary items can be found here.

And as always, back everything up!

Plan your organizational strategy early. Even though the e-Portfolio may be your capstone experience, it’s never too early to start preparing.  “My first semester I created folders for each comp and added assignments that I felt fulfilled the comp,” says Dominique Dozier, MLIS ’21. “This helped tremendously when I started the e-Port, because I could start writing and did not have to worry about finding evidence.“

Jennie Tobler-Gaston, MLIS ’21, also recommends saving assignments by comp. “If it fits in more than one comp, save it in each one. As you get closer to the e-Port, if you notice you are weak in a couple of comps, use your assignments to cover those comps.” Also, “Make notes of who worked on what in group projects.”

“During the break before your ePort, make sure to get organized in a way that works for YOU,” Daily adds. “This is the culmination of an experience in which you should have learned how to organize information, so organize your information.” In addition to organizing her evidence into Google folders for each comp, she says, “I also wrote up two paragraphs about each piece of evidence before my e-Port semester. This helped me to think about the comps before I started the e-Port, so that I knew whether or not I really had the evidence. I mostly DID! You will, too.”

Consult the e-Portfolio handbook. Get acquainted with the handbook early. In particular, review the guidelines on developing your e-Portfolio, so you have a good sense of the objectives, criteria, and overall process.

Join the Facebook group. Did you know there’s a Facebook group just for e-Port support? It’s a private group, so you need to be added by a member, but you can usually find a colleague on the SJSU iSchool Students & Alumni group.

Get Ready for Graduation

Understand the process. It’s not quite as simple as completing the required units and passing your e-Port. You need to formally submit paperwork well in advance of your anticipated graduation date.

Keep track of deadlines. You will need to submit your Candidacy Approval form approximately 4-5 months before the beginning of the semester you plan to graduate. Once your candidacy has been approved, you can then apply for graduation.

Use the graduation checklist. This will help you keep track of all the steps and requirements involved. There’s also a handy video tutorial.

For more information and advice, visit the iSchool’s degree progress planning page. No matter where you are in your program, it helps to have a clear strategy so that you can cross the finish line without undue stress or interruption. Says Tobler-Gaston, “​​Good luck, and it is challenging  – but you can absolutely do it.”