Today is the first day of the spring semester for my UNT graduate program, and I feel in over my head. First things first...I will likely continue with this blog, based on a comment to one of my previous blog entries (or tweets, I can't be sure), on what it's like to return to academia after a quarter century, for the foreseeable future, but on a much more succint basis after today.
So...the week before last I trained on Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, discovering that the things I didn't know how to do on Word were a whole lot easier to do because I know DreamWeaver, that Excel reminds me of Lotus 1-2-3, and that PowerPoint has a lot in common with CoffeeCup Flash Firestarter, a software program I used for the last couple of years at AAR to create animations like the one you see below.
Via google and a dummies for Office book, I learned how to create tables in Word - and how to justify text around an image - and discovered that using a "+" rather than an "@" in Excel creates formulas. I set up tests for myself by re-creating a portion of AAR's reviewer scorecard table in Excel - and while I got the gist of it quickly, I think setting up constants in Lotus is simpler than doing so in Excel.
Using a previous blog entry on old movies, I learned the basics of PowerPoint. I know how to use a template and background, how to import images, use text, change font type and color, insert slides, and create transitions between slides. I did not use the import from Word file function yet, but if I need to, I imagine I can figure it out. My completed presentation doesn't quite work perfectly, but it's a damn good start.
Next up - late last week - was learning UNT's online system, Blackboard Vista, which works as an intranet for students and teachers, including mail, chat, lessons, discussions, note-taking, assignments, and exams. Unfortunately, I could not get the tutorial to work on either desktop, even using the suggested browsers (IE and Firefox...but no Chrome, which is what I tend to use), so instead I installed all the software and updated other programs (including Flash, Shockwave, RealPlayer, Windows Media, Quicktime, and Adobe Reader) on my laptop, then went through the multi-hour tutorial until I felt comfortable. This morning, for some reason, Blackboard worked on my desktop, which will help as my PC is quicker and more powerful than my laptop. On the other hand, I have less space to spread out surrounding my desktop, so may use my laptop for Wimba sessions (Wimba provides a live, virtual classroom environment), in which case the headset I currently have will likely need to be replaced by a newer, USB version rather than the old peripheral headset I found while organizing my study.
On Saturday I attended graduate school orientation up at the main, Denton campus. I had no idea UNT was the third largest university in Texas, or that 7,500 of its 36,000 students were graduate students, or that they offer nearly 50 graduate degrees. In addition to signing up for @UNTGradSchool, getting my student ID, and buying a newer version of Office (with the full suite, as opposed to the 2003 mini-suite I already have), I watched a terrific documentary, Naturally Obsessed: The Making of a Scientist, met another beginning MLIS student (who has worked in the university library system for some time), then came home to a very excited daughter who asked me about absolutely everything the moment I walked in the door.
As today kicked off the semester, I had on tap looking at the class introductions and syllabi , then driving down to the Dallas campus for UNT, which is where I'll be attending one of the two classes, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. most Saturdays, this spring. It was looking at the class material that freaked me out. Both classes are set up differently, and one set of dates matches the fall semester rather than the spring semester. I have a major project due for my Saturday class on January 30th and a major project due for my online-only class due February 8th that will entail scoping out the collection at a local library, then looking at the catalog and budget throughout the semester. At this point I'm not sure what kind of reading I may need to do before Saturday's class, so I'm going to sit down with all my required books and start them tonight. Tomorrow I'll call the library (I think I'll use my local branch rather than trying to do one of SMU's libraries) and set up appointments and so forth, assuming that I can get most of what I need at the branch rather than the main library downtown, where I imagine the system administrator's work. We'll see...again, I'm totally in the dark at this point.
So far this experience is much less "toe in the water" than it is "jump in feet first" - hell, it might even be "dive into the deep end," because of the importance put on style; we are to use, at the very least, style guidelines from the APA, which include citations that are done differently than those I remember. UNT offers several workshops, including an Introduction to Graduate Research that I plan to take next Wednesday night, and one for a software program called RefWorks, an online bibliographic management program, that I'll take on Monday. Methinks me will be very, very busy just keeping my head above water. Here's hoping I don't end up simply treading water but instead actually swim forward, to finish the swimming analogy!