Organizing Seminary: Structuring your computer files

by on March 10, 2016

Anyone that’s gone to school over the last two decades knows that more and more of schooling involves the web and technology. At first, this was limited to the fact that we had to type our papers instead of hand-writing them. Then, we started researching things on computers through CD-ROMS and such. Then the web came and everything changed.

Nowadays we have school email addresses, entire online segments to courses, digital files to read, listen to, produce, participate in, etc. In short, more and more of our education and learning is becoming digital. And with this comes digital files of every kind. We get PDFs of readings, audio recordings, videos, papers to write, and research to organize.

What this means is that our “My Documents” or “My Computer” folders now have subfolders for our schoolwork. I have been experimenting with various ways to organize my schoolwork in the file folders of my computers for nearly 20 years now. Only now, having entered returned to seminary after a break, do I have a system that finally makes sense to me.

Also in the past couple of years, I’ve drifted back to my Windows roots, after having left for a decade with a trusty Macbook. And so, I want to offer a method that should work for all computers (Linux too!), though my screenshots will be from my Windows device. First, let’s start with the top level of organization:

Explorer-Top

A couple of things to point out. You’ll notice on the left that I have one folder for all my Seminary items. Within this folder, each course has its own folder, but the first ones you see are only my current semester’s courses. The rest get tucked away in the “Past Courses” folder. Also notice that I have a separate folder for all “Seminary Business”: student aid, transcripts, schedules, textbook lists, or other correspondence that is not course-specific. Lastly, the underscores (_) keep those folders at the top, no matter the names of the courses below. You can play around with other characters whether you want these folders grouped together at the top of the bottom, but either way, you probably don’t want them all mixed in with your classes.

Organizing it this way keeps this folder clean, uncluttered, and focused on your current work, while still having your past classes readily available. So now let’s go into a course folder, shall we?

Explorer-CourseOkay, here’s how this is structured. The syllabus goes in this main folder, so it’s always accessible. Then, any assignment that is one-off (like a paper) goes in this main area. All other broad categories of course materials get their own folder, as well as any assignment that included a lot of material in its own right. In the example above, the Congregational Care Assessment had interviews, analyses, summaries, and multiple parts to it that were then combined into one major paper. In short, there were enough items to make having its own folder worth it.

Also of note: if you turn your papers in and receive feedback online, be sure to download and include those papers that were graded and commented upon, including them next to your original assignment. Lastly, let’s go into one of those subfolders.

Explorer-ReadingsI’ll be honest with you. I think this is the most important part of this organizational process. First, you need to find some way to split up your class. It may be by week (like mine is) or chapter of a textbook (like a language course), or course unit.  I prefer doing it by week, because it will be the same for all your classes in a given semester.

After finding a way to split it up, you need to add the number of that break to the front of everything from that particular section. For each one, the lecture(s), reading(s), handout(s), assignment(s), and note(s) will all have the same number in the front. Thisreally helps keep everything in sync and up-to-date. Further, if you ever return to these courses years later, you can watch how the material developed and built upon one another over time through the course of the semester.

The other thing, especially for readings, is that I make a note for anything that I have completed and/or taken notes on. This gives me an easy overview of the course flow, my participation in it, and how much I still have to do.

On one final note, you’ll see that my entire file structure is found within Microsoft’s cloud storage system called OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive). I can’t stress enough how helpful it is to have all of these files synced to the cloud through whatever service you prefer. To have constant access to your files whenever you need them, on whatever device you’re on, is so helpful, once you try it, you’ll never go back.

I hope you’ve found this helpful and this helps you stay organized within your seminary work!

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About

Frequenting the coffee shops of Philadelphia while employed in social work and finishing up a Masters of Divinity from the Newbigin House of Studies at Western Theological Seminary. He serves Liberti Church as a deacon and seminary intern. Paul blogs at the long way home and tweets as @PaulBurkhart_.

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