Learning Like Water: The End

I attempted to learn like water this semester of college, and I do not think it worked. Here’s why.

I missed things.

Like a quiz, a final exam, numerous hand outs, and about 60% of the total lecture time.

I am sure that missing a final exam caught your attention. Yes, it happened. One of my professors decided in class to unofficially change the final exam time (with unanimous approval), and I did not hear about it. Since it was unofficial, he let me take the exam at a different time. Phew. I also missed an in-class quiz.

In some classes missing the lectures was a bigger issue than in others. One of my classes had no textbook and the material was pretty obscure (read: tough to find online), so it was here that I had the most trouble. The professor posted about half of his notes online, but I relied heavily on other students for the other half. I prefer not to need to mooch off everyone else’s efforts. I am not sure how to handle this obscure-material problem.

I did not focus well enough.

My original plan was to use class time to study on my own. That ended quickly when I had assignments due right after a class. In those cases, learning the new material took a backseat (who would have guessed?). I have a feeling that the structure is a problem here, but I have not identified the exact reason.

I could not shrink it to two weeks.

At the beginning of the semester, I proposed my compressed-schedule idea to each of my professors. Each said some variation of “you are welcome to get ahead, but you cannot get behind.” In other words, I could only conduct my experiment if I was willing to do a whole class in two weeks AND do two weeks worth of all of my other classes. That would require a huge amount of extra work at the beginning of the semester, and by the time I got to the last class at the end of the semester I would have little left to learn in that class. Not quite what I hoped for, to say the least, so that idea died. Oh well.

Even if the pieces had all been in place…

I still do not think it would have worked too well. I was unable to stay disciplined enough to stick with the program I designed. I have either average or slightly above average willpower, so it probably would be a problem for many other people too. That, combined with the constraints of college classes, makes this seem pretty impractical. But at least it was interesting and it did not hurt my GPA.

Next semester’s experiment.

I still think that lectures are a poor learning tool. What other tools could enhance the value of a lecture? Here is my next plan: come up with a problem to solve during each class. Ideally, it would be a homework problem that I could work on during the lecture on that material, but I may just have to settle for a random book problem which may or may not save me time on homework.

Here are the benefits: class time is spent actively problem solving, I will not miss any announcements or quizzes, I’ll notice the thorny problems as they are taught, and I will be able to use the lecture to reference concepts as I practice.

I will flesh out the details in mid-January before the semester starts. Comments welcome!


The Feast: Learning Methods

The world is hosting a dinner party, sponsored by The Feast.  Next Friday, October 5th, the world will sit down, have dinner with friends and talk about important issue the local and global world is facing.  GE and Intel are among the companies that have given the world’s citizens some challenges to focus on.  By the end of the feast, each dinner table will have pinned down the problem they want to solve and design a solution and commit to it.

I will be hosting a dinner party next friday and the topic I want to discuss is learning.  Specifically, different learning methods.  Research screams that we don’t all learn alike–that some are better than others in certain environments.  It might be hard to accomodate every individual’s needs when a classroom can be from 10 to 200 people big.  However, I don’t think that it is necessarily that inconvenient.

For example: If a student does not get much out of the classroom, why waste an hour of that student’s learning time?  Perhaps a student learns better on his own using the book and other resources.  For that student, a teacher could, very easily and not too inconveniently, post online topics that are covered and important points to pay attention to.

However to do this, its important to understand different learning methods and which learning methods are possible for particular topics.  That and how to convey this to our teachers is what I want to discuss.  What other factors do I need to consider? See you on October 5th!

Underwhelmed during lecture

I begin this post as I sit in class. The course appears to require that I go to class. There is no textbook that I could follow on my own. There was a syllabus given, but it is not quite detailed enough to allow me to teach myself all the material. I could teach myself entirely based upon the homework, but there is no guarantee that the homework would require all the testable skills. I could come, occasionally look up and jot down a note, and otherwise do other work. However, such a system causes a large drop in productivity over simply not going to class and working on my own.

As it stands, I have several options which I do not like. I believe this is an unavoidable side-effect of the use of tests which you can only take once. Were this a more realistic situation, I would have a chance to go back and learn any skills that I had overlooked after teaching myself. However, with a timed test where you cannot use any outside resources, there is only a single chance. If I overlook some topic, I will likely get a question wrong bring my grade down by as much as several letters. Should school be structured in such a sink or swim method? Do we wish to test who can follow the rules, or who understands the material? The second option seems to me to be a better goal, but the first appears to be the one that schools follow.  This is the first time I have been to this class in a week and a half. I am underwhelmed. The professor remains on review of a topic which I understand. Although I do often need the review, this time I do not and do not get much out of my hour here. The threat of material unexpectedly appearing on a test still holds me there. Is this what we want the system to promote: attending for the sake of a test instead of attending for the sake of understanding?

For now, this is a problem for which I do not see a solution. Any suggestions?

Update: Learning Like Water in College

…is extremely difficult. As I explained in an earlier blog post, I planned to test out a compressed method of learning to avoid all the losses and backsliding inherent in learning a subject over a several month period. I sent requests to several professors asking to rearrange homework deadlines, and all but one of the professors denied my request. (The one professor to accept was a statistics professor who became really excited at the chance to teach experimental design concepts and statistical analysis through the design of my experiment.) Bureaucracy is frustrating.

I have, however, been able to set-up an independent study and devote much of my time to research for a capstone project. I have just four classes with standard meeting times, but attending those classes wastes a vast amount of time (esp. with walking between classes and losing 5-10 minutes stopping one task and starting another).  It breaks up my day into significantly less productive chunks, so I will try to find a better way to block my schedule by not attending class. I have never in the past skipping more than 1-2 classes per course, but I believe this semester it will be beneficial to do so.

I shall share my strategies for teaching myself all the information as I develop them this semester.