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June 17, 2012

Final entry for Warwick Skills Portfolio Award

Final entry, in which I look back over my posts in an attempt to remember what went on at each of these workshops, spread out somewhat evenly over the year. Let’s do it chronologically, and conclude at the end:

P1: I suppose this is “An Introduction to Skills Development” in the same manner as “An Introduction to Topology”, this workshop stands on its own. I feel that the things I learnt about skills development as opposed to actual skills were merely side-effects of the process - for example, setting goals that actually have benchmarks with which they can be measured (a goal that I learnt several times over across all the workshops and may even only now be beginning to stick). In short, I feel this was more… solid than the meta-skills workshop I was expecting. Then again, the best way to learn the meta-skills is through experience, and you can’t really make action points about something theoretical - “I will make an action point that is measurable” doesn’t really work. I don’t recall SMART goals being empasized here, though (I believe they were in P6) and it does seem like a rather good place for them.

A4: This was the first workshop I attended that I was able to observe a positive long-term result from - the improvement of my ability to listen (and recall) (and learn). It was also nice in that I started something and utterly failed, instead succeeding in the harder task. As a result of my failure (and other things) I got hold of a memory book, which was certainly an enjoyable (and helpful) read.

P4: This was far and away the most enjoyable workshop, and the first I was willing to actively recommend attending (over, say, reading about things on the internet)! More like active training than a seminar (in concordance with the subject matter, I rather liked (and instinctively feared) the “Did you think you’d be sitting at a desk while I lectured you on presentation techniques?”). Bev was very professional and authoritarian from the outset; this was also the only workshop (I attended) that felt like one you’d actually pay to attend. I attended this one just before the holidays so the bulk of the improvement came from the workshop itself - even with that caveat, I think the gain was comparable to months of reflection/application from other workshops - it was very concentrated, and you could see the benefit on others during the presentations given.

P6: This was where I first found SMART goals - something that would probably have helped to come up in P1 (and if it did, to be more emphasized). It was also the first in which I had an honestly negative experience from a change (or at least one that I noticed) that made me fear, for the first time, that I could be doing real damage to myself, in the same vein as being indoctrinated into a religious order, or being taught to think critically about things without being reminded that you should also apply this to your own thought processes. I found I was suppressing my own sadness (and have been for years) but I could remember the previous day, when I was sad, and then I thought “perhaps if I take myself back there, I can recall the emotion”. And so I did, and it worked, and then there I was, sitting there, feeling the weight and then the worry hit me - this suppression was a skill I’d developed, it was useful, I wouldn’t want to lose it. So I suppose this is something the health of which we’ll have to agree to disagree on.

A7: Speed reading! This was probably the second most enjoyable workshop. It was interesting in that on attending I found that I was already using most of the techniques and - to my great surprise - I found that other people weren’t. I was honestly unaware that it was possible for people to read so slowly! I was hoping to increase my reading speed because it seems like a rather useful skill, so it was something of a downer to find out that I was already rather fast. Contained the excellent quote “I wouldn’t have thought you’d do much reading in Maths” (my library card begs to differ :P). Contained an important and obvious lesson (to get better at something, do it a lot). Learning the techniques meant I was able to help one friend with his slow reading, which is always nice.

A1: Attended this one after my lectures were over, which wasn’t the best plan. Still useful, though. Found a method that seemed obvious in retrospect, which is a nice indication it’s a good one. Came with the hint to make a booklist, which is a nice thing to have. Also introduced me to what skimming and scanning actually are - and I, who could already read quickly, had a hell of a time trying to put them into practice. Was I already doing them? How could I tell? Tricky business.

The workshop that I got the most from (discounting any reflection/blogging) was P4, followed by A1. The workshop that I got the most from reflection/blogging was A4: I was able to implement a slight change that lead to a long-term improvement that’s still going. In the meta sense, reflection was also especially helpful in P1 and P6, due to the side-effects mentioned as opposed to actual progress with the plan. Overall, I’d say that the side-effects that occurred as a result of implementing the points were more important and helpful than the results of implementing the points themselves - I feel I’ve learnt more about myself, my thoughts and my actions from them.

I decided to go for it on a whim, but looking back I don’t see any better (realistic) way I could have spent my time. The investment was comparatively small for the results obtained, and I’m glad I made it.

November 08, 2011

An Introduction to Skills Development Part IV – Afterthoughts

Follow-up to An Introduction to Skills Development Part III – I'm Actually Finding it Difficult to Tell from Midgley, Christopher - Pointless twaddle and meaningless diatribes

Tutor was Samena Rashid.

According to my booklet thing today is the date for the final blog entry! Seems slightly early but doesn’t really matter.

First improvement: I found later on that I should have some way of checking progress that definitely only checks that. When I’m trying to change something about how I think when I’m not thinking about it this is rather vague, and would have been helped had I thought about how much I thought about things before responding before I started this thing, because now I’ve no benchmarks so I can’t really evaluate whether I’ve done better or not on that point.

What went well? I achieved perhaps half what I tried. Trying P12 has lead me to find links, which is always nice. Trying T23 has probably not done much – it may have increased my speed of thinking about a problem, but as I never timed myself or anything before starting I won’t be able to tell. A13 has lead me to puzzle a few ways where my answers disagree with other people’s (example: probability: a different interpretation of “no preference for direction”). Additionally answering the wrong question (or a slight variation) is an interesting aside.

I still don’t think I’ve finished with the plan – it seems a fairly long term thing, and I’ll probably revert to existing behaviours if I stop actively thinking about it. I also may have tried to do too much – while I’ve started on the path, I shouldn’t have expected to be anywhere near the end.

November 06, 2011

An Introduction to Skills Development Part III – I'm Actually Finding it Difficult to Tell

Follow-up to An Introduction to Skills Development Part II – Developing Skills? from Midgley, Christopher - Pointless twaddle and meaningless diatribes

Tutor was Samena Rashid.

T23: I prefer to evaluate the soundness of my ideas before sharing them.
It occurs to me that this one is rather difficult to tell whether I’ve been successful at it, or at the closely related I have better ideas in the first place. If I go a way in and find the idea sound, am I going further than before, or is it just that I’m having better ideas earlier than before? This one’s going well, but I probably should have found some way of benchmarking how much I thought about problems before speaking before – that’s not really something I thought about.

P12, slightly modified: When I hear about a new idea or technique, I immediately start working out how to apply it to other situations/problems – the benefits of said idea/technique.
Example, as requested, is the balls in boxes problem I wrote about down there V, on the 30th. We encountered Stirling numbers and Bell numbers in lecture and I got the inkling that they were relevant, but I didn’t actually get to a solution until I searched the partition numbers so I could find what the sequence was, and found the OEIS link.
MathStats presents new ways of finding out the value of integrals, even if I take down nothing about the probabilistic part of the course :)
I’m still heavily modularising my knowledge, though – I occasionally spot links, but only after the fact. I also don’t query what I know from other subjects while trying to solve a problem (most recently, Jacobian determinants in variable changes in Stats).

A13: I like the challenge of trying out different ways of doing things.
I only sit and think of other possibilities if I’m of the opinion that my current way is rather more difficult than other routes. I still tend to stick to one thing when not actively thinking about it, although I do follow other people’s routes I didn’t try if I like the idea.
Example: Manually finding a matrix to convert the transpose of a Jordan matrix to Jordan form as opposed to proving the Jordan form of the transpose is the Jordan matrix by generalized eigenspaces. The second method is easier and more elegant, but I didn’t consider it, but having the matrix itself is nice.

October 27, 2011

An Introduction to Skills Development Part II – Developing Skills?

Follow-up to An Introduction to Skills Development (and the Warwick Skills Portfolio) from Midgley, Christopher - Pointless twaddle and meaningless diatribes

Slightly more than a week has passed, evaluation time! Tutor was Samena Rashid.

P12, slightly modified: When I hear about a new idea or technique, I immediately start working out how to apply it to other situations/problems – the benefits of said idea/technique.
I can now see how some techniques in other fields might relate to a problem I’m working on, but I still don’t wonder what else they could be used for. Most of the time I don’t even recognise other uses within the module itself.

T23: I prefer to evaluate the soundness of my ideas before sharing them.
I..think I’ve said less foolish things recently? This is somewhat related to A13, but I still tend to vocalise my route even as I’m exploring it. I’ll try to ponder a while longer on ideas for this one.

A13: I like the challenge of trying out different ways of doing things.
I’m reading more, if slowly. I can spot different paths to the answer on the subjects where it’s easier to do that (Combinatorics, Stats) but actively avoiding other solutions in some modules, like Analysis, where I stick to my guns no matter how far afield I wind up. This part is also related to P12 – the routes I like to solve things by are rather well defined.

October 16, 2011

An Introduction to Skills Development (and the Warwick Skills Portfolio)

Attended the first workshop on Saturday (15/10/2011) with Samena Rashid as tutor.

Began with the process of reflection, followed by reflection on reflection, followed by brief explanations of VARK and Kolb’s learning styles model leading on to a questionnaire relating to Honey and Mumford’s model. While VARK (Video, Audio, Read/Write, Kinesthetic) aims to match students up with a preferred learning style (innate) so that they can personalise their learning to provide the most immediate benefit, Honey takes [Activist/Reflector/Theorist/Pragmatist] to be acquired preferences and encourages you to improve underutilised styles to learn better through general experience, as opposed to personalising it. From what I saw we take these theories as gospel, and I’m finding it difficult to find literature on the theory itself as opposed to “find your learning style” tests and commercials.

The questionnaire we were given is aimed at business/managerial-type learners, and it shows – some of the suggestions are irrelevant, or at least rather odd, for pure students. As an example, considering only practical items excludes much of pure mathematics (although chasing an example of how pure mathematics can be realistically used, I’ve currently failed to find anything where maths was developed for its own sake and later became practical). Somewhat disillusioning.

Reading through the list of statements and potential strategies to implement so that you find yourself more likely to agree with the statement in order to be a more balanced learner, I find myself questioning – are all these statements positive things you’d want to agree with? (This is aided by the fact that some of them contradict each other!) Additionally, some make assumptions that may not apply (essentially, that the opposite of the statement is true) – “I find rules and procedures take the fun out of things” suggests you try to bend the rules as far as you can, something that I much thought was the whole point.

Still, it looks on the face of it that some of these items are actually self-improvement, although naturally I find myself drawn more to those which most agree with the person I already am, which is rather against the point of the whole thing. There is the added difficulty that for some I feel I already implement the suggestion but still disagree with the statement; while for others I agree with the statement but would find it difficult to implement the suggestion! Still, as self-improvement is the game, let us begin:

P12, slightly modified: When I hear about a new idea or technqiue, I immediately start working out how to apply it to other situations/problems – the benefits of said idea/technique.
Pragmatist is rather a tricky quadrant to go for but I hope I’ve got the gist of the intent here. Essentially, I need to expand my technique library by observing the ‘how’ of the techniques applied in logical arguments / algorithms / relations and checking similar or dissimilar circumstances. As this requires a new idea or technique, I can hardly be specific here.

T23: I prefer to evaluate the soundness of my ideas before sharing them.
Currently I’m somewhat of an Activist-Reflector on this front – as a site I found says, I say something, think about it a bit more, then realise and regret it. It shouldn’t be too difficult to mentally follow the conversation a while longer, checking for flaws – it’s not like I’m losing anything by contemplation.

A13: I like the challenge of trying out different ways of doing things.
Vary my routine somewhat. While lectures are effectively non-debatable (I still think they’re useful), I can change around other free times items. I have books I can read instead of using notes on my laptop. I could also attempt to solve problems in multiple ways, even after I’ve found one working solution.

I’m not sure about doing anything from Reflector – while I think the few remaining points are all positive items, it would slow me down even more than I already am. Also, I’m already at three, and don’t want to attempt too much.

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  • Nice proof! Does this mean you're going to specialize in analysis and differential equations next ye… by Nick on this entry
  • Hi Chris, It was most interesting to read your various reflections – thank you for sharing them. I'm… by Ceri Marriott on this entry
  • Feel free. Chris by Christopher Midgley on this entry
  • Hi Chris This is an honest final entry for the WSPA. Im glad that you have found the WSPA journey wo… by Samena Rashid on this entry
  • Knowing the maximum price you would be comfortable with paying for X is extremely useful for compani… by Nick on this entry

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