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August 10, 2014

WSPA Final Summary Blog

Over the last year, I have attended six workshops from Warwick University’s Masters Skills programme which are required for the accomplishment of the Warwick Student Portfolio Award (WSPA). Since the introductory seminar on the WSPA, I have written online blog entries for all my action points from each workshop I have attended.

As an MA History student, I found the workshops particularly helpful in improving my written work and seminar participation. The WSPA has taught me new methods in approaching and completing tough assignments, which I was never taught at undergraduate level.

In the introductory workshop on the WSPA, I discovered that different people have many different ways of learning and processing information. I found out that I was a ‘reflector learner’ as opposed to an ‘activist’ or a ‘theorist’. I learned that this meant I spent a lot of time thinking over work and processing my thoughts on information. Although this was a perfectly fine way of learning, I also found out that this meant I lacked the skills that activists or theorists possessed, namely being assertive and completing tasks effectively. I made action points in order to improve the latter skills such as getting more involved in extra-curricular activities, becoming more talkative and sticking to a planned timetable. Over the subsequent weeks, I found that I was a lot more organized and I was more effective in completing difficult tasks.

In the second workshop I attended, Reading & Note-making, I learned that there are many different types of reading techniques which serve different purposes such as scanning, skimming and close-reading. Although I have always been a slow reader these different techniques have improved the overall speed of my reading. The workshop also showed me effective note taking methods. I also found that reviewing my notes on a regular basis, helped develop my ideas for discussions or written work.

The workshop on Writing at Masters Level vastly improved my time management and organization for writing academic papers. I learned how to condense a question, critically evaluate old work and take a more minimalist approach when collecting vast swathes of information. The most important thing I learned from this workshop was the earlier you start writing the better, as that gives you more time to overlook your written work (an essential part of completing any written MA assignment, which I am currently putting into practice for my dissertation).

In the workshop on Critical Thinking at Masters Level, I was introduced to illogical fallacies and how frequently people use them. An awareness of illogical fallacies has equipped me with an important diagnostic tool in identifying strong and weak arguments. I also learned how to compare and contrast polarized arguments from the same historical topic. The more I compared arguments, the more balanced and well-rounded my written work became. I used the very same technique for political debates I engaged with on tv or radio such as the discussions around UKIP and the EU. I found this method could even unearth flaws within people’s arguments I agreed with. The whole workshop was perhaps the most enlightening session as it related well with my History degree, which after all is meant to be a critical and balanced investigation in to past events. The workshop taught me that engaging in debates drastically improves your critical faculties and your investigative capacity. Our critical tools are essential for evaluating political, historical and moral arguments and assessing why they are good or bad, weak or strong, logical or illogical.

As a relatively shy and quiet person, the fifth workshop on Becoming more assertive showed me that acting more assertively (linking back to the very first workshop) helped me complete tasks more quickly, effectively and even enjoyably. With the help of ‘Transactional Analysis’, this workshop highlighted that assertive behaviour was linked to mature and more adult behaviour. The ‘adult ego-state’ should be used when necessary, to remain calm, composed and most importantly rational when others try to forcibly influence your decision-making, mood or behaviour. I learned that remaining in a calm and rational state was also imperative when suffering from forms of depression or anxiety such as Imposter Syndrome, which I subsequently learned is a psychological phenomenon which makes people think they are inadequate. Having felt inadequate and depressed many times before, I learned that utilizing the ‘adult ego-state’ is an important exercise in putting my negative feelings into perspective and appreciating what I have achieved in my life so far.

Although I attended this workshop after my studies had basically finished, my final workshop on Presentation Skills still helped me put some new techniques of presentation skills into practice. I learned that good body posture through the practice of the ‘neutral stance’ was hugely important in coming across as confident and happy in all fields of life, but in particular when delivering a presentation. Practicing presentations by reading scripts aloud helps enormously with timing issues, confidence and even correcting mistakes, otherwise hidden to the quick reader. Knowing the audience and tailoring your content to what they ‘must, should and could’ know is also an indispensable method in delivering concise, relevant and interesting presentations.

Since commencing the WSPA workshops, I feel I have learned a lot and improved in many of my working techniques. I have also found that the WSPA has improved my emotional intelligence - helping me develop from an undergraduate to a postgraduate student. Furthermore, I have learned that completing extracurricular tasks, such as those from the WSPA blogs, does not distract you from your formal work but in fact can only help improve your work. I found that the WSPA has vastly improved my academic, professional and personal skills and has put me in good stead for the future, whether that be in further education or future jobs.

David Jonathan Walker, MA History, University of Warwick


January 09, 2014

Final Entry on opening Workshop

Follow-up to First entry on Getting started on skills development and the Warwick Skills Portfolio from David's blog

In this entry I will sum up what I have achieved since the opening workshop on getting started with the Warwick Skills Porfolio Award.

Over the last three months or so, I have set out and tried to achieve three actions points from the opening workshop. Having learned from the opening workshop that I was a reflector learner rather than an activist or a theorist learner, I specifically tailored my three action points to improve in the latter two areas. The three action points were:

1. Get more involved in new activities:

As a new postgraduate student to Warwick, everything from the university was new to me in a sense. That said, I immediately got involved in the student newspaper, the five a side football society, the warwick sport gym and even went along to some guest lectures and free bee indoor football sessions.

Although I did not manage to join Warwick TV as I originally planned, I still may by the end of this term. That aside, filling my time at warwick by doing activities, some of which I had never done before has been a very fulfilling experience. I am very pleased so far with what I have been involved with and plan to continue all these activities and perhaps more.

2. Be more talkative and come up with more ideas in discussion environments:

As a reflector learner it was sometimes hard for me to adjust to a different learning technique. However, during the second half of the first term I found that the more confident I was in discussions environments the easier it was to get something more out of debates.

Quite often I found myself not only speaking up when others did not but also leading topical debates during seminars. I learned that as long as I had done my reading for seminars, being more assertive was not that hard and was in fact enjoyable. Having more assertive ideas in seminars enhanced my confidence, self-expression and even helped others bring ideas to the table.

3. Stick to a routine/timetable:

In my last university I found it hard to stick to a good routine. However, with the use of a diary over the last couple months, I have found it a lot easier. With a diary I have been able to successfully structure my week around seminars and lectures, library hours, football, the gym, extra-curricular work (such as this blog) and leisure time.

Although not always exactly the same each week, I always try to do the same amount of hours for each activity. Hence a structured yet flexible timetable is key as it means I am more likely to complete all my tasks and enjoy my leisure time.

To conclude, by completing these three actions points over the past couple of months I have found that I am for more organised than I used to be. Not only have I tried new approaches, but I have found these approaches work well. By getting involved, being more assertive and having a planned out schedule, I am learning and maturing more and more and in turn I am more likely to accomplish difficult tasks in the future.


December 17, 2013

Update to Action Point 3 of Opening Blog

Follow-up to First entry on Getting started on skills development and the Warwick Skills Portfolio from David's blog

My third action point of the Opening Blog was to stick to a structured yet flexible timetable for the remainder of the first term (around 6 weeks).

Since my opening blog, I have stuck to a structured yet flexible timetable consisting of academic work, sport and exercise, extra-curricular activities and leisure time.

Using my diary, I have stuck to a set number of hours of work every day and participated in different university activities around those hours. Other than working sessions in the library, lectures or seminars, I have also attended guest seminars and lectures. Outside of academia or work I have routinely played football at least once a week and gone to the gym at least twice a week.

Flexibility was also important for even when I started a working day later than originally planned, I still accomplished a solid session of work of between 4 and 6 hours each day before any other activities. Furthermore, I have always managed to fit leisure time with fellow postgraduates (e.g having a drink at the pub) around studies and exercise.

I feel that my routine, helped by the use of a diary for the first time since school, has allowed me to structure not only my weeks but also my term and year. With a structured but flexible timetable, I am now more prepared to plan further in the future.

If I could change anything, I would have looked at my diary more often: perhaps every other day as opposed to every three days. If I had set out what I was going to do on every odd night of the week, it would have reminded me of what my timetable was for each day. That said, looking at a diary too often in my experience can also hinder a routine for it can just as easily put one off work.


Update to Action Point 2 of Opening Blog.

Follow-up to First entry on Getting started on skills development and the Warwick Skills Portfolio from David's blog

My second action was to be more direct and suggest more ideas in discussion environments.

Since my first entry to the Warwick blog, I have tried to assert activist strengths into my discussions and seminar debates. For the five to six weeks after my first blog, I found that I successfully led many of the seminar debates within my classes. Not only have I fully engaged in seminars, I believe I have also initiated many discussions as well as speak up when others have failed to do so.

Bringing ideas to the table not only boosted my confidence but also helped me in my self expression. The more talkative you are and the more ideas you bring to the table, can only help you express your ideas more. Being more assertive also added to the seminar discussions and the group dynamic. Once I had spoken up I found that others were more confident in joining in and the discussions went from there.

However, on certain occasions I found some of my ideas lacked depth. If I could change anything, I would have prepared more potential questions before the seminars in order to be fully prepared for in depth discussions.


November 29, 2013

Update to Action Point 1 of Opening Blog

Follow-up to First entry on Getting started on skills development and the Warwick Skills Portfolio from David's blog

My first action point was to get involved and join in more in univeristy life in the five to six weeks following the seminar. Since attending the first introductory seminar of the Warwick Student Portfolio Award, I have joined a couple societies such as the student newspaper (the Boar) and the University of Warwick's 5 a side league (UW5). I have just recently had an article released in the newspaper and on the Boar online and I have played several times for my 5 a side team. Furthermore I have gone to a couple guest lectures and joined in some free football sessions around the campus. However, I have not joined Warwick TV as I originally planned due to miscommunication with the society president.

What I have learned from this experience so far is that joing societies such as the Boar and the UW5 a side, and attending events has been very enjoyable and enhanced my stay at the university. It feels very fulfilling to join in other activities other than your studies. Writing my article in particular not only helped my academic writing but has also made me feel good to have a say in political issues and communicate those through a newspaper.

If I could change anything over the past 5 weeks, I would have been more active in joining Warwick TV and perhaps written an additional artuicle (mainly due to the delay of the editor). However, I plan to join Warwick TV particulary for the Varsity sports event at the end of next term. I also plan to write more articles for the Boar and continue my weekly football.


October 24, 2013

First entry on Getting started on skills development and the Warwick Skills Portfolio

Workshop Tutor: Lisa Faulkner

Introduction

In this seminar we were introduced to the Student Careers & Skills program and the wealth of seminars they have on offer throughout the academic year. This seminar acted as an introductory guide to the Warwick Skills Portfolio Award (WSPA) and the ways in which other workshops can improve our skills in academic and professional life.

To begin with, the seminar highlighted the importance of reflection and reflective writing and how these processes can help improve our skills, decision-making and performances. We discovered that learning and self-development were continual and ongoing processes, highlighted by Kolb’s Learning Cycle (i.e Experiencing, Reviewing, Concluding and Planning). We then took a 40-item Learning Style Questionnaire which showed what kind of learner we were and our preferred learning environment. The questionnaire’s results also quite importantly showed in which fields of learning we could improve. We where then encouraged to write specific and achievable action plans to help us improve on what we lacked.

What I learned from the seminar is that I am predominantly a reflector learner as opposed to an activist, theorist or pragmatist. I learned that reflectors are generally good at observing, listening and working within a team but that they lack spontaneity, adaptability and leadership skills. Although the results did not shock me, this realisation has nonetheless allowed me to reflect deeply on the ways I can learn effectively and in other ways I could improve my learning style. As a whole, the questionnaire also allowed me to reflect on other people’s ways of thinking, showing that not all of us have the same learning methods. Having seen in which areas I could improve, I will now take the steps in formulating three specific action points to be achieved in the next four to five weeks. I will then update my blog over the next few weeks to show my progress. I also plan to attend other Student Careers & Skills workshops in order to improve in other academic or professional areas.

Actions

  1. First Action Point: Be more outgoing, join in and do new things.

    I plan to join in university's societies such as the Boar and Warwick TV in order to improve my confidence by being part of a new environment within the university.

  2. Second Action Point: Be more talkative and direct and come up with more ideas in discussion environments.

    I plan to add even more to discussions such as my seminar participation in order to improve my oral communication skills.

  3. Third Action Point: Stick to a routine/timetable for the rest of the term.

    I plan to stick to a structured yet flexible timetable every week which includes academic work (reading, notetaking and seminar preparation), sporting activities (football, gym), extra-curricular activities (the Boar, Warwick TV, guest lectures) as well as social activities (going for a meal, having a drink). With a more balanced timetable I hope to improve my self-discipline.

  4. aaaa

To write a follow up, go to http://go.warwick.ac.uk/skills//blog


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  • Hello David, Thanks for writing such a reflective final entry for the WSPA – what a pleasure to read… by Lisa Faulkner on this entry
  • David, Considering the lack of presentation opportunities that you have had over the past few weeks,… by Nathalie Dalton-King on this entry
  • Excellent extrapolation of the technique, David. I am pleased that you have continued to use it in t… by Nathalie Dalton-King on this entry
  • David, What a good way to practice when you don't have a presentation any time soon. And then of cou… by Nathalie Dalton-King on this entry
  • Hi David, Well done on completing this module and filling in four blogs for this. I have enjoyed rea… by on this entry

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