Two of the smaller things I learned from college

3 Jul

I technically finished college the other week. In short, it was an uneventful first year followed by a stressful yet fulfilling second year followed by a deeply unpleasant, if easy, third year, most of which I spent thinking about everyone I knew being at Uni and grinding my teeth. Bitterly, and frequently. That’s all finished now, and I whilst I can now reflect on some mildly important life lessons, I’m currently on holiday and have more important things to do, like play Deus Ex and drive on motorways and the like. So, here’s only a couple.

Coursework is an infinitely better learning and testing process than exams

There’s something slow but reaffirming about writing coursework; having to write and re-write vast swathes of prose isn’t to everybody’s tastes but to me it was this dripfeeding of what I should and shouldn’t be doing that helped me remember. Exams, on the other hand, are like being mugged in a dark alley. Despite numerous warnings it still feels like it comes out of freaking nowhere, it’s over in a disproportionately brief timespan and you’re left feeling shaken and confused. Actually, it’s not so much like being mugged as it is being romanced by me.

Instead of taking the time to craft hypothesise and arguments, presenting them in a carefully considered manner (i.e. stapled together or put in a nice binder), your accumulated knowledge  – even stuff it turns out you don’t even need – is stuffed messily into your brain the days and nights before the big day. As my AS English Language class proved, it’s not an organ which many people are well-endowed with. Annoyingly, it works in the short term – you only need to remember something long enough to do an A-worthy paper, then after that any crammed knowledge is free to dissipate. But personally, in terms of fulfilling the actual purpose of any course – gaining knowledge and keeping it after the course itself finished – the fat 4,000 giga-essays win out. I took my Economics exam and my History coursework (both A2 level) over a year ago, and whilst I could easily form a cohesive argument against the idea that the 17th century witch hunts were gender-specific at any time (it pays to be prepared, naturally), ask me to draw one o’ dem Keynesian graph majiggers and I’d stick the pencil in the eye to get out of doing it – and I scored higher in the exam than in the coursework. Nice to know how much UMS marks are representative of my know-how.

Group work is crap

I get the impression that this is more of a problem for University students, where they must work together on projects worth no insignificant percentage of their degree rather than the mindmap/PowerPoint bollocks that college-level group work entails. Nonetheless I’ve lost enough hours of my life to trying to fit five people around a two-person table in order to draw on some sugar paper that I feel entitled to complain, so complain I shall.

My beef stems from a staunch and most likely bastardish belief that students should be corralled into classes containing as few skill disparities as possible. This worked at my old school but not so much in college, where resources are stretched well past the point where bastardish – maybe even wankerish – ideals are feasible. The result is usually group work where one or two people are noticable better/enthusiastic/give more of a toss than everyone else. I could be either freeriding on the obvious superiority of my peers, or performing an epic carry (if you don’t know what this means, play some Killing Floor on a high difficulty) on the people freeriding on me. I don’t like doing either, on account of guilt and horrible Young Enterprise flashbacks respectively. If we want to create a symbiotic learning environment, can’t we do it the old-fashioned way and try to surreptitiously peek at each other’s notes all the time?

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One Response to “Two of the smaller things I learned from college”

  1. Sophie July 6, 2010 at 10:25 pm #

    Group work takes an interesting twist when you’re in a group with seven highly competitive medical students. Have you ever watched people fight over who gets to shell fat out of a buttock? Or strip down a testicle?

    There are even a LOT of enthusiastic volunteers for experiments containing the words “the subject will find this so unpleasant…” etc.

    Next year, we get to choose people to cut off the blood supply to their arms for 45 minutes. I’m hoping that everyone else remains keen.

    On the plus side: no sugar paper in sight.

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