Being a bit of an old soul, the idea of transformative learning never appealed to me, and I in no way or form fit the profile of an autonomous learner. Instead, I always preferred to follow the directive of the typical white haired, corduroy blazer sporting, battered leather briefcase toting professorial figure. Under such guidance I was able to work feverishly towards adding an “outstanding” to my educational credentials. Hopefully satisfying my parents that I was indeed working towards someday generating a hefty return on the tuition fee investment they grudgingly funded.
However, when it came to doing a master’s, the exorbitant costs of studying and living abroad left me with no option but to pursue the distance learning route to achieve my educational goals. I spent several weeks researching and emailing dozens of universities – half of which I did not care to pursue on one pretext or the other, and the other half that deemed me academically or otherwise unworthy to enter their virtual realm. Finally, a combination of fate, and getting my foot in the door right before the entry deadline, landed me at the helm of the University of London. Through the distance learning MA in Education programme, I was able to finally become a student of the UoLIP, UCL AND IOE (now UCL Institute of Education), plus I got the coveted @ucl email address as a bonus.😇
Questions about study habits and practices are very personal questions. They’re not personal in the impolite sense that to raise them evinces a bit of social ineptitude on the part of the enquirer. Rather, they’re personal in the sense that what ‘works’ for each of us will be determined by largely subjective or person-relative factors: What are our goals? What resources do we have access to? What sort of preparation have we undergone? What learning-strategies have we found to be most effective? What extra-academic obligations do we have? And so on.
Given that studying is so deeply personal in that latter sense, this post will only be about how I approach studying. Specifically, it will be about how I approach the study of philosophy as a University of London (UoL) student. My aim in sharing my approach to studying philosophy is threefold: first, I hope that it will provide those who may be interested in studying philosophy both with an idea of what it’s like to study it at the university level, and what it’s like to study it as a UoL student; second, I hope that others who are studying philosophy, or other essay-based humanities subjects, will glean some ideas from my approach that might help them with their studies; and third, I hope that others will share their ideas on studying with me (perhaps in the comments section of this post!) so that I might learn from them.
Last month, one sultry afternoon I was busy in my office finalising a particularly delicate audit report, when my wife’s SMS queued in ‘…your Fedex box is in…’
Jumping off my chair, I dashed out, hopped into my car and navigated through the busy streets of Calcutta as if my life was on fire and reached home in no time! My wife’s eyebrows narrowed as if she was staring at a ghost ‘…are you well? All okay at the office…?’ My 14-year-old daughter was smart to sense my reason for exhilaration and wasted no time bargaining for her share of the pie for giving me my ‘box’. Twenty-four years after stepping out of college, I could feel my teenage excitement once again as I leafed through the fresh pages of my newly arrived University of London International Programmes LLB study guides. True, I had seen it all a couple of weeks earlier through the highly sophisticated prism of our ‘VLE’, but the reality of the ‘oven-fresh’ pages far overwhelmed all virtues of virtuality. I was rejuvenated, almost therapeutically.
So what, on earth, my friends questioned, did a (luckily) fairly well established business professional dream of, to be motivated into a UoL degree of law all over again? Honestly, the decision was driven not so much by the brain as much it was by the heart. The story goes a year back, when one day staring at the majestic Himalayas on a rather romantic holiday, my notion of career, fame and accomplishment suddenly took an unreasoned U-turn.
Like most people, I was shocked at the bombing during the Boston Marathon. Television footage showed the devastating injuries caused when a bomb explodes, however primitive or home-made. I vividly remember as a young child overhearing my parents talk about the dismembered bodies on the streets of my home city, Dublin, after a bombing in 1974 (that killed 26 people and an unborn child). But for most of my life, almost all terrorist activity took place within the border of Northern Ireland about 70 miles away, far enough away for me to be immune to daily realities, but near enough to be part of my consciousness.
Although Boston grabbed the headlines, terrorist acts are perpetrated regularly. On the day of the Boston attack 75 people were killed in Iraq, the day before 35 were killed in Somalia, and the day after 22 were killed in Pakistan and 16 injured in Bangalore, India.
My main reason for studying Politics and International Relations is to help me understand the world around me. For some, understanding terrorism is impossible. How can you understand a suicide bomber who is prepared to blow themselves up for a cause? Or someone who would kill innocent people indiscriminately?
“Daddy, are you doing your homework?” My five-year old daughter gets it. Not that there’s much to get. If Daddy is surrounded by a splattering of books, journal print-outs and scribbled notes, with a pencil in his mouth and a quizzical-to-stressed look on his face, chances are he’s studying.
She started school in September and has homework every day (except Fridays). The letter tracing and phonetic spelling exercises that amount to her homework are accomplished within minutes of her whirl-winding home. It’s not exactly taxing, but she adores it. There’s an obvious sense of self-importance, but also a real sense of duty. This isn’t a task done in the classroom with the teacher breathing down her neck. This is her responsibility, something that she does on her own, away from the structured school day.
As a parent, I silently questioned the need for homework in the first year of school. Why would a five-year-old need to supplement school learning with extra tasks at home? I should have known better. I’m an external student, juggling one and a half jobs, parenting and lots of other demands, problems and commitments that life flings at me everyday. Why shouldn’t my daughter’s school life spill into our home life? Isn’t that what I’m doing right by taking this degree?
I’m not exactly panicking… With just eight weeks to my first exam, I’m on a pretty tight deadline with revision and scanning past exam papers. But a priority right now is outlining exam questions and being sure that I can stitch together a coherent argument on exam day.
As I’ve said before on this blog, my course in Politics and International Relations isn’t exactly related to my full-time job playing clarinet in an orchestra, so it’s not like my day-to-day working life intersects with and enriches my studies. Study time is a separate part of my day, hours snatched in the evening or – if I’m performing – in afternoons before concerts. However, my parallel career as a part-time journalist and writer is helping me no end.
I am a firm believer that there is no success without creativity. Maybe it is just my particular point of view as ‘creative professional’ and student of literature. I tend to think carefully about the means by which creativity facilitates outcomes and products. In the BA English, directed by the English Department at Goldsmiths, we have the chance to both study a variety of creative processes and to produce creative materials. For example, the juxtaposition of visual elements and language is an important part of some of our courses; we have the opportunity to study the creative process of remarkable writers, to try our arm in a creative writing course, and to produce our own original essays.
Sometimes it surprises me just how important creativity is to my study process. This week it was most interesting to read a few professional articles emphasizing the need to embrace and manage the creative process. Bruce Nussbaum offered some interesting tips on understanding how the creative process can benefit us and how to boost our own creative capacity in one of my favorite resources for inspiration, Fast Company Magazine. As a ‘creative professional’ my job is to produce original content with very specific goals every day; as a student I scrutinize literature, the product of a creative process. I noticed that the need to analyze creative output as a student is a big advantage in my professional life just as the requirement to produce creative materials professionally improves my study process.
My first blog post here – where to start? My name is Leah, and I am in the final year of a degree in Classical Studies. I’ve been studying with the University of London International Programmes for the past five years, and I am sad for it to be coming to an end but hoping to be going out with a strong finish! One of the strengths of the Classical Studies degree is the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment). This is the website where we can access all our course material, take part in seminar discussions, and engage with other students on the Classics and History courses. I know that not all of the University of London International Programmes degrees utilize that platform but I think it would be a great direction for them to move in.
The ‘Fever Pitch’ for the World Cup is now coming down, slowly, but surely, and no doubt, many of you are still watching and waiting, even though your team has been ‘sent off’ – and you are maybe watching anyway for the love of the game, or maybe your team is still in there potent, and strong for the next opponent…one of my favourites has survived, and I cannot wait for them to take home the trophy!
That said aside, watching teams that don’t really interest you, but for the love of the game, can be likened to reading particular authors that bore you to death, or discovering new ones that you got turned off by title or name, only to discover them later on as being ‘not so hard, boring, or too stiff to understand’ after all. The Explorations parts I and II can grab or repel you, and reading as much as possible is important and opens your mind up to the writers and their depth of meaning, whilst you re-discover why you began the pursuit and purpose of taking up literature in the first place, (I am only speaking for myself here).
For instance, for me, reading Charles Dickens is a chore, (I think he is an intelligent writer, and good story teller, but his stories don’t inspire me). Charlotte Brontë leaves me with stronger feelings to be very much back on track with my female psyche, and I love the way she displays the faults of others, she does so in ways that make you laugh, as well with so much irony that mirrors oneself, and others even in our own day and age.
This point will be quite obvious but a crucial one at the same time.
The exams are getting closer and closer so most of us turn their focus on what’s between now and them. And rightly so. However, they will pass (and will be passed, hopefully :-)) as fast as they came so it is not going to hurt if we already spend some time thinking about the year after, with new units and, well, new exams ahead of us.
No matter how many units you intend to take next year, start as soon as possible, even before October. We have access to the VLE so it is possible for us to download first chapters of most of the study guides. They are enough to start getting accustomed to subjects they cover and to assess the overall difficulty of new material they contain.