Heavily inspired by watching The Great British Sewing Bee and admiring the creations of my Vogue Academy trained brother in law, I figured it was time to learn how to sew myself. So I asked for a sewing machine for my birthday. Last year. I didn’t get one and as I invested time and money in my own education in the field of data, there was no money nor time left to buy a machine myself.
This year, when my mother asked me if I still had something on my wish list, I repeated my request not expecting anything of it. To my biggest surprise my entire family chipped in and they bought me a very sturdy second-hand machine.
Daughter already provided some cloth to practice with. Her request: sleeping bags for her cuddly companions. I’ll see what I can come up with.
Never too old to learn.
We were doing so well in June. Then the Dutch government decided it would be a great gift to all people to open up basically everything on June 26th, including nightclubs. Imagine all those young bodies dancing, sweating, drinking, hugging, kissing inside rooms where the air is recycled through many noses, mouths and lungs like it’s 2019. Sure, people needed to show their coronapass before allowed in, but that could be obtained with a quick test, giving you green light to party for 40 hours in a row. And scanning all those QR-codes became a real hassle when you see the row of people waiting to enter grow and grow.
On that day, June 26th, we had a daily count of about 550 new infections. In some countries, that would still be reason enough not to go out and about. Unsurprisingly, on July 1st that number went up and as I’m writing this, July 10th, we counted 10.345 newly infected people in one day. That brings us back to lock-down Christmas 2020. With one week of partying we nullified 6 months of patiently waiting. Well done government. They still can’t seem to grasp exponential growth despite their weekly meetings with the experts.
I feel so angry.
I’m currently studying really hard for a data engineering exam and it’s tough. I really appreciate all the knowledge I’m gaining on how to handle data in data warehouses and data lakes, but it is not inspiring to learn data plumbing. The past month I haven’t been sleeping well, and that led me to spiral down the greyness inside. There was a bright point in the future I clung on to these past few weeks. The idea of travel. Two weeks with just the three of us in a city that I love. Two weeks of reintroducing Daughter to the wonders of going places.
A few months ago the Man took a gamble and reserved a house in Copenhagen for two weeks through Airbnb. I knew it was a gamble, but in June the idea of travel became a realistic scenario. We both receive our second shot the week before we leave, we are welcome in Denmark. As our second shot is only a week before we leave we still need to take a test before entering Denmark, but if that’s the only thing I have to do to be able to enter the Louisiana Museum, check out the shops on Vesterbrogade or get a coffee at The Coffee Collective, no problem. But then June 26th came.
With one week of exam preparation to go (doing the exam coming Friday), the bright point in the future shines very brittle. I guess the Germans put up a fence for their partying neighbours next week (we drive through Germany to get to Denmark) and the Danes put us on the red list, requiring us to quarantine on arrival. Rightfully so.
I have been one of those careful inhabitants of this country who have been taking all the precautions and spent nearly 1,5 years in and around their home. I’ve dealt with it all. Even with a four year old (now five) darting around the house for weeks on end while juggling work, home schooling for her and home schooling for me at the same time. The gift from my government after six months of surviving the greyest of days? I bet another six weeks of staying at home during Daughter’s Summer holidays. At least we both are exempt from home schooling.
As I said. I feel so angry.
The past two weeks I spent most of my time studying for the MS DA-100 exam, also known as ‘Analyzing Data with Microsoft Power BI’. This morning I took the exam and passed with a very decent score of 893/1000 (although I have to admit I was a bit annoyed not breaking the 900 barrier). After the training and passing the exam I am now skilled enough to start my own data analyzing projects. I’m looking for ideas where to apply my new skills.
A big part of my data & AI course is getting to know Microsoft Azure. This week I started learning the MS fundamentals course (part 1 – 6). It’s a crash course on server terminology, such as virtual machines, containers, VPN gateways and virtual networks. It’s a lot to take in and I’m not sure how much use I’ll have of the ins and outs of Azure, nonetheless it gives me a better understanding of it all so I can become a better translator between real server and data nerds and those who are not.
Now that I’m a student again, and subject to a substantial online course which has some elements that feel to me like a waste of time, I got curious about the latest insights in how we learn best. I spent my first year at university studying educational science and I still have some fascination for the design of courses and workshops, both online and offline.
The element that I found (very) inefficient was watching a teacher code in SQL for a full day, without much interaction other than asking questions via chat. During that same week we got assigned three modules to practice with SQL in Datacamp, starting from the very basic level and then moving on to more complicated stuff. I felt a bit frustrated with this set up as it seemed to me like first spending a day learning nothing, before the real work could commence in a week where I was already strapped for time.
So last week I spent the whole of Monday watching the teacher. During the morning the speed of all the basics felt too slow. By 14:30 my mind switched off, my body started yearning for movement and fresh air, and the teacher ramped up his speed to show more complex stuff leaving my mind wonder why I signed up for this course anyway. Now I don’t want to sound too critical here, as most of the course is wonderful, despite the use of MS teams to keep track of all the assignments and building a sense of community. But scheduling a session like this felt like backwards thinking, not in line with the things I know about how people learn. Nevertheless, going through the Datacamp modules went much faster than expected (and projected by Datacamp), so perhaps I learned more during that first day than I want to acknowledge.
This made me curious about what recent insights about learning are. How can I help myself over the coming months to not just tick of the assignments and move on, but actually store what I’ve practised in my long-term memory? And give some constructive feedback towards the academy?
I found some interesting resources. For instance this article published by Princeton University.
Most people believe that repeated exposure to material, such as “going over” notes, “re-reading” are the main and most important ways to learn and “absorb” information. In fact, research shows that memorizing in this way has significant shortcomings. Such methods are not only highly time-consuming and less than optimally effective, they are often rather boring. There are not only more effective and efficient methods of learning, but alternative approaches are often more engaging, interesting, and enjoyable.
Learning the basics of programming is all about doing, not memorising the exact code. That’s the message my academy sent out. Rightfully so. However, it is important not to effortlessly sail through the assignments. The article also states that “effortful learning usually signals not only deeper learning, but more durable long-lasting knowledge.” I found the SQL modules in Datacamp easy, as most of the challenges were heavily pre-scripted, stating line by line what to write. That could mean that I learned less than I did with the Python modules, where I sometimes was struggling with some concepts. Fellow students report many more issues in grasping the material and take twice as long to go through the assignments. They might be learning more and better than I am as it’s more challenging to them. I therefore will try to do some of the extra challenges in Datacamp to up the “desirable difficulties” for me.
Rushing through the modules might not be the best strategy either. It is important to “interleave” studying, or leaving space between study sessions. This can be a bit hard to do given the fact that I need to finish certain modules within a week. Nevertheless I could try spreading the work between the days and within the week. If the mandatory online sessions allow me to.
There are more principles in the article, but some of them are less applicable to the practical data science skills I’m learning right now. Or simply impossible due to current restrictions like varying locations where you’re learning.
Elsewhere I read it is important to practise extensively. “overlearning reduces the amount of mental effort required, leading to better performance”, according to this article.
According to that same author the key to learning is knowing how learning works. I’m well on my way to learn more effective then.
One other resource I’d like to mention is The Science of Learning. This is a more practical guide to translate cognitive principles to classroom situations.
None of the articles I read mentioned watching a teacher do something on a screen for a full working day as a good teaching strategy, though. I’m glad it was only one day, not the five day training the teacher mentioned doing too. I guess I just found writing SQL statements easier than writing Python.
If you have any good recent references on learning, please share them with me in the comments. I always have an appetite for learning more.