Sunday, March 25, 2018
Is your learning balanced?
These days I often find myself wondering and deliberating upon my college education. Was it fruitful? Was it worth my five years? Has it made me learn something eternal and ever needed? Has it taught me learning, how to learn, why to learn, what to learn and most importantly how to unlearn, why to unlearn and what to unlearn? But the stream of questions changes when I introspect all the more and then the only questions worth asking surface. Did I make use of learning ? Did I teach myself how to learn? Was I curious and experimental enough? Did I allow the probability and statistical modelling to die with the last exam of the semester or did I go ahead and tried to understand the implications of the classroom learning in the outside real world where ideal conditions seldom hold true? Did I try to work on real life problems in those treasured and sufficient time of 5 years? Was my interest in research only limited to the technicalities of the algorithms, implementations or I leveraged it to target meaningful problems?
The answers are clear to me, but the most important answer that is clear to me is that I was responsible for my learning, the application-based learning; that I should be held accountable for conceptual foundation that I possess today or do not possess; that I was, I am and I shall forever be responsible for how I use my lessons from classroom and try them out in more interesting, more challenging and never an "ideal" world. Little doubt exists then that a greater part of my mind has realised that I have not studied responsibly. Today as I work on real world problems, I realise the hard work that still remains to be done to strengthen the basic concepts, the building blocks that help in putting "brick by brick" at the right place. I realise that in the focus of competitiveness and zest to score marks, learning and application-based learning never saw the light of the day. These realisations come majorly because today I think much more broadly, the way I have never thought in college and I am not proud of it but I have to admit it. I admit it so that I can alter the learning that today's students are embracing, but more about that later in the post. College life definitely teaches us things which are beyond classrooms and they are extremely vital to survive in the adult world, yet from the academic point of view I believe I could have participated more. I am shocked today actually; the shock stems from the observation that gaining highest marks in a subject paper did not prepare me to tackle the "dirty data" that needs to be analysed and understood in real world. I take the responsibility of that, full responsibility. Why? I could have been more curious more experimental and more deliberate in my lessons and their applications.
The identification of the loopholes is the first step to mending them and addressing them. I believe that when applicative learning takes the upper hand, it becomes fairly easy to perform in exams because exam questions are diluted versions of the "real" world which assume every thing as "ideal". Say for instance, in real world data analysis problems the data is almost always imbalanced, the classes might have a proportion of (95% to 5%) and we might never observe this if we do not get our hands dirty on problems other than "IRIS classification" etc. And there is a list of algorithms to correct this class imbalance in the datasets. I can only speculate the wonder we can produce through our schools and colleges if we focus on real world problems rather than challenging our students to gain an "A" in subjects. Getting marks in exams is the easiest thing to do, the hard thing however is to take concepts out of classrooms and deploying them in problems pertinent. I believe the education system has equipped us with bibliography for the deep research and I could have used it to create a much more solid foundation for problem-based learning.
These moments give me a lot of leeway to harken back and observe the student me. Classes to library, library to hostel, hostel to study table, study table to classes but never ever stopping and wondering what of all this knowledge. Of course, small projects were done, presented, awards won but all that which made a lot of sense then does not seem so sensible to me today. May be I call that period as the "building block period" to a much more rigorous learning that was to come, but seriously, my horizons have widened a lot ever since I graduated.
So, there are lessons hidden in this post, in this candid admission of a student's inability to 100% leverage the precious college time to learn more, create more, experiment more and be curious more. This post is definitely targeted at the students who have entered into college after schools. I want them to know something. I want them to know that graduation years are best opportunities to experiment with lessons, to understand if they hold true in real world and if not then how to tweak the approach. I want them to know that in life outside of the college, they will have to apply their lessons in solving the real world problems and therefore it would be prudent to learn a little bit of that in a consistent manner during the college time where no such thing as day or night exists. The major question of the life have to be asked during the college time, "What do I wish to do with my life?", "What will my career be in?", it helps to be a little clear while maintaining the space and acceptance for events which happen unexpectedly.
I also believe that everyone just learns what they are supposed to as they go ahead in life, the only thing needed is a sharp eye. One cannot afford to live unconsciously while growing up. The best thing however is that we do not need to be in a University to be a student, all of us are student of a lifetime and only we can ensure how appropriately we are learning as we are going ahead. For instance, if you are in a job, do the task not just for the sake of it, but try to understand it from inside out, how it really works. If you are a researcher, try to learn why a particular algorithm suits your research problem and what happens if you deploy any other approach. The biggest roadblock to learning is to get rid of "acceptable solutions" or "recommended observations". Not getting what you expect is sometimes also the best stroke of luck and might steer your ship in a completely different direction.
Once a very funny thing happened with me. I was performing some research operation and its result was also acceptable and was pleasing to me. Not before long did I realise that the data was not proper, it was skewed and had to be processed further. Guess what happened next? The results that were pleasing were no more there and I observed completely contrasting results. The natural tendency in the human me was to resent at current results. I tried to understand the current result and why it was not performing the way I had expected. I was comparing current results with the old results which were obviously wrong and then with much difficulty, I told myself, "Hey ! You cannot validate these results against something which is false" and then I tore the old "acceptable" and "pleasant" results, threw the pieces of paper in the dustbin and embraced the current results and investigated them further. Turned out, getting same results would have been monotonous and not challenging at all. This incidence taught me a lot; we do research not to validate and verify our inherent theories but to identify the story that experiments have to tell. It was tough but the right thing to do. The burden of a false research result is too great to carry !!
To me this outside world seems like a much more advanced University. I study the problem and then try to identify how to go about taming it, it seems like a real learning experience to me. Graduation years were useful but as I said they taught me about the bibliography of learning, the rest body of learning I seem to be learning outside of the walls of the college. But it does not have to be the same with you. While still being in the college you can advance your learning, hone your creative abilities and strengthen your concepts all the more by never forgetting to ask, "What real world problem can be solved using this piece of lesson?" Learning then would not only become more fulfilling but also blissful, studies will not seem a chore then but a an opportunity to manifest self much more meaningfully.
"Work is love made visible" - Khalil Gibran
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