Kelley Costigan 0:06
Welcome to the Wyrd Learning podcast with your hosts, Dr. Tracy Dixs, and Dr. Alex Patel. Today's episode: What Do Hobbies Teach Us About Learning or, Practice Makes Progress.
Tracy Dix 0:23
Hi, I'm Tracy. Dr. Tracy Dix to be exact, with 20 years’ experience studying and working in a number of UK universities, teaching and helping academics to improve student success rates. Although all that is true, and I do take my work very seriously. I don't take myself too seriously. I am passionate about helping students like you get the best out of your university experience.
Alex Patel 0:48
Hi, my name is Alex Patel. I've got around 21 years of experience in higher education. So initially, that was as a student, an undergraduate, then doing a master's and then even a PhD. But after that, I then went on to become a teaching fellow and an Academic Skills Advisor. But I echo what Tracy said, you know, I have the qualifications, but I don't like to take myself too seriously. So, one weird fact about myself. I've just taken up wild swimming.
Tracy Dix 1:14
And my weird fact is that I can spin on my head because I took up breakdancing in my master's year.
Alex Patel 1:20
So we've got together and set up Wyrd Learning because we want to help students. We want to help you understand the unsaid rules at university - what the expectations are. So for example, what does a good essay look like? And we want to help you develop skills such as critical thinking and independent learning. This is so important because it helps students from all backgrounds succeed at university.
Tracy Dix 1:44
So thank you for pressing play today. We don't take it lightly that you choose us to help you. We've been there, done that and got the t-shirt.
Alex Patel 1:51
We can help you get the t-shirt, too!
Tracy, would you like to say a little bit about what you do?
Tracy Dix 1:57
I work in a university where I run one-to-one consultations with students helping them with all aspects of writing and researching their assignments and avoiding plagiarism.
Alex Patel 2:07
That's a surprise I do something - or I used to do something quite similar. But nowadays I work with lecturers to help design their curriculum. But basically both Tracy and myself have quite a bit of experience working in universities and also studying in universities before that, and what we'd like to do is to help you understand - you know what it's like to come to university.
Tracy Dix 2:28
So what's it like coming to university Alex?
Alex Patel 2:31
Oh, I remember I was a very stressed-out kind of teenager. I remember my parents driving me up, dropping me off, and just kind of panicking about not being able to make friends and that kind of thing. It was just very different to my experiences up to that point. But as it turns out, you know, actually when you're in a flat with you know, a number of people who are also looking to make friends it's - it's not that scary. It's quite easy to start talking to people and forming connections. [muttered]
Tracy Dix 3:05
So, you did make friends in the end.
Alex Patel 3:06
I did, thankfully.
Tracy Dix 3:07
Did you make friends with – was it a flat that you were living in?
Alex Patel 3:12
Yep, yep. It was people that I was in the flat with. One of them I ended up getting married to would you believe?
Oh, my, yes. I also you know, obviously met people on my course. And I probably became stronger friends with them actually, possibly because we're studying the same subject. And then we started to do kind of extracurricular things. So we started doing Taekwondo which was a lot of fun.
So do you still do Taekwondo?
No, not anymore. Very sad. Life has caught up with me.
Tracy Dix 3:43
So what did taekwondo teach you about learning?
Alex Patel 3:46
Oh, wow. That's an interesting question. I guess one of the things would be commitment, in that if we wanted to do a grading, we had to show up for every session, you know, we could only miss a certain number of sessions. We also had to practice outside of sessions, and we had to kind of like show up early, show enthusiasm towards the learning process. So we'd all be gathered outside doing our stretches, the black belts would be there and the younger grades would be trying to kind of impress the black belts.
Tracy Dix 4:16
So would you say this was any different from doing the degree - the academic side of doing a degree?
Alex Patel 4:21
Sadly, when it comes to my degree, I suspect I focused more on the Taekwondo the first year so you know, I was learning how to live at university. So my focus was all on the social stuff, not so much on the - you know - the going to tutorials, preparing for them, you know, and going to the library and revising the lectures that I've been to. So my first year, I didn't do so well. Whereas if I had applied the same approach which was to kind of commit to it fully, to go in and think about what I needed to do before the session, during the session, and then after the session, and committed to actually go to all the sessions, all the lectures, then I would have done much better.
Tracy Dix 5:03
But that's really interesting that you said that would you care to share what kind of - what grades you graduated with for your first degree?
Alex Patel 5:11
Well, I'll share what I got from my first year. I think it was probably around 45% - 50%.
That was a pass right?
It was a pass but I was supposed to be doing a year in industry.
And I didn't get you know, a high enough mark to do that. So I had to not do that. But at the end of my degree, I had worked out how to study to some extent anyway, and I came out with a two one and then I went on to do a masters and a PhD. So you know eventually, I obviously learned how to do it.
Tracy Dix 5:45
Uh huh. And I think that's the important takeaway - isn't it? - for our listeners is that it is a journey, and it's a process, and that the whole experience of doing a degree just takes a lot of practice over time…
But also, you know, your first year even -
- if you just pass or don't quite pass - I mean, if you don't pass you have to re-sit anyway, don't you? Because you have to pass your first year. That's the minimum requirement.
Yes, yes. 40%...
Even if you just pass it doesn't determine, you know, what your degree is going to be.
Alex Patel 6:17
No, no. So universities appreciate that first year is quite a transition period. And students are finding their feet, they're learning how to live on their own, how to study. So your first year doesn't count towards your final degree. It's the second, third, maybe fourth years if you have them.
Tracy Dix 6:32
And I think that's a really important thing to remember as well. And I remember my PhD supervisor when I was doing my PhD and shadowing her teaching seminars, she asked her students, “So, what's the worst that can happen if you don't do well for you know, this assignment?” - and this was first year students - and I remember one girl in class saying, “Well, then we fail our first year, and then we fail our degree, and then we can't get a job and then our life is over.”
And my supervisor was very grounded, you know, gave a very grounded response and said, “Well, no, because, you know, does your grade count in your first year? And of course, the answer is no, apart from the fact that you have to pass as a minimum, the first year doesn't count – it’s your practice year. So you know, you are not going to not graduate. You're not going to not get a degree and your life will not be over. In fact, I would probably say that your life is no different in a way I mean, you know, you don't have a degree but you don't have a degree already. So things haven't changed, nothing has changed. You are just kind of where you are at that point in time.”
Alex Patel 7:37
So certainly not the end of the world.
Definitely not the end of the world.
But an important time to be learning how to study at university -
Tracy Dix 7:45
- Yes, I think you know -
- and making mistakes.
- like I was saying about Taekwondo. It's important to keep showing up to practice consistently, to take an interest in what you're studying, and to and to reflect, to reflect on you know, your practice, how you can do things better, to take on the feedback that you're provided. Yeah, and work out how to do things better. Seek help if you need it.
Alex Patel 8:07
Okay, so can I ask you, Tracy, so wat hobbies do you have?
Tracy Dix 8:12
Well, I've had quite a few hobbies in my time. Well, I've always been into kind of dancy sort of things and movement. So since I was about four, I took ballet lessons -
Alex Patel 8:26
Oh, wow! So did I! I didn't carry on though.
Tracy Dix 8:29
It's kind of a very popular girl thing to do, I suppose. I wouldn't exactly say I enjoyed it. And I wouldn't necessarily say it was taught very well either. Which is interesting, because I think that's, that has taught me quite a bit about teaching, you know how to teach effectively. But I think that's kind of given me quite a strong grounding in the kind of hobbies that I have, which are very movement-oriented. I went on to do gymnastics because I was a bit of a tomboy and I like climbing things. Rhythmic gymnastics, artistic gymnastics (when I was at school) athletics, high jump…
Yeah. And then as an adult - breakdancing?
Alex Patel 9:12
Oh, yes, yes. I believe you have dreadlocks at one point didn’t you?
Tracy Dix 9:15
Yes, I did have dreadlocks at one point. Breakdancing and now I do a lot of aerial things. So, like trapeze, silks, hoop, which is quite similar to gymnastics, but you're up in the air. And so, there's not as much impact on your body as there is in gymnastics, which you know where there's a lot of tumbling and quite hard landings, which are not so good for old knees. Not once you’re in your forties.
Alex Patel 9:37
So, so that's quite adventurous stuff, you know? That sounds very exciting. So what do you think that has taught you about learning, you know, that you would apply to university?
Tracy Dix 9:48
I think it's interesting that you say it's adventurous stuff. And I guess you know kind of thinking about - trying to think about these hobbies objectively. Many of them will be classed as extreme activities, although that's not how I consider them. And I guess the thing I've learned from, you know, doing hobbies like that over very many years is it's a process, you know, it's a process of learning and it's a process of practice. And it's about the gradual improvements over time. If you - you know, if you're just consistent week on week, and you know, even if you - as you’re just starting off as well, it's not really about kind of blitzing what you're doing. That's not really the way to get far without -
Alex Patel 10:32
So, if we took that across to an analogy of universities. So, I know for me in my first and second year, I used to, you know, I’d go to the lectures, do the practicals, and all that sort of thing, but I wouldn't start my revision until (ooh) just before the exam. So, are you saying that in something like aerial work, that wouldn't help? You know, you couldn't expect to suddenly - the week before the performance just do a load of work and expect it to produce results?
Tracy Dix 11:02
Not at all. Though… okay, so for example, if you are performing - if you're the kind of person who likes to perform, or if you're the kind of person who likes to compete, then going very intense, you know, practising very intensely like the week before is really not the way forward because you know, you can imagine what it would result in is a lot of injury.
Because your body hasn't been conditioned for that kind of movement.
And also, you know, you need to build up muscle memory over time and rest is really important as well, you know…
…our muscles are kind of conditioned and our memories are kind of recharged by sleeping. That's from Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep.
Alex Patel 11:43
Actually, that reminds me of - I think it may have been my university finals. I'd mis-planned my revision timetable, you know, focused too much on the first exam, and thought, “Oh, yes, so I'll revise the other stuff in between the first exam and the second exam.” - something along those lines, so it meant I only had a couple of days. I stayed up really late. I think I was on - what was it? Pro Plus? Which was some kind of caffeine supplements trying to stay awake and I didn't sleep properly because of that, obviously. So I went into the exam, and it was psychology and there were two questions. And they both talked about quite similar psychological models. And I just confused the two. I couldn't remember one from the other. And it's, and it was so bad that I only wrote two sentences.
And I sat there for you know, half an hour trying my best to kind of tease out the information from my memory, but I couldn't, and I ended up leaving the exam after about a half an hour. It was terrible.
Tracy Dix 12:43
That's really interesting.
So, one of the examples Matthew Walker gives in Why We Sleep is of a piano player and this piano player, in the book talks about how you know, he's playing the piano and everything is just going completely haywire. He's practising late at night; it's just not coming together, and eventually he gives up and he sleeps. And you know, the phrase “sleep on it”? I think, you know, it's related to this. So, he sleeps on it, and the next morning, he can play what he wanted to play the previous night.
So it's interesting. And I think that, you know, the rest that a person is able to get is as important as the practice.
Alex Patel 13:20
Yeah, yeah, definitely. And that's why it's important to start your learning process quite early on. So perhaps even thinking of it not as revision. But right from the start of the course. Start testing yourself on exam papers -
- and exam questions, and just start that learning - that revision process as soon as possible a little bit every day instead of a huge amount at the end, which you just can't absorb.
Tracy Dix 13:46
No, and it just leads to burnout, I think. It leads to overwhelm and burnout and quite a lot of anxiety.
So, it's really interesting that you talk about exams, because the reason I chose my degree course was because it was not exam-oriented at all.
And it was mostly essay-based. But one thing I would say is the biggest piece of advice I was ever given about exams was to do practice papers. And that is something I never took on.
Me neither. Me neither.
And perhaps that is why I was terrible at exams.
Alex Patel 14:16
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I completely agree. So, I used to focus on going through my notes, go to my textbook, and the awful thing is I didn't trust my notes. So, I would tend to just stick to the textbook, and go through that stuff. By doing it that way round, I never got enough time to actually do practice questions.
And it turns out that is the most important thing. Because…
Tracy Dix 14:39
It is. It is the most important thing. It's really interesting as well. And there’s this saying, I think it comes from Stephen Covey. He says, “Begin with the end in mind.” If you're sitting exams, then you begin by sitting exams by practising exam papers, just to apply that bit of advice. And the other thing I've kind of taken from what you've just said, Alex, is, you know, you're not trusting your notes, because the reason I never did exam papers before an exam was because I never felt ready. I never felt like I had completely absorbed and internalised the knowledge that was in my textbooks. And so, I thought, well, I can't do exam papers, because I don't know what's going on.
Alex Patel 15:18
Yeah, yeah. I haven't learned the information enough to –
- possibly start doing exam questions.
Tracy Dix 15:25
Yes, exactly. But I guess the important thing on hindsight that for our listeners to know is that the process of doing exam papers helps you to apply the knowledge straight away.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to the Wyrd Learning podcast today.
Alex Patel 15:41
If you found this helpful, then tell your friends, let us know in the comments, and give us a quick review so we can help more people and subscribe so you don't miss the next episode.
Tracy Dix 15:50
We love getting your feedback and if you have any questions or stuff you'd like us to cover in the future. We'd love to hear from you. The links are in our show notes. Until next time, take care.
Kelley Costigan 16:04
You have been listening to Wyrd Learning with Dr. Tracy Dix and Dr. Alex Patel. Music by Defekt Maschine, from Pixabay. Produced by Kelley Costigan
Transcribed by https://otter.ai