Failing just hard enough to learn [Learning & Teaching / Riding higher waves Pt. 2.1]

This post is another reflection on the relationship between teaching and self-directed learning. It focuses on how to find a balance with making learning too hard or not hard enough. Thus the title: How can we deliberately make ourselves and/or our students fail just hard enough to learn? Context: I just found this post in the huge number of unfinished drafts in my WordPress. It was almost done, supposedly from early fall 2021. Some of it are reflections on my own (online) teaching in the summer term of 2021. I thought this was an interesting reflection still, so I decided to fix it up a little and post it now, despite the text not being “new” and some of my thoughts on my own teaching having changed over the last year where I have been teaching more than before as a Postdoc. Because the draft of this post was already so long and got a little longer with some 2022

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How to use Deliberate Practice to reach your Peak [Book Review]

Have you heard of the concept of “deliberate practice”? It’s a method for rapid skill aquisition through practicing in a certain way. The concept is discussed in detail in a highly recommened book: Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by K. Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool (2016). So here it is. At last. The long promised book review and summary of the most important takeaways from Peak. Ever wonder why you’re not improving at skills despite using them every day? You’re not using deliberate practice is why. So what is deliberate practice anyway? […] deliberate practice [is a] a term coined by Ericsson to refer to the specific learning method used by experts to achieve superior performance in their fields, and mental representations. (Wikipedia entry on Peak) The book resulted from one of the top reserachers in the science of expertise, K. Anders Ericsson, cooperating with science communicator Robert Pool to make his research understandable to the masses. Malcom

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The Right Mindset for Learning Challenging New Skills

In today’s post, I wanted to pick up again on a topic I had adressed previously in The most important book to read if you want to learn Digital Humanities, Computer Science, Maths, Programming or LaTeX. The general gist was that when you want to learn a new skill which you perceive as challenging or difficult, maybe even anxiety-inducing (up to a degree that you’re seriously doubting your ability to learn it all), the most important thing to work on before doing anything else is changing your mindset. Today I will elaborate what your self-image and/or identity has to do with that and how you can use it to your advantage when learning daunting new skills. Do you enjoy posts on learning and skill building? Let me know! I feel that people are actually enjoying my posts on learning how to learn because they generate likes months after they have been posted. I guess there really isn’t enough material out

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Applying deliberate practice to online learning using a learning diary?

Today’s post is about using a learning diary to promote something like deliberate practice for (online) learning. Probably the biggest problem of my online teaching last year was not getting (soliciting?) enough feedback from my students. The only students who ended up ever really communicating with me were the few overachievers who had already had previous experience with the main learning goal of the class, i.e. SQL databases. At the very end of term, ergo after the semester and after I could make any changes, I received feedback from some students new to Digital Humanities that I had been going at a pace which was too fast for them. They were lacking certain information they needed from me to fully engage with the material. However, nobody told me as the class went along (and as you might imagine from knowing some of my teaching materials, I tend to provide very detailed info – so I assumed we were good in

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The most important book to read if you want to learn Digital Humanities, Computer Science, Maths, Programming or LaTeX

Today I wanted to share a tiny book review of the book I claim to be the most important book you should read if you want to learn any technical topic but are unsure if you are up for it. The book I’m talking about is not Donald Knuth (although his books are highly recommended, especially if you’re a (La)TeX nerd!). It’s not even a computer book! I’m talking about: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (New York: Random House 2006). The fixed mindset versus the growth mindset This will be a short post because Dweck’s message is simple. There are two mindsets, the ‘fixed mindset’ and the ‘growth mindset’ and which one you have greatly impacts your success in learning and self-development. The ‘fixed mindset’ assumes your abilities and talents are fixed. Thus, you are proud of what you’re good at because you link it to your personality (“I’m a person who is good at…”). But

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Where can I *actually learn* programming? (as DH and otherwise)

To my great surprise, lots of people regularly ask me where I learned to program. I have lots of posts on the subject and even multiple categories on the blog concerning the topic but maybe they’re “too disguised” under obscure titles for willing learners to actually find them. So I decided to give you a short summary with the key takeaways of what I’ve written on the topic so far and the most important links – boths to my other detailled blogposts and also on the resoures I would recommend as of now. However, before the “short summary” of takeaways and suggestions for willing learners, let me start with a deep dive into the very personal side of the question “Where did you actually learn to program?”. Now where did I actually learn to code? A Disclaimer To answer the question “Where did I actually learn to program?”, we need to talk about my journey first. And.. Well, in order

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Learning to program: How to master a programming language fast

I’ll write a summary about my experiences at this weekend’s TeXUsersGroup conference (#TUG2020) soon but today I wanted to share this post I had already prepared and scheduled: about ways to accelerate mastering a programming language. Of course, I can’t guarantee this will work for you and ‘fast’ is always relative. You can do a fast 3-day-binge but not really have mastered the language (obviously). Fast in terms of actual programming language mastery could mean a year or two, depending on your previous knowledge with programming. But enough of the disclaimers, let’s get to it! Learn as you go My first tip is to learn as you go, that means on the one hand that you jump into it without expecting from yourself to acquire all possible theoretical knowledge first. This ensures you get practice fast. It will let you use the language rightaway and only learn things you’ll actually use. That’s how I suggest you start using Linux by

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Learning to program: Failing fast and error messages

Today I wanted to talk about error messages and why you should learn to love them. If your mission is to learn programming, they show you your weakness and tackling a weakness is always the fastest way to learn. This is why the whole discussion of fixing error messages quickly turns into a philosophical discussion of a way of life: Walking the  path of the Ninja requires you to fail fast, early on, and often. Let me tell you why… Should you care about error messages and warnings? Are they secret messages from the universe? Yes, they are. If you’ve never given a hoot about errors and warnings in your life, congratulations. I don’t either. That is, until the thing doesn’t compile anymore. I am at awe with respect for people who fix mistakes before they become a problem. But I’m not one of them. What does this mean, however, with regard to your attitude towards failure? It probably means

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Looking at data with the eyes of a Humanist: How to apply digital skills to your Humanities research questions

In my recent post on how to get started doing DH, I basically said that the essence of being DH is looking at data with the eyes of a Humanist and gave some tips on how to get started in just 10 days. However, it’s not that easy. Learning digital skills and the problem of skill transfer A problem I see a lot is that H people fail to transfer their newly won practical DH skills to their own research questions. They don’t know how to look at their own material as data. They don’t know how to leverage digital methods to help answer their own research questions. But if it isn’t compatible with their own research, they’ll never deepen their knowledge enough to actually profit from their DH skills. If you don’t use them, they are forgotten quickly. So how do you make this transfer which I think is, so far, being neglected as a skill which has to

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Learning Programming from Video Tutorials

In these times of corona crisis, I have been receiving many offers for online programming tutorials in my inbox, so I wanted to give my views on one type in particular, that is learning from videos. I’ll share what I think are pros of learning programming watching videos, as opposed to, for example, text-based tutorials like blog entries or books, or also in-person trainings (a list of resources for these scenarios was already discussed here). Pro: Learning by imitation or watching someone else do it at first is a natural way to learn Using video tutorials, you don’t need to run the code yourself to see its results, which is fair, I think, when just quickly going through a tutorial or you’re at the very beginning of your programming journey where even installing a new software might still seem daunting. Generally, you should experiment for yourself and try to tweak example programs but at the same time, you don’t need

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Formulating Research Questions For Using DH Methods

In the feedback forms I did on the DH classes I have taught over the last years, I got one feedback I didn’t expect: People were extremely grateful I had practiced with them how to formulate valid research questions which, apparently, no one had ever (really) done with them before. I found that quite astonishing because the DH are all about methods and methods are like specizalized tools. You need to know what you can use them for. So here’s the crashcourse. The Hammer and the Nail I want to start off with an analogy. A hammer is a specialized but not an extremely specialized tool. You can use it for a range of tasks, however, not all tasks are going to work equally well. Some might work but would actually require a more specialized tool if you had one. You can really use the hammer on about anything and almost always, something is going to happen. For example, you

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A Book Review of ‘Ultralearning’

Today, I wanted to share a little book review: Scott Young, Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career, Harper Business 2019. (Book website) It won’t be an exhaustive review, but mostly about my one key insight and some reflection on it. If you want a summary, there are countless ones readily available out there already. The following quote sums up the spirit (and main claims) of the book quite well, but it’s really a book packed with solid methods, not just promises: Is it really possible to get an MIT-level education without attending MIT? Or to learn a new language to the point of becoming fluent and conversant in just three months? Or to develop your own video game from scratch and make it a commercial success without being a professional game developer working for a big studio? (source) Apart from the fact that the whole philosophy of ‘Ultralearning’ can be seen as somewhat problematic (see

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Tracking your progress to make New Year’s Resolutions stick

Many people make New Year’s resolutions. Whether they are to lose weight, exercise more or learn a new skill, they often fail. In this post I want to show what pitfalls can be and suggest some good ways of making resolutions stick. Problem: Not having clear actionable goals If you’re not following through on your goals, that might simply be due to a lack of clarity about what they are. For example, “Learn X” is a bad goal because it doesn’t state what exactly you’ll do to learn X, which methods you use, how long you’ll practice or when and where. Swap unclear goals like these with something very concrete and plan when you’ll do it. Is it supposed to become a habit part of your pre-existing daily routine (recommened) or do you see it like an appointment? Then put it in your calender (on auto-repeat so it gets scheduled every week). (You can read some more about this here.)

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Learning from ‘Computer Books’

I just uncovered this book review on William E. Shotts Jr., The Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction (No Starch Press 2012) I left as a half-done draft months ago. In it, I found a long collection of thoughts on learning programming from books and what common problems are. The book review will still follow at some point, but these are some of the examples of common problems with ‘computer books’. The typical computer book: a long detail-rich, reference-like read I like the Intro to the Linux commandline a lot, but also found that it was very long in pages but the content isn’t super dense. So it was a very long read and I’m always ambivalent about books which are reference-like and super-long. I am a person who likes to read and even I put off reading this book for a long time. I read a chapter every morning while having breakfast. Some chapters I just skimmed because they didn’t contain

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A systematic training progression for programming?

As some of you might know, I am currently a fellow, aka at my personal writing retreat at Wolfenbüttel. And I decided to combine this with some sort of a training camp for my bouldering progress because you do need to have some breaks from writing during the day anyway and I can’t always watch Bones or create CV templates. You might have been following some of my bouldering on epigrammetry, the blog, or epigrammetry, the Twitter.   Training progressions in sports Also very few of you might know as well, I used to train a lot for long-distance running (10k) during my teens. So I know what training progressions are. I used to have detailled training plans, eating regimes, supplements to take and all that jazz. I stopped at some point because my immune system kept bullshitting me and as an ambitious person, I couldn’t take the idea of having to start from scratch after a half-year of being

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How to improve at programming when your current position doesn’t require it & Online Learning Resources

fHave you ever felt like you would like to get better at programming, maybe even get a position involving more programming some day but the fact that you currently don’t really need it at your current position seems to hold you back? This post is for you. Daily practice is key for improvement You need daily practice if you actually want to improve. You already need daily practice just to keep your skills sharp during a time where you don’t need to use them. Also, if you don’t even have programming skills yet, you probably are too tired after work to sit down and work on a private programming project for a meaningful amount of time. But you should. Programming is a skill which takes a long time to learn. That is, if you want to reach a decent skill level. This means that you have to start regular practice long before you actually need that skill or need to

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Some thoughts on grading

Grading is always a touchy and emotional subject. When students misbehave, you automatically feel the urge to punish them with a bad grade. When students receive a bad grade, they will be angry and pissed off. And ‘bad grade’ is relative to what they expected, not ‘realistically bad’, like in a fail grade. In most cases, they will also think you are unfair if they honestly expected a better grade. And they will be gradually more pissed off, the more work they put in your class. So make sure you put as much thought into planning your grading scheme as into the rest of the preparation, because the grade might just leave the biggest lasting impression on students looking back.   The good student receives bad grade problem I just cleaned out my old archived data and remembered I had this class with a teacher I really liked. But now, I hardly remembered her. Then I realized it probably had something

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Improve Your Teaching – 10 Simple Tricks

As you might know, good teaching is important to me, so I wanted to share ten simple tricks which I think can improve your teaching. Most of them are about making sure people get the basics which, in my opinion, is one of the biggest mistakes people make in teaching. Let’s get straight at it. 1) Make sure the preliminaries are clear before starting an explanation. If they are not, don’t even bother starting on the explanation, it will be a complete waste of time. Even if this means that you will spend the whole lesson bringing them up-to-date with the preliminaries and you won’t be able to start on the actual topic at all. Make time for this prep work or risk that all of your subsequent explanations will not get through. To find out if the preliminaries and basics are not clear, you might have to plan testing your students regularly (at the start of each block), like

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