How can I benefit most from watching course webcasts beforehand?
May 26, 2013 9:39 PM   Subscribe

I like to watch video webcasts of courses I'm going to be taking in the future. What are your best suggestions to get the most out of this experience so that I can boost my performance when I'm actually in the course?

I am very fond of learning material through videos, for example on Khan Academy. But for the courses I am taking, often I can find an identical course offered in video webcast form (e.g. MIT OpenCourseWare). Some example courses include: CS data structures, linear algebra, differential equations, physics I and II.

During my summer and winter breaks, I enjoy watching videos for courses I will be taking the following semester. I typically watch the videos at 1.5x speed and take pretty detailed notes on paper. In my head, I feel like I am "getting ahead" by giving myself an advantage by pre-exposing myself to the material, but I also believe I am enabling the course material to sink deeper more quickly come time of the real semester.

However, what I don't when watching these videos is review, follow along closely with the textbook readings, try homework problems, attempt exams. I know these would give me more solid understanding of the material, and so I promised myself I'd do these this summer break. Unfortunately, I'm falling into the rut of just watching video after video -- I have the most fun exposing myself to a greater breadth of new concepts, rather than perfecting old ones.

As an anecdote, I watched and listened to a great deal of physics I videos last break (in this same "sprinting" manner) and I ended up not doing as well as I would've liked in the class. This had more to do with my inability to manage time to work out problems during the semester, but still I put in a great amount of time "groking" physics over break, so it stung a little worse. I'd like to maximize my effectiveness in watching these videos ... or maybe one of you can convince me it's not worthwhile?

Then, the objective is to utilize video webcasts (and other above listed resources) in the most intelligent way to boost my understanding and therefore my performance during the real semester.

I am thinking of using Anki, spaced-repetition flashcards to help with retention, but I am looking forward to your suggestions.
posted by ptsampras14 to Education (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
However, what I don't when watching these videos is review, follow along closely with the textbook readings, try homework problems, attempt exams.

You mention some mathematics courses above, so I'll give you advice about those. If you aren't doing homework exercises, you aren't learning anything. Yes, you are exposing yourself to the "big picture" ideas ahead of time, and I guess that is pretty good, but it isn't exactly essential for success when you actually take the course.

By all means, if you enjoy it, keep doing it. There are about a billion worse ways to spend your time. But the only way you can actually learn mathematics is to do it, not watch someone else do it.

Hence, if you really want to improve performance, you have to work out homework exercises. There just really isn't much else to it.
posted by King Bee at 9:46 PM on May 26, 2013

King Bee is right. To oversimplify: every course is meant to help you gain some mix of knowledge and skills. Even if you could learn the facts/ideas/knowledge perfectly by memorizing videos, the only way to gain a skill is to practice doing it yourself. To gain the skills you must do the work -- for example, do problem sets. (Or in another type of course, write papers, draw still lifes, etc) You could learn a lot about shooting a basketball from watching other people play, but to learn how to shoot it yourself you need to actually practice.

There's also a feedback loop between knowledge and skills; you learn things while doing the work to build your skill, and those things allow you to understand the knowledge piece more deeply, or understand the next unit, etc. Really learn this semester's material cold - by buckling down on the problem sets, going to office/tutor hours with questions you can't figure out, etc. That will help you more than anything with next semester's material.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:07 PM on May 26, 2013

... , try homework problems, ...

It's a bit like watching someone else shoot baskets, versus shooting baskets.

Maybe start with trying to do the homework problem, then watch the lecture.

(Note that this reverses how one should approach one's homework, but
if the issue is that you're not doing the problems, then doing
the problems in a non-ideal way is still better than not doing
the problems.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:34 PM on May 26, 2013

Best answer: I would differ with King Bee slightly: if you're watching Gil Strang's linear algebra course strictly as preparation for an actual linear algebra course that you plan to take soon, I think you'd get quite a lot of benefit just letting the videos wash over you without necessarily worrying about the exercises.

Doing the exercises means you have to have access to the physical book, which is expensive, not to mention that your class might use an entirely different book. Linear algebra is usually taught as the first "conceptual" math course in a student's math career. It definitely helps to have the big picture, which is something Strang lays out nicely and straightforwardly:
  • we can represent systems of linear equations using objects called matrices,
  • and we can do row and column operations on matrices,
  • and we can think of matrices as collections of things called vectors that compose sets called vector spaces,
  • and we can think of matrices as operators with certain properties, etc.
This kind of conceptual knowledge is very important, and I've heard lots of complaints about students who can solve Ax = b equations, but have no idea what they're actually doing.

On the other hand, you have something like introductory classes on ordinary differential equations, which are usually taught in "engineering mode." They're very light on theory and very heavy on identifying the type of symbol-string you're working on, then choosing one trick from a bag of tricks you learn during the course to transform a tricky symbol-string into a nice symbol-string. Sometimes you also draw simple pictures to go with the symbol-strings. Since the majority of what you'd learn in such a class is accuracy and speed, there's really very little you can do besides doing many, many exercises.

But really, you should be taught how to do what's expected of you in classes of either type. The work you're putting in now is extra bonus effort. Do you have some reason to suspect that you'll have an usually difficult time with your courses next semester? Are you missing some prerequisite, or did you barely skate by with a low passing grade? Then you should really work on those fundamentals. If your foundation is sound, then you really shouldn't worry about getting "the most" out of your previews.

What's going to hurt you the worst during the semester is bad time management, procrastination, turning in half-assed work, focusing on point-scrounging during office hours instead of asking questions, forgetting to read the book, skipping lectures, and otherwise being a lackluster student. Work on those things, don't worry about the video courses.
posted by Nomyte at 11:13 PM on May 26, 2013

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