My first year of university has proved to be a large platform for apprenticeship and progress. Through various projects and presentations, individual or group ones, and even more through feedback on my work, I managed to develop my academic and personal skills both as an independent learner, but also as a member of formal or informal groups. Having been assigned tasks such as literature reviews, research essays or reflective essays, all of them involving either an oral or written presentation, I employed a range of skills that could not have found a better environment to develop in; critical thinking, working with others and time management are just few examples.
Aside from measuring our ability and understanding of the assigned task, evaluation allows us to progress on things we are performing well on and adjust our weaknesses. According to Marshall and Rowland (1998), evaluation can be performed by ourselves, assessing and judging our work in a subjective manner or by others. However, the drawback of being our own assessors is the risk of being accused of bias. Therefore, acknowledging the feedback received on my work has been a significant factor for the development of my skills. It not only helped me better identify my strengths and weaknesses, but also gave me self-confidence and enthusiasm, two key factors for a continual improvement of one's self.
The module I have undertaken in the second term, Personal Skills for Business Management Students, has undoubtedly drawn my attention to some of my weak points, such as note taking strategies and paraphrasing, and helped me improve them, as well as acknowledge the importance of developing a workload plan for each assessment. Even though time management has proved to be one of my strengths in each of the previous tasks I have accomplished, I still believe that there is always space for improvement. Referencing would make an exception to this rule: once I learn the rules, I cannot improve anymore, but only pay more attention to avoid making mistakes. However, I am aware of the importance of applying a correct referencing which, according to Wyse (2006), is significant in any form of academic writing, as it helps us to ensure that we avoid the risk of being accused of stealing others' work. I found referencing an easy detail of academic writing after my very first university essay, last term, and I received good feedback in regards to it for all of my essays so far.
As a result of undertaking this module, I managed to deeply analyse most of my academic skills, both as an individual, but also as a team member. Feedback received on our first group task was extremely meaningful in acknowledging the importance of paying attention to instructions in order to achieve the objectives of the task. Being assigned the task of writing a literature review helped in developing my academic writing skills; identifying essay structuring and critical analysis as some of my weaknesses, I had the chance to improve them through this exercise. The task provided a good opportunity for me to observe the differences between informal language (used between the group members while planning the essay) and formal language, the one expected in the report. Informal language would blur the difference between an essay based on research, analysis and critical thinking and an anecdotal one (Woodward-Kron and Thomson, 2000). Furthermore, the audience plays an important role in establishing the nature of the essay since being aware of the audience helps us determine the tone, language and amount of detail. I also tried to avoid the use of personal opinion marks which emphasise the writer's presence, such as "I believe" or "I recommend that we" in order to give the essay an impersonal and objective tone, characteristic for academic writing. However, this proved to be a wrong approach, emphasising once again the importance of paying attention to each single detail of the instructions; by writing an impersonal, research-based essay, we failed to express our own views to the board of directors by taking ownership of the issues.
Writing this report has not only had an effect on the development of my critical analysis skills, but also helped me improve the ability of drawing a conclusion from evidence, after having constructed an argument and interpreted it. I found referencing to be one of my academic strengths, having a deep understanding of the Harvard referencing style from journals to TV series and DVDs, and also being aware of the importance of avoiding plagiarism. Furthermore, I found simple details such as naming the file, proofreading and use of graphics, significant to be thought of. The feedback we received for the first task acknowledged the impact of using illustrations and graphics on the delivery of the report. Cottrell (1999) was helpful in making me realise that feedback in the previous tasks that I have accomplished is important in enhancing my performance in the succeeding tasks.
Verbal communication skills were better employed during the second task, which besides group debates, involved giving a formal presentation of the output of our work. Feedback received on the previous task helped me avoid making the same mistakes as far as academic writing was concerned. However, this task employed a range of other new skills, such as using presentation software, considering the audience and capturing their attention as well as considering the time given for presentation. It was useful for me to refer to some of the online lectures, such as Cornell System and Mind Mapping to help me decide on the information I wanted to use. I learned the importance of a strong introduction in the case of formal presentations, as it has the power to catch the audience's attention and encourage them to pay attention. Although the task involved using a multitude of exterior details, such as adding impact through graphics and layout or considering time limits, the arguments contained in the slides and script were a result of critical thinking and analysis. The steps involved in this process are a useful tool in improving other skills (The Open University, 2009). Firstly, I gathered the information (using note taking skills) and comprehended it, then I analysed it and made connections between different ideas and sources. The next step was evaluating its worthiness, applying the understanding gained and finally, discovering implications, developing ideas and drawing conclusions (The Open University, 2009).
Developing my verbal communication skills meant not only presenting reports and involving more actively in group debates, but also working collaboratively with my team mates. At the beginning, we doubted the fact that pre-assigned roles would result in accomplishing the tasks in the most effective way, since we are all different - some people are good with writing and research, others are better in leading and motivating. Pre-assigning group roles took away the possibility of doing what we could do better. However, the module helped us develop most of the necessary skills that enable us to be researchers, time keepers, group leaders, etc. This will be extremely helpful within a working context when we'll need to prove the ability of undertaking a variety of tasks.
Aside from referencing, information retrieval has proved to be one of the fundamental skills. With a wide range of print or electronic books and journals available in the library, research was not one of my weaknesses.
The pamphlets that we did for the third task clearly showed an improvement in our critical analysis skills, but mostly in our time management ones. As an individual, I managed to finish my work on time and as a group we submitted our work ahead of the deadline. Although time management and especially meeting deadlines has always been one of my strengths, I felt I could improve more on the target setting side. Setting goals and prioritising are one of the things I'm still working at and I'm finding them more linked to personality than to academic skills.
As a result of undertaking this module, I have identified a range of strategies that would help me further develop my strengths and correct my weaknesses and I created an action plan based on SMART objectives to follow. I will set apart some time and a place for study, meaning I will remove any sort of distractions from my study desk and I will create a weekly and daily study plan. I will work on my personal improvement in order to find prioritising things an easier task. I will strictly follow the steps involved in essay writing, beginning with analysis of the question, followed by research and only after that mapping out a plan and start writing the proper essay. I will use the experience gained as a team member for the next group assignments and within a working environment, using the collaboration and leadership skills that I have improved during the last two semesters. Even though I am confident about my time management skills, sometimes I find myself out of my study plan because of a short attention span. In those cases I need to smell either cinnamon or vanilla, which is proved to enhance the ability to concentrate. Highlighting with bright colours the most important points of the reading and listening to Mozart music (which has exceptional benefits for memory) while studying are other two strategies I found for the improvement of my learning skills.
In conclusion, this module served as a large platform for the development of my personal and academic skills, helping me better know myself by identifying my strengths and weaknesses. Accomplishing group and individual tasks and taking into consideration feedback received on my work has helped me correct my weaknesses and further develop my strengths. This has led to me creating an action plan for further improvement and identifying strategies for turning weaknesses into strengths. Overall, I am satisfied with my progress, but I am also aware that there is always space for improvement.
- Cottrell, S. (1999)The study skills handbook. Basingstoke: Palgrave, Macmillian
- Marshall, L. & Rowland, F. (1996)A guide to learning independently. Buckingham: Open University Press
- The Open University (2009) Critical thinking [online] http://www.open.ac.uk/skillsforstudy/critical-thinking.php [Accessed April 10th 2010]
- Wyse, D. (2007) The good writing guide for education students.2nd ed. London: Sage
- Woodward-Kron, R. & Thomson, E. (2000) A text based guide to academic writing. University of Wollongong: Dept. of Modern Languages