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… and occasionally it drags along at a snails pace.

Thu 14 Apr 2011 23:33:06 2 comments

Today I finally submitted my second law assignment, just a week after the first. The weeks since my last post seem to have dragged on forever. I’m hoping that this represents the peak in work for the semester and I can get back to the reading and learning that I find more enjoyable. I also hope to have more time for blogging.

Somewhere over the last two weeks university ceased being a fun and inspiring journey and transformed into burden to be struggled with. It probably hasn’t helped that work has been increasingly stressful due to technical issues and approaching deadlines. Initially the obligation of being enrolled provided an inspiration that focused my energy into a strong interest in the subject matter. However the specific obligation of the assignment seemed to cause so much focus that the task became unpleasant. This was to the extent I experienced some serious writers block on the weekend when I had the free time to actually write the second assignment. I only managed to do decide on a direction for the essay and do the bulk of the writing throughout yesterday during lectures, tutorials and breaks. While I’m reasonably satisfied with the outcome, my perfectionism makes me continually consider the endless improvements I could have made if I’d spent more time on it.

Procrastinating to such extent is an old habit I’d hoped to avoid this time around. It’s a habit that probably typified  by the experience of writing my 12,000 word engineering thesis in the two days before it was due for submission. Having managed to graduate with 1st class honours despite my best efforts its unlikely to be something fatal to my studies, however it is of concern given the higher expectations I have of myself this time around. I’m quite proud of the sense of professionalism I’ve developed so far through my career and I want to see it reflected in my studies. The approach I took to the first assignment seemed to be much more inline with this plan; so perhaps the longer term accumulative stress was of significant effect and is something that requires better management. I’ve been quite happy with the weekly schedule I organised at the start of semester.

Being a strong natural learner, perfectionism is also an old habit I have when engaged in study. Well at least it was before I lost focus during my last degree. Unlike procrastination, its a habit I’ve planned to take full advantage of. I let my strong sense of perfectionism loose on both assignments once I’d completed the bulk of the work producing over 6 drafts (3 printed) for each. I suppressed my instinctive evaluation of the legal citing standard as arbitrary and pedantic (while noticing none of the sources I cited were in compliance) in order to ensure each cite was consistent with the standard. I spent time reading each sentence and word aloud to better detect grammatical errors due to writing tired and stressed.It’ll be interesting to see if these approaches stand the test of time or present a unhelpful stress. In reviewing a few of my earlier posts, grammatical errors are sticking out as if encased in a <blink> tag. I’m also noticing a distinct lack of footnote feature in wordpress1.

Waiting for marks on my first major assessment items will probably cause a bit of anxiety over the next few weeks. The case I read for tort’s tutorial this week already gave me a bit of a nerves. One of the judges described a tort differently to the rule I applied in the assignment. However it turned out he was the only judge to rule in that way and as we discussed in the tutorial the judges approach was inconsistent with more established law. Compared to the relative certainty of correctness I had while studying engineering, this could take some getting used to.

Since I seem to have almost written enough for another essay in less than an hour I think I should take a break and get some sleep.

1. Yes I can create them manually like I did here, but it’s a pain in the butt compared to a regular word processor.

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Critical Thoughts on the Critical Thinking Text

Thu 17 Feb 2011 00:04:21 2 comments

The first textbook I’ve chosen to dive into is Critical Legal Thinking (3rd edition) by Nick James. There were two critical reasons for that choice:

  1. it was the smallest book; and
  2. it was also the only book not shrink-wrapped.

As a successful engineer, critical thought is a skill I already possess and use regularly. In fact, it’s my natural abilities at critical thinking are what lead me to become an engineer in the first place. Even so, I was mildly curious as to whether this book contained some mystical new way of thinking. As far as the chapters I’ve read so far are concerned, it doesn’t. In fact, the three types of critical thinking put forward by the book map quite well to the tasks I undertake as an engineer. For example, for the task of reviewing the source code:

  1. consistency with legal authority“: this could perhaps be more generally phrased “Consistency with immediate rules”. In the case of implementing software this would be identifying the consistency between the source code and the software design.
  2. consistency with theoretical, ideological and ethical standards“: this maps a bit more directly for software. There are numerous theoretical standards covering how to implement software as well as ethical standards, such as risk and safety analysis, that apply.
  3. equity of outcome“: while it might not be equity in consideration, it is important to consider the outcome, or behaviour, of the software. To consider whether it will do the job in a way that makes sense and satisfy the user, independent of how it meets the other more structured criteria.

As for the broader course topic of “Law and Society”, for which the book is a required text, I felt that it was a topic I’d covered in the process of deciding whether to do a law degree in the first place. So again, I was curious. This time as to how my ad hoc self education in this topic would line up with the structured text of a university course. I’m about two-thirds of the way through and for the most part concepts covered are ones with which I am already familiar. There have been a few things new for me learn though, such as the history of legal education, some of the detail on judicial reasoning, and the extent of existing anti-terror legislation. Overall I felt able to pick up those bits and pieces of knowledge and fit them comfortably within my existing knowledge and understanding of the topic.

It’s only with respect to my previous concerns that I can find significant problem with the book. That is, my problem is not with the book, but with its position as required text for the course. As a book that teaches the subject matter it appears to be quite adequate, if perhaps a little shallow for the cost. It contains clear descriptions of the concepts, references to external resources along with mini-quizes and suggested essay topics. It’s divided into 12 chapters that take roughly an hour to go through; these clearly matching up with the scheduled lectures for the course. The books structure makes it clear that its purpose is to teach the course material and only the course material1. I expect a text to go further, to compliment the course and be a comprehensive reference, not simply duplicate the basic course material. For students struggling with the course material it could be beneficial. However for students that can keep up with lectures or are able to read up on the various concepts on the internet I’m not sure it offers value for money, particular for students with limited funds2.

I’d hoped my first ever book review would have been a little bit more positive. In retrospect, perhaps I’ve been a little too critical3. To end on a more critically positive note, I’ve discovered4 added a new site called Critical Thinking Applied to my reader. The author bios indicate a wide range of backgrounds and the site shows potential for being an interesting resource of critical thought. I look forward to seeing how it progresses.

1. Perhaps I’m overestimating the coverage of the lectures and tutorials, in which case I’ll probably be disappointed in the course.
2. Fortunately, this time I’m not one of those.
3. Groan.
4. Courtesy of Lorenzo, one of the authors there.

A Tale of Education by Blog

Mon 14 Feb 2011 21:43:49 2 comments

One of the stronger influences that lead me to return to study at university has been my experiences reading and commenting across the blogsphere. In many ways it’s provided the traditional broad ‘liberal’ education that my engineering and science degrees lacked through a self imposed technology focus. Blogs provided the opportunity to engage in a wide range of topics, in my own way, at my own pace. Where sites such as Wikipedia enable access to knowledge, quality blogs provide a continual educational content covering many topics of interest along with an environment that facilitate discussion and hence critical assessment of my current understandings of the topic in question; playing in part the role of the teacher and tutor.

The inspiration for reading blogs began about a year or so after I landed my first job after graduation. My university studies cover a broad range of electronic and computer topics ranging from digital circuitry, through software engineering to databases and web development. My first graduate job was in the power industry; ironic given that power engineering was the only section of the electrical engineering course I’d avoided almost completely. My role evolved into effectively a data analyst for the strategic consulting team, although at the time no one managed to really come up with a job title that effectively described what I did. It was a role that forced me to engage in a wide range of unfamiliar topics such as business strategy, economics, government regulation and politics. A freshly sparked curiosity and general feeling of educational deficiency (despite the fact I seemed to naturally adapt to such topics) inspired me to seek to improve my knowledge through the great (and more importantly free) information resource: the internet.

The first non-technology discussion site I started to visit regularly was On Line Opinion; a memory brought back by it’s recent troubles. It’s still a site I read somewhat regularly as it continues to provide a range of interesting and insightful articles from across the ideological and political spectrum. Again I was encountering a broad range of unfamiliar topics I was finding increasingly interesting, although without the stress and pressure of the workplace. The topic that gripped me the most was one that created rather virulent discussion amongst many commenters: feminism. This lead me to the mainstream feminist blogs, a experience that was rather unsatisfactory given the poor tolerance for dissenting opinion. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a site called Feminist Critics that I began to recognise the academic potential of blogs. In stark contrast to the dogmatic and ideologically intolerant discussion on the many feminist blogs I’d previously encountered, it’s a place that advocates an approach of mutual respect and academic like rigour to the discussions that take place (even it struggles to deliver sometimes).

Exploring things further, I discovered the Ozblogistan collection of blogs by diverse set of Australian writers covering a wide range of topics through quality posts and discussions. There are many more blogs I currently have in my list, and I’ll probably get around to linking them all through some form of blogroll eventually. Throughout the process I began to realise that the passion I’d had since childhood for learning all about computers had grown into a passion for learning in general and I began to seriously consider how to include more formal study in my future. So now I’m embarking on the journey of studying a bachelor of laws and possibly a change to a new and challenging career.

Looking forward, in a less personal and immediate manner, I can’t help but wonder about the future of blogs and the internet in general as a distributed form of accessible and free education for the masses. Seeing April from ethecofem add a collection of “Education Resources” in additional to the typical blogroll makes me wonder if there’s a future for a form of educational aggregators. In the way that news aggregators such as Google News collect news articles from across the internet, collating and indexing them to best facilitate up-to-date awareness, these educational aggregators would index the diverse nature of educational potential from across the internet and collate it in a way that best facilitates learning and understanding.

Of course, until I can actually get a recognised degree from the University of Blog, I’d best return to the textbooks prescribed by the “sandstone” University I’m paying good money to attend.