Year one review

I can't bear to look! OK, I can...
I can’t bear to look! OK, I can…

*drumroll*

Yes, results are finally in and I’m relieved to say that I’ve passed the first year! I could exit now with a graduate certificate, but I’m opting to carry on to the next year for the diploma, and then hopefully onto the final year for the full masters. That means that in September it’s going to start all over again, but hopefully this time with a bit more knowledge and experience under my belt.

I’ve genuinely enjoyed getting to grips with studying again after such a long time away from it. Whilst it’s stressful at times juggling work commitments and studies (not to mention leaving aside some quality time for myself), by and large I haven’t felt too overwhelmed by the workloads involved. It does require discipline and planning, though, particularly as many week nights there isn’t much time for studying in amongst the usual chores.

Of the four modules studied this year, I think the most useful was Information Studies. It made a well-rounded start to the course and introduced some important ideas, which then recurred within the later modules – things like the importance of a user-focused approach to information retrieval rather than a purely organisational approach. This was an important point since, whilst my interest lies within organisational methods (covered in the later Knowledge Organisation module), I now more fully understand that these must be guided by user needs and interaction. Perhaps an obvious point, but one which I hadn’t fully considered before!

googleclassic
Information retrieval: not as easy as it looks

The module also provided an excellent grounding in methods of information retrieval, including the selection of appropriate general and bespoke databases, and most crucially defined the effective use of keywords and Boolean operators to refine results. This all probably sounds fairly intuitive and something we might do on Google without even thinking about it, but I’ve come to appreciate that searching around more complex subjects within very narrow parameters requires more thought about where and how you conduct the search. Otherwise you’ll be far more likely to end up spending all your time sifting through irrelevant results rather than finding out the required information. It was also instructive to actually carry out some research using these new skills in order to create a literature review on a particular topic. I’m sure that I will be able to build upon this experience in the research module next semester as well.

The module on databases was perhaps the one with the steepest learning curve for me. Having used many databases, I was broadly familiar with the ‘front end’ side of them, but knew very little about how they were constructed. Thankfully, some of the module provided step by step instructions on the actual building of a database in Access, and that was fairly easy to pick up, much to my relief! The part I found most difficult was understanding and creating a model for the database structure, based on specific requirements. Though the example we were working with was a fairly simple scenario, it took me a long time to translate the requirements into a coherent and accurate model, with the correct relations, cardinality etc. between each ‘entity’. There was a lot of head scratching, crossings out, crumpled up paper and hitting of the ‘undo’ button, before it all came together! In the end (and, by that point, much to my surprise!) it worked as expected, but it was a bit of a struggle to get there! Still, at least I definitely know that I learned something!

By far the most enjoyable module was Knowledge Organisation, and I have a lot to say about that one, so I’ll save it for its own post in a little while… so I’ve given it its own post over here.

So, after my first year, am I glad I decided to embark upon this journey? Absolutely. Rather than being a purely academic subject, like those I’ve studied in the past, this course is proving to be very practical and relevant to real working situations whilst also being academically rigorous. That was exactly the combination of qualities I was aiming for when I decided to gain some skills in this area, and it’s quite a difficult balance to get right, but I’m very pleased with my experiences so far.

Would I have done anything differently? In my own personal studying style, yes – try not to get bogged down in too much detail. This is a trap I often fall into, particularly at the beginning of a module or course – it’s new, everything’s exciting, I want to do well, so I read absolutely everything, make (too) copious notes and generally fail to see the bigger picture. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, and perhaps you’re the same. So, next year I’m going to try to get a broad view of where I’m heading before getting into too much detail.

In the meantime, I’ve got some quality relaxing to get on with before September…!

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