Friday, September 21, 2007

OU: Change Of Plan

With M359 coming to an end (well for me anyway) and thus only needing a further 90 points to complete my degree, I decided a couple of months ago to plan out my remaining courses.

For B29 the Computing degree you are required to do a project, TM450, so I decided that this would be my main course for next year.  Now as I wanted to complete my project without any interference of any other courses I had to decided on what to do over the winter period, I decided on MU120.  Being a level 1 course with no exam it suited me fine and I could work at my own pace thus reducing the overlap with the project.  For my final course I decided on doing M366, Natural and artificial intelligence, as this is a subject that has always interested me.  The current course was running from Oct 07 through to Jun 08, so Oct 08 looked like a good bet, I would have just finished the project and would have my degree completed by Jun 09.

So my plan looked like this:

Course Title Start End
MU120 Open Mathematics Sep 07 Jun 08
M450 The Computing Project Feb 08 Oct 08
M366 Natural and Artificial Intelligence Oct 08 Jun 09

Well on Wednesday I discovered that M366 will not be running in Oct 08, and the next presentation after the current one will be Feb 09.  This is most annoying as a) I will have a gap between finishing my project and starting M366 and b) it means I will finish my degree 4 months later than originally planned.  I did contemplate contacting the OU to see if I could swap MU120 and M366 around but this would have defeated my objective for doing MU120 and also today I have discovered that there is not on Oct 08 presentation of MU120.

My plan now looks like this:

Course Title Start End
MU120 Open Mathematics Sep 07 Jun 08
M450 The Computing Project Feb 08 Oct 08
M366 Natural and Artificial Intelligence Feb 09 Oct 09

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

OU: Note Taking

Throughout my OU studies I have been endeavoring to find a note taking system that is ideal for me.  I have tried different systems such as highlighting important text in the course text and then making notes in a separate note-book, and mind-maps.  Yet they all seem to lead to the same result in that I tend to end up duplicating what is in the course text.  This is one of the reasons why I believe that come exam time I struggle to remember facts (i.e. lists).

Yesterday I came across an interesting article, "Advice for Students: Taking Notes that Work", at which detailed amongst other things several different methods for taking notes.  The one that interested me most was the Cornell System.

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes. About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the left-hand edge of the sheet. You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the left, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions. In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

I have decided to give this method a go when I start MU120 and if it proves successful I will then use it for M450.

A search on Google for "Cornell System" came up with numerous different sites (13,000+) some of which are listed below:

Cornell University - Learning Strategies Center
Study Skills - The Cornell System
Free Cornell Note Forms

Monday, September 17, 2007

M359: Possible Exam Strategy

On Sunday morning at the M500 Revision weekend Stuart Hutchison (our tutor for the weekend) discussed with us a possible exam strategy, and this is detailed below.

NoteIt is up to the individual how they use the following information; I am only documenting it as I believe some people might find it of use.

2 part exam, with 3 hours allowed.

Part 1:  12 short questions worth 5 marks each, giving a total of 60% of the overall exam mark.  This equates to 108mins for part 1 with 9mins per question.

Part 2:  2 out of 3 long questions worth 20 marks each, giving a total of 40% of the overall exam mark.  This equates to 72mins for part 2 with 36mins per question.

Breakdown (and possibly what could be expected)
Stuart has based this breakdown on his experience of tutoring M358 and reviewing the M359 sample paper.

Part 1:
Q1., Q2.  Warm-up questions, normally quiet easy i.e. “Describe the differences between data and information”.
Q3.  Entity – Relationship Diagram to Relational Model.
Q4.  Relational algebra.
Q5.  Normalization.
Q6.  SQL – Code supplied, what does it do / correct the mistakes.
Q7.  SQL – Write some SQL from scratch.
Q8.  SQL – procedures, triggers, cursors, views.
Q9.  Entity Relationship Model – Revise / update.
Q10.  De-normalization, complex data.
Q11.  Data warehousing.
Q12.  XML.

Part 2:
Q13.  Entity Relationship Model to Relational Model (including relational algebra).
Q14.  SQL / Restructuring / Normalization / Access control.
Q15.  Sub-typing / Entity Relationship Models / Populating a database.

Revision Strategy
A high percentage of the exam appears to be based on SQL and data modelling, therefore by using the following strategy a student could potentially expect to get a good overall mark for the exam.

1.  SQL – A must.
2.  Data modelling – Entity Relationship Models.
3.  Relational algebra – borderline effort.
4.  Normalization / de-normalization – borderline effort.

Block 1 – skim.
Block 2 – learn well.
Block 3 – the bible, a must.
Block 4 – skim.
Block 5 – section 1 skim.

By concentrating their revision on blocks 2 and 3 (especially block 3) a student should be able to do enough in the exam to get a good mark.

One final exam tip ;)  “don’t think as thinking costs time”  In other words do not waste time on questions you will struggle with, move onto what are the easy questions for you.

M359: M500 Revision Weekend (part 2)

Sunday 16th

Today was very similar to yesterday.  2 sessions each comprising of a short lecture followed by answering a selection of questions.  The only difference with yesterday is that Stuart also did a session on exam strategy (see follow-up posting).

Session 4 (SQL) covered:
Handling NULL
Data insertion
Group By
Ordering results
SET operations
Access control

Session 5 covered:
Distribution models
Distribution architectures
Technology drivers
Technology terminology
Multi-dimensional models
Information integration
Markup fundamentals
XML document structure
XML versus relational data
Embedded SQL concepts
Embedded SQL Statements
JDBC – executing SQL

The weekend has proved very useful as it has highlighted to me where my weak areas are and given me some clear ideas as to how to proceed.  My thanks goes out to Stuart Hutchison, a most excellent tutor.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

M359: M500 Revision Weekend

The M500 revision weekend is proving very useful. Our tutor is Stuart Hutchison of region 9. Stuart over a period of time has compiled a long list a questions and solutions to aid in revision for M359, and is using extracts from this list to aid in our revision (see below). I am finding them very useful as they are helping me identify my weak areas.

If you want to get hold of Stuart for further details on his questions and solutions he can be contacted on stuart.hutchison at


Friday 14th

Well here we are Aston Uni for the start of the M500 revision weekend. There’s 16 students taking the M359 strand and our tutor is Stuart Hutchison. This evening’s session covered Block 1, with Stuart doing some lecturing and then passing out some questions (which were a selection from a long list of questions he has compiled). These questions are proving very useful and informative. For me they are certainly highlighting areas where I need to pay extra attention.

The sorts of questions being:
Q3. Data Storage
List some fundamental problems associated with file-based data storage.

Q7. Database Concepts & Terminology
Complete each of the following boxes – which represent the 3-tier architecture of a typical DBMS.

After the evening session we spent a couple of hours at the “Sack of Potatoes”, the local public house, followed by a couple more drinks at the ABS bar, to drown our sorrows over England being whitewashed by South Africa.

Saturday 15th

The day panned out as Session 2, lunch and then session 3.

Session 2 covered:
CDM basics
ERD basics
Relational structure
Relational operations
Relational constraints

Session 3 covered:
Normal forms
Functional dependency
Design considerations
Normalization concepts
Complex data

Once again Stuart used questions from the long list of questions that he has compiled, to aid in getting across the essence of the subject.

The primary thing I learnt today was to not speed read the questions, but to read them and then read them again. For example I kept mistaking the word "data" for "database".

Friday, September 07, 2007

M359: Revision

Having just recently come back from a glorious 2 week holiday in Italy I am finding it difficult to get back into the groove.  With the exam for M359 looming (09.Oct) I have now made a start on my revision, with my plan being to cover a block a week.  I still have not completed TMA04 but am now treating it as a revision aid rather than worrying about what final assessment score I might get.  Also I have decided not to bother doing question 4 as this covers topic 2 of block 5 and therefore will not be tested in the exam.  So apart from going through my notes, making new ones, and re-reading the course text, I will be meeting up with friends who are on the course as well and also attending the M500 Revision Weekend at Aston University, Birmingham.


My only concern is that I start MU120 on the 29.Sept, with a CMA to submit by 11.Oct.  This means that for a week prior to the exam I am going to have to split my time.  Hopefully the prep material for MU120 want be to complicated.