The first year: A brand new world.

The first year: A brand new world.

Most people will agree that learning is something everyone should cherish. Living in a society where education is abundant, you are enabled and encouraged to keep studying and developing yourself in order to get the best possible career that suits you. A whole new world opens up before you as you explore the curriculum the study has planned for you. The question is, how is this revelation of a new life experienced by the university’s newbies? We – being me and co-author Maaike Keurhorst – set out on an investigation to find out what the greatest obstacles were for first year Creative Technology students and interviewed a third year student on how he experienced his fresh-as-a-daisy student years.

The general feel

A couple of fellow first years agreed to share their opinion. A couple of questions later, it got clear that not everyone thought the same of the learning curve and difficulty thus far. Opinions were actually very widely spread and the extremes were miles apart.

On one end, there were people that find Creative Technology to be a lot more difficult than they initially expected and they are completely overwhelmed by all the programming involved: HTML, CSS, Processing, even pseudo-code is completely new and unfamiliar. Additionally, some of these students don’t expect to have that much time for themselves, since they find the programme fairly time consuming. Of course, this also depends how far they are into the module. In the beginning there may be a bit more time left for sports and leisure, while at the end of the module the stress and deadlines take over.

On the other end, there are a few students that think they have found their one hundred percent match. Programming comes easy to them, the projects of the first module are amazing and the speed bumps they encounter are flown past with ease. These students mostly indicate that they find CreaTe not be as time consuming as they had expected. They manage to do most of the work at the university and have more time left for themselves. Indeed, a study with such a wide range of disciplines will also bring a wide range of opinions.

Peter Verzijl, a third year Creative Technology student.
Peter Verzijl, a third year Creative Technology student.

Peter Verzijl, a third year CreaTe student, was kind enough to give us some of his time for an interview. Peter is currently in the process of writing he bachelor thesis on serious games. We explained to him that some people are struggling to find their ways and get comfortable within the programme of Creative Technology. To the question about how he experienced his first year, he replied:

“Before Creative Technology I had done one year of Industrial Design. That seemed like the right choice back then. When I switched to CreaTe, my experience was completely the opposite of what the first years think. I had expected a difficulty similar to that of ID. At first, I was a bit bored, honestly. I started looking for ways to challenge myself. That’s where your mentor can really help you and mine did really support me in that. Lucky for me, my interests were very closely related to the course. That allowed me to do a lot of relevant work next to the lectures.”

This is the opposite of the general feeling that was projected by the first year students. Where some of them would love to have an additional challenge next to the standard curriculum, most are still in the process of getting used to the life of a university student. Maybe that will change eventually.

That being said, we asked him what his initial expectations were before he started the study. “I expected it to be a lot about electrical engineering and programming, and that turned out to be true. However, I constantly had the feeling that there was something left to come, some anticipation that you would get to go deeper into the material. I’d find that some material could have been explained better in half the time, while other things would have been great to know more about. Then again, some subjects went so quick, you could tell by looking at people’s faces it was going really fast.

There you go, that sounds more like something that corresponds to the general consensus. Our guess is that this division will grow smaller the further people get into the course. Everything is still new, so it makes sense that some people have not had the time to get used to the way of learning at the university yet, but again, that will come.

Technical overload

What is not very divided, however, is the subjects us students find the most difficult. Some things are simply easier to grasp for the average student than others. Some subjects or courses are not valued as much as others. Generally, this year’s first years seem to be struggling the most with the course Introduction to Computer Science and Engineering – or IntroCSE for short . It has even been called incoherent.

To illustrate, the course Visual Communication yielded a chart made by Ruben Nijland and Joshua van der Meer, both first year CreaTe students, that show two things: what class is found to be the most difficult and what superpower students would love to have the most. This chart is a result of an assignment where we had to combine two data sets into one inforgraphic. Even though the latter isn’t relevant in this case, the former sends quite a strong message.

Chart showing the most difficult subject according to students.

It says in out of the 21 people in one class, 16 find Introduction to Computer Science and Engineering, or IntroCSE for short, to be the most difficult subject.

That is an understandable point of view if you are someone with next to no technical background. Our next question was if Peter had any tips to alleviate this hefty cyber-load.Peter: “I think you should find a subject that you are passionate about. For me, that would be games, someone else might be very interested in music or books. It doesn’t matter what it is, but find ways how computers could help you with it.”

According to him, context is key. Being able to apply new knowledge in an area you are already comfortable with – your hobby, passion, favourite form of leisure, etc. – makes it a lot easier to connect the dots on a subject that is unfamiliar to you. “Your interest won’t always fit perfectly within the world of computers, but you just have to power through that.

Peter wanted to share three tips for every student. First, read the slides of a subject you’re not great at the day before and look up all the terms you don’t understand. This way, you are not going to sit it that college room listening to something you don’t have the foggiest idea about. Second, visualise everything. Drawing things that relate to each other can make you see new connections you missed before. Peter put emphasis on his final tip:  “The third and best tip is: ask anything and don’t be held back by thinking people will think you’re dumb for asking something. The only dumb thing you can do, is to not ask anything.

Your own specialty

Most students will have had some skill in mind that they were eager to learn and expected to get taught in the nearby future throughout the curriculum. Since every module has a new focus point, some student are hyped about having ended the first module full of coding and look forward for example sketching or even maths.

The greatest skill the first years students expect to achieve is teamwork and the ability to transform an idea into a (virtual) reality.

We asked Peter what his focus point was and if he got familiar with it. “Yes I did, and that was everything web-related. I knew absolutely nothing about it. I could program in a few different languages like C#, Java and Game maker’s language, but I had never touched any HTML or CSS. JavaScript is still pretty vague to me, but still I have managed to design quite a few decent websites by now. I have taught myself some PHP to visualise data from Arduino directly to the web. That all went very well.” That sounds promising at the very least. Peter shows how you can start from zero and build your way up. It just takes time and effort.

That’s a very good thing, because the first year students already have some high expectations regarding what they want to do and achieve in the future. Some want to do a master programme after they graduate from their bachelor. Others hope to have a great variety of opportunities in career choices. The expectation is that there will be a rising demand for people like CreaTe students; people with a broad base of education with their own specialisation that fit their client’s needs can be used in any industry imaginable.

So fret not, first years, as Peter proved that you can do anything. As long as you put your mind to something hard enough, the possibilities are, as we say, endless. Even the student who said he wanted to be a programmer for NASA might have a chance.

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