Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Case study in inefficiency

My final exam in metabolism and nutrition is coming up, and with a mind-blowing wealth of material to be covered, I'm beginning to freak out. Just beginning to, mind you... The rest will come.

How did I get into this predicament, you might ask. Well, for starters, there is my unfortunate propensity toward procrastination. Secondly, there is my astonishing inability to focus on two exams concurrently (unless absolutely necessary i.e. two exams on the same day).

So faced with my 10% histology exam and its pithy seven lectures this Monday, it was unfathomably difficult for me to take my 55% final with an insurmountable lecture count seriously. Now let me not make light of histology. In addition to seven lectures there were also over 300 histological images with which we had to become familiar - distinguishing one physiological tube from another, one pink blob from the next. Here lies the root of my problem.

You see, contrary to my natural inclination, I actually spent the greater part of my weekend working on histology. Yet by Saturday evening, I had very little to show for it. The reason? Inefficient study preparation. The cause of this inefficiency was the exorbitant amount of time it took to prepare my "Dynamic Picture Viewer." To understand how this all came about, let's travel back in time...

It dawned on me in my second year undergraduate anatomy class, trying to tease apart one blue and pink H&E slide from another, that I needed a better studying tool. Histology (the study of cells and tissues) images are posted online for study in a particular sequence and with appropriate labels. Yet reviewing these images over and over in that particular order with the answers right in front of my eyes did not seem like an effective test of my knowledge.

I determined the ideal parameters for a study tool in histology:
  1. Randomized images
  2. Answers hidden, but available
  3. No images repeated
In search of such a solution, I mustered the last of my rapidly fleeting Grade 11 computer science knowhow and programmed the "Dynamic Picture Viewer." It allowed me to generate a folder of histological images along with a text file summarizing what each image represented. The program would then display one image at a time, ask the user what each image represented, and then either congratulate the user or correct their answer. The images would appear in a random order every time and no image would be repeated in a single run.

It was a marvellous tool, and to this day I cannot imagine studying histology without it. It really challenged my recognition of tissues since the slides were not presented in a particular order, and it allowed me to approach studying like a game. Tired of reading lectures? Take a break and try your hand at five, ten, or fifteen slides.

The problem is (and always has been) the amount of time it took to prep the program. For the current exam, with over 300 images, it probably took in the ballpark of ten hours just to pull all the images and annotations off the web. It took another five hours to prepare the images and the text answers to allow for the Picture Viewer to read. Total? Approximately fifteen hours.

That's likely greater than or equal to the amount of time I spent studying.

Was it helpful? Immensely. Incredibly. That's why I do it. Was it efficient? A good use of my time? Probably not. And after all that work, I'm left with the infinite task of studying for my upcoming 55% final exam on which histology is not covered.

Ladies and gents, I'm going in...

1 comment:

sandlot said...

Wow. Talk about an extra-keen way of studying. Why make notes when you can CREATE YOUR OWN COMPUTER PROGRAM.

i don't enjoy histology mainly b/c the shape and organization of cells gives me the creeps. *shudder*. it reminds me of skin lesions or boils... which also are gross. I suppose dermatology wouldn't be for me.