20 October 2008

Open University M366 - exam post mortem

The M366 results came in and I wrote a long post about it - but it disappeared. Great.

M366 is an Open University course, level 3, 30 points (should be more!) entitled "Natural and Artificial Intelligence". I managed to get a distinction, with something like 96 in the continual assessment and 92 in the exam. It was hard work, so I'm glad the paper had no nasty surprises.

So, for peeps thinking "Should I do M366"? Well - it depends. Are you interested and doing it for fun rather than aiming for a particular qualification? If so then yeah - have a go. Are you aiming for a degree and need a high mark to get the grade you want? If so then M366 might not be the best plan, the grade breakdown for our presentation (the first presentation) was:


- so if you need a distinction there might be easier options. M366 is a lot more work than the other L3 I've taken so far (the concurrency one). M366 is multidisciplinary - you have a bit of maths (quite light), logic, computer science, programming, history, philosophy of AI. Some people come in to the course wanting to read about themes of consciousness, and philosophy. Others come in wanting to learn algorithms to help with their programs. Two different camps, both find parts of the course unfamiliar and difficult. The dropout rate was high.

If you do take M366 then...

  • Read ahead early on, it doesn't matter if you fail to grasp 50% of it, just read it all early on to get the gist of the underlying themes.
  • Allot more time to this than you usually do. I read the units twice before tackling the TMA, and again during the TMA.
  • Don't go nuts. I did, I spent ages perfecting my TMAs, going much further than required with the coding section. We had a TMA question that asked for a heuristic for a search and I knew what they expected within a couple of minutes, but I didn't like it as a solution and spent days making a better version. It wasn't really worth the time. My heuristic was faster and found shorter solutions though - much better (their one overestimated - a cardinal sin!).
  • Code some of it in <Insert you native programming language here>. I did some C# and VB.Net programs implementing search and genetic algorithms. It improved my understanding.
  • Unit 6 is critical for the exam. There is a compulsory question. The subject matter is not maths/programming and so it needed a lot of work. Write notes on stuff like the Chinese Room. Write an essay on the notes. Condense the essay down to something much shorter. Re-Write it the next day to reinforce your understanding. Do this for all the other junk in Unit 6. It will take a few days, but you will then be able to do the exam question easily.
  • Netlogo. Many folk detested this. Some were not programmers, and so they were dunked in at the deep end. To those people, don't panic. You needn't write any code - if you can explain in words how it should work then you'll get marks. Once you work out that, you might be able to takle the coding. Some were programmers, and they hated the language. NetLogo is from a different branch of the programming language tree to most of the common programming languages - C, Java, VB, LoLCode, etc. You'll see it is a LISP-a-like. It is worth finding a tutorial on LISP and having a go at the basic syntax (or SICP if you are a glutton for punishment). I liked NetLogo. Write some simple programs - get used to lists of things and making your own data structures from lists.
  • Rote learn. Create some lists for the "compare and contrast" type questions and rote learn them...
  • Don't leave TMAs until the last minute. You can't breeze through these ones as the Units are huge and complicated. I learnt miles more doing the TMAs than I did studying the units before doing the TMAs.
  • Leave at least a fortnight of late nights for revision.
  • Don't whinge if it is too hard. Take a look at the MIT courses...

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