Feeling Dim

karenWay back in 2013, I asked “Are We the Cursed Experts?” The post referenced the marvelous Annie Murphy Paul’s admonition to “Remind yourself of your own experiences as a learner.” It’s all too easy to drift into a comfort zone where picking up a few new facts here and there counts as learning. Sometimes life hands us the slap in the face of a real learning experience, the kind that makes you turn up the beta brain waves and try hard.

My college’s advising workgroup, bless ’em, just handed me such an opportunity. We faculty members have been completing a series of advising tier certifications, offering us the chance to become better advisors for our students by using both knowledge of our course offerings, programs, and requirements and the technical know-how to operate the technical aspects of the system. The most recent addition to the training module series is designed to be completed on our own. I’m on board with all of this, so last weekend I set aside a couple of hours, hoping to blitz through the modules.


Like any optimistic, motivated student, I set up a comfortable workspace and assembled the necessary tools: computer, pad, pen, hot beverage. Ready-set-go.

First hurdle: figure out how to access the training. I find the email from our dean and, by opening multiple windows, find the site containing the modules. Bring it on.thumbsup

Next hurdle: open the first folder containing the videos. I note the admonition to watch them all carefully, since information contained therein would appear on the test required for certification. Wow…that’s a lot of videos, ten of ’em, to be exact. Maybe they’re short. Maybe I already know some of this. Test—hmmm—don’t like the sound of that. Oh, well, nothin’ to it but to do it. Onward.

Brief respite: The first videos aren’t so bad. I keep up with the demos and pick up a few helpful tips. Some of the tasks are things I’ve been doing for a long time. I think I got this!

The plot thickens: Ah, a demo explaining “class permissions,” how to admit a student or group of students to a class for which registration has been denied. Could be useful. Let’s see how this works. I listen carefully, but soon the multiple steps and clicks required become confusing. I try to focus and follow, but soon I’m desperately thinking, “Wait, wait, wait! Slow down!”

frustrated_woman_computer___iStock___500bigBut the video charges on. Now I’m ready to give up. Should I start over? How long is this thing, anyway? And, seriously, when would I ever really need to know this. Yeah, that’s right. Why do I need to know this? My eyes keep watching the screen as my brain/shuts/down. But what if this part is on that test? What if I fail the test? Oh, surely I can still pass even if I don’t know this part very well (= don’t know this part at all). I can always find someone to help me do this when I need to.

And suddenly I have become a much more empathetic instructor. Can this be how my students feel when I drone on about some complicated bit of physiology or have them watch a video detailing a complex process? Initial determination and motivation give way to confusion and loss of confidence. As the students sink deeper into the murky sea of the lost, they give up, asking themselves, “Oh, when will we ever need to know this anyway? Maybe it won’t be on the test.”

In either situation, what’s the remedy? Smaller bites? More time for consolidation of information? More chances to practice? Any of these might help. I’m planning to give it another go soon. As cosmologist Neil deGrasse Tyson noted on a recent radio show, we don’t talk about failures; we declare them “rich in learning opportunities.” So maybe I’m not so dim after all…I’m just blessed with a wealth of learning opportunities.




2 comments on “Feeling Dim

  1. xiousgeonz says:

    I took a programming course last year and it did wonders for reminding me of what frustration was … and I *knew* I really wanted to use it…

    • As I thought about this experience and discussed it with a few colleagues, I began to think that we teachers should be REQUIRED to attempt something that we find extremely challenging and perhaps (or hence!) distasteful on a regular, ongoing basis. In my previous career as a physician, I always learned something valuable when I or a loved one was on the other side of the stretcher.

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