I’ve been putting off this blog post for a while. Not because I have wanted to avoid this blog; in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I miss blogging here immensely. But I’ve been putting off this post because I knew it was going to be big — epic, really. Or so I thought.
You see, I didn’t even post ONCE in the entire time from January 1st, 2010 until now.* That’s nearly 11 months, and marks my longest absence from blogging ever. I’m saddened by that, and embarrassed even, particularly because I do consider myself to be A Writer Of Some Kind. You’re possibly wondering why the absence. It’s nothing earth-shattering, really: I just had a really rough Spring semester. I mean, the Fall 2009 semester was rough too because of the whole lifestyle adjustment thing, but Spring semester felt like a steamroller compared to Fall semester’s mountain climbing expedition.
Yeah, so this is my (very late) reflection post. And I hate that I’m reflecting on something that A) happened a while ago now, and B) was such a big chunk of time. I usually prefer the as-it-happens, contextual kind of feedback, the kind that’s most aligned with my educational philosophy (y’know, formative assessment and all). But here we are with all this time since my last post. I guess I have some answering to do.
If you know me personally or follow me on Twitter, you might be saying to yourself, “Huh? But your Spring semester ended months ago! What gives?” And you’d be totally justified in saying that. See, the semester was such a doozy (that’s for you, Clint) that I needed some serious steeping time to get back to my “regular” life (whatever that is) and let things sink in. So, first, I give you…
Why this semester was a doozy
- I can sum it up like this: I was much busier than during my Fall 2009 semester, but felt that I learned less. The reasons for this are complex. Some are evident below.
- One of my courses in particular had me playing the role of project manager rather than grad student. This was troublesome for me, not because I don’t like project management (truth be told, I think I’m pretty good at it, as I’m a big-picture kind of thinker), but because it ate up time that I should have been devoting to research and processing. It also put me in a difficult predicament with my classmates, because I was not an authority but needed to behave as one in order to get the final project done. Color me uncomfortable. It didn’t take long for the project to turn into a game of politics and that left me even more uncomfortable. In the end, all worked out fine, but it was not the route I had in mind when I signed up for the course.
- Another course had me annotating articles like my life depended on it. Every. Article. Posted. And. Then. Some. This amounted to approximately 150+ pages of reading and 2,000 words of writing per week (just for 1 course!). Annotations for this particular prof required regurgitated information (think: low levels of Bloom’s taxonomy) rather than any processing or reflection, which meant I didn’t really have a whole lot of time to consider just what the heck I was actually learning, anyway. It was a LOT of busywork. My annotations amounted to a 50-page document, which I actually had to turn in at the end of the semester. I mean c’mon — does my prof actually read those? (And hey, if you’re reading this, Dr. You-know-who-you-are, I’d actually really like to know if you DO read them. Really).
- Let me publicly state here — not that it will be a surprise — that I see little value in this kind of work. I successfully summarized between 56-60 articles over a 14 week period, but what did I learn from them? That’s hard to say, because I did not have time to process any of the content that I was so busily transcribing into notes. Had I had the chance to choose one or two of the 4 weekly articles and spend time thoughtfully annotating them and — even more importantly — reflecting on how they apply to my experience and previous knowledge, I suspect I would be sitting here now telling you more about what I actually learned in that course, and how this new knowledge became synthesized with my previous understanding — or at the very least, how it challenged my understanding. But, sadly, that’s not the case, and though nearly 6 months have passed since that course finished, I still sit here and am not sure how to make sense of it all. That tea needs more time to steep, which is a shame, really, because I suspect it would have been much more of a healthy tonic for me to drink while I was actually in school rather than somewhat removed from it.
- Note: I must be clear here: I highly respect the professors of both courses mentioned so far. They are well known, prominent, and prolific researchers in their fields and regardless of my criticism, I learned from them (rather than the coursework) deeply. As an experienced educator well-versed in teaching and learning sciences, I have difficulty stomaching some aspects of their styles, but this is fine. Any experience helps me learn — I take what I can from it and accept responsibility in my learning. I offer my criticism here as a reason for why this semester felt like busywork rather than learning. And, lest you think I’m just ranting — as both a professional and a mature student, I’m quite comfortable discussing anything I’ve said here with any of my professors in person, and I did indicate my honest thoughts on the end-of-semester evaluation forms.
- My aunt passed away. This happened while I was on Spring Break in sunny (yes, really) San Francisco. While my aunt had been sick for many years, I learned that despite how prepared a family thinks they are for the loss of a loved one, they really cannot start grieving until the day of death. It was a very, very sad week for my immediate and extended family, and I missed a full week of school between flight changes, funeral arrangements, and an emergency passport renewal. Stress all around, not to mention the mountains of catchup work required for me when I finally did return. It took me about 4 weeks to finally get back on top of things — just in time for the stress of finals to begin.
- Finals. This semester I worked on some really amazing projects, some which took me way outside my comfort zone and into areas of research and design I’d not even thought of before. This was good, of course, as I felt really stretched in terms of my skills and knowledge. However, because the learning curve was so steep for me, these projects required considerable brain power, research, and outside-of-the-box thinking. The projects included:
- a mobile application to teach basic Math skills to elementary-aged children in Bangladesh,
- a community development program for digital mobile storytelling in Suriname,
- a combined physical and virtual learning space for future NYU ECT students, and
- a re-design of a musical instruments exhibit at the Met (which currently is quite boooooring but with our redesign would be quite fantastically awesome and fun).
- Before finals, I also worked on several smaller projects involving:
- analysis of various museum exhibits and public spaces around NYC (at the MoCA, the Sony Wonder Lab, The American Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of the Moving Image)
- extensive research of teen social network use in developing countries (resulting video);
- analysis of the educational technology initiatives in Jordan;
- a teacher support program for rural schools in Suriname; and
- the user interface design of an online studio-based learning community for ECT
- My parents visited — during finals. Not that having your parents visit is a bad thing — actually, in my case, I usually love it when my parents visit. But it was just bad timing this particular instance. During finals = ugh. So yeah, there was some stress this time ’round.
- Personal relationships. Without going into too many revealing (and unnecessary) details on this — a professional — blog, I will simply say that some close relationships in my life changed rather dramatically in the 6 months from January to June 2010. It is too soon to tell whether all of these changes are for better or for worse. At this point, I can simply say that the relationships are evolving, and it has caused a significant amount of stress, as these kinds of things do. Nothing to be done about it; this is just the way life is, and I am grateful for having these relationships to teach me about the world and about myself.
That’s just a brief rundown of all I dealt with in my Spring 2010 semester. I haven’t even gotten into the summer yet. Wow. Or this semester, a.k.a. ThesisLand.
I hope that my next post will begin with…
What I actually learned
… in those 4 months of that Spring semester. But who knows. Things have become somewhat unpredictable lately!**
*well, not really now. As you can see I’ve already posted thrice. But this post has been in the works the longest.
**were they ever really predictable?