You Can’t Go Home Again

Originally posted 5/29/2014

You can look on something anew, but it would not be with the eyes of a child. You can try to put yourself in someone’s shoes, but ultimately when it comes to a teacher being taught, I’d say it depends on how long she’s been teaching.

I agree with Benander, “taking a class as a novice learner can be a valuable form of reflection on the teaching and learning interaction.” (Benander, 2009, p. 36) However, seasoned faculty would find it difficult to take on the role of novice. I’m a fan of experiential learning. My background in computer programming suggests students, in or out of a classroom, need to practice to learn. Once a person has passed a certain level of practice, they achieve a level of proficiency. Take riding a bike, once you know how, you know. Of course, we could add a level of complexity: I do not know how to ride a bike under water.

In web design, novices look at everything at once and get lost. They do not know where to start; they simply know they want to create awesome products. I’ve taught a variety of individuals about web design since 1993. Students without knowledge of programming languages looked for ways to compare web design to using a word processor. They focused on a tool, like Dreamweaver, to connect its use with another tool they are familiar with. Students with some understanding of programming tried to put the language into perspective, actively connecting new information to existing knowledge.

Much as Benander suggested an expert has been around the block. She knows to gather her tools. She knows to ask the client a few key pertinent questions up front. She might spend more time looking the client in the eye (or crafting a warm email) than drafting ideas prior to the first meeting. Why? She has an established method of development, a series of steps she’s about to embark upon that she’s developed over time through trial and error.

“Experts have a different orientation not only to their subject matter, but also learning about their subject matter.” (p. 37)

I have been struggling with allocating the time necessary to pursue a second master’s degree. By comparing the time to take a class to the time to teach a class or to the opportunity to relax at home and enjoy the spring, summer, fall I missed–until I read this article–the value of taking any course on the table. While actively building knowledge, I need to refresh my store of compassion for new learners. Reflection will allow me to better empathize with my own students.

As an instructional designer, I assist faculty in building their courses. Some instruction is broken into minute steps. The button to toggle into the student view is a newer addition.  Benander remarks “many instructors only use the instructor view of software like Web-CT or Blackboard. Negotiating assignments and quizzes through the student view of the electronic interface can help one anticipate student challenges.”  (p. 39) Members of the design team show instructors how best to check the product they are building. However, I’ve never suggested that faculty do more than look at the student view. It is now much easier; in the past you had to create a student account, log out of your instructor account and log back into the student account to see the different presentation of materials. Now, it is faster; I believe more people building modules will look at the student’s view more often.

Is it enough to share minutiae? Should I also propose a macro approach? I don’t think so. I can continue to establish myself as an expert in the field of learning and try to inspire others to do the same. The best teachers I know are also life-long learners. In our hectic-paced, ‘get it done now’ mode can we make time to revisit what it means to learn and how new students navigate the process? Benander selected a quote from Silberman that resonated with me.

“Silberman (2007) comments that experiential learning is a ‘sticky’ learning: ‘when it is done well, it adheres to you. Participants will usually forget a great presentation, but they often remember a great experience’ (p. 4). ” (p. 40)

Do your best to take on the mantel of a new learner, but realize that it is more of an investment than simply going to a lecture here or there. It takes more than one Saturday afternoon at Home Depot trying to create a flower landscape. Putting on the eyes of a child is like learning to ride a bike under water.

Author’s note: when originally drafting these materials, I considered the concept of negotiating a learning space and thought of resources like PriceLine and how travelers sitting on a plane paid to be there, but there is a vast distribution of prices. It is much the same with learners. We–the university, the collection of faculty and staff–need to help them establish patterns of learning. We cannot truly know what they have paid to be here, but while they are here we can make every effort to help them succeed.

Benander, R., Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Vol. 9, No. , June 2009. 40