Thinking – that everyone else is smarter than you?

This morning, I had a small crisis of confidence – the type that happens to anyone who has taken a course and decided (even for a moment) that everyone else is smarter than they are.  It’s easy to have when your paper comes back, and you see that you’ve missed a key point or two, and another is due in two weeks; meanwhile, over on the discussion forums, you’re supposed to say something intelligent about your assigned reading.

So there I was, on the couch in my dressing gown, with the house a mess, Mythbusters in the TV background, and Caffarella’s Planning Programs for Adult Learners by my side.  I was pretty sure that in our team discussion, I just summarized and threw in some of my own experience, without getting into any analysis.  Damn.  “What’s there to analyze in Caffarella, anyway,” I thought.  “I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m as shallow as a puddle.”

During our two-week residency, the faculty and staff at Royal Roads told us repeatedly, “the support of your cohort will get you through this program.”  Time, then, to hop onto Facebook, which has become the student lounge of our cohort, since we are spread over 3000 km and three time zones in this distance program.  Here is what happened next:

What is analysis?

Sometimes making things super-easy is the best way to kick-start your thinking.  I’m feeling better now.

Using Pinterest to think visually… and academically!

Square Peg in a Round Hole

It has taken a little improvisation…and whittling!

What do you do with a largely visual medium when you have a textual task to complete? In our case, using and evaluating Pinterest, you see where you can get a word in, edgewise or otherwise.

For the last ten days, I have been working with a small group of fellow Master’s students on evaluating both a digital technology – and the evaluation model itself! Our professor, Jo Axe, asked us to conduct our research and our discussions using the technology we were evaluating, and to revise the evaluation model to meet the needs of 21st-century teaching and learning. The model is called SECTIONS, an acronym for Students, Ease of Use, Cost, Teaching and learning, Interactivity, Organizational issues, Novelty, and Speed. Jo also provided us with a guide to evaluation created at the University of British Columbia, which gave us questions to help frame our research. So far, so good; we just needed to pick a technology and get to work.

We didn’t make it easy when we chose Pinterest as our tool. As a visual bookmarking site, it is ideally suited for images: charts, diagrams, infographics, and of course pictures and videos. One member of our group balked at the whole procedure. If we couldn’t write an academic essay using Pinterest, he said, we were setting ourselves up for failure. The rest of us carried on, figuring that even if the process failed, we would learn from it.

Personally, I’ve found the experiment to be amazing. I already had a Pinterest account, signing up for it in February, just as the online world was starting to take notice of it. But I had only used it for about six weeks when the novelty wore off for me, and I got busy with applying for grad school, and starting my studies. This project meant that I dusted off my account, and would begin to use Pinterest in a different way than before, not only repinning things that I liked, but searching for appropriate academic articles with images, adding my own pins, using boards collaboratively, and adding extensive descriptions and comments. For me, the project was pushing the functionality of Pinterest to its limit, a prospect I found very exciting.

I now know that my previous experience was a bit of an advantage. I already knew how to create a board and how to add a cover picture, as well has how to repin, like and comment on images from users that I followed. These were tasks that my colleagues had to learn from scratch. Pinterest is quite easy to learn, with relatively few functions compared to social media behemoths like Facebook, but there are still a number of considerations that challenged us, especially as we used it in an academic context. How would we manage attribution? Would there be enough space in the text fields for us to complete our thoughts with the appropriate amount of back-up? How do we make an image for an academic link, so we can pin it? Was all of this adding more work to our research?

In fact, we did have to shave off some of the edges to make Pinterest fit with our task. I found myself carrying thoughts over more than one comment. One colleague pinned her synthesis using her blog. Another, already adept with images, edited an image of RefWorks and showed how it has social media sharing – but not Pinterest – built in. Some of the workarounds felt like turning right three times to turn left, and some were simply slippages as we climbed the learning curve. Ultimately, as we gather to discuss our work this evening, I think we’ll have some suggestions for the wider academic community – and for Pinterest – as we learn to turn a picture into a thousand words.

Ugh, this sucks

Pouting childLet’s be perfectly clear here.  I have drawn the line under my work as of my last post, and this one does not count for any self-evaluation except the one that I am doing right now, as I type.  And frankly, I would have titled the post “I suck”, except that I am trying to be a bit kind to myself.

I want to and need to get my blog self-evaluation asssignment done and handed in two days early, so I can head off to Portland (Portlandia!!) with a clear conscience and one less thing on my plate. Now it is 8:34 pm. I have an outline, and I have some notes.  I *don’t* have printer ink, which is hindering me, and think that I may need to hop in the car and drive to campus if I intend to get much done tonight.

Do I stay and soldier on through at home, keeping my 12-year-old silent company and letting the empty coke cans from last weekend attract the fruit-flies?  Or do I ship out for a more intense and studious atmosphere?

What really sucks is that I have 23 more months of self-discipline ahead.  I am NOT on a boat.  I am taking two classes that I borrowed lots of money for.

For what it’s worth, just writing my little hissy fit down seems to have stiffened my resolve. I think after this self-pep talk, I’ll be ok tonight.

Through the research lens

One more post before I draw a line under my work and prepare my self-assessment assignment.  I feel that this record of reflection would not be complete without blogging about how our two weeks of learning about research have now coloured how I look at all manner of new information, particularly the news.

In the Victoria News from Friday (August 3, 2012) I read about a U.Vic researcher who is looking for participants in her study on the effects of moderate exercise in the cognitive functioning of seniors.  As I read through the article, I was looking at her methodology, a topic that would have made my eyes glaze over just three weeks ago.  Sample size? 100 participants.  Selection criteria? The research is selecting her participants according to screening criteria, e.g. they can’t already be active for 150 minutes per week.  What kind of research? Mixed method, featuring quantitative testing and interviews.  Researcher bias? She has an interesting background in neuroscience and kinesiology.  Is that going to colour her interpretation of the results?  We’ll see.

And that’s just one article!  How will I cope with Dr. Art Hister on the Global Morning News, with his daily look at the latest health research?  I’m sure I’ll be running to the internet to look up the journal, or emailing Dr. Art myself to say, “What are your sources?”

I’m even planning to read one of my favourite books with my research cap on.  That would be Now you see it: The brain science of attention and how it will transform the way we live, work and learn, by Cathy N. Davidson (2011).  As the chair of English and interdisciplinary studies at Duke University, she *should* have some very solid research behind her claims.  I haven’t examined them with my research hat on yet, but it’s on my to-do list for the month of August.

Yes, this program has changed me already.  I hope Paul and my kids get used to seeing me with my nose in a book or in my laptop… Reference: Davidson, C.N. Now you see it: The brain science of attention and how it will transform the way we live, work and learn. (2011) New York, NY: Penguin.

A bit of applied research in our final days on campus

Which way should we go?It was Charmaine’s idea to get Bill and Lisa a gift. Very thoughtfully, she emailed the whole cohort for ideas… not realizing that Bill and Lisa were on the cohort list (sneaky of them!).  We had not even really decided on a present when Charmaine got a note back from Bill saying that he “couldn’t accept gifts from students”.  Was this the truth, or just a handy bit of “truthiness” created as a deflection?

About the same time, as we were discussing at my table what we might choose as a thank-you gift, John Dallas raised a similar point. “Do you think it might look like we are trying to buy their favour?  Maybe it’s a conflict of interest.”  Smart guy – that had never occurred to me.

What could we do?  Should we take Bill at his word and forgo any thank-you gift?  Should we go with our intuition (most of us are Ns, after all) and get something nice?  I decided to research the matter. I put together a quick question for an expert in the field of ethical process in post-secondary institutions, Colleen Hoppins.  I guess this would be a Delphi study of very limited scope and narrow focus.

My question was, “Our cohort would like to present Bill and Lisa with a gift tonight to show our appreciation.  Are they allowed to accept? Should we specify that it should in no way affect our marks? 😉 ” (Novak, C., personal communication, August 2, 2012)

She answered very quickly.  The feedback I received from my question was as follows:

Thanks, Catherine! 🙂

Yes, quite right, small gifts of appreciation when transparently given from the group as a token of appreciate [sic] are fine.

It was a pleasure to meet with the class and I so appreciated all the great questions and energy.

Best wishes.

Colleen (Hoppins, C., personal communication, August 2, 2012)

I had the answer within 30 minutes, proving that it needn’t take long to design a question, nor does the research period need to be lengthy or the cost expensive.  It’s not Master’s level in scope, but my conscience was clear as I went to Purdy’s for two boxes of assorted chocolates.

I hope you enjoyed them, Bill and Lisa!

I Knew It…

Which Hogwarts house will you be sorted into?

My detailed score was Gryffindor 12, Ravenclaw 11, Hufflepuff 9, Slytherin 8.

OK, so the sorting hat isn’t all that serious. But I was told about it in class by Kolby, who tried the quiz and found himself to be a Hufflepuff, to his own delight.  It’s just one of the many ways we can analyze our own personalities and see how we fit into the larger picture.

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am a very strong ENFP (Extroverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving), an ADHD category if ever there was one.  The “Serenity Prayer” for my group is, “Lord, help me to concentrate on – look! a bird! – one thing at a time.”  I have done this test before, with similar results, but haven’t gone over its implications in as much depth as we did with our instructor, Hilary Leighton.

Hilary brought up a relatively new concept for me, that of “the shadow” – the mirror image of my type.  Introverted, analytical people who are endlessly poring over the plans, schedules and details puzzle me.  I don’t know how they get through their day.  But these same people probably think I am a vortex of chaos.  In truth, while those “shadow traits” don’t come naturally, they are absolutely essential to success.  I won’t get through my MA without plenty of attention to details, plans and schedules.  These tasks may not fill me with joy in the moment that I am wrestling with them, but without them, I will just be a flaky starter with no follow-up. Time to embrace the shadow.

Getting through the “Overwhelm”

Garden Path, by Sue Horner, MAPCIt’s the evening of our second day of the residency program, and already there are three group projects, our blog, and a lot of reading to get through.  When we finished class at 4pm today, I knew I had to meet with a group, but could not remember which one, or what we were supposed to be doing once we met.  My head was spinning with information and overload. Thankfully, some of the members of my “critical applique” group called me over, and I was able to make some decent contributions to our discussion, which was basically a review of Lisa’s information from yesterday, clarification of the requirements, and taking a first look at the article.

We left the classroom a half-hour later and I hustled down to the Gift Shop to buy a binder, some looseleaf paper, and dividers before the shop closed.  The gift shop is adjacent to the Hatley Gardens, and thank goodness it is, because greenery behind the gate called out to me.

Beyond the gate is a series of gardens, laid out almost like rooms in a house, where you can’t see the whole thing, but have to move to take in this bit, then that bit, then the next bit.  I started up in the very architectural Italian Garden, where the symmetry helped to restore some order to my frayed synapses.  Italianate statues stood in each corner, and at the centre a small obelisk paid tribute to the various evolutions of the military college, and to its war dead.  Large baskets of petunias hung in the shade of the petunias, and over the low wall, I could see a broad, level swath of grass, where the Dunsmuirs used to play croquet.  My pace started to slow down, imagining the wealth and leisure of the family that lived here a century ago.

From there, I walked down through the fernery, the woodland garden, and the bog garden, which was completely still, apart from the burble of the old fish ladder.  Then I went up the slope again, past the Japanese garden, where the massive old trees now dwarf the statuary, and the rose garden, just past its peak.  I hunted out the fragrant varieties, and buried my nose in their blooms.

Beyond the rose garden was the walled garden, and this was actually my favourite part.  Here, simple “domestic” flowers mixed with herbs, vines and espaliered fruit trees.  I was on familiar ground.  The names my mother has taught me over the years surfaced in my now-meditative state, and I was surprised at how many plants I could identify.  Lavender, hyssop, sage, grape arbor, pear, apple, day lily, euphorbia, rosemary, chive.  Their colours, shapes, textures and fragrances are intertwined with their names. I never took lessons to learn them – they have just been imparted to me over the years.  The more I can describe them, the easier it is to recall their name.  They all fill me with a sense of peace.

Getting back to the purpose of this post, which is to reflect on my experience of learning, I feel much more prepared now to sit down and parse out the academic lessons of the past two days now that I have taken some time to literally stop and smell the roses.  Walking, engaging the senses, connecting with emotionally fulfilling memories from my childhood, and allowing my mind to reorder itself while out in nature and fresh air has all been restorative.  Now I have the right frame of mind to tackle the requirements of the article critique.

Facing my ADHD head-on

ADHD labelFor the first time in my life, I am going into an education setting with a label, and its corresponding accommodations: ADHD.  It’s a very odd feeling for me, because it’s not like I was hit by an attention deficit bus, and am different now than I was when I was last in a formal learning situation.  I am the same “me” I always have been, with the same promise, same creativity, same leap out of the starting gate.  Only now, I may ask for and receive help when the sprint becomes a marathon.

Here is my usual performance pattern: I start off with loads of promise, and often get an early reputation as “the smart girl”. If the class is easy, I can run into trouble from a pace that’s too slow.  I end up doodling all over my notes and zoning out in class, missing important information, like when our assignment is due. My public school report cards were riddled with comments like, “Catherine would do much better if she would stop starting out the window.  She dreams for most of the class and then rushes through her work at the last minute, and does not hand in her best work.”

If the class is challenging, you might find me halfway through a course, staggering under the burdens with overwhelm and paralysis, not knowing how to break a big job into small parts. University was a bit like this.  In high school, I was used to being “the smart girl” and getting As and Bs even when all the work was done the night before an assignment was due.  At UVic in the 80s, suddenly I was one of a class full of “smart” students, and the ones who learned how to study in high school suddenly were performing far better than I was. I didn’t have a chance at a scholarship, or even keeping my grades high enough for a co-op program.

Now, in my late 40s, I am trying out a new pattern.  I’m starting my work when it is assigned.  I’m doing the readings.  I’m taking time every day to work on this Master’s degree.  And I’m asking for help ahead of time.  For me, that means meeting with an academic coach, for assistance with planning out my work.  It also means letting my fellow learners and teachers know that my strength is found in being “in the moment”.  Improvisation and synthesis is more my style than organizing and classifying.

This goes some way to address my own learning style, though I haven’t seen a good match so far in the reading materials.  It will inform everything I do in the Learning and Technology program – don’t be surprised if I consistently look at learning and teaching methods through the lens of ADHD.  I hope that it adds to the overall body of knowledge, instead of being a distraction for others.  Goodness knows, I know what it means to be distracted!