Sunday, May 31, 2009

Out of Chaos, Learning

On Friday the new class of doctoral nursing students came to the library for an instruction session. I had 90 minutes to tell them about the resources essential to their pursuit of a Ph.D. and to instruct them in how to use the software wonder known as EndNote.

As usual, I planned a well organized, interactive session and, as often happens, I lost control of the session after the first half hour. Many of the students began searching their individual topics in the online resources, tuning me out until they hit a snag, at which point they'd look up, notice my presence and ask me a question.

As usual, I immediately began beating myself up after the session for not directing it more effectively. I thought of the items left unclear or not covered at all.

Then I realized that what happened is exactly what should have happened. These were mature, enthusiastic adult learners. Of course they were going to dive right into those new resources! They were thrilled with the information that was available to them and asked lots of questions. The session would not have been more effective had I forced them to stick to my arbitrary structure. Either way, the students will be back in touch with many more questions over the course of their doctoral program.

Sometimes you just have to let the learning happen. I think that's what student-centered teaching is all about.
Image from Soo-Hyoung's Library Clipart

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What's for breakfast? Have to ask the committee

I'm sitting by the dining room window. A lovely breeze is coming in, the sun is shining, birds are singing, and very few cars have been driving by. A serenely quiet Saturday morning.

May has been a lean month for blogging. I think I'm suffering a bit from burnout, between work and the interfaith forum I'm helping to organize (more about that later). Every time I sit down to write, no more than a sentence or two will come to me. I was listening to the radio last weekend and someone was talking about burnout. They said the cause was not too much work but rather boredom. I can see that. My life seems to have devolved into a never-ending cycle of committee work.

Committee work has to be one of the most diabolically vapid inventions of the modern era. I mean, wasn't France ruled by a committee during the Reign of Terror? You go to a meeting, you get your assignment, you work on your assignment, to bring it to the next committee meeting, your colleagues tell you how it should be tweaked, you tweak it, you bring it back to the committee, etc., etc. Or else you bring your assignment to the next committee meeting, your colleagues are happy with it, and as a reward you get a new assignment.
(at left, Le Comité de Salut Public)

If you're on a tolerably good committee (a "good committee" is an oxymoron), your colleagues are cordial and fairly reasonable. If you're on a nightmare committee, there are a few colleagues who drag their feet and whine. That's how it is where I work. No one one yells at anybody. That wouldn't be civilized. People who yell aren't "nice." Instead, we have the Reign of Passive Aggression: individuals who hem and haw as though they have a superior idea that the rest of us are just incapable of grasping and then who finally deign to join in the consensus after striking a martyr pose to make us feeling guilty for twisting their arm. Anyway, I usually emerge from such meetings wishing the guillotine would put a swift end to it.

Much as I love my Quaker faith and practice, I have to admit that the downside of it is all the committee work. (I console myself with the thought that at least we don't have to try to lead our spiritual lives according to religious decrees emanating from some central authority...might be restful now and then, though..) Right now I have some long-term projects as part of my participation on one committee, projects that I haven't been able to work on much because of the interfaith forum project. Which leads me to projects, another modern invention. But that will be for another time. Right now I'm hungry and I need to ask the committee what's for breakfast.