commentary Tyson Seburn  

I am my students.

Aside from receiving feedback from my final assignment, my first year in the University of Manchester Educational Technology and TESOL MA program is now complete. I was excited, frustrated, inspired,  deflated, elated, and stressed out throughout the year.  Right now, I feel weird.  There’s nothing hanging over my head, nothing left to write.  This must be how my students recently felt.  In fact, I think in more ways than this, I am my students.

Like any learning experience you put effort into, much of the crooks and crannies about yourself comes to light to be acknowledged and learnt from or denied and ignored.  Though I’m always busy, the added pressure of being a student again surprised me.  I learned a number of lessons likely my students have also learnt:

* Read early and keep up the pace.  I know I’m a slow reader.  I read and reread several times because otherwise it is just words, not ideas to me. That I accept.  So starting the required (and optional) reading early in the program is essential.  I was better at that in the second semester.  However, it’s important to keep the pace up throughout the semester and not take too much of a break from it, justifying it by rationalising it as a reward for starting early.

* Skim articles to see if they’re very relevant.  When selecting articles for my assignments, I tended to initially rely on suggested texts within the reading list.  Then I’d branch out to Google Scholar, downloading articles whose titles looked relevant.  Many times I’d spent a lot of time reading them, only to realise that ultimately it would be a stretch to use them for support.  This wastes valuable time; skimming for gist is truly a valuable reading skill.

* There is no obvious way to organise articles for future access.  I tried.  Nothing fits into a clear box, like Reading or Technology.  There must be some tool out there to index them better, but I haven’t found it.

* Much of writing a paper is staring at the screen thinking.  You have to add this into your expectations for how long it will take you to write the paper.  So much of my time was contemplating how I wanted to organise information or narrow my focus….or abandon everything done so far because in a moment of doubt, I believed what I had written was crap.

* I have no problem writing a lot.  When given a word limit, students always feel overwhelmed, like they can’t write that much.  I actually found that word limits were forced barriers I was constantly trying to get under.  More than once I started 1000 words over the word limit and had to reword sentences more concisely, which was a valuable exercise.  Cutting down 1000 words was always a valuable exercise for being concise.

* Proofread.  A couple of times after I’d finished writing the first, second or third draft of a paper and was nearly sick of reading my attempts to demonstrate critical evaluation of literature or supporting strong arguments using literature, I thought to myself ‘screw it, I bet the rest is fine’ only to revisit that decision moments later knowing I may regret it.  And so I’d always find a poorly edited section, with undeleted dangling words, which ultimately would have embarrassed no me end to the go.

* Every learner is different. I personally do not enjoy reading lengthy articles/books that much (see above).  It’s not that I hate reading, but I’m better with shorter lengths. Much of the coursework involved not only reading articles, but reading teaching texts and forum posts.  I realised that I crave that live discussion, the visual element of a lecturer talking to me, and the blog post format.  Others, on the other hand, claimed to love the amount of reading.  Weirdos. 😉

* Group work sucks…not the people themselves, but the reliance on the people.  In a distance delivery, asynchronous group work is extremely challenging for patience, availability, timing, communication, etc.  It probably would be different if we each didn’t have lives and obligations and expectations.

* A support network is vital even if it is just to bitch about how miserable you are amid your assignments.  Having others to talk about shared experiences, discuss concepts with live (not only through written communication) and get feedback and guidance from makes the process so much more pleasant.  Luckily I paired up with two intelligent and fun women (this one and this one) early on for weekly Google Hangouts.

In the end, learners are learners, whether they are in your class or you are in someone else’s class.  This past year has given me a well-needed perspective on the experience my students may go through during the transition year into first-year university that is my program.  The highs, the lows, the excitement of a good grade, the complete stress of feeling overworked, the academic skills and scholarly strategies one learns as one goes–I’ve reexperienced them first hand, which can only benefit my teaching.

By the way, it’s good to be back among the PLN and blogosphere.

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29 thoughts on “I am my students.

  1. Nathan Hall

    Congrats! Enjoy the moment and the freedom. It is well deserved.

  2. Naomi Epstein (@naomishema)

    Congrats on completing the first year! You obviously REALLY learned a lot this year as your reflection indicates. I’m sure both you AND your students will benefit from it!
    Good for you!

    1. seburnt

      Thanks to both you and Nathan for the encouragement. =)

  3. Ceri

    Fantastic post, Ty!
    I love the way the two sides of the post come across, you as student, you as your students – beautiful.
    Reflecting on “crossing the line” and trading places is so useful – I’m finding myself doing that at the moment as I cross the writer/editor line – constant reminders of shifts in perspective are really fascinating – and rewarding (though a lot of the time there’s too much tunnel vision to step back and find enough distance and time to reflect) – thanks for teasing me into taking the time to think about it now.
    Gonna go back to work now with a fresh perspective and more empathy for both sides!
    Enjoy the break!

    1. seburnt

      It makes me very happy to read how you’ve reacted to my post, Ceri. Thank you! It was early on in my studies that I started to figure out scholarly skills that I hadn’t actually practised myself in 15 years, like how does one actually take notes during reading? It’s one of several skills you try teaching to your students, but rarely do yourself until you have to. The new perspective is very insightful for me.

  4. Julie Moore

    Great post! It’d make a really good prompt for a discussion with students about the realities of university study. Sadly, I don’t have a class this year, but I’ll definitely keep it bookmarked to come back to later.
    And yes, congrats on getting to the end of the year – enjoy the break!

    1. seburnt

      Cool, Julie. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I like the idea of empathising with students as they struggle with assignments I give. Plus, when they come to me, they think university will be a walk in the park. Little do they know…

  5. Leo

    Your post reminded me of all the frustration and disappointment I felt after completing the first year of my Master’s. And the desire to give it all up. Luckily I also forged a support network with two fun and intelligent women (I am sending them a link to this post 🙂
    Enjoy your well deserved break!
    P.S. I’ve tried Mendeley for organising articles but it didn’t really work for me.

    1. seburnt

      How parallel our experiences are, it seems. =) (Hi, Leo’s supportive women)

      I tried Mendeley and Zotero. I didn’t see the point.

  6. Sharon Turner

    I loved the honesty, empathy, and rediscovery of being a student. It is something we often forget and experiences like this help us to be more effective in our study environments with our students. Enjoy your summer.))

    1. seburnt

      Thanks, Sharon. I will enjoy it.

  7. Carolyn

    Though I haven’t completed a Masters in Education, I am always taking different post graduate courses, programs, and certificates. And though these may be less consuming than your recent year of study, I find all of your points also ring true with my experiences. This may speak to the universality of being a student – as well as the skills and strategies that we teach our students to be successful in school (or in their studies). Excellent post Tyson, thanks for sharing!

    1. seburnt

      I’m sure you can relate with any learning context you’re in. It’s this one that I’ve felt particularly empathetic because the type of assignments I had (research paper) are similar to what I’ve asked students to do.

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  9. Adam Simpson

    The group work graphic is an absolute classic. I wish it weren’t true, but…

    1. seburnt

      but… pigs also fly?

  10. Brad Patterson

    “Much of writing a paper is staring at the screen” SO TRUE.

    Congrats on your year, Ty, and I’m sure ur starting to feel less weird already with nothing hanging over your head!

    1. seburnt

      Thanks, Brad. It’s still sinking in when I get off work that I don’t have looming assignments over my head that nag at me while I blog (which I’m so happy I can do again) or watch TV…

  11. Cecilia Lemos

    Other than what has been said, what can I say, Ty? I’ve seen how strenuous and demanding your MA has been. I know how frustrating it is to have to write without being inspired to. I admire you. You’ve come a long way 🙂 And I believe, like you said, these moments have a secondary (?!!) purpose of reminding us what it feels to be a student.

    Congratulations on accomplishing this far. I can’t say I am surprised 😉 You rock, Ty.

    Ceci xx

    1. seburnt

      Thanks beautiful. I’m inspired by your craziness (project-wise too). 😉

      1. Cecilia Lemos

        I’ll take that as a compliment 😛

        1. seburnt

          How else could it have been meant? 😛

  12. phil3wade

    I feel for you Tyson. Been there several times. Group work is a real pain. I had 1 guy who was a bit dodgy on my MA. He just disappeared then reappeared after the deadline with some pathetic excuse. Of course, he got an extension and we had to help him. There was another where we submitted conference-style posters and had to question each other on them and he (and a couple of others) just copied my questions and other people’s. After that, I became weary of submitting things early as others would read it and ‘get inspired’. I did work my backside off, I’m not saying I was great but I know I put in a lot more than some others.

    Re: Group discussions. I recall there were a couple of people who seemed to think they were running the course and asserted their authority. They would ‘start’ discussions and give FB on everyone. I maybe wrong but I thought that was the job of the tutors.

    Re: Proofing. If I had had time I really should have got someone to proof everything but I couldn’t due to deadlines. It’s definitely worth it as you can gain (not lose) marks.

    Stick in there!!

    1. seburnt

      I have to admit that it’s nice to be inspired… but not to plagiarise. I very much have valued the input I get from my small study group, even if it’s just for supportive nudges of the shoulder to carry on. That type of voluntary group work seems much more sound to me than random selection of strangers together by the tutor. Still, if it were up to me, I’d do all this work on my own instead, unless there were clear divisions of workload on a project.

      I do think peer feedback is a good thing, but only if it’s from the angle that we are peers and not assuming one has more experience or more enlightenment on issues than me. That’s annoying.

      1. phil3wade

        Yes. It’s a difficult situation. Many of us (me included) can be a bit authoritative perhaps and fall into our ‘I am the teacher/superior’ role. I have a 121 with a high school teacher and sometimes it feels like I’m the student. Even when I walk in she gives me a ‘what time do you call this’ look.

        I remember that a few sub-groups formed on my course of people who seemed to get on so every time 1 would comment the rest of the group would jump in. I also recall there were rules like ‘you have to submit 5+comments’ or ‘give at least 3+ideas and respond’. These were silly as I just liked talking and discussing things but others didn’t and it forced them to join in, rather artificially though. On the DELTA though there was very little going on. I used to play the DA and try to poke people. I even started threads in our groups on subjects I wasn’t researching. Something didn’t work there so I just stuck with my tutor.

        How do/did your MA discussions work?

        1. seburnt

          Very poorly, honestly. For one reason or another, I didn’t enjoy participating in the forum ‘discussions’ as they just seemed to be a bunch of independent threads about this or that topic and sometimes so many that I had no interest or time to read them all and respond. Probably also through my own inadequate efforts, I hardly had any interaction with tutors either. Doing it in a completely different time zone than them didn’t help with this any. My weekly Skype chats with the two women I enjoyed quite often were reduced to commiserating. Haha.

  13. phil3wade

    I hear ya. For my MA paper my tutor was quite busy and so would send me FB on one part when I was already writing the next, same with the DELTA. Any corrections meant rewriting everything. On my BA we just did a plan then the whole paper. This seems better for me.

    Time zone? Yes, I had that a bit too but we just did mails and discussions. I think Skype and webinars are great but so time-consuming and time was one thing I didn’t have much of.

    I recall one woman constantly being a ‘mummy’ to everyone and getting a ‘community feel going’. Fine but when everything devolved just to chat and gossip and even moaning it didn’t help anyone. The on-campus students had a FB page were they swapped ‘unofficial’ opinions and we were invited. I liked the idea but it wasn’t really ever about studies.

    1. seburnt

      Our FB page is actually fairly useful. Lots of questions go up and answers are given concisely.

  14. 12 posts from 2012 I love | 4C in ELT

    […] I am my students – Like any learning experience you put effort into, much of the crooks and crannies about yourself comes to light to be acknowledged and learnt from or denied and ignored. (Seburn) Studying for my MA these past 18 months has humbled me and given me a new appreciation for the discovery, the struggle and the skill-building that frustrates my students as they study with me. […]

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