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.