Saturday, April 28, 2012

My Best Learning Experience

This is my second writing assignment for the doctoral program I am starting in a couple of weeks.

I would like to preface this essay with this observation:  there are positive learning experiences and positive “being taught” experiences.  I have been blessed with many wonderful teachers over my undergraduate years and two graduate programs.  Those were positive “being taught” experiences.  Sometimes, our learning experiences do not involve an actual teacher or facilitator.  My best learning experience falls into that category.
            In the mid-1990s I began working in the technical college system.  When I began my career there, I had minimal knowledge of computer technology, and that only because I could type.  This was the time of transition to Windows products and also the beginning of the Internet really becoming a part of everyday life; it was also the beginning of online courses.  Employees in the technical college system were required to use as much informational and instructional technology as was available to them.  Unfortunately, however, that did not mean that we received adequate training on those products.  Most of what I learned, I taught myself, and that convinced me that sometimes being thrown in and teaching yourself is the best way to learn.Soon I was using Publisher, FrontPage, Blackboard, PowerPoint, Word, and Excel.  When the technical college system began its big push to offer online courses, I jumped on board, creating five courses in, of all things, FrontPage, this being the days before the abundance of learning management systems.
            It was a positive learning experience in that I was given the resources I needed.  I was even given a laptop to take home, although our Internet Service Provider was not very good since those were the days of dial-up.  We had access to all kinds of products for spreadsheets, presentations, desktop publishing, and creating online courses.  Secondly, it was positive in that I had the liberty to explore and play with the products but at the same time an expectation was put upon me that I would learn and use them.  Freedom and accountability proved to me to be essential for learning.
            Third, of course, I was motivated.  Here was my chance to learn about all these products and learn to be intuitive about them.  In case I lost my teaching job I could do something else, now that I was up to speed with computer technology.  I recognized teaching online as the “next big thing” and wanted to take advantage of it professionally.  However, I was also motivated because it was fun.  I had an opportunity to use creative skills I didn’t know I had before that. 
I am thankful for my years in the tech system because I didn’t just learn how to use the various products, many of which are no longer available, but I gained great confidence in my ability to handle software products and lost all my reticence about technology.When I came to my current job I became known as a person to go to for technology help, thanks to my positive learning experience. 

My Worst Learning Experience

I am beginning doctoral work at the University of Georgia in two weeks.  At 56, this is daunting, but the opportunity is too great to pass up and if I buckle down, I can be done in a little of three years and thus fulfill a lifetime dream.  So I am going to use this blog to post my writing for the program with the hope that it will help others.

So far for our first class I have to read a book entitled Action Research and Reflective Practice, which cost my $140 USD and had to come from England (published by Routledge).  I also have two short personal essays due.  I am posting them here.

I already know my dissertation area, in general.  We have a four-day retreat in a couple of weeks and then a summer class that is mostly online.  This works for me.  I hate driving to or through Atlanta, which is what killed me (almost literally) on my last foray into doctoral work at Georgia State.

My Worst Learning Experience (first writing assignment)

My first thought when contemplating the subject of this essay was to approach it from an academic standpoint:  a class I may have taken or a project I had to complete. Other than a few classes with extremely dry professors, my academic life does not really yield anything note-worthy in terms of horrible learning experiences.  I decided to look elsewhere and remembered how in the year 2000 my husband decided that we were all going to take up snow skiing.
            On Christmas morning he surprised my son, twelve at the time, and me with (secondhand) skis.  A few days later we were trying to maneuver the slopes at Hawk’s Nest in North Carolina.  My first experiences were unpleasant and involved a great deal of falling, facial scrapes, embarrassment, anger, expense, pointless lessons, and uncooperative equipment.  Over the next few years we tried to various ski resorts in the Southeast, mostly North Carolina.  The best we found was Cattaloochee, near Waynesville.  That was the place I finally rode a ski lift to the top, stayed on two legs as I slid off my seat and down a ramp, stayed vertical all the way down the hill, stopped myself somewhat gracefully at the bottom to get in line for the ski lift again, and did so several times over and over.   Mind you, I achieved this after the age of forty-five.  I don’t suggest waiting that long to learn to ski.  Five years old is much better.
            Despite eventual success in the fourth year of our skiing adventures, I consider this one of my worst, if not the worst, learning experience for several reasons.  First, I had very little motivation to pursue the sport.  Skiing is an expensive hobby—outrageously so.  Skiing is a dangerous activity.  Skiing is inconvenient; it involves wearing heavy boots that make walking nearly impossible, waiting in long lines for a chance to get on the lift, and carrying heavy equipment; also, it has to be done in the cold, and I moved from Maryland to Georgia to avoid cold weather.  My only motivation early on was maintaining marital bliss, thinking it would be good for our son to learn, and fulfilling my general desire to try new activities.
            The second reason that learning to ski was not a good learning experience is that, well, I fell down a lot.  On my face.On the back of my head.On other body parts.  Blood appeared.  Any learning activity that involves blood flow cannot be good.
            The third reason is that my son hated it.  His father is agile and had skied a great deal in his early twenties when he lived in Colorado.  My son, raised in North Georgia, likes basketball and golf.  His bad attitude did not help.    Additionally, skiing in Colorado is not skiing in North Carolina—the conditions are much different.  So my husband ended up complaining a good bit, which added to the negativity.
            I haven’t been in a pair of ski boots in years, so all that learning was for naught.  That is the last reason it was the worst learning experience:  I learned to do something that has no practical application in my life anymore, and at this point I probably could not even hope to ski.