Ph.D After 50

My Experiences in Graduate School as a Student in her 50s

Ph.D After 50

Can I Really be Messy? Please, Please?

Can I really be messy? Can I really?

Gardner Campbell asserts in his article, “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning,” that “Offering students the possibility of experiential learning in personal, interactive, networked computing—in all its gloriously messy varieties—provides the richest opportunity yet for integrative thinking within and beyond “schooling.”” And in my world, implementing networked learning in my classroom would indeed be “messy.” (Just to give a little perspective, when I went through high school algebra, we still learned log tables to actually use them in computing answers. ) I didn’t grow up in the computer age. Google is my best friend when it comes to navigating my steep learning curve of technology. And I struggle to understand and effectively use basic apps like Facebook.

Okay, the cards are on the table. I am a messy proposition for networked learning. But…I see my granddaughter daily interact in networks she created on many different fronts. She actively learns daily from these networks, with connections that span the country. Also, as I read Tim Hitchcock’s article, I was like “yeah, preach it!” when he advocated taking academic conversations further than the conventional direction of  “having small (vociferous) conversations amongst ourselves…” While these conversations can be engaging, I can’t help but think, “Is this the biggest audience you envision for your work? For your knowledge? Do you always want to put your work in terms only a few will ever understand? Do you not care that the wider world learns from your knowledge?” Hitchcock pointed to blogging as a way to reach a much wider audience and network with those interested in your research, academics or those outside of the academy.

So…in light of the wisdom I’ve gained from my granddaughter and Tim Hitchcock, I become particularly pricked/intrigued/troubled/challenged by Michael Wesch’s question “How do I take my students from getting by to learning?” I too see many students in “getting by” mode not “learning mode”. Right now, I just can’t help but think, wow, what a challenge…. especially in a freshman level survey class. So as a start for this course in our discussion of network learning I would begin by thinking “Can network learning be a possible avenue to help students go from “getting by” mode to “learning mode”? If so, what would work? Would something like the platform be helpful? How could I use such a platform to encourage critical thinking? To encourage asking broader questions? Would blogging create experiential learning? If so, what questions, types of posts, etc. would do that?”

All the above questions aside, in reality, any pedagogical statement of purpose or philosophy of teaching, I believe, starts with a desire – a mission to implement something such as “learning” rather than “getting by”. I also believe that beginning any such mission would be messy. Me, as an instructor of record, could look messy…Is that okay? Is it?

Perhaps, instructors need the freedom to be like baby George, strike out, fall down, get up again, learn and try again.

I’m sure though, that we wouldn’t be quite as cute as George.



12 Opinions

  • Jaclyn Drapeau said:

    Yes, exactly! I’ve been told by my department that this is the time to try new things in the classroom. Here. Right now. Because we have that freedom as graduate students. But I still feel scared to be “messy?”

    I feel your pain. I, too, want to make the students want to learn the material of my particular subject, not just view the class as something to get through, as a required class to check off the list so they can get to the ones they really want to take. I am rather nervous to use technology because technology tends to find ways to frustrate me in any way it can, but the students love it. They use it everywhere, all the time, in many facets. Other than blogs, I would love to learn about other ways to incorporate technology into the classroom that could effectively make the students passionate about learning!

  • Zhanyu said:

    Thanks for your candid post! The students may be “getting by” because education is now a commodity – a line of words to be placed on resumes rather than an actual reflection of personal growth. There’s also the paradigm that school is not real life, and what’s to be learned on the actual job can’t be found in textbooks. I would love to see a greater bridging between the two, but the responsibility falls on both of the instructor and the student. For instructors, I think we have the responsibility to try to engage students, and continual adjustment to the teaching seems like part of the process. I wonder if the day an instructor feels like his or her course is perfect should be the day to stop teaching?

    • Faith Skiles said:

      I wonder if providing exercises/space for intentional group work and collaboration would be helpful for bridging between “school” and “real life.” I know my two oldest children must work collaboratively in their job and learning to do so was extremely important. Good questions and good observations!

  • A. Nelson said:

    Jaclyn’s questions are important and we need to address them in class. I’ll just note here that it’s pretty much impossible to “make” someone passionate — no matter what kind of technology you’re trying to use. I do think that focusing on learning environments the foster curiosity and creativity and maximize the potential for interaction are most likely to get us where we want to be. Fortunately that’s the topic we’re taking up next: Engaging the imagination of digital learners.
    And Faith — it’s such a pleasure to read your reflections again. I definitely agree with your conclusion — that we as teachers need some of the same latitude (learning opportunities) we afford baby George. Not failing is not really an option. So yes, please do be really messy.

    • Faith Skiles said:

      In thinking about fostering a learning environment for the potential of interaction, I can’t help but think about my first class in the new classroom building. I am in the new classroom building this semester and on the first day of class, my grand-daughter helped me move the tables and chairs into a formation which facilitated both being able to look at me and also turn around and immediately be in a group of 4 at a table. On the very first day, I asked them to analyze a writing on the importance of the humanities in education. After reading the article, they immediately began robust conversations. I was amazed. This was not the response I had when I did the same exercise in a traditional classroom. The learning environment, spatially, helped to promote interaction.
      And on another note – I just wanted to tell you how much I actually am enjoying blogging again! And also, before a journal asked me to write an article, they first looked at the blogs I was writing at the time to see if I could write well! They liked what they saw and asked me to write the article.

  • Dina Gadalla said:

    You raise an important question of what types of questions/posts would allow learning (methods to learning). Loads more work is involved in the detailed methods in using networked learning, rather than the mere idea of it being beneficial.
    It’s definitely different for each field but lots of thought needs to be put in developing these methods.

  • Amy Hermundstad said:

    Thanks for your post! I really enjoyed reading it. I definitely agree that a shift from “getting by” to learning can be messy and can be time-consuming and can lead to mistakes and failures and can be totally worth it! In addition to students getting in the “getting by” mindset, I find that that can happen as an instructor too. There were many times as an instructor that I felt that it was all I could do to keep up with the next day’s material or the next step of the project or whatever it may be. So it can be tempting to stick with what has been done in the past. But sometimes, we can improve things. And that takes time. And it can definitely be messy. And I hope that I am willing to take that endeavor on. Great post!

  • D.Gupta said:

    Great Post. I agree with your observations on the differences between a “learning mode” and a “getting by mode”. A key hindrance, in my opinion, is the absence of open platforms which bring individuals together within educational institutions. Sure people use social media groups to herd together. However, these are still closely guarded communities whereby out-group members are excluded through various mechanisms. Something that I would want to see within each and every education institution is the presence of open forums, where people collaborate. If successful, this might then be scaled up appropriately. I do not want to imply that large collaborative projects are impossible, simply that people’s mindsets must change such projects become a common place occurrence.

  • Kathryn Culbertson said:

    I only have a few minutes right now, but I’m going to ponder this for a while and respond more thoroughly. I just commented on Bethany W.’s comment on Zach’s Gould’s post from last week about Networked Learning (Bumper to Bumper Learning) where I pose some of my own existential questions about teaching and learning. So, I get where you’re coming from.
    I think that the value of ‘safety’ that one feels in a community of learning cannot be underestimated or left out of the equation of creating open forums and collaborative learning environments. I think also that there is tremendous competitiveness inherent our culture in the US (maybe worldwide), and while we may consider the education world as being free of much, I would argue (later) that the inherent-ness of its general existence makes it virtually impossible to have none in an educational setting unless it is **intentionally** addressed.
    Harkening to my experience teaching in elementary school, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and was introduced to two philosophies (via books) that helped me understand the breadth and depth of the competition children face, and how to set the tone for a safe learning space where exploration, mistakes and collaboration are valued. I was far from perfect at implementing such a philosophy, but the parts I tried and got right were phenomenally successful.
    The books are:
    Denton, P., & Kriete, R. (2000). The First Six Weeks of School. Strategies for Teachers Series. Northeast Foundation for Children, 71 Montague City Road, Greenfield, MA, 01301. <– there may be a .pdf version available

    Wong, H. K., Wong, R. T., & Seroyer, C. (2009). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications.

    ** ** = emphasis added.

    • Kathryn Culbertson said:

      Whoops! Totally neglected to connect my comment(s) to your notion of ‘getting by’. I believe that the sense you get as a teacher (and I know I feel as a student) that students are ‘getting by’ is a combination of not feeling free (safe) to explore the deep learning opportunities that may exist and not having the time/space to do so.
      If asked correctly (and I have on an informal basis) most students I have talked to neither know how to create a safe space for learning themselves, nor know how to ask for it from their teachers/professors. They seem reduced to ‘getting by’ – following the rules, adhereing to procedures, finding ways to fit in (complete assignments, pass a test, write a paper) to survive from class to class and to achieve their prize at the end: a degree.
      It sounds cynical as I write it, but I actually think there is great opportunity in developing collaborative learning environments that are focused on student success.
      Like I said, more later …

  • Brandon Dillon said:

    Messiness is better than OK, its downright necessary. Invite it into your instruction.

    Learning is messy. Research is messy. Authorship is messy. Heck, life is messy. And in my experience this is one facet of the academic experience that traditional students (especially at the Freshman / Sophomore level) have a low aptitude for dealing with — navigating messiness.

    Help them with this. Show them your messiness! But then show them *how* you navigate it. This is one thing students still cannot get from the internet or a book: how an experienced person deals with the unexpected.

    Here’s another way too look at the issue… barriers to learning. Some part of every instructor yearns to have a polished, well-thought-out course where every word of your lecture is finely crafted and the answer to every question recited with ease. But this, from the student’s perspective, can be be a barrier to learning. You’ll come off as: 1) an authority figure, 2) setting a seemingly unobtainable standard of knowledge, and 3) unrelatable / distant

    How much better is it then to show your students (through “messiness”) that: 1) self-improvement is the only real authority, 2) knowledge is a process not a destination, and 3) that you have flaws and self-doubts just like your students.

    One thing I make clear to any class I teach is that every time we walk though the classroom’s door, we all become students. Nobody knows everything (least of all me), and the only way anyone ever learned anything was to admit (in some way) that firstly…. they didn’t know. So, rather than shying away from mistakes, I jump on them! I say, “Ohh! Ohh! Look how I messed this up. Does everyone see how I did that? Let’s go back and think (e.g. “reflect”!) how I fowled this up so badly.” So now, without a lot of over arching structure, we’ve closed the loop on learning — we’re practicing meta-learning. Which is really where the students should be headed anyway.

    PS: It also doesn’t hurt to throw a few bonus points to students who do catch your mistakes — keeps everyone on their toes. 🙂

    • admin admin

      Thanks so much for your encouragement to “be messy”! You really help me to see what I may deem as “messy” as a way to connect with and show students that we are all messy and on a journey of learning together.


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