At last!

March 4, 2010

At last class has started. As I told my students, I was so fuelled with adrenalin that I couldn’t sleep the night before. Much of that adrenalin was excitement: the first day of class feels like a shiny present waiting for us to carefully unwrap together. I love meeting everyone and the energy that is always present on day 1. But of course some of that adrenalin comes from anxiety: how do I ensure that I make the most of our time together? How do I honour and make best use of the time students are giving to this course? I’ve had months of thinking and planning. How do I adequately communicate all that I need to in a mere six hours? And how do I do that in such a way as to convey the excitement of this topic area? And to 70 students? My greatest fear is that one of the processes I run will do damage to a student and I won’t be aware. I know students are adults and need to  take responsibility for their own learning and wellbeing. But I also need to be aware. Afterall it’s about being in relationship with each other. And it’s why it’s so important that students take the time and effort to connect with each other and use each other to support them in ways that I can’t. The evidence so far is that students are willingly entering this space:

So here’s what went well: firstly, as I had hoped, the diversity of students was incredibly rich and right from the beginning they embraced this as a strength of the class. Students understood that this would be incredibly valuable to them and there appeared to be a genuine attempt by all to really hear what each other was saying and to listen deeply and be open to each other. Lots of goosebump moments! Overall the students did REALLY well to trust me and the process and allow things to unfold. Perhaps it was the depth of experience in the room: people who have been working in developmental processes understand the messiness of the space we are working in. What I felt was a generosity of spirit, as they held on to their questions and fear and worked to gently make sense of things. There was lots of humour and good will and this bodes really well for the semester.

I was nervous about utilising a guest speaker so early in the course, but Sandra Bayley did a beautiful job in illustrating the CD experience and helping us begin to speak the same language. It was exciting to see students grasp the theory and deconstruct Sandra’s story by utilising the morning’s discussion. It also meant that we all had a common story we could communicate through.

The things that didn’t work were all things I predicted and all I can say is that my safeguarding strategies that I had put in place helped at least minimise the damage.

Firstly, as usual, the room was pretty awful: much better than last year’s college dining room setting, but still not ideal. Very cramped and WITH SOME OF THE FURNITURE BOLTED TO THE FLOOR???! I can only surmise that when it comes to designing good teaching spaces, our architects really have had a very limited educational experience. Again, I am grateful to the generosity and goodwill of students in this. There was also the usual technology woes: power chords that didn’t reach to the power point, microphones that were switched  and came on and off of their own choosing, air conditioning designed for the equatorial regions. Secondly, despite weeks of my best efforts with Blackboard there are still a bunch of problems that I can’t work out. A number of students hadn’t been able to – or hadn’t known how to – access Blackboard and so came unprepared. This will no doubt sort itself out in the next week or so. I need to be patient.

Thirdly, there were also some frustrations for me as a teacher: there was the unavoidable annoyance of students who arrived late due to rain and being lost and so forth. I deliberately leave discussion of the course objectives and assessment until the afternoon for this reason. Every year it’s the same. From a teaching perspective it’s incredibly frustrating as it is difficult to then help them catch up and engage.  This is not about lecturing, it is about group processes and the processes are designed to very deliberately build upon each other. It’s why when people say things like “I can’t make it to class, will I miss anything?” it’s so hard to explain. What they will miss is a deepening of relationship, which is all too often undervalued in our university experience. It’s also upsetting for the students: they arrive stressed and anxious and overwhelmed and then spend the rest of the day trying to fit in with what’s been set in place. Thankfully people did a lovely job of helping each other adapt.  It’s just an inevitable frustration of day 1 on such a large campus.

In terms of process, the conversation cafe worked really well to help students connect, but the space and environment did not work particularly well and I could not manage the process as tightly as I usually do. I couldn’t even physically access the tables to double-check that students were on track: and one poor table even had the wrong instructions that wasn’t discovered until the end of the exercise. It drives me crazy that a university cannot get teaching environments right. As someone who has worked in adult ed for so long I am used to “making do” and have taught in some pretty terrible environments. But I had hoped that teaching at UQ would mean appropriate teaching spaces. As we pour our efforts into online resources and IT it makes me wonder whether this is at the expense of our basic teaching resources – like space.

In terms of my own development I think I also was a lot more comfortable this time in the ‘organised chaos’. When you have a room full of people anxious about assessment, cross about dates, worried about details, it’s very easy to get sucked into the  emotional space. However this year I was able to simply observe people’s concerns without adopting people’s anxieties. I felt confident that I had created a time and place to deal with concerns and hopefully this will help students trust me. As anticipated there were high levels of anxiety about the role of IT. However there were also many students with high degrees of IT experience and comfort so I’m hopeful this will balance out and students will again learn to turn to each other for assistance. (I think I will run our IT experience survey – I’d love to see the data).

The other thing I’ll say is that I am absolutely exhausted. Happy with how it went but absolutely exhausted. It takes a lot of energy to manage group processes for 70 students. Even more so when you’re an introvert like me. I have to pull up every ounce of energy I have and move very deliberately into a performance space. Today I feel like I’ve been run over by a large truck and that’s probably reflected in the tone of this blog. I now need to summon up the spark to teach my gorgeous undergrads.

Despite these setback I am again reminded of what a joy and privilege it is to be a teacher and to step briefly into people’s lives. I live vicariously through 70 other people all at once and am humbled by their stories and experiences. Next Wednesday can’t come fast enough for me.

Photo by Lynda, day 1, SWSP7123 (and yes it’s deliberately blurry to mask identity)


3 Responses to “At last!”

  1. What a lovely post Lynda. I love the openness and the sharing I am experiencing being a student in this class. I feel that if the sharing continues from everyone in this class, that it will be my best experience at UQ. I had high hopes before starting this course and so far my expectations have been exceeded. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

    • Finally doing some catch-up on correspondence! Thanks so much for your encouraging comments. It was so lovely to walk into class last week and see some familiar friendly faces. Lynda

  2. Hi Lynda,

    Personally, I didn’t mind with how the class was arranged. In fact, being in such a room had brought us much closer. Not to mention how much it helped as it was raining outside and we couldn’t do anything about the air conditioner. ^_^

    I wish to share with you the comfort that I experience thus far from this class. I believe that is your openness (as what Theresa said). Frankly speaking, this is the first time I could read about my lecturer’s feeling and worries of how she prepared and conducted the class. Something that seems to be always hidden in most of other courses. I believe, this process will help build stronger relationship between the students and the lecturer.

    Looking forward for another inspiring workshop!

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