Too Much Choice

Today I realized a trend in my learning habits: I don’t do well with projects that give me too much choice.

You know, the projects that are super open-ended and students can pick “any topic” or, in my case with business classes, “any organization” to do their assignment on. I’m the kind of person that likes to weigh out all of my options before I make a decision. So when an assignment has hundreds of possible options to focus on, I just end up getting stressed and overwhelmed and usually end up procrastinating the decision until I inevitably have to make a last-minute decision I’m not happy with.

Clearly, this is a trend because when I think back to all of the assignments where I’ve had ample choice, every single one of them has caused me this stress and overwhelming feeling – the “Big History” project freshman year of high school, the civil rights project junior year of high school, my organizational behavior project last year, and right now my marketing assignment.

Now I’ll admit, I know not every student stresses these choices to the same extent I do. Some people are perfectly happy with just going along with the first thing they think of, but I also know I’m not alone in my frustration with these situations. And when I connected these dots, I also realized that my feelings actually correspond with what psychology tells us about choice: people tend to panic when given too many options. This is why any time you’re tasked with making a survey you’re told to not make too many questions or give too many answer choices. There’s a reason multiple-choice tests typically have 3-4 potential answers… The science says too many options and people won’t choose at all.

This makes me wonder, how might we find the balance between giving students choices in their learning without giving an overwhelming amount of choices to choose from?

Student choice is great, but it’s only great in moderation. We don’t want to paralyze students in effort to give them more choices in their learning.

For example with my marketing assignment that I’m currently working on, I would have loved if our professor said, “You are consulting for company X. You can choose any challenge/threat, target market, user need, etc. to focus on in your marketing strategy suggestions, but this is the company you are consulting for.” There is still plenty of room for choice and creativity in an assignment like this, but the slightly more focused prompt, just by giving the name of a company, would make this assignment feel so much less grand. Plus let’s face it, in the “real world” you get hired by a specific company, you don’t go around making up ideas for just any company you want – unless you have a very unique business model in your organization… I love this kind of project of identifying user needs and brainstorming ways to meet them, it’s essential design thinking just being called “marketing”, but I don’t get the purpose of working without first starting with a specific user. And we would still have to do plenty of research and problem identification work in order to respond to this assignment, but we wouldn’t have to waste time figuring out what company (user) we’re working for.

I urge teachers to consider the issue of giving too much choice when creating assignments because it’s such an unnecessary cause of school stress.

The Things That Never Change

I realized today I’m kind of grateful that New Zealand went into lockdown. Obviously, going into lockdown mode has had tremendous success health-wise, but also it’s made doing online learning much easier.

Sitting in front of a computer listening to pre-recorded video lectures all day would be a lot more annoying if I knew there were other things I could be doing like visiting museums, traveling to different parts of the country, even just going out to eat. But since I’m stuck inside anyway, there’s only so many options for what else to do, so I might as well be doing school work.

Today was only day 2 of online learning but it was a long day. We decide to set up individual family meetings with our team gymnast and their parents so that everyone can get a chance to ask 1:1 questions to coaches. The first round of these meetings started today, so that’s how I spent the first three hours of my day (in addition to our Zoom class). Then after lunch, I spent the next 6 hours doing school work. It’s very odd to in someways feel like it’s only the second day of school, but at the same time have the workload of actually being a month into school.

My first real assignment of the year is due tomorrow. (I say “real assignment” because I’ve submitted a few practice multiple choice test, but we get to take those as many times as we like and it’s just multiple choice so there isn’t really much thought work involved.) I’m a little stressed about this essay though. Maybe it’s because this is my first semester of traditional school since this time last year, or maybe it’s because I’m curious as to what to expect from New Zealand grading vs US, or maybe it’s just because we’ve been out of school for a month and I haven’t even had this class since being back and yet we already have an assignment due.

The topic is about how COVID-19 is affecting international business, and it feels like one of those topics that almost has too much information to discuss and the challenging part is trying to limit what you talk about. Plus we only have 1000 words to use, and I learned earlier today that our reference list is included in this word count, which I found kind of crazy because it’s the only class I’ve had where we’re being told to not use lots of citations.

After finding this out I had to do a lot of last-minute editing today, so thank goodness I have great friends who are willing to stay up past midnight to help me edit down my essay. Ever since high school, there has been a group of us – as one teacher put it, “The Brain Trust” – that has always helped out when it comes to giving feedback on each other’s work. No matter the time, topic, or apparently the state of the world, I somehow am lucky enough to still be able to count on these friends for some last-minute help.

This was a great reminder today, that some things never change, even in the midst of a pandemic.

 

 

(Extra tangent: I have to say our feedback process is actually very amusing. As stressful as it can be, it’s also kind of one of my favorite things to just be rapidly co-editing a document with someone in The Brain Trust. Typically we are on a Google Doc leaving feedback as comments and suggestions so the other person can see the changes we’re making before approving or not approving them. Even I, as the writer on this occasion, made my new changes first as suggestions so someone else could also see the changes I was thinking about. We also tend to not necessarily move in a logical order. We move throughout the essay repeatedly, sometimes all looking at the same section and sometimes working on multiple sections at once making notes when we see them, and also replying to each other’s comments. Often the rapid co-editing is due to needing word count help, but it isn’t always, sometimes we just want general feedback on the content and the writer is also making changes in real-time so we give continuous feedback for a given period of time until everyone thinks it looks good. My favorite part though is we don’t just make comments about things that should change; it’s more like annotating a book where sometimes we’re just commenting about the writing itself and start a whole sidebar conversation and that’s what’s so amusing to me. It’s proof that giving and receiving feedback really is a gift and it can be a fun process if everyone is open and accepting of the feedback – which doesn’t mean always implementing the feedback, it just means being willing to consider the feedback.)

Missing Schedules

Today was one of those days where I feel like I did a lot and yet nothing at all.

I have found that sometimes the combo of extra time and being aware of so many things that need to be done just creates disfunction and lots of circling between different projects. Today I worked a bit on a research paper, a bit on school assignments, a bit on choreography, a bit on conditioning, a bit on organizing old videos, a bit on a graduation thing for my sister, and a bit on my global leadership program work, but while I know I dabbled in a lot I didn’t complete anything which makes it feel weirdly not productive of a day even though I did so much.

I’ve always had this issue. I think it’s because I’m a very associative thinker so I make connections between different projects I’m doing and then it makes me want to work on that other project while the new idea is fresh in my head. I struggle to find a balance between working on a lot and working intensely on one thing.

I think there is value in working a little bit on a lot sometimes because it helps keep me stay engaged in working in general when the topic and medium change, versus getting bored with working on something and then feeling too burnt out to work on anything else. However, there can also be value in just sitting down and finishing one thing, because then it’s not constantly looming over you as something that still needs to be done and energy and happiness can come from the achievement of completing a task that needs to be done.

I miss having a bit more of a schedule dictated by someone other than just me because schedules can help manage this balance since more often than not there is a specific time to work on a specific project. This is why I like working in teams and constantly stay busy and involved, because with teams/clubs we have to make specific meeting times for everyone to be together and then I have a designated time to make sure certain work gets done rather than letting my mind wander on its own.

I knew I always liked to stay busy, but I think isolation has helped me realize how a big part of why I like staying busy is because of the structure it provides to my everyday life. I mean I love time every now and then to just go off on mental tangents and work on the weird projects you wouldn’t usually think about, but now 3.5 weeks of mental wandering makes me miss schedules and structure.

The Lead-Up

We have one week left of our four weeks of lockdown, which also means one week left until my classes start again but now online. Since lockdown has begun time has moved in a weird way. Every day seems particularly long but every week seems to go by weirdly quickly since I have trouble keeping track of what day it is, so it seems like the break before re-starting school has kind of snuck up on me in a quick way.

It honestly seems crazy to think about going back to classes at this point. I was only in school for three weeks before everything shut down, and by the time I go back, it will have been four weeks off school, making for a longer break than school time thus far. This much time off from school and stuck inside has made for a very odd sense of reality and it’s hard to imagine school now restarting but isolation not ending. It’s been fine so far staying amused and relatively decent mentally during isolation, but I’m concerned adding school into this mix is going to make things much more difficult.

I think it’s going to be very challenging to find motivation to do school assignments for 9 more weeks while still in some variation of social-distancing. I’m basically going to be doing an entire semester of online classes which is something I’ve always intentionally tried to avoid so this is slightly terrifying to think it’s just about actually here. Plus this time of year is when all of my friends in the US are just finishing up the end of their classes, but I’m basically just starting the semester still. It’s going to be extremely hard to stay focused while all of my friends are done with classes, and I wasn’t really around people here long enough to make any close friends still in New Zealand who will also be in classes at this time of year. 

I’ve also really not taken advantage of this time off in terms of trying to get ahead on school work. I did some work, but mainly just for the assignments I know are due relatively soon after we get back since they were originally due for the week everything shut down. Most of our professors encouraged taking time to relax and assured us we’d have enough time to complete our assignments even if we waited until classes re-started to begin working on them, but at the same time they clearly were encouraging the people who did choose to get started early so very mixed signals were being sent… I wanted to be okay with not working on much school work during the break, but now that it’s almost time to start again the “over-achiever” in me is getting anxious about the fact that maybe I should’ve done more to take advantage of this “extra time.”

I’m worried now it’s going to be a decent bit of a reality shock going back to classes in terms of going from doing so little that I get bored and tired of watching TV even to now having to do daily work but still being at home. At least on a typical break, you’re still getting out of the house and doing stuff so when you go back to school it’s not literally going from 0-100 in average daily energy level. Plus the change of environment with actually going to school usually helps with the mind-shift, but that’s a luxury we don’t have right now.

I don’t have any sort of formal plan at this point for how I’m going to try and adjust to going “back to school” but still from home after four weeks of nothing. I wish this post could be about my fears and how I plan to overcome them, but that’s just not the case at this point. The best I’ve got is the hope that hearing from my professors again with our video lectures will help get me in a working mood, but I’m not exactly convinced this will be the case.

At first, when the announcement was made about everything moving online, it made me think that this would make the semester easier since all of the online courses I’ve ever taken have been the easiest classes I’ve been in, but now with every class being online, I’m actually thinking it’s going to be harder than a traditional semester. It’s pretty much all the same amount of work, but without the usual fun aspects of school – no random conversations with new classmates you’re meeting, no clubs, no group projects, no late hour study sessions, (for the lectures that are entirely pre-recorded) no wacky tangents based on a slighly off-topic question, and I’m sure there are more things that will be missed out on that I’m not thinking of at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong, I like most of my classes (I wouldn’t be in Econ if I didn’t have to be…), it’s just the thought of the assignments that are daunting considering I have an average of two big research papers in each of my 5 classes and I’m really just not a fan of research papers even though I know that’s a big part of college. I think this is because I prefer thinking through ideas in collaborative environments opposed to independent research. And now with classes being taught digitally, I know there are going to be even fewer ways to make new connections with peers in my classes and group projects were pretty much all canceled so even more is now riding on the research papers – my not preferred method of communication – which is just very stressful to think about.

But I’ve got one more week to figure out how to get motivated I suppose, because like it or not and believe it or not it’s almost time to start the semester again.

 

 

(Just to clarify, I probably wouldn’t write about anything I really thought I couldn’t manage, but part of that management process for me is being able to list out concerns honestly, thus the more pessimistic tone to this particular post.)

Boring But Good Rest

Two days ago I challenged myself to take a real break – “No meetings, no school work, no gym work, and I’m not even going to blog.”

Well, the break is over and I can honestly say: It was really boring.

Turns out watching TV and reading all day get’s old after a while – maybe it’s because even though the last few weeks haven’t been a full-on break, it’s been enough of a break for me to have watched far more shows and movies than I ever would in the past.

I realized that one of the nice things about working is that it distracts me from the fact that I don’t have daily interactions with people. Perhaps had I been taking my break with other people it would have been more amusing. Day two of break I had a video chat with my fam and my best friend and that definitely made day two more interesting than the TV all-day approach. I even tried pulling an all-nighter because I realize I never had before and this was a no-risk environment, but around 5am I realized there was nothing actually motivating me to stay awake because it wasn’t fun and I didn’t have to be awake so instead I went to bed and slept till noon.

I will say though, the break was good for one thing, because I took a mental break all weekend, I was far more motivated to actually be productive today now post-break. After I woke up and ate breakfast I had two meetings, family game night, updated gymnastics files, drafted the flow of a three-hour workshop, choreographed a gymnastics routine, and found seven new songs that have potential to become routines. Getting bored made me want to do work, even the work I don’t normally enjoy like researching for various papers I’m in the process of writing so I suppose that’s a good thing. (I didn’t get to those papers today because other things were more time concerning after my meetings, but I thought about wanting to during the weekend when I accidentally opened a tab one was on.)

And at least at the beginning of the break it felt nice to just do nothing and try and accept that work could wait. And I definitely feel well-rested physically and mentally, though this isn’t normally a big issue for me.

So overall I’m a bit undecided on the whole “true break” thing. It had nice moments, but I really don’t like being bored, but again I feel like my experiment was potentially compromised by the scenario of quarantine. Alternatively, maybe it would’ve been better just to have one “do-nothing day” rather than two.

I’m kind of sad there weren’t bigger takeaways, but that’s about all I got on the subject of taking a mental break – boring but good rest.

A True Break

Since this weekend is supposed to be Easter “Break,” I’ve decided to try and cut myself some slack and not focus so much on the idea that I have to use all of this extra time we’ve been given to always be super productive.

So, after the interview I conducted for my human development project, a brief call home with a little discussion about gymnastics, I then basically watched Netflix all day. And it was very relaxing.

I’m a busy person by nature. I always have been. Even way back in 4th grade I was playing on two soccer teams, competing in gymnastics, a Girl Scout, and playing the lead in the school theater production while making straight A’s in school. Since I’ve spent my entire life going from one activity to the next, I’ve grown used to the need to always feel like I’ve accomplished something by the end of the day.

But this need to be productive can be overwhelming in a situation like we’re in now where we have so much time that it seems foolish to not use the time to try and get tons of things done. I’ve been trying to get ahead in classes and draft papers; I’ve seemed to have a meeting almost every day for some project or another; even when I just do something like play the flute I never end up stopping until I have completely learned and recorded all of a four-part song. However, I’ve had several professors and seen several articles circulating around about how it can be a good thing to actually rest during this time and not stress about trying to have so many achievements.

So my goal for this weekend (though perhaps it’s paradoxical to call it that) is try and truly take a break. No meetings, no school work, no gym work, and I’m not even going to blog. I’ll post about how it went in two days. I’m a bit doubtful I’ll actually be able to last the weekend without doing anything productive, but I know it can be good for the mind to take a break and just be mindless sometimes so we’ll see how it goes.

 

The “Extra Work” Barrier

Good learning takes a good amount of work.

I have started to receive some updates about how my assignments and deadlines have been adjusted to account for online learning, so today I spent a good bit of time re-organizing my calendar and assignment list I created at the beginning of the semester. I also made sure to review documents with further details on my assignments.

One of my projects, for my human development class, is writing an essay based on an interview with someone about key learning and development moments across their lifespan. When I first heard about this assignment I was rather impressed. It felt very “21st century learning” to me to have us demonstrate our understanding of the material by first learning interviewing skills and then associating between the real-life stories and the human development theories we learn in class in order to write a structured research paper.

I still think this is a very well designed assignment, but today I was viewing more from my student perspective than my curious-about-education perspective. From a student’s perspective, this project involves a lot of steps.

  1. Complete an online ethics module to prove understanding of ethical guidelines involved with research practices.
  2. Find someone to agree to an hour and half long interview about their life.
  3. Conduct the interview.
  4. Write the transcript for the video.
  5. Then write the actual paper including:
    1. Introduction to the topic and purpose of the report
    2. Outline methods and procedures
    3. Describe measures to ensure ethical practices
    4. Summarize the participant’s life
    5. Find 3-4 key themes in development
    6. Analyze each theme by discussing it’s relevance to human development theories
    7. Draw conclusions based on the analyzes
    8. Include at least 5 references to scholarly sources

It’s not that the project doesn’t seem doable, and it’s not that it sounds unreasonable, it just sounds like a lot to do which is a bit daunting (especially when reading the way more detailed version of the list I made that includes very specific instructions for each section).

My hesitations towards this project reminded me of something important about learner-centered education: it can be hard to get students on board at first.

I say “at first”, because I like to believe that students can appreciate the fact that assignments like this one are more relevant and meaningful than just taking a multiple-choice test and can come around to liking them despite the extra work at times. It’s a matter of getting over that barrier and convincing students to care more about real learning than just getting through an assignment/a class. 

I understand that this project is helping with my interview skills which will be helpful in future career development; this project allows me to connect to real people making the learning relevant; this project will force me to brainstorm and use associative thinking which is necessary for larger decision making. Therefore, I understand that the bit of extra work is worth a more meaningful learning experience – meaningful because it is meant to both prove my understanding of the material in a relevant, personalized, and contextual way and build my 21st-century skills. Not all students make this connection on their own though.

It’s not an impossible barrier to overcome, but it’s an important one to be mindful of. Students have to understand why they’re doing the work in order to actually care about doing it.

Glad It’s With Me

“What’s the most random thing in your house that you’re really grateful for having right now? Why?” 

For me I’m super grateful for this dinky little whiteboard I got from a store called “Wonderland” I found while walking back from classes one day. It’s purple, the magnets already broke, and it has the illustrated ABC’s on the back of it and I love it!

I’ve always been a kinesthetic and visual learner. I’m the kid who likes to stand and move around while working and all of my notes include mind maps and lots of arrows. Once, freshman year of high school, I even brought my own giant whiteboard from home into school so I could use it to outline my essay during our world history midterm exam. I find that whiteboards make it easier for me to brainstorm all of my thoughts on a topic and then use lines, arrows, and circles to visually/physically be able to make all sorts of connections. It’s helped my writing tremendously, so now I use whiteboards as a way to start my brainstorm process for pretty much every assignment I do that requires critical and creative thinking.

I love whiteboards so much that at home I now have a whiteboard wall, a whiteboard desk, a giant whiteboard hanging on a wall and a smaller whiteboard on top of my desk. I use them for everything from drawing out gymnastics routines to outlining essays to just a place to do scratch work.

I lasted about a week in New Zealand before deciding I had to buy a whiteboard to use while here. (Though I did have 2 of my “homemade whiteboard” – a sheet of printer paper in a clear sleeve – they just weren’t cutting it alone. ) And now being stuck inside, I’m especially grateful for this dinky little whiteboard as I’ve already gotten so much use out of it while having this time to brainstorm new ideas and get ahead on assignments.

What random thing are you grateful for having around right now?

Hamlet Then and Now

I love when I get the chance to see how much I’ve learned over time.

Freshman year of high school I read Hamlet for English class. In fact, part of how I ended up blogging was due to the fact that our homework for this class included creating a blog to post about scenes in Hamlet.

Now five years later, my coursework for my college English class is again to read Hamlet. It’s crazy to think it’s been five years already… In that time I also performed a fifteen-minute version of Hamlet for a one-act play competition and have read and seen much more Shakespeare in general. Needless to say, I’m much more confident in my reading comprehension in terms of Shakespeare. I also didn’t realize until this class just how much experience I’ve had with interpreting Shakespeare between reading, performing, and spectating shows over the years compared to most students. There are around nine shows I consider myself fairly familiar to extremely familiar with, which is still only a handful of his works, but most of my class only knows one or so shows and only kind of sort of at that.

I’ve only read Act 1 of Hamlet so far this time around but it’s kind of cool to get to reread something you read so long ago and notice how much easier it is to interpret what is going on. I also extremely enjoyed rereading my blog posts about Act 1 from my original blog. Honestly, I surprised myself by actually being intrigued by some of my thoughts as a freshman reading Hamlet; though I also did a great deal of laughing especially with how in these old posts I didn’t specify prompts, thus some of the posts when I speak as if I’m a character in the play sound quite odd in context.

I’m excited to continue reading and reflecting on Hamlet and my old blog posts about Hamlet because it’s really cool to literally be able to see change over time as I also have to post in my current class’ online forum. I so often find myself grateful for the Hamlet blogging assignment I was given so many years ago. A blog truly is a great way to capture and share learning progress.

Asynchronous Class

I had no classes today which was kind of great. Usually, I have one class, which is my English class, but today we had an “asynchronous class” instead. Basically, this is a fancy way of saying, instead of going to a specific room for an hour and ten minutes of “class” we just had an assignment posted (it wasn’t like a live video lecture or anything, just a normal homework assignment on the shorter side) that we need to have finished by midnight tomorrow.

I find the name “asynchronous class” a bit superfluous, but I very much appreciate the concept. Our professor when looking at her schedule for the semester knew that this was going to be a big week for us with three chapters of Shakespear reading, watching our next Disney movie, and finishing our first paper by Friday; therefore, she scheduled this asynchronous class as a way for us to be able to take ownership of managing our time. We could get our work done where ever and whenever we wanted to today. It was great!

Because of this schedule, it allowed me much more flexibility today and I didn’t have to waste time moving to and from a classroom, which was especially nice since I have a psych test I’ve also been studying for today. I’m glad that we have at least one other asynchronous class baked into the semester schedule because I’m sure it will also be at a much needed time. I applaud my professor for her forward thinking and teaching philosophy behind this.

I think more teachers should adopt the concept of an asynchronous class every now and then. It’s a good way to build student ownership into the class work when there is a busy week happening.