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Tech wreck

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Today, I was reminded what it’s like to be a student who has a different learning style than the other students in the class. Specifically, I was reminded of how frustrating it can be.

I was attending a workshop about how to use pivot tables in the program Excel. Excel is an easy program; in fact, I taught myself to use it through trial, error, and liberal use of the “help” menu. I use it to calculate grades, store and sort data, and the like.

What’s a “pivot table”? As near as I can tell, it’s another way to sort data. As near as I can tell. I don’t know for sure.

The problem began when I sat down in the computer lab where the workshop was being held. The lab is filled with PCs. I use a Mac exclusively. Several years ago, I took a basic Excel workshop in a PC lab. (As it turned out, I already knew everything the workshop covered.) But the experience led me to think I could work in Excel on a PC again.

Wrong.

The second part of the problem is that I have never learned anything in a setting where I’m sitting in the room with two instructors demonstrating on a projector how to manipulate data, going from step to step to step and expecting the students to duplicate their actions. Many, if not most, of the people in today’s workshop seemed to be getting the hang of it. I didn’t.

I can’t learn that way. I need to sit down at the computer, go through things slowly, try to understand each step, and try to understand my mistakes. Understanding errors is not always possible—and this is when I need some one-on-one time with the instructor. Today’s workshop zipped along. I was getting hung up on a basic step, and while I struggled with it, the rest of the people in the workshop moved ahead to the next set of data. Half of my mind was on my computer screen; the other half was listening to the instructors. I would have been set if I’d had another half of a brain.

Fortunately, I was sitting in the back row, so after a half hour, I quietly turned my computer off and slinked out the door, which also was in the back of the room. When I get some time, I’m going to fire up Excel on my Mac and work my way through the concept of a pivot table. A good friend reminded me late last year that I can’t just shut down in situations where I feel frustrated for not knowing something. But the alternative is to come across as a dummy. It’s heads-Pat-loses, tails-he-loses-too.

The experience reminded me that different students learn differently. It was a reminder that I need to work harder at immediately identifying students for whom the “normal” classroom experience is inadequate. They need to know they’re not dummies—they can grasp the material if it’s presented differently. And then I need to figure out how to present it to meet their needs.

I don’t think instructors put themselves in the students’ place often enough. I need to keep today’s frustration in mind as the next semester starts.

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
sahlah
Jan. 13th, 2011 01:31 pm (UTC)
That you even consider this makes you a wonderful teacher.

Does your college have learning labs for folks that require accommodations for learning styles?
patrick_vecchio
Jan. 13th, 2011 01:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Dawn, but I discover things like this by accident.

I can get the one-on-one help if I need it. Our tech people are good in that regard. I would have to check into accommodations for students, but I've never heard a student complain.
sahlah
Jan. 13th, 2011 02:32 pm (UTC)
How you get to the knowledge doesn't matter as much as having the knowledge. :)
nodressrehersal
Jan. 13th, 2011 02:48 pm (UTC)
I use Excel for lots of stuff, but never heard of a pivot table. Now I'm not sure if I need to know what it is or what it does! Is ignorance bliss, or must I know what I don't know...

Both our sons would've benefited from someone taking the time to recognize that they had a different learning style - especially in math. But no, they were made to feel stupid by their teachers. Fortunately, a second shot with different teachers yielded better results for both of them.

One teacher wanted to label one son as "special needs" in his junior year of high school because he couldn't understand what she was teaching. Summer school? He passed.
patrick_vecchio
Jan. 13th, 2011 03:53 pm (UTC)
Something I constantly kick myself about involves students who are having trouble learning, or not doing the reading, or not participating in class, or not coming to class, or any/all of the above. Specifically, I am often too quick to put the reasons for those things squarely on the students' shoulders. Many times, though, external factors are either causing or contributing to their shortcomings. I need to be much more aware of that.
thecriz5
Jan. 13th, 2011 04:00 pm (UTC)
See, I wouldn't have left the workshop before taking a pair of pliers and a blowtorch to the computer.
patrick_vecchio
Jan. 13th, 2011 04:11 pm (UTC)
Call 1-800-MEDIEVAL.
behindpyramids
Jan. 13th, 2011 11:56 pm (UTC)
I love how you took a bad experience and turned it into a way to do good in the world. You're such a rockstar.

Re: Pivot tables

I had to learn them during an internship. My boss tried to teach me, went too fast, looked at me like an idiot and I went shiver shiver shiver.

Later, I went back, googled any questions I had and did it on my own sweet time. Um, pivot tables, NOTHING to worry about. Let me know if there's anyway I could help--I have to use them for work, and I get sad because once a person gets the hang of them, they're *nothing* to worry about, but they get under utilized because trainers make them seem big and scary and complicated.
patrick_vecchio
Jan. 14th, 2011 03:50 am (UTC)
I think if I had been working at a Mac yesterday I would have been fine. Thank you for offering to help!
tanadariel
Jan. 14th, 2011 03:39 pm (UTC)
I'm guilty of not knowing how to use Excel at all, really...my gradebook was set up by someone else.

You say everyone else seemed to get it, but I wonder if everyone else was faking it. I find that instructors become exceptionally skilled at looking like we know what we're doing :)
patrick_vecchio
Jan. 15th, 2011 03:42 am (UTC)
Good point. Other people may very well have been wrestling with it too.

Excel is a piece of pastry. I used to calculate grades by hand, it would take more than a day. Now, it's really just a matter of minutes. And it's great for keeping complicated records. I'll be glad to get you started. If I can use it, then anyone else can. Really.

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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