You Can’t Go Home Again?*

As part of my first-ever sabbatical, I have jumped into the way-back machine: after almost thirty years, I am once again a student. When I last frantically scribbled notes in a classroom, I was learning Vietnamese in Vietnam. Now it’s Arabic in Jordan. Some of the benefits of jumping to the other side of the pedagogical fence:

It’s been a long time since I’ve known what it’s like to not know. After decades of teaching, I have well-developed mental schema that help me organize and analyze new information. I’m used to retrieving comparable examples to aid comprehension directly from memory or, at minimum, knowing how to find relevant information elsewhere — i.e., “third book from the left on the bottom shelf.” Now, trying to learn a language, I’m often completely lost, because I don’t have much of an underlying blueprint for how things are supposed to fit together. At least some of my undergraduates must find themselves in the same situation. Maybe I should explicitly state to them that this sensation is normal and not an effect of innate inability.

As a student, it becomes obvious that bad alignment between course content and delivery creates unnecessary confusion, which is detrimental to learning. If the syllabus says prepare X, practice Y, or complete Z, then students shouldn’t be wondering why X, Y, or Z isn’t discussed in class, isn’t formally assessed by the instructor, or doesn’t correspond to a task in the LMS/VLE. Course components should neatly stack atop one another like Lego blocks so that students can easily recognize what to do, when to do it, and why they are doing it. Without a clear map, students can easily wander off in unproductive directions. So if your syllabus says one thing, your LMS course shell presents something very different, and neither one closely tracks the textbook, you’ve got a problem.

*Borrowed from the novelist Thomas Wolfe, lest I be accused of plagiarism . . .