Unfair advantage

Following the release of the results of our first assignment, there has been some soul searching and discussion on how better results can be attained and what went wrong etc. I’ve seen this on various Facebook groups I’m a member of too. I’ve referred earlier to the whole privilege thing, and I’ll say it again.  No one mentioned it, but of course some of us (myself included) had an unfair advantage. When I write “the whole privilege thing” and then so easily reference the exact article, it’s because I’ve read it, and stored it on Evernote, and can easily access it.

Sichuan peppers at dinner in Chengdu last night
Sichuan peppers at dinner in Chengdu last night

Let me ‘fess up on where my starting line was when this course started. I’m not doing this to brag, but to give courage. I started at ground zero in August 2012 and I too had the shock of getting back grades from assignments and not only beginning to understand where I’d gone wrong.  My starting line this time around:

* A collection of 3,350 academic, professional and lay articles on Evernote, to which I’ve added 269 articles since I started this course in this course’s notebook.  I can only find 5 articles for my first course (in electronic form), because then I was still printing it all out.  And I threw out all the printouts in my last house move. I don’t even have the course overview or modules. That’s how bad it all was.  In fact it’s even worse. I naively thought that Interact was forever so I didn’t even save my marked assignments! So I don’t even have a hard copy of that. I cringe when I thought how stupid I was. How little I knew, how I bumbled through the first year. How scared I was to ask for help. How I didn’t even know who to ask for help.

* A Zotero library of 1,697 references to articles I’ve read (the difference with Evernote above is I only put articles in that I’ve used in assignments, and Evernote has a lot of my “life” in it, not just academic life). Most (but not all) of those references are “clean” i.e. I’ve sorted out the metadata and added the fields I need to make my referencing better.  I also have the email of people at Zotero  if I find it behaving strangely and not doing things the ‘correct’ APA way.

* I’ve passed 14 subjects at CSU. If I wasn’t starting to get the hang of things by now I’d have dropped out a while ago.

* I’ve discovered the APA blog, and experienced first hand their 24 hour or less (sometimes less than an hour) response time to queries if you can’t find the answer you need. I’m a regular at OWL Purdue (I even know what OWL means!). I also have just been through an exercise at work whereby I’ve been making reference posters for our students. There I had to make 6 posters each for APA, MLA and Chicago, which are the referencing styles we use. That sure was an education on referencing!  Even after weeks of tweaking things and getting it ‘right’ after we put it out in the open (this link is the first version – so not all correct! first link is the latest version), we kept getting comments and corrections from people with more knowledge and experience – talk about crowd-sourcing!

* I’d been blogging privately since 2006 and had written 1,931 blog posts with nearly 200,000 page views by the time I stopped in 2013. When I started this course I’d done about 100 blog posts professionally. I also re-started blogging reluctantly, and totally intimidated by those older and wiser and more experienced than myself and then was forced to by my courses, and now find it a way of releasing pent up thoughts and organising my jumbled thoughts on what I’m reading and experiencing. The community is not the same as 9 years ago, I’m not getting the steady stream of comments and encouragement that I had in the past – so it is less motivating if one speaks of external motivation. But it is still a learning tool for me, and the more I write, the more I can write and the easier it becomes.

* I work with a terrific person. Katie Day  (googleplus link) is the best boss a starting out TL could wish to have. She pushes me when I want to hold back, she challenges my naive and unformed and uniformed thoughts. She throws articles and books and websites and blogs and names at me when I get stuck. She takes me out of my comfort zone and encourages me and supports me when I have self-doubt. And most importantly she knows her S***. Whether it’s on the literature front, the technical front, the digital front, the teaching front, the working with teachers and students front.

* My family is supportive. We’ve just come back from a weekend in Chengdu – but we haven’t had many weekends off in the last 2.5 years, where I’ve not been tied to my laptop or iPad reading articles or writing assignments. And to be completely honest, the fact that I wasn’t this weekend is only because the wifi was so unbearably slow it was better to just give up and quit trying to study than to keep battling it.  My 12 year old daughter reads through my assignments and picks out bad grammar and discusses where things don’t make sense. My husband reads through my assignments and tells me if I’m becoming too academic.   Neither of them always know what on earth I’m writing about, but they do make me a better writer, since if I can’t write well enough for them to at least understand the gist of what I’m saying, I’m doing something  wrong.My 11 year old son gives me hugs and moral support. And reminds me that everyone learns in their own way and at their own pace.

Of course my privilege didn’t start there. As Gee would point out, I had parents who spoke to me and read to me. I grew up in a bilingual environment. English is my mother tongue. I had a tertiary education. I am surrounded by intelligent people who read and write and discuss things.

While writing this I’m just humbled by what a long journey this learning thing is, and if anything each of us should have a handicap that we start with, like golf, to make it a little fairer and more equitable.  But on the other hand, looking back I can say there is hope and it does get better. A lot better and a lot easier.  I also both care a lot more and a lot less. That may sound strange. On the one hand I’ve become very passionate about learning (care more) but on the other I’m a lot less scared of making mistakes and putting myself out there (care less).  All these processes take time. A lot of time. And while I may be a few metres past the starting line compared to some, I’m nowhere near others, and I can’t even see the finishing line. And that is life. And that is fine.

14 thoughts on “Unfair advantage

  1. Nadine, this post is very thought provoking. I really resonated with the “caring a lot less” about putting yourself out there. This is the “handicap” I came with into the course and I’m slowly losing it!

    Just a heads up that your link to the APA blog is broken – leads to an ‘Error 404’. 🙂 OWL Purdue is something I stumbled across as a marker when needing to check some referencing and I’ve had it bookmarked ever since. So helpful!

    Thanks for reminding everyone that we all bring different experiences to our learning table for this degree – and that’s OK. 🙂


    1. Hi Lori
      Yes, I realised the link is to our private dropbox, I’m trying to get a better link of the most updated version, since the one I’ve now linked to on Google+ is version 1 which had a few errors which we’ve subsequently addressed.


  2. Thank heavens! I’ve grown a better appreciation of the benefits of APA since that little exercise. Of course it is a gross simplification of the many variations, but once you get the basics, the rest is detail!


  3. Thanks for posting this Nadine – it is a very comforting and reassuring post and a timely reminder that despite everything I may be feeling at one time or another I am in fact very lucky and very well off, all things considered. I have stepped back into the role of being a student for the first time in 30 years. It has been quite a wake up call and a pointed reminder about the sorts of things my own students feel and experience. I can even hear my own voice telling me off in the same way that I would correct students who try to explain late themselves!!

    Again, thanks Nadine. 🙂


  4. Hi Nadine

    I think your post encapsulates a big idea that we all need to move beyond – the fact that our learning these days is not about being compared with others, but about moving beyond where we start.

    Some may have the ‘unfair advantage’ like you, but still learn; others will start their learning and benefit from sharing by others. Thank you.

    (We all just need another 24 hours in the day!)


  5. Hi Linda
    You are so right! About the same time I started studying I also started doing Crossfit and funnily enough the two have really complemented each other. I’m not a great sports person, and Crossfit is all about small constant improvements and always beating yourself, in an environment where workouts are scaled according to your capabilities and your starting point!


  6. Mmm Spicy peppers.
    Given the rate I’m accumulating references on evernote – I can see how you could clock up thousands in no time. With the tagging- this will be a life-saver in the future when it comes to speaking from authority rather than just opinion.
    I am just at the beginning of this journey – and I’m staggered by how much I don’t know about what should be the core of my teaching! – but as I keep telling my 10 year old- non-one expects perfection immediately – you just have to do your best. Right?


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