This class was a journey in many ways for me. This is my first Anne Dalke class, and so I have never experienced this type of class structure before. I certainly have mixed feelings, and my learning process in this class has been shaky and informative at the same time. As discussed ad nauseum in mine and others’ final web events, the class was structured in such a way that there were vast gaps in understanding and education between many of my peers. I was unfortunately at the “lower” end of what felt like a hierarchy of education, and so was often uncomfortable expressing my ideas for fear of being looked down upon as less understanding and uneducated. As an intro course I question how useful it is to have people with extensive knowledge in the class – they were often bored and frustrated with the others (myself) in the class who were still learning. Having people in the class with higher levels of understanding can be incredibly useful in that it can engender conversation that would not be possible with a group of people new to the topic, and often times the conversation was very interesting because of the levels of understanding some people had. However, occasionally that left others out of the conversation, because it would go over their (our) heads. But again, simply listening to other people have these conversations was useful, because I for one learn a lot from listening to other people.
That is something else that this class brought forth to me – learning through action, not listening. In almost all of my classes I became comfortable sitting in the back and listening to the lecture or soaking in the discussion. I would often participate in the discussion, of course, but I learned a lot from listening and occasionally bringing forth my ideas. The structure of this class forced me to talk and participate in every class and almost every discussion, which was something I found difficult and uncomfortable at times. Especially when I felt like I had nothing interesting or useful to contribute, I was afraid of exposing my ignorance to the whole class. As time went on and I was forced to contribute more throughout the class, I slowly became more comfortable with speaking out. Especially when we moved the class into a complete circle, with Anne sitting, instead of sitting on either side of the room like it was at the beginning of the semester, I felt like it was equalizing in a way that was surprisingly relieving to me. I still don’t completely understand why that made such a stark difference in my ability to function in the class, but when I was able to see everyone equally it helped me to feel more on equal ground with everyone else in the class.
Participating online was also terrifying for many reasons, especially since it’s a public forum and everything has my name on it. Posting online is very different from speaking out in class – things you say could be misinterpreted, you have the ability to speak out uninhibited by other people’s presence, and sometimes (despite having your name attached) you feel as though you can say things to people you wouldn’t say to their face, because their reaction isn’t immediately apparent to you. This in many ways is scary, and occasionally I had to remind myself that my name is on everything I say online. It is also easier in a way, because you have an infinite amount of time to think about what you say, you have many opportunities to edit and fix what you’ve said, and you can even delete and take back almost completely the words you wrote. You have much more power over what is said with the online postings, because it is carefully constructed and calculated.
I have learned about myself that I am hyper-conscious of my level of understanding and how other people perceive my intelligence. I was never quite aware of how little I speak for fear of being misunderstood or saying something stupid. However, I also learned that I am able to contribute meaningfully to conversations, even with little things that seem insignificant. Often times when we did an exercise where we had to go around in a circle and say something meaningful, I was afraid that what I said would not be deep or intelligent enough. However, every time I contributed, my contribution was appreciated. I loved that about the class – every time I simply said or did something, as long as it was relevant and thought out, my contribution was acknowledged. That is something else I found I am afraid of – not being heard or acknowledged when speaking. I am afraid of becoming an unheard voice, and I feel as though in this class I had mixed experiences of both being very heard and being silenced. This class was a roller coaster of experiences, both positive and negative, and all of them learning moments for me.
I learned that I am an incredibly slow reader, which may come to be a problem for me in the future as an English major. I love reading, and often enjoyed the readings assigned for this class; however, my slow reading combined with my constant time management struggles made completing all the readings very difficult. I have been working a lot on getting back on my feet this semester in terms of time management and getting work done for my classes, and this class was definitely the biggest challenge and also (sadly?) the biggest success in terms of doing the work for the class and getting it done on time. I learned a lot from the readings for class, and learned that doing them is almost essential to participating, particularly when participation is often mandatory and forced (going around in circles, small group discussions, etc.). This made it necessary for me to at least have an understanding of the readings assigned, and so I worked on that a lot. Sometimes the reading would go over my head, but thankfully the class often worked towards helping me understand the readings when I was lost – the course notes also helped a great deal with preparing myself for class.
My written work is not something I am incredibly proud of. I tried to make all of my Serendip postings meaningful, and sometimes I succeeded. When I did succeed, I was proud of my work. My web papers, however, were not as successful. I struggled intensely with trying to come up with topics to write about – never before had prompts been so open ended for me before. That was both the greatest part and also the worst/hardest part for me. I am very unsure about what I love and what I want, and that comes as a problem in my academic life often – from trying to write web papers to choosing a major, I never have any certain idea about what it is I want to do or what interests me. Sometimes I hit upon something I really love doing and it’s a wild success; and sometimes, like the case with all of my web events, I don’t end up finding a topic I love. I learned that I need to find out what it is that interests me, I need to find something that lights a fire beneath me and drives me to want to learn and explore and write and read and educate myself for it. I have yet to find that drive, and that is something I have been struggling with the most throughout my time at Bryn Mawr. It doesn’t usually effect my work in a class as much as it does in this class, because I am not often called upon to write about or explore something I want on my own – it’s usually directed in some way, and I am often told what to explore and what I should be interested in. This is both frustrating but easier, because it allows me to put off deciding what I want for another short while. In this class, however, I have been forced to try and discover what I love, and although I still haven’t quite hit upon it exactly, I have never tried so hard to find it before. Now that I have begun exploring my own interests, I hope to continue to do so and perhaps finally find that thing that I love. I think this class has pointed me in the right direction towards that end, and I will continue on that path in order to not just scrape by, but excel in what I do here at Bryn Mawr.