Wednesday, May 14, 2008

You gotta have mojo

I've lost my mojo. Last seen hightailing it out of the door of my office towards the end of March this year. If anyone sees it, please return it to me c/o The Learning Doldrums.

Since I escaped the tyranny of the formal education system (with apologies to all you wonderfully dedicated, overworked, underpaid teachers), I have been the most driven, self-motivated, passionate learner I have ever encountered. I love knowing new things.

But a strange thing happened to me on the way to an MA award which served to remind me of the importance - nay criticality - of one characteristic of the successful learner: motivation.

Because I want to know stuff, I process it and assimilate it at an alarming rate. Because I want to remember people's names, I can match more names to faces than most people I know. Because I want to. Because I am motivated.


Then, just before we left for our holiday in South Africa, I finally received the results of an independent studies paper I had submitted in January. The university commits to returning results within 4 weeks of submission. It had taken 8 weeks for these to come back, during the last four of which I had made a pest of myself with repeated emails and phone calls, requesting my feedback.

I had failed!

I had never failed an assessment in my life. I even passed my driving test on the first attempt. It's true to say that I scraped through history in high school by the skin of my teeth, but I did scrape through. This time I had failed. Failed, I say!

The feedback said that I had submitted what read like a lively presentation but did not qualify as a piece of academic writing. Also, I had not cited enough references.

I felt hollow. Deflated. And it was at that moment that my get-up-and-go got up and went.

You see, other than the independent studies module, all that remained was my dissertation. As I began writing the IS paper, it dawned on me that I was doing very well on my MA programme. I had passed all but one paper with merit or distinction. I realised that I stood a chance of coming out of this with a merit, maybe even a distinction overall! Wow! What a thought for a girl who had to wheedle her way onto the programme without a B degree. I decided I might as well give it a shot. So I figured it out. If I scored 82% for the IS paper, and got a distinction for my dissertation, that would give me an overall distinction.

I worked harder on that paper than all my others put together. I put in far more work than a 3,000 word essay warranted. I was pretty sure I'd get at least a merit, probably even a distinction, but would I hit that magic 82%?

Erm... no.

To make things worse, I had chosen to do a case study on a failed project (looking into whether it had failed because corporate trainers don't know enough about learning). Because it had failed, the staff had been re-deployed. Some had moved out of the business altogether. A rewrite was out of the question. Also, a rewrite would garner me a "pass" at best. No merits, no distinctions.

I was astonished at the extent of my demotivation. Not only did it impact the module I had failed, but it spread to the dissertation as well. It has been nearly two months, and I haven't touched it. Not a word.

I'm really struggling to pull myself together to care. In my head, I know I want to finish this. But my heart just isn't in it.

I know we tend to pooh-pooh old Bloom and his domains, but let me tell you that the affective domain has overridden the cognitive in this instance, even though the cognitive is trying to fight back.

Maybe you've got some learners who've lost their mojo, too. Maybe they need a little help getting it back. But don't give them mine! I need that back, please.


Anonymous said...

@jago - let's hope you're right, but that one hasn't worked for me in the past. When I was in high school, my teachers colluded to try to catalyse exactly the attitude you describe in the hope that it snap me out of my cycle of what they considered to be spectacular underachievement. Notice that I start my post by pointing out that I only discovered my mojo AFTER leaving school. All the reverse psychology succeeded in doing was make me give up completely.

I recognise that this time it isn't a psychological ploy, and it's up to me. I'm hoping I will discover that I have a modicum of good sense still left in me and pull myself together... before it's too late!

Anonymous said...

It's clear you feel a strong, disorienting setback. It's also clear from your posts that you're passionate about learning. Your program may or may not be well suited to your interests and your disposition -- but, this close to the end, the paper seems like a final hoop for you to jump through.

Remember that there are two sides to the coin: motivation (interior) and incentive (external). It sounds like the incentive is the degree, while part of the motivation (i.e., your desire) is the merit or distinction (which I'm reading as something like "cum laude" and "magna cum laude").

Without denigrating your program or your accomplishments in any way, I suggest that a year from now, few people unrelated to you will care about the distinction part.

I'm sure you'll find a way to reframe this, whether it's "I'll show them" or "one last hoop and I escape from academia."

Anonymous said...

@dave One of the reasons I originally embarked on the programme was to put some structure around my rather haphazard informal learning. The name of this blog is no accident!

It also serves the purpose of increasing my credibility in a world which is reluctant to move away from "bits of paper" as a benchmark. Saying that you have independently been studying learning for 20 years means far less to a recruiter than that you have a master's degree. Particularly (unfortunate as it is to have to raise this point in this day and age) for a woman.

There was never any motivation attached to the distinction/merit bit (they apparently no longer refer to magnums - or summer - coming loudly, for whatever reason) until I realised that it was within my grasp.

I think the demotivation relates in no small part to the disconnect between my expectations and reality, which gave me to think that I don't "get" academic writing as well I thought I did, which casts doubt on my ability to produce a successful dissertation. Especially since the diss will be marked by the guy who gave me the failing grade... and the only other straight "pass" I've had.

Anonymous said...

I feel awful for you.

The words of my academic adviser come to mind...he looked around the room (perhaps 15 of us) and said half of you won't make it to dissertation because you won't be willing or able to play the game.

No doubt you know what the game is and if you really want it, you'll play.

I am also reminded of an exchange by Lance Armstrong with Peter Lefluer (played by Vince Vaughn) in Dodgeball, the movie:

Lance Armstrong: Hey, aren't you Peter La Fleur?
Peter La Fleur: Lance Armstrong!
Lance Armstrong: Ya, that's me. But I'm a big fan of yours.
Peter La Fleur: Really?
Lance Armstrong: Ya, I've been watching the dodgeball tournament on the Ocho. ESPN 8. I just can't get enough of it. Good luck in the tournament. I'm really pulling for you against those jerks from Globo Gym. I think you better hurry up or you're gonna be late.
Peter La Fleur: Uh, actually I decided to quit... Lance.
Lance Armstrong: Quit? You know, once I was thinking of quitting when I was diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer all at the same time. But with the love and support of my friends and family, I got back on the bike and won the Tour de France five times in a row. But I'm sure you have a good reason to quit. So what are you dying of that's keeping you from the finals?
Peter La Fleur: Right now it feels a little bit like... shame.
Lance Armstrong: Well, I guess if a person never quit when the going got tough, they wouldn't anything to regret for the rest of their life. Well good luck to you Peter. I'm sure this decision won't haunt you forever.

Now get back in the game and kick some ass!

Anonymous said...

@Janet Yazzum!

Anonymous said...

No worries Karyn you are great at what you do degrees don't matter BTW today I got my result for the postgraduation I was doing in Ecology and Environment, by the grace of God I got a first divison. Still I feel there is lot to learn and this degree does not prove much on my understanding of the subject.

rlubensky said...

As a PhD candidate, I'm now also a marker. I have to grade postgraduate submissions that fail to express a single idea clearly, with grammar that a ninth grader could improve upon. Knowing you as one of the most articulate blogophiles, I find it most appalling that you should simply be failed. In your case, the university is apparently not for learning. (Ironically, having shifted to political science, I am seeing professors more interested in student learning than most of my instructors in Education). Academic writing is not limited to the gray, jargon-laden, full-of-themselves, opaqueness that is so ubiquitous yet never escapes the academy. I have awarded high distinctions for personal learning reflections that broke all the rules of that turgid style. But of course, they had to go well beyond introspection and work to synthesise various strands of discourse in the literature. Because in the end, you do have to stand on the shoulders of others in your ideas and writing. So I reckon you are capable of a cracker of a dissertation. Get back to your dissertation, woman! And before you submit even a draft, consider sending it out to a few of your supporters out here. We'll get you sorted!

Wendy said...

Janet - been there too. At a certain level, there is a mourning process involved. And the awful reminder that sometimes your best isn't good enough. It's depressing.

The next step (after creating many revenge scenarios that never quite make one feel better) is to figure out how you are going to adapt to get from here to where you want to be. And part of that is re-evaluating the destination.

I think you do fantastic work. I see it in the blog and in your descriptions of your projects for work and school. So this will probably prove to be one of those pesky character-building blips.

Your cheerleaders are here for you!

Anonymous said...

@rina Congratulations!

@everyone I am quite sincerely overwhelmed at the depth of concern you show for me and my little learning journey. Thanks for the offers of help, too. Since my diss is going to be submitted as a wiki it might be easier for me to get bits of it to you than falling off a log!

I went to a dissertation workshop last night in the hope of finding my mojo there. I didn't, but I did give myself a mental shake and draw up a plan of action. I'm still not quite sure what I'm going to do about the failed module, but I'm going to forge ahead with the diss. I might just cut my losses on the module and sign up (and pay) for an additional taught option after the diss is over. It'll delay my graduation, but at least it won't get in the way of my dissertation.