Author Archives: E Jean Heusinkveld

Weekly Writing 1–Novices vs experts

As I read Ruth Benander’s article, “Experiential learning in the scholarship of teaching and learning,’  (2009) I could not help but personalize the information, comparing her descriptions of experts and novices with my own experiences. I completed my undergraduate degree many years ago, but have been a student in numerous courses since that time.

I certainly agree with the author that the classroom experience is very different for the novice than the expert faculty member.   The expert teacher may be so familiar with the material and the expectations that he/she does not realize the murkiness of the student view.

A task becomes almost second nature when you have done it countless times. When I share with my granddaughter how to bake bread, I discover there are many instructions I unintentionally omit because I forget she doesn’t have as much baking experience. Over time I have become equipped with a bag of tools for a task. The novice’s tool bag is lacking or nonexistent.

How do I know what I don’t know? We all view situations from our own constructs, but I think when the content and format are unfamiliar, as our ONID courses are, we have the opportunity to experience the novice role again. Communication and interaction processes may be unfamiliar, as well as ways of discovering faculty expectations of students.

Knowing what we know as experts, can the expert truly experience the “confusion of novelty that students experience in classes’ described by Benander (2009)?  Perhaps not completely, but we can certainly try.

As a student, I may cry out that we cannot find directions or vital information; however, that part of me that has been the expert knows to keep digging, because what I need to know may be just an overlooked link. Initial assignments seem to be the most difficult as I try to ascertain the instructor’s expectations. Rubrics are helpful, but I am very out of practice at writing essays such as this assignment.

As a student, I have learned that I must be sure that I have read all the materials made available by the instructor before posing a question. Very likely the information I need is available if I make use of the online resources provided by the instructor.  Prior to this awareness, I struggled much more.

If my search for answers is fruitless and questions still exist, I may pose my question to the instructor or the course’s online community.  I recall one expert faculty preferred not to answer, but to leave it to me to figure out, claiming that was part of the experience–to be frustrated but continue to press forward on my own steam.  That experience made me reflect on how I would prefer my instructor to have responded and influences how I, in turn, will respond to my own students.  Because I exhaust all resources before asking, encouragement along with a nudge in the right direction would have been desirable in that instance.

In contrast, in one computer programming course I contacted the instructor after struggling with a problem for 29 hours. He responded by giving me the solution and said that I should have contacted him after 3 or 4 hours of work on the problem. I would have preferred to receive a hint to get me on the right track so that I could find the solution myself. From that experience I learned to give my Excel students suggestions for fixing formulas without ‘giving it all away’.

In the student role in my education courses, I find myself examining whether the instructor has modeled exemplary teaching methods. It can be a very humbling experience when I’m struck with, “Why didn’t I ever think of that?’ As a result, I may decide to incorporate that very element in my own teaching

As Benander (2009) described, I also learned the “greatest change was increased compassion for my students’. In preparation for teaching software application courses or courses that include computer-based interaction, I spend time working through the activities from the student viewpoint. This way I know where quicksand may appear and extra direction or support may be needed. Every semester I discover additional areas in need of clarification or augmentation. My goal is for the student to have that memorable experience of “sticking learning’ described by Benander (2009).

As Benander  (2009) discussed, as the novice student I have certainly felt incompetent and uncertain as to what to do or how to improve. In response to that experience, I have addressed the need for clear directions by using rubrics wherever possible to make it grading criteria clear. In addition, an explanation of where we’re going with new information or as I put it in class, “Why do we care?’ followed by a discussion of why the concept is meaningful.

Like most of you I use computers and computer applications daily. Although my students consider me an expert in many regards, I have no illusions that I know all or nearly all about any given topic. What I do claim is that if I don’t know I will work alongside the student to discover ways of gaining the knowledge needed, thus increasing student survival skills when the class ends.

Experts must be careful not to make any assumptions about what is known, even though the knowledge may  seem obvious (to the expert). In turn the novice must be aware that sometimes ‘figuring it out’ is part of the learning process.   When I experience the novice role again it helps me consider how to communicate better with my own students.

Benander, R. (2009). Experiential learning in the scholarship of teaching and learning. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 9(2), 36-41.

Cox, M. D. (2004). Introduction to Faculty Learning Communities. New Directions for Teaching and Learning(97), 5-23.


Hi, my name is Jean Heusinkveld. I am in the Masters of Education program with the ONID concentration. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Education and hold an Alaska vocational teaching certificate for grades 7-12 in business and economics. I teach applied business and computer courses at UAF’s Community and Technical College.

I have online teaching experience, but with constant changes in tools and technology, I never feel like my feet are solidly beneath me. I am hoping to gain a clearer idea of online pedagogy, so that I will feel more confident and more effective in my teaching methods.

I look forward to meeting all of you. I have learned a lot from my fellow classmates in other ONID courses and look forward to sharing and exchanging ideas with you.

In closing, my apologies  for my monotonous “I, I, I, me, me, me”  sentence structure in this post. Things can only get better from here!

Twitter: @jeanheusi
Diigo: jeanheusi