Mar 052011

The thing about that monster in “Alien” and pretty much all horror movies — at least the good ones — is that we only get fleeting glimpses of them. They hide in the dark. They are shrouded in mystery.

We fear the unknown.

But if we make explicit our foe, identify his weaknesses, give you the skills to get at that soft underbelly, and name him “Bob” or “Enid” or “Mary”, well, that is much less scary.

Each year our students hit crucibles. Most survive them; some do not. If we propose that students are on a hero’s journey (and they are), these crucibles are essentially metaphorical bosses. While the students might think we (professors) are the antagonists in their story — the gatekeepers to the next level, we really aren’t. The things that trip them up are much more mysterious and less whackable.

For example, the first crash and burn wave happens not because freshmen are suffering from the work load, but because they are navigating through things like waking up in time to get food, cooking and cleaning after themselves…maybe dealing with budding or ending romantic relationships, and alcohol. This is not a curricular problem, this is a maturation problem with a side of F’s. Crash and burn.

It seems a little thing, but the culmination of minutiae minutes, time management, putting stuff where you can find it, and knowing what is coming altogether are what they need to beat that first boss – henceforth to be known as “Hubert”. (Cut me some slack, I am typing this in the SF airport while waiting for my plane).

So they’ll gain XP (experience), and if we design this well, we make explicit and provide a means for them to recognize that they are gaining skills and that these skills are crucial to meet that coming boss. What’s more, we expose Hubert for what he is – a morass of bad habits kluged together to suck the unwary into a pit of I’m-behind-and-oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit.

 Posted by at 1:32 pm