The Art of the Trade-Off

One of the unexpected opportunities this course provided me was the chance to reflect on the academic structure at Davidson and how I’ve been taught to learn. The opportunity for this type of reflection came up in many aspects of the course, from taking my first foray into online learning, to constructing and re-constructing my own syllabus, to navigating a complete/incomplete grading structure. Both DBC and the structure of our class meetings forced us to be attentive to how we were learning, and when the bootcamp was frustrating or challenging for seeming inexplicable reasons I often attributed it to the process of learning how to learn in new ways.

But the most significant, and most difficult, times I confronted how I had bee, or was being, taught to learn were when the structures of DBC and Davidson fundamentally conflicted. It was challenging to jump not only between empirical, analytical coding assignments and theoretical, prosaic history essays. It was also extremely challenging to balance DBC work which had non-negotiable, all-or-nothing deadlines with more fluid work for my other classes. Until DBC I had not stepped back to think about how much Davidson demands that we make trade-offs. You (or at least I) simply cannot do everything Davidson demands to 100% satisfaction, and in that gap I get to decide my priorities. The DBC structure actively worked against these prioritization skills I had Davidson taught me, because all the releases were of relatively equal weight regardless of the number of hours they demanded, and if you chose not to complete something you could not move on until you went back to finish it.

In my opinion, none of the releases were worth the 5-10+ hours I occasionally spent on them. And having to finish all the work (or really just submit something, but then you would be directed in feedback to re-do the assignment), made it hard to time-box because I simply did not have the skills to only put in the number of hours proportional to that release’s weight in my grade, which was next to negligible. 30 percent divided by 9 times approx. 6 releases plus approx. 3 reflection assignments, equals less than half a percent per assignment. I put in the suggested 20 hours per week into DBC (which I was almost always much higher), then each hour of work was worth 0.17% of my grade. Now that type of reductionist thinking is not particularly fair because this was a unique course and we knew it be a significant time commitment when we signed up. But for someone like me who realized quickly that I did not want to continue with Phase 1 or a development career, many of the benefits that would have made such a low grade yield worth the time commitment began to fade away.

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