Novice and Expert, All Rolled Into One

In reflecting on the differences I’ve observed between novices and experts in my field, I realize that I exist with a foot in both of those worlds.   I have been in my current position for 10 years (13 if you count grad school), though I certainly don’t consider myself an expert, I am no novice either.   And while I bring transferable skills and learning experiences to this coursework, it is in many ways a whole new arena for me.   Here, I am a novice.

These dual roles created in me a very empathetic reader of the Benander (2009) article.   I related to the idea that “the change from expert to novice is more personally and emotionally affecting’ (p. 38}.   Where my current and new field bump create an interesting dichotomy for me as well.   I am suddenly taking on a novice role, in some ways, with colleagues that I have been working with for years in my capacity as ‘expert’.   I assume that when a person becomes quite accomplished at being a novice, is when you realize that you are suddenly…not a novice anymore, and moving up the ranks to join the mostly competent.

I also think that the return to novice is different from other perspectives as a returning student.   Having already been through the developmental growth stages of the first time college student, those stages are slightly different the second (or third) time through.   It seems like adapting to the rhythms of being a new student has been much faster this time around.

Which brings me to my personal learning network. While brainstorming this week, I realize that my current PLN resources are already pretty extensive though they will need to be re-cultivated from a my new angle as novice. I also identified some gaps in the outlet of new ideas and brainstorming challenges through a virtual network.   Many of my current resources do not use social networking tools for exchanging ideas.   But that is what this online community is all about, right?   I’m looking forward to troubleshooting solutions and bouncing new ideas off this class cohort as we launch into the semester and beyond and take our PLN to the next level.

6 thoughts on “Novice and Expert, All Rolled Into One

  1. Hey Kim, nicely articulated post here. I enjoyed reading your perspective and wanted to comment on a couple interesting points you made.
    First, your quote from the Benander article stuck with me. “The change from expert to novice is more personally and emotionally affecting” (p.38). I somehow misread or misinterpreted that statement on my initial reading. Gaining experience, respect, and confidence as we progress from novice to expert is a subtle transition characterized with generally positive or neutral emotions. Rarely would discomfort or negative emotions accompany this shift (other than growing pains). Moving from expert to novice, however, is akin to stripping that experience, respect, and confidence away, leaving one vulnerable and exposed. This is an uncomfortable position for any human being. I think a teacher who understands this feeling is likely more empathetic to the struggles of their students and diligent about creating a framework to help students succeed.

    Also you bring up the point that, although you feel like your learning network is comprehensive, many do not use social media to maintain those connections. We are at an interesting place in history where I believe the horse is before the cart with connectivism in education. The technology and desire to create virtual learning centers exists before the due diligence has been done to ensure student safety. I have serious reservations about security, ethics, and accountability regarding the use of social media with those we are charged to protect. If not for university classes, my online presence would be nearly undetectable. Although I see the potential of using social media to teach and learn, I feel there are many issues that need to be addressed before our children are safe going forward with this trend. Anyway, don’t mean to hijack you post.

    I look forward to collaborating this semester!

  2. Kim,

    I like your thoughts on how returning to being a novice becomes less painful with each iteration. Can one become an expert novice?

    Also, this type of course tends to select for those who have a certain innate comfort level with being put in that position. Even if it is a little uncomfortable for us, by its nature, we have already selected out those for whom the feelings associated with being a novice are barriers.

    Lastly, on your comments on social media, I try to keep a fairly flexible mind there. Social media can include many things. Email, for instance, is obviously a form of social media. But the big ones people often think of are Facebook and Twitter and so on. But more valuable for me, for my own learning, is the large variety of topic specific forums and community web-sites. These are social media as well, and are often structured more positively than the stream of silly cat videos on Facebook – which clearly have their value as well. 🙂

    The key is finding what works for you – and checking in now and then to make sure there isn’t something out there of tremendous benefit that you’ve overlooked until now. And you’re right, this course is absolutely a social network environment.

    Nice work.


  3. Owen already brought this up, but I want to discuss it a little further:

    “I assume that when a person becomes quite accomplished at being a novice, is when you realize that you are suddenly…not a novice anymore, and moving up the ranks to join the mostly competent.”

    You’re a long-term student, right? I am friends with many non-traditional grad students who are on their 2nd or 3rd Master’s degree. They get caught (willingly, it seems) in a cycle of picking committees, dealing with research in new areas, non-transferrable or semi-transferrable skills, redrafting, teaching new undergraduate courses, etc. – they become expert novices. I sometimes see myself heading in that direction as I list out the number of additional degrees I want…

    …It makes one wonder though how much more difficult the transition to expert expert is from expert novice. Is that harder? If you’ve spent 10-13 years as a novice do you understand the novice learning approach better than your average expert? Maybe. Given what I’ve gathered from all of our posts it seems at though that middle section is more frustrating than anything but I think being an expert novice has to have some redeeming qualities, especially for educators. Perhaps that’s why so many of us are drawn to that role of the repeated learner?

  4. Nicholas,

    You raise interesting points and ask good questions.

    Are long-term students generally aware of their metacognitive experience as a novice with ever increasing knowledge? Most of us, it seems, move through life focussed on our situational perspective from that place and time. It is rare, I think, to proceed with awareness that others are participating with their own unique situational experience – and simultaneously recognize their strengths and limitations.

    That is part of the crux of this issue, I think. The more we learn about a subject, the more we forget and lose touch with the experience of the novice – this loss of empathy can be a barrier to designing effective learning experiences.

    I like your compound-terms “expert novice” and “expert expert”… There is also the novice expert of course. I think I’ll settle for that some day…when I get there. 🙂


  5. Kim
    In your reflection you made some very interesting points that I would like to comment on.
    The first being the different stages of college student growth. I haven’t had personal experience with being a returning student. But I have been a student who transferred to four different colleges as I progress through my degrees. I believe that is what I was trying to articulate in my paper and couldn’t completely conceptualize this phenomenon the way you were able. Students go through stages in their development. I felt that in my academic career. I felt that just when I was getting comfortable with a particular department or college, I completed my program requirements and it was time to graduate. I would move on and have to adapt again. These are novice and expert learning experiences and I really appreciate your perspective.
    The second point was about not using social media. I’ve been reflecting on my own use of social media. I do have a Facebook account and as I add more people to my network I often reflect on how I use it. I have family members who always want to see pictures of my son. I have friends who want to take selfies and post them. But I also have my students, larger networks of Indigenous researchers, and NWIC colleagues who use their social networking for social change and awareness. So I often wonder types of ideas I should be exchanging on Facebook? And social networking is all new to me also. Thank you for your thoughts.

  6. Lexie,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Maybe, that is the goal of educational programs? To get you comfortable just when it’s time to move onto the next challenge?

    I’m a bit of a social media lurker also. Sometimes I share, but mostly I watch other people’s silly cat videos. 🙂 No, I’m kidding. But I’m not nearly as active on social media as some of my colleagues and my kids. I wonder what it will mean to grow up with social media being even more prevalent than it is now? Hard to imagine the long term changes on social structures as a result of huge connection capacity accompanied with a near infinite social memory.

    In the future, how do we escape our social media past?

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