The assignment process gives me cognitive overload

I was reading about cognitive overload yesterday as relates to problem solving, and consequently, why sometimes it doesn’t result in learning. Research seems to suggest that our working memory can handle five to seven items in our head at a time, which is why telephone numbers are seven digits, and why you have to write down a longer grocery list. However, how often do we use our brains to memorize numbers or a simple list? And so really, our minds can only grapple with two or three ideas at a time. If we can’t access some of the information we need from our long term memory, we move back and forth from, for example, written documents (hence one difference from novice and experts). And then….

I’m taking a couple of courses right now at the post-secondary level. The instructor is deviating from the course outline at times, which he admits is part historical document* and part updated by himself. The consequence is that last night, we were assigned three different things, two of which were moved up a week (just the assignment information, not the due dates). There was an online discussion question assigned, a small individual assignment, and part one of a major project. The verbal instructions are modifications from the outline, and the assignment handouts we were given didn’t quite match the assignment titles on the course outline. Result? Confusion.

When I would work with faculty on the development of an online space to supplement their face to face teaching, I would harp a bit about easy navigation. I told them that the students should be using their little grey cells to evaluate and apply the course content, *not* trying to remember where things are posted, or which assignment is due when.

This combination of reading and experience yesterday made me consider my working memory, and what I *want* to be thinking about, and my expected outcomes. I’d rather use my attention to consider discourse communities, clarity in communications, creating unique learning experiences or mobile learning.

* “why is assignment two due in hardcopy, when assignment one was due via email”. “I’m not sure. Because it’s always been done that way. Would you prefer to email it?” “yes!”


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