Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Surviving the College Course

I have been a busy person for the past couple of months. I am looking into employment and retraining options for the future with the help of SMD (the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities) and this has led me on several adventures over the past year but the past two months have brought the largest set of challenges. I went back to school and I also started volunteering at a hospital to gain work experience.

I completed the ten-week college course in Interpersonal Communication that I started in January. How did that turn out? I don't have the final mark yet but I expect to have passed comfortably.  I completed 4 short papers and wrote two exams. The first half of the course was an exercise in fitting in and getting back in the grove. I quickly became aware of some major learning problems that did not exist before my health issues started. I used to read a lot and be able to easily remember what I read or heard. That is just not easy anymore. The course had a rather good textbook that was set up with an accompanying online version of the text and a lot of extra study aides available online and boy did I need them.

The teacher is a nice guy with a true desire to educate his students. 
In class there were a lot of small group activities and he managed to let me stay put and have the small group come to me so I didn't need to get up and down all the time. The class room was a very "busy" place from a sensory point of view. There was a heater going, a buzz from the lights and a lot of wiggly classmates. I picked a seat to the left side of the room near the front and that helped a lot since I seem to see and hear a lot better when the action is to my right "good" side.  I had trouble catching everything the teacher was saying, especially if he turned his back to write on the board or talked faster when he got passionate about a topic. He has his own issues with hearing loss and was understanding and more than willing to make every effort to accommodate me.

I found that, even though I usually feel like my language skills and short-term memory are adequate for everyday life now, my language skills fell apart when I needed to learn so many new terms. The course had about 25 fairly complicated vocabulary words a week and I was really struggling. I understood the concepts but word retrieval was absolutely eluding me.  Even if through some miracle I recalled the new word, I might have trouble actually articulating it during class, sort of like a stutter. 

The saving grace for me was that the online resources had a lot of games like memory matching games. …find the card with the word and march with a card with the definition. There were vocabulary crossword puzzles, vocabulary sheets, examples of videos using the skills, and practice tests for each chapter. I worked so hard!! Even with all that my recall was extremely hit and miss. The reason I will have done okay on the exams is because the exam format was multiple choice.  Aha! Apparently I can recognize the word and understand it.  On-line practice fill in the blank tests were miserable.  My midterm exam mark with multiple choice was great.

Reading the textbook was a massive challenge too. I have worked and worked over the past 4 years to get my reading level back up again but it is still difficult.  The muscles in my face do not work evenly so my left eye tracks across the page slower than my right and with a little bounce. Reading this photo rich textbook, for content, was taking me as much as 7 hours actual reading time to get through 30 pages and for every hour of reading I would need to stop and rest my eyes for another hour in order to recover from the growing headache and accompanying nausea. 

The partial solution to the reading issues was that online version of the textbook. I had my textbook open with a highlighter pen in hand and I had my computer read the words to me. [On my MAC you highlight the text you want read and then hit Option plus Escape]. I highlighted anything in the book that I needed to review later in order to work on remembering or comprehending the material. I closed my eyes and listened through examples and basic information.
The formatting style of the textbook made this difficult too. The computer reads straight down the page as printed, including tables and pictures stuck in the middle of text passages. This is also not easy because you can't take your time when reading the hard concepts -- the computer voice plods on with or without you.

I still hope to go to college and take more courses in September but I am starting to become aware of how many barriers I will be facing. I have an appointment with a Disability Counselor/ Social Worker at the college to discuss my options for modifications or assistance in the future. Next time I might not get a multiple-choice exam!

The volunteer experience component of my back to work program overlapped with the last two weeks of the college course. My ability to study and focus plummeted and fatigue won out. I am sure my second terms marks will reflect my exhaustion.

Am I glad I did the course? You bet!

I found it hard to keep to the page limit in the papers I had to write for class. I always want to write too much!


I will save writing about my volunteer experiences for another day!


Humpty Dumpty said...

Despite the challenges, you did a splendid job, Linda. :)

Grace Carpenter said...

I used to love taking courses. I know I'm not ready yet to begin again, but this post helped me to start thinking about some of the challenges I might face in the future.

I'm so impressed you did it!

Glynis Jolly said...

Congratulations, Linda. College isn't easy and when the course makes you look at yourself, it get a little harder.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...