The value of the confused state

Confusion about the ways to assess the quality of our blogs has been the recurring topic in the class. It has surfaced again during our last lecture and I’ve been thinking about it since that day. We have talked with Sean about this situation and tried to understand the source of confusion. First of all, is the confused state caused by the task itself (creation of a blog with a potential to grow and attract visitors) or the ways in which its outcome is judged (the grading criteria)? Second, what are the consequences of a certain number of students being confused that late in the course (consequences for us and students themselves)? Third and most important, in my opinion, how to deal with confusion in a constructive way?

I will try to come up with some reasonable answers to these questions. I will start from the positive note arguing that confusion is a most natural part of any learning process. Moreover, it is a natural part of any creative process, which our blogging can be clearly identified with.

What is confusion really?

The dictionary provides several definitions. To name a few, beings confusion is feeling or exhibiting an inability to understand something; a disordered state of mind. It is, basically, a partial or, sometimes, even a complete lack of understanding about the (unknown) situation or the preferred course of actions. The perceived inability to control the situation and foresee its outcome makes us confused (bewildered, disoriented, etc).

Most new situations and projects involve periods of confusion felt by many as a discomfort of not knowing something beforehand. In most cases we deal with this feeling by trying to make sense of a new situation by, in the first hand, focusing on things we understand and, by doing so, building the solid ground for new discoveries. This process involves an active search of knowledge, its critical assessment and either its usage to improve our understanding (and lessen confusion) or its abandonment in search for new and more relevant truths.

Confusion is the major vehicle of creation. Picasso understood that better than anyone else. He wrote: “The act of creation is first of all an act of destruction”.

Moreover, feeling completely at ease with a new situation is an act of self-deception: “If you are sure you understand everything that is going on, you are hopelessly confused” [Walter Mondale]

In any new project it is wiser to start with fewer instructions and let things unfold than to begin with the explicitly coherent but inherently flawed set of clear rules. That was exactly the case with our blogging when 1) there were no clear established rules available to us 2) the seemingly relevant rules needed to be tested and modified. A new and untested project like ours required a certain degree of freedom from rules to begin its growth. This is why our goal in the beginning was:

The major task is to make the blog successful and attract traffic to it (measured by specific metrics at the end of the course)

The first measurement parameters mentioned were number of unique visitors while badges were introduced as extra credits. Although arguably contradictory and incomplete, the number of unique visitors makes the growth visible. It has never been introduced as a major assessment criterion. Badging has been dealt with accordingly.

We have arrived at 7 assessment criteria later on in the course and felt that they were really thought through. “Unique visitors” is not even a single criterion but a part of the one.

What all this tells us about the existing state of confused affairs? I would say that those who dealt with confusion in a constructive way focused on the task as such (growing the blog), fine-tuned the tactics when the rules have finally crystallized or, even better, actively influenced the process by suggesting us how to change certain rules (e.g. badging). The constructive critique, which was also timely, has helped us to make the rules more relevant for all. Thank you guys (you know who you are) for that!

Those who stayed confused about the criteria or anything else in the course are still fighting the confusion. I would say to those: stop fighting it! Fighting the confusion only makes it worse. Blaming others (us) won’t help either. Confront it and do something about it.

Some possible steps:

1. Identify what confuses you. Name it.

2. Talk with us or your friends about it.

3. Seek the missing information.

4. Ask: how can I deal with it?

5. Maintain a long term perspective – what would I think about this project in a couple of years?

Allow confusion to be what it should be – the catalyst of creativity!

At the end, being confused was our primary goal with this course!

“What do we want to achieve with this course – Confuse you by questioning things you take for granted!”