This donkey keeps heading for the bushes

Anne 2012-03-29

This is the third technical course I am taking, and I am starting to notice a pattern.

The instructors teach by defining a project for which they give you all the elements, in lecture, in section etc. They provide support through various mediums so people can put the pieces of each puzzle together. The Computer science courses tend to have requirements that define the requirement the project must meet fairly stricktly, sometimes down to the name and type of the arguments.

What I have noticed, is that before I even get started on the project, I will imagine some way of adding my own spin to the project. On my first ruby project, I developed a browser based GUI so that our hands of poker could display as cards on a screen. On my first php project, I scraped several websites to obtain original data. On a maya project, I decided to create several fish to animate them together. And on our latest javascript project, I decided to integrate some US census data adding several days of work.

On the other hand, when I have much to learn, as was the case with Rails projecs, I still bushwacked through the assignment a bit, adding this or that feature but I stayed much closer to the assignement. And on the maya project, which was a fairly complex rigged animation for me, I found ways to simplify the project so it would be just right.

Why this pattern of learning? It could be that I don’t like following, I love to search, and as soon as you start bushwacking, you need to search. It could be that I believe the way to learn is to explore what others have done on the web, and so I try to find a way to extend the project in a way that forces me to bushwack.

But I am now wondering if the simple answer is that I am unconsciously manipulating the level of stress tension under which I work to keep myself focused and concentrated: When the instructor layed out a fairly structured assignment in Ruby, I immediately tried to escape it through a search for a GUI. The idea of taking methods one at a time and writing code to meet the required functionality sounded like busy work, but did not present any visible challenge. Thus the stress level was low and so was the motivation to get started. When I started on a too ambitious approach to a maya animation, the stress level was too high, and there also I could not get started. But when in a previous maya project I decided to have several dolphins with different patterns, instead of just one, the stress level was just fine for my level of skill. I thought I wanted a creative outlet, but maybe I was just manipulating my perception of stress!

If this is so, there may be other ways I can learn from class projects where all the pieces are given to you, other than heading for the bushes.