13 Good Stress vs Bad Stress

Some of the previous sections might give the impression is that the instructor’s main duty is to make students more comfortable. Many students indeed face difficult challenges meeting basic needs for things like food, clothing, and shelter. Others perceive themselves as marginalized or disadvantaged due to racism, sexism, or other other forms of historical oppression.  Students with disabling conditions may need to struggle heroically just to make it to class or to process information given there. All this is true enough. Any yet, it fails to tell the whole story about why an IT curriculum exists or what the instructor’s purpose is in facilitating IT skills development. Here is one way to summarize the unique contribution of IT instruction: our students may need therapy or pain management, but therapy and pain management are not the core mission of an IT class. IT exists simply to increase human productivity, and for IT workforce, to increase compensation. Beyond basic needs there are other needs in Maslow’s hierarchy, needs that require adequate funding for students to realize them. IT skills can help a lot with the generation of wealth and income for those who have historically lacked access to these resources. So resist the temptation to turn IT into a stress-free zone in which everyone is welcome because nothing is required! Doing that would cause the class to lose value for those very students who have surely experienced pain, exclusion, or trauma in their lives, but who now are reaching for a more secure and prosperous form of life beyond these obstacles. Stress, in moderation, is vital for the learning they need. You do need to stress out your students from time to time! Just learn to calibrate the dosage!

The references below give much detailed information about neurophysiology and the relationship between stress and learning. From a practitioner’s standpoint, the science points to the existence of a “sweet spot”. Just enough stress to activate concentration and memory retention. But not so much stress as to provoke anxiety attacks or to cause students to shut down. Psychologist Mihaly Csiksezentmihaly wrote a book called Flow that analyzed optimum conditions for learning  and performance. The book is worth a read, but for the briefest of summaries, just think about educational engagement. Think about a task so absorbing, so intrinsically worthwhile that time slips away from you and you really cannot imagine pulling away and working on something else. That sort of engagement is the sweetest of educational sweet spots! Students who take some fairly routine assignment and transform it into a prototype video game or a personally expressive art project are working from a flow state. You can’t get there with every student and every assignment, but make room for it in your scheme of things! For typical classrooms, routine stress-inducers like graded homework, deadlines, and call outs in class will be enough to keep students on their toes and to activate their learning. That’s how to get through content that is not inherently interesting. But if you can align course assignments with motivations students already bring with them, instead of inducing stress, your assignments will incite passion and creativity, and things like grades and deadlines will be far from the students’ thinking. Creative processes like these bring their own stress, but it’s a very desirable sort of stress, the sort of stress that brings meaning and purpose into our world.


https://www.nature.com/articles/npjscilearn201611Links to an external site.

https://www.simplyacademy.com/how-does-stress-affect-learning/Links to an external site.

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/neuroscience-behind-stress-and-learning-judy-willisLinks to an external site.



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Making Connections: Instructors Guide for Information Technology Copyright © by Robert Bunge is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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