My Brain… Hurts!

If you’re like me and lead a fairly sedentary life despite the best of intentions, you know what it’s like after you get some unaccustomed exercise. A day or two later and your muscles are complaining because of the hike up (and, even more so, down) the mountain, raking leaves, or what have you. After another day or two of sitting at a desk, in front of a TV, or behind the wheel, it’s back to normal – until the next time.

"Shh! I'm studying"My brain’s been feeling this way a little bit lately. For some time I have been reading about and going to the occasional conference session on performance measurement and performance management. Pardon me a.) for being late to the game, b.) stating the obvious, and/or c.) boring you to tears, but the application of various kinds of performance measurement and performance management has become more and more important in local government (and, consequently, in what I do) over the last twenty or thirty years. Not long ago I received an email from the Collins Center for Public Management at UMass Boston about an online course and I thought it was time to take a more serious, organized approach to learning more.

Unaccustomed exercise? Oh, yeah.

Ouch.

The last time I studied anything in such a structured way was more than fifteen years ago. I took graduate level public administration courses at the University of New Hampshire, fully intending to work toward a Master’s in Public Administration. At the time I had a wife and three little girls and a very full-time job, yet still managed to drive about an hour to Durham once or twice a week, spend two or three hours in class, drive an hour or so home, read, write, study, and get up and do it all over again. At some point I decided I would rather take a town manager’s position than continue my studies, but the courses I took were very valuable and still have relevance today.

Fifteen years later I still have a wife (the same one, God bless her), three not-so-little girls (only one of whom is still at home), and a very full-time job, the one I left my other job and educational ambitions to take. And I’m registered as a student (non-credit at this point) in an online course, “Performance Management in Government and Non-Profits.”

Aside from the experience of taking the course being different (online versus in a classroom) I’m finding some of the same things I valued about taking courses at UNH to be true. I can shed my official, professional persona for a bit and be a student, and have the experience of interacting with others studying the same thing. The interaction is all through emails and discussion forums, so I miss the break in the middle of class for a cup of coffee and getting to know more about the other students, but it’s still interesting. Both the pace and content of the program are demanding, my brain isn’t used to strenuous exercise after so much time, and it’s harder to concentrate, harder to get concepts and terminology to stick – not impossible, just harder. But I’m enjoying it.

As an added benefit I’ve been amused to experience one of the realities of  higher education today – the online student portal.  I even have my own UMass Boston student email address.

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