I gave my digital history class a "pep talk" at the end of last week to address the concerns some of them had about feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about exactly what I wanted them to do this semester.
I explained that I wanted them to be uncertain, that I wanted them to be shaken out of their normal writing and researching experience, that it was in those conditions that they were most likely to learn. However, I explained that I wanted them to not be so overwhelmed that they felt like they couldn't do anything. I told them I wanted them to be "uncomfortable, but not paralyzed." It sounded funny after I said it (no faculty quote t-shirts, please) but it's a good summary of the environment I hope to create in this class. [Though comfortable is the ultimate goal.]
It came up again today in class as the students looked blankly when they were asked if they had any questions. So I asked, "uncomfortable or paralyzed?" They laughed and we moved forward.
I'm still concerned that some people are closer to paralyzed than uncomfortable, but I think they're willing to ask questions when they're stuck.