It is not every day I have the opportunity to talk to an eager young physicist exploring the potential realities of science in science fiction classics. Maybe I need to get out more. And if I did, perhaps I would discover minds across our institution, city, and the world engaged in discovery and self-improvement. I might find them asking questions of each other on the roof-tops of Cedar Rapids. Or maybe I would just meet some weird and wonderful people, as Sam did on his journey this past Summer as a student in BIG.
Nicole and I also ask Jeff, Sam’s dad and engineering consultant, to share a parental perspective. I think it was clear from our conversation, father and son both enjoy this process of discovery. And why not spend a Summer researching and building and sharing your discoveries?
I once received a 2-page course evaluation comment from a student (she was a teacher taking my Chinese class). In the treatise, she highlighted several elements she found good, but mostly what I remember is her opposition to the several competition-like activities I included. I would ask students to perform Chinese character writing on the board in front of their peers as a kind of race. I felt I was encouraging students to produce their characters fast and accurate. Most students, it seemed to me, enjoyed it. Or at least they were into it, excited about writing, and enjoying the moment. They would share ideas for how they remembered the characters. Seemed like sound pedagogy.
This student didn’t see these competitions in the same light. She saw only embarrassment – a form of public shaming in the guise of motivation. It’s a perspective that has stuck with me.
When I look for it, competition appears to be a pervasive element of the educational experience. We have formal sports competitions, and academic competitions, award lists, and a ranking grade system that seems to communication who won and who lost. We compete for scholarships and even for seats in a classroom.
Yet, there is a wholesome side to our competitive spirit. The coach who inspires the best in us, the teammates who share pride in our accomplishments and support in our disappointment, and the drive in ourselves to improve. This is the side we talk about with Sue Gilbert, a Kirkwood student in the Graphics Communication program. She shares her story and journey through an honors project on the Brotherhood of Competition.
Alissa King in India, where the ocean and two seas meet
As teachers/educators/mind developers, we encourage students to hang out on the boundaries of their skills and knowledge. We want them to consider new perspectives and experience the novel. We support them as best we can with activities that carefully build upon structures they already know. Perhaps it makes perfect sense that we, as educators, would want to challenge ourselves beyond our usual comfort zones, take some risks and continue our learning. Taking a trip to India as professional development certainly qualifies in my mind. That’s what Prof. Alissa King did last Winter (2012/13).
What are the support criteria necessary for faculty and learners to venture outside their comfort zones? How can we facilitate and manage such growth and support? Study abroad (or domestically distant) experiences are incredibly enriching. What are some other approaches? Feel free to share your stories in the comments.