Archive for August, 2015

Connectedness and making your own connections


I fell into connections in learning by accident, and it certainly did not follow common themes of connected learning, but maybe it could help…

Long story short, I quit school my sophomore year because I was no closer to finding a major and I couldn’t sleep.  Fast forward 2 years and I’m back in school.  I decided I would try out science.  So I dove in head first.  I ended up taking courses in one or two semesters, that others would take over years.  All of those nit picky prerequisite and weed out courses that so many loathe.  These courses were taught by different departments.  I was taking wildlife management at the same time as introduction to zoology, chemistry, and ecology.  While they are in different departments they were all conceptually linked.  What I was learning in a 400 level course was based directly on what I heard the morning before in my 200 level course.  All of these terms, concepts, and paradigms would play themselves out in problem posing scenarios in my higher level courses.  The connections just came to me.  I had no choice.  Had I taken these courses at the times my normal requirements would have allowed, I would have had huge gaps in theories, years between introduction and application.  So now I have ideas on connecting these things.


If my professors saw or had a clue to the immersive effects my crowded schedule was having they could guide others to make the same connections.  But how could they?  They were all in different departments.  When prerequisites are set there are assumptions about conceptual proficiency from one course in support of another.  What if you could “level up”?  Say a freshman or sophomore decides to major in Biology.  If all or even some of the professors that teach the courses that support that major could coordinate on a network of connected themes and developments, then that student could discover their way through the connections of these disciplines, level by level.  So much of what is taught in physical sciences relies on real life examples.  Often these examples are drawn from or lead to other disciplines.  Why stop there?  Colleges could have connected theory courses that could have whole incoming classes of students working through their requirements and making discoveries the whole way through.  We always hear of interdisciplinary studies but through large networks of connections and theory students could get so much more out of their schedules.  Connected learning on this scale could provide the ecosystem that would lead students to get more than just the grade, more of the “hows” and “whys” that their studies offer.

Warm Hearth, Trial By Fire

We have been learning about and exercising various small aspects of communication all class long.  Every little thing is set to add up on another to gain confidence and add to our abilities.  Most of them are not specific instructions about ‘always this’ or ‘never that’, but rather pieces of a larger puzzle that fit together as a larger presentation.  This was that presentation.  We have spent time together working on talking and being comfortable as speakers and audience members as a group.  A group of people who have come to find some mutual respect and admiration for each other and their respective research fields.  But now we face strangers, strangers of all types, people we have never met, people who are later on in life, who will ask any question they please.  They weren’t that late in life but we did go up in front of strangers.

Each of us had an introduction, likely a key thing to remember and serve as a distraction.  We all had to be prepared, without memorizing, but with some trial runs.  We went to a retirement community and plied all of our accumulated skills to get our audience to hear and to care about the crazy, complicated things that we research right next door to them.  It went well.  You could see afterwards just how different things were from our first introductory ramblings in the beginning of the semester.  Granted, we were in a much different setting than our first recording, but we still had the same subject.  We had to break something out of the specific vernacular we have to prove that we have mastered on the way to break throughs in our research fields, down to a level that anyone could pick up.  We did not cause any riots but we got their attention.  Afterwards we got to think about it.  No advisors, no grant board reviews, just peers and ourselves going through the actual footage of our talks.  It was very useful.  Most of the time after a talk, I get feedback that I can’t really trust.  “Oh yeah. You did great,” or “you didn’t look nervous at all.”  There are way too many variables involved to get something relevant from someone I know, much less an honest review.  Without having any consequences to how the talk went, and reviewing it with people familiar with the same exercises I had just gone through, gave me a much more useful level of feedback.

Having a willing audience that was mine to loose was great.  I have had others but I don’t know how I could have broken the ice with them because of the value they might expect from me.  It wasn’t really a trial by fire but it was a definite step up from the in-class exercises that we went through before.