Friday, April 18, 2014

I Am Officially Done... My Undergrad - A Few Thoughts For University Students

A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that "individuality" is the key to success.  ~Robert Orben

This could not be any more true. 

So often we are forced to toe the line. Especially as students, often in the prime of our learning potential - still young enough to learn new things and not quite jaded by "reality," while also being old enough to start critically and independently think. This should be the time to debate popular discourse, push the boundaries, challenge authority (in a complete peaceful and diplomatic way, of course :P)


This is typically what happens...

Nick Gibbs - British Conservative Party Politician

... and it is wrong...

More and more individuals are realizing that we cannot teach in manner that is one-directional. I am not here to start preaching a Platonic way of learning, whereby texts would be eliminated and all discourse would run through discussion and open debate. Nor am I saying we need to follow the tenants of Locke or Aristotle and that we are all blank slates (tabula rasa). What I am saying is that we need to figure things out for ourselves on an individual basis.

I can't tell you how many times I have known fellow students to stress out endlessly because they feel they were slighted by a single mark.

Is it frustrating - absolutely!

Does it matter - probably not.

Sure, there are certainly exceptions. If you need to get into Med school, you probably need much higher marks and every little bit counts. Should it necessarily be this way - no. But it is. However, for the majority of university students getting decent grades is all that is necessary. No one will ask to see your transcript. Albeit, you still need to know your field and important material, but university courses are often very specific and specialized. Or, extremely general and non specific.

Use university as a guide. Let it help you find your direction, but ultimately find your own way.

Use university as a tool, not as the end-all and be-all. It is a great time to learn to time manage. 

What does that mean exactly?

Often in life you will not have the time to do everything you want to do, and to do it perfectly. "Sacrifices" often need to be made. Parents often know this all too well. Do you really think you are going to be as productive at work after three months of a newborn not sleeping more than one or two hours a night... nope. And frankly, there is nothing wrong with that.

Graduating university without ever doing extra curricular activities, sports, volunteering, etc... is a shame. Not to mention, once you have "fairly good" grades, you need to find a way to differentiate yourself.

To end off - you don't need university to learn. Many are able to self teach or autodiadact. Not to mention, when you look at the work of 2013 TED prize winner Sugata Mitra, you can see that perhaps learning and education can occur spontaneously and in the absence of "teaching":

Educational researcher Dr. Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” experiments have shown that, in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other, if they’re motivated by curiosity and peer interest. In 1999, Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other.

The "Hole in the Wall" project demonstrates that, even in the absence of any direct input from a teacher, an environment that stimulates curiosity can cause learning through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge. Mitra, who's now a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University (UK), calls it "minimally invasive education."
At TED2013, Sugata Mitra made a bold TED Prize wish: Help me build a place where children can explore and learn on their own -- and teach one another -- using resouces from the worldwide cloud.