Author Archives: autodizactic

What I learned from my first semester (and wish I’d figured out earlier)

It’s difficult to believe, but I’m in Week 4 of my second and final semester. Whoa.

My courses this semester differ from last semester largely because the way I chose those courses was also different. For the first semester, I was awed by the place. I was excited to be a student. And, I was trying to figure out how I could get settled as quickly as possible.

I loved all of my professors last semester. They were at the top of their games and posed problems and questions to my classmates and I in ways that were new and encouraged the plasticity of my brain.

All of this is true, and yet…

If I had it to do over again, I would have asked myself what kind of student I wanted to be at the top of course shopping.

What does that mean?

I got midway through the first semester and realized I’d chosen courses that asked me to write essays. Creative and thoughtful essays that synthesized my thinking with my readings, but essays nonetheless.

I love writing. I was an English major in undergrad and an English teacher for 8 years. As a student, I needed to make things. The thing was, I didn’t pick my courses based on that need.

This semester, I have chosen four courses that are about the building of ideas in the real world. From the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, I’m taking a course called Digital Humanities 2.0 in which we propose projects we’re interested in and jump in and build them throughout the semester.

I’m in a joint Kennedy School/Ed School course called Sparking Social Change which will ask me to choose a social problem and draw up a plan for real-world social entrepreneurship. Later in the semester, we’ll have the chance to participate in an optional module for the class in Harvard’s iLab and build out an actual plan for implementation.

I won’t go through all of my courses. Suffice it to say, they follow the theme of building.

It’s a semester of doing. Sure, there’s writing, but it’s not all I’ll be doing.

Really, it comes down to me taking better advantage of the affordances of learning here. It meant questioning what kind of student I needed and wanted to be.

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I chose this frustration…and it’s excellent

Part of the beauty of the Education Policy and Management (EPM) program is its limited requirements. Though there are some sorts of courses I need to take to graduate, I’ve much latitude in deciding exactly what that looks like. This semester, I’ve chosen to fulfill four of the five requirements.

The idea was to open the spring up to cross-registering courses in the Kennedy School or Harvard’s Business School or School of Public Health.

As I registered at the top of the semester, the freedom of choice I told myself I’d experience in the second half of my time here drove a good deal of the selections I made.

With a certain degree of surprise, S-012 with Prof. Terry Tivnan continues to be the course in which I most feel myself and my understanding of my capabilities growing.

It is also the course in which I know I’m making the most mistakes. I simply don’t know a lot of what we’re learning about. As such, I tend to misuse the language of statistics. It’s like someone who’s fluent in Spanish visiting Paris and recognizing just enough of what’s being said to make the inability to communicate perfectly frustrating.

As I sat in the library tonight compiling a report that referenced t-tests and chi square tests, friends and fellow classmates happened by. They noticed the sprawl of papers covering my study carrel and commented they were glad they weren’t in the course. One person even said you couldn’t force her to take the class.

It occurred to me then that this might be why I’m enjoying my statistics class so much. No one made me take it. It is a pre-requisite for the next level of stats in the Spring, but I’m not taking that class. None of the millions of possible next jobs after school requires me to have a knowledge of statistical analysis.

I’m enrolled in the class because it seemed like it would be interesting and I didn’t know anything about the subject matter. It is new.

Each time a homework assignment makes me want to disrupt the tranquility of Gutman with a yelp of, “For the love of all that is holy, someone just tell me the answer,” I remind myself – I chose this. No external, deus-ex-machina force worked to compel me into this class. I chose to learn this, to work with material heretofore unknown to me.

Having that choice and agency have made all the difference. I am learning because I chose what to learn. I was curious and free to follow that curiosity.

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