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Jul 16, 2010

Learning the ropes

As any good constructivist knows, the best way to learn about something is by changing it. By change I don’t necessarily mean reform or improvement – just making something work is already changing it. For example, you can read about how a new phone works, or you can just try to call someone. I want to defend all those people who get criticized by their domestic partners for not reading directions before assembling that IKEA furniture puzzle. Sometimes it backfires, and you need to take the darn thing apart and reassemble. But the approach itself is definitely sound. We learn about the world by manipulating it. That has been my approach to learning about RIC. For example, as I mentioned in my previous blog, we need to gain some clarity on our budget situation. That’s a perfect excuse to learn about the financial part of PeopleSoft. It became clear to me, for example, that we need another reporting tool, and I need access to another account. Some of it is quite confusing (for example, the info is kept in different ledgers, and their names make very little sense to me), but because there is a real problem to be solved, I have the motivation to make it work.
Another example: Kim, Eileen, Charley and I spend two hours today reviewing the current student teaching application process, and designing its next on-line version. In the meanwhile, I have learned from them about the technology on campus, about our accounting procedures, relationships with partner districts, and about the academic programs we have. If I spent same two hours reading the catalog and manuals, the result would have been much smaller, and easily forgettable.
There is still much to learn, of course. I attended a freshmen parent dinner last night, and could not answer many most basic questions. What are the meal plans? When do we learn about the dorm assignments? Trying to represent the institution, but saying “I don’t know” is not a very comfortable position. Thankfully, those people were really nice and gave me a break.
Being a new kid on the block (yet again!) is helping me to think about the nature of learning. Why do we learn, and how do we learn best; what are the existential implications of knowing and not knowing – everyone who is an educator should be reminded about these fundamental questions. I am greatful to this opportunity. 

1 comment:

  1. During my first year of teaching (at my former institution), I receive a course evaluation from a student who said that in my course, she witness the most "unprofessional moment" she had ever seen: she heard her professor (me) say, "I don't know the answer to that... does anyone else want to take that up?" I saved that evaluation because it reminds me of the kind of teacher I want to be -- one who isn't afraid to name the things she doesn't know! Welcome to the job, Sasha. Glad to read your adventures in 'not-knowing' and happy to help in any way as you learn the ropes around here!