Senior Sem Journal: Partners in Learning?

This past Monday students in our capstone course, Senior Seminar, finished reading through Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation, edited by John Fea, Jay Green, and Eric Miller, which closes with a series of essays on colleges and other Christian communities where historians might be called to serve.

In “Coming to Terms with Lincoln,” editor John Fea reflected on his experience teaching about Civil War America to students at Messiah College. As it was a field outside of his primary expertise (in 18th century America), John found himself learning with his students—they were truly his “partners in the process” of “coming to terms” with the complicated legacy of Abraham Lincoln for American society. It is a model of education that Christina Anderson (’12) encountered during her semester at the Oregon Extension, but not so much in Bethel classrooms, as she wrote about in her seminar journal entry for the week. Earlier in this series, Christina has written about choosing her research topic — women in higher education in the early 20th century — and doing archival research for this project at the University of Chicago.

John Fea’s experience of learning alongside his students in order to understand history at a deeper level is admirable. Often an education occurs through the impersonal passing of knowledge from professor to student in a lecture. Bethel University professors attempt to bridge this gap of impersonal lecturing to “partners in the process” of learning by promoting smaller class sizes and discussions. Professors at Bethel show an interest in the educational development of their students, but a disconnect still exists with the professor being the all-knowing higher authority. I have not had the feeling that Fea describes as being co-workers in understanding history with professors at Bethel, but I have found a piece of this feeling while studying at the Oregon Extension for a semester.

The Oregon Extension is a secluded place in southern Oregon, hidden amongst the mountains and trees, where about twenty-five students study for a semester in a rustic setting. Living in a small community together with professors and students allows a great amount of academic encouragement. The professors are very welcome and open to discussions with students—we often deliberate over subjects over cups of tea and coffee. What made this interaction so unique is that these professors have areas of interests and specialties, but they also want to learn about what interests the students. When researching for term projects, the students are able to choose what they want to study within broad parameters. The professors support the students, asking them questions, learning alongside them if it was not something with which they are fully familiar, acting as facilitators, not as experts.

This unique experience allowed me to become extremely engaged in my academic work, because I felt personally supported by the faculty at the Oregon Extension. It was a time when I experienced a great amount of academic growth, and this was uplifting. I wish this type of experience were more common in academic settings at universities, but this is also an experience that is difficult to replicate.

Not everyone has to go into the woods, quite literally, to find an academic experience where professors and students collaborate. Fea found something similar in his class. But the Oregon Extension was a place where I was able to make this connection of student and professor being co-workers.

– Christina Anderson

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