If you follow along with my blog, you likely know that last February I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and take on a position on the academic side of campus. I was offered the opportunity to cover a parental leave and focus on program-level assessment, similar to what I had been doing in student affairs, but within the quality assurance office. There were a lot of mixed feelings at first ... a lot. I enjoyed the opportunity to talk to faculty, ask them questions about what they think students should be learning in higher education, and try to understand why some had such negative views of student life and housing. It allowed me to advocate for the great work educators do outside of the classroom, and the leadership skills, life lessons, and community engagement that students are afforded to compliment their academic knowledge. However, it also made me yearn for the purposeful work and intentional projects I had in student affairs, and I missed that culture of excitement. Talking to student affairs professionals about curriculum development, program assessment, and teaching techniques was fun, engaging, and often they shared their enthusiasm to learn. Early on in my acting position, I learned that generally speaking, faculty tend not to share that same enthusiasm and often see the culture of assessment as more work than beneficial. Some challenge the difference between objectives and outcomes, question why each course needs to map back to an outcome, and ask who is responsible for collecting and analyzing the data when they are already on administrative overload. While I was frustrated at first that these were issues, as I have progressed in this role and taken time to learn, I now can appreciate their concerns, perspectives and struggles. I am beginning to understand why some faculty may be apprehensive and feel like they don't always have the support and resources to implement these practices effectively. At times, I even appreciate why some feel as though curriculum should only be discussed and used within an academic setting, and how student life should offer learners real-world, unstructured learning experiences. I now welcome the opportunity to talk with them about their concerns, help them better understand the value of outcomes-based assessment, and enjoy working towards changing the culture of assessment on campus.
The first few months of my role, I couldn't wait to get out of the academic realm. It wasn't me; it wasn't true to my purpose and values; and it didn't align with my career goals. There were times when I came home and cried, wishing that I could just return back to my job in housing ... but I knew that I had made a commitment and I needed to follow through with it. And I am so glad that I did. Now, 8 months later, that discomfort I faced at the beginning when I felt inexperienced, incompetent, frustrated, bored, and insecure has dissipated. I am learning to lean into that uncomfortable feeling, and to use it as a learning experience to challenge myself to continue learning more. Learning how to communicate more effectively with faculty; learning how to find meaning in work that I wouldn't have before; building networks and relationships with faculty and staff who I would have never crossed paths with otherwise; and contributing to some of my institution's highest level committees and councils. Perhaps most importantly, I am learning to love my colleagues and have never felt such a sense of success, camaraderie and friendship with all the people I work with. The uncomfortable is starting to become very comfortable ... and it is nice.
Particularly over the past month or so, I have really leaned into that feeling and used it to challenge myself to take on new projects, share my struggles with my supervisors, and found opportunities to bring my background in student affairs to the forefront to be successful. As you may know, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD) just published a document that outlines what types of practices are considered to be "experiential learning", which includes work-integrated learning. We have known for quite some time that the province was going to require institutions to have experiential learning opportunities for students, but that definition has previously been quite vague and defined by each campus. Now with these guidelines, we have a better idea of what would qualify as an experiential opportunity in our academic programs. The key to this is to have students reflect on these various experiences and demonstrate how their learning through these practices is directly connected to what they are learning in their programs: How are they applying these theories and skills? How do we know they are doing that effectively? How are they demonstrating this application? How are we capturing these reflections? How can the reflections be used for career development and readiness? How do we ensure that all experiential opportunities, regardless of type, provide students with the same reflection, skills and career preparation? So. Many. Questions. Thankfully, I have been assigned some significant project work relating to these questions and have been able to wear both hats - considering how this connects to our academic programs, and how theories like Kolb (which we tend to use more in the co-curricular realm) can come together. Best of both worlds.
Taking on this type of project has been so rewarding because it has allowed me to flex some different muscles, and bring together my experience from the co-curricular and the incredible academic work we are doing on our campus. As institutions move towards integrating these principles and concepts into our academic experiences, I also envision these becoming key components of our co-curricular and student life experiences as well. I already have a brainstorm of ideas for how we can do a better job at integrating simulations, capstone projects, and performance based learning into our staff training and student development experiences. Being able to see how these two worlds - the academic and the co-curricular- can come together to be more complimentary in the future makes me excited. It brings promise to me that we can continue to work together, instead of siloed and apart, and that everyone can see how valuable it could be. I am hopeful that just as assessment has moved from the confines of the classroom to become an integral part of the out-of-class learning experience, perhaps experiential learning will be the next catalyst to bring faculty, staff, students and administration together to realize that we shouldn't be talking about graduation, grades, and programs separately from life skills, personal development and student life; rather, we could be and should be talking about all together and focusing on the holistic student.
Are these ideas novel? No. Would I have thought of them even if I was still in my housing position? Probably. Do I feel like my perspective and lens has changed through this often uncomfortable experience? Absolutely.
So, if nothing else, ask yourself what makes you uncomfortable. What makes you feel a little outside of your comfort zone, insecure, or unknowledgeable? What challenges you to think differently, network with people outside of your scope, and flex different muscles? When you find it ... embrace it. Lean into it. Learn from it. Embrace it.
If there is anything that I can share from my own experience leaning into the discomfort, it is that I am so much better for it. I am a better professional with a much broader breadth of understanding for how my institution works and the barriers that keep our student life and academic life separate at times. I am happier because this has forced me to speak up, share my knowledge, and find ways to fuse together my past and present experience. And, speaking of experiential learning, I see firsthand the value of applying knowledge in work settings and different environments every day, as I reflect regularly on how so much of my graduate work and previous experience helps me be a better educator in my current role. I try to remind myself often that you have to practice what you preach, and what better way to role model to our students the value of a holistic student experience and experiential opportunities than to jump in ourselves to become more holistic professionals?
A creative educator striving to enhance the holistic student experience and committed to exploring personal strengths and fulfillment.