John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

What Did I Learn and What Am I Going to Do With What I Learned?

John Gardner
President

No doubt, one of the most profoundly developmental experiences I had as a college
educator was and is one that thousands of higher educators can also have today.
I refer to my first faculty training workshop in which I was a participant as
part of the training program my university (the University of South Carolina)
created in 1972 to prepare its faculty and staff instructors to teach the now
internationally replicated University 101 course. This was a workshop then
(July 1972—a month after the Watergate burglary!) designed to teach faculty
members like me who had had no “training” in how to be a college “teacher” a
whole new set of pedagogies to improve student learning and success.

One of the pedagogies we spent a great deal of time on was called simply “facilitation”. It was a pedagogy to be both a complement to and an alternative to the traditional college lecture method. In facilitation, it is the faculty member’s
responsibility to design a learning activity, conduct that activity for the students, and “facilitate” some kind of process in which the students pursue two important lines of questioning:

  1. What did I learn?
  2. And what am I going to do with what I learned.

This has been a practice I have used ever since that workshop, in my teaching, my administrative work, and in my personal life.

I have just had the occasion to practice this in my personal life. Specifically, my
wife, Betsy Barefoot, and I have just returned upon this writing from a fast,
10 day trip to Italy, a country we had never before visited. While I was there
I found myself constantly asking “what am I learning?” “Now isn’t that just
like an academic” you would rightly say—“instead of just enjoying a vacation he
has to be intellectually analyzing it?” Yes, I confess, guilty as charged. But
for me, the academic, a significant part of the vacation pleasure comes in and
from the analysis of what I learned and my speculation about what I might do
with what I learned.

So just what did I learn:

  1. That Donald Rumsfeld, one of our most recent former Secretaries of Defense, was dead wrong when he mocked what he called “Old Europe” implying that we Americans had little to learn from them and that we should just go our own way. We have a great deal to learn from Old Europe.
  2. In our whole time in Italy we did not meet one citizen who would acknowledge any respect for the country’s elected leader. In fact, we were literally there there at the public square where and when he made his public announcement of resignation. At least in my country there are citizens who respect our elected leader.
  3. That we are not a country that has as part of its national culture the respect for
    “art”. It cannot be said that across our social classes we are unified by our
    respect and appreciation for art as a meaningful, powerful, and necessary form
    of human reflection, expression and inspiration.
  4. That I am woefully ignorant of art myself and that I neglected the opportunity in
    college to study “art appreciation.” Shame on me. It’s not too late.
  5. That I need to be even more of a believer than I already am of the aspirational goal that we need to make foreign study and travel part of the undergraduate experience for all.
  6. That there are good reasons why my American Express card would not provide its customary car rental insurance for rentals in Italy.
  7. That western Europe both in spite of its history and because of its hjstory with
    respect to the role of religion is becoming more secular. Even in the citadel
    of the Roman Catholic church, secularism is on the rise. I cannot say that about
    my own country where the religious right has such an outsize influence on
    public policy.
  8. I could see for myself why Italy has a longer life expectancy for its citizens
    than does my own country: they have a universal health system and their focus
    on the love of family, food and wine seems to produce a higher level of
    personal “happiness” than I see in my own country.

This is a blog. So I am supposed to provide only the condensed version of what I learned.

OK, now here’s the harder part: what am I going to do with what I learned?

  1. Share some of what I learned with others.
  2. Return to parts of Italy that I did not see (we visited only Milan, Florence, Siena,
    Assisi, Spoleto, Rome, and Pompeii)
  3. Take my grandchildren for a return visit with me when they are old enough to
    appreciate the experience (I did not go to Europe for the first time until I
    was 36 years old—no study abroad for me)
  4. Learn more about art history
  5. Resolve to continue my effort to try to balance the continuing practice of my
    professional work life with taking more vacation time to travel abroad

Let me return to the pedagogy I am trying to illustrate: what did I learn and what
am I going to do with what I learned? I really do recommend this not only as a
pedagogy but as a way of thinking, living, and acting inside and outside one’s
profession.

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