Baking a course

I wrote this draft Aug 19 this 2019 summer. Just to put things in perspective. Reflection is just a collection of perspectives. Your own perspectives. I reflect on how summer passed me by a little differently this time around. Summer is so precious in Canada. I always found it funny, and completely amiable, how central the topic of weather is in Canadian conversations. But it is true, summer is shorter in Canada (you wonder for how long), and it is absolutely beautiful. So it is that much harder to exert the right effort to, quite frankly, want to work or get any work done during the summer months…err weeks. Summer in Canada is the antithesis of boredom. And you can still find the time and space during summer to be happily bored. Winter is almost upon us. But winter is also remarkable. If there wasn’t winter, you wouldn’t notice how the sunrise got skewed over to the peripheral horizon. Winter makes you buckle down. Strangely, for me, winter reminds me of my vulnerability, a lot more than summer does. 

I spent my summer taking two courses, one of which was a reading course. A reading course is an amazing way of adding flexibility to any program. It is not a perfect course. It is not meant to be. But where it lacks in sheer volume of content, it flaunts in hidden curriculum effects. Whatever that means. It is inherently more personal and arguably self-motivating because you get to learn about something you actually want to learn about. Imagine taking a graduate degree (or any degree for that matter) and having the opportunity to tweak it and customize it. Imagine if the customization catered to future real-life applications, enabling you to realize the vision you loosely premeditated before enrolling. May be it is a symptom of certain programs or certain degrees. May be, it is a function of the learner’s willingness to test the program’s flexibility, think outside the box and self-advocate. May be I am just ranting and we shouldn’t be this passionate about curriculum development, and stick to giving and “flipping” lectures because “kids these days just want to be spoon-fed the content”. May be I am pretending to be cynical for added humor or controversy. 

In my case, an unlucky event – namely that a key program course did not have sufficient student enrollment – lead to a real life collaboration that is similarly valuable to learning any volume of content. The value of network, this idea of communities of practice, is becoming stark in my own research as well. For me, it lead to a serendipitous alignment of events, that truly made a course experience feel like no other, even if I lost out on certain content and structural comfort. All the ingredients were there for it to happen. When I learned about the cancellation of the course and the possibility that it may disrupt my graduation plans, I took initiative and spoke to a colleague who is passionate about program evaluation. A former engineer, so the appeal of having a different perspective was very much present. I asked if he’d be willing to teach a course on program evaluation sans assessment (the latter was the other component of the original course). He responded with alacrity and the affirmation that indeed this was on his agenda of goals and that it would be a great trial run. I took this information to my program director (an infinitely open-minded and brilliant individual – an obviously necessary ingredient). I remember running over right after the engineer and I  spoke and it was a sunny but chilly spring morning. He had some reservations but the situation did not allow for a better option. He approved it. It was a rush to get it all prepared within a few days of the deadline but we did it. 

If you have the ingredients, seize the day and make it happen. You’d be surprised who else might enjoy baking. No really. My director is an avid baker. I, on the other hand, am happy to acquire them ready from a trendy café bakery. And it just so happens that the engineer feels the same way. 

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