One of the nicest opportunities presented to me on the occasion of my first birthday celebrated in China was made possible through the generosity of our Wenzhou-Kean University University Affairs office. They offered me a chance to invite and have a catered dinner with as many students as I would care to invite. I have an open door policy and know many students, including the ones that work in my library. There are also friendly and accomplished student ambassadors that lead campus tours, and those students that go out of their way to make me feel welcome in China.
I filled two tables of twelve, and my only regret was that I could not clone myself and sit at both tables. My table got beyond the “What did you do on your summer vacation?,” and I told them some stories from my training expeditions to Armenia. The rotating centerpiece of delectable Wenzhou food is getting picked at, mostly by hungry me. Then I start to think to myself what my next icebreaker will be…. BINGO!
Do any of you know about what is called connected learning?
I get polite blank, relaxed stares, and I am not about to pull out notes or do a lecture at my birthday party. From the basics of connected learning
I start to try to find the pioneers at my party table. I ask, “How many of you have a hobby or an activity where you make things?” I think of my own daughter, recently out of college, that would spend many dedicated, focused hours to making beading wrist bands and necklaces. Chinese students, experiential-trained to hold back, are not going to fight to be the first one to admit something. But I know many of these students from personal conversations and know some of their talents and goals. They are each very unique, and most of them are driven to succeed in English-language higher education.
So I decide to start to ask them to reflect on things they like to do, things that they like to make or create. Several don’t want to speak but gently nod their heads, as they want me to know they are engaging with the discussion. I describe interest-powered engagement with learning, the common sense that when college assignments allow you to express your own intrinsic interests, the quality of your efforts and the amount of retentive learning that takes place is greater. I remind them that the recent Sharktank Business Plan student competition in the School of Business allowed them and other students to bring their own entrepreneurial interest and role to an optional student team activity. Students chose to create sample products, sample menus, floor plans, consumer surveys, video marketing, and projections of inventory, cost, and profit.
Now at a birthday party you can’t get too serious. So I simply closed the discussion with the advice that there will be many classroom assignments that will give you choice, and it would be in your own best learning interest to select an a corner of your life that you are passionate and engaged about and bring it into the assignment.
Yes, I used my captive student audience at my own birthday celebration to launch the my fall of Connected Courses. Not a bad birthday present.