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Amanda Chalfant

Frances McCue

Honors 205 A

7 December 2014

Learning to Learn

In a class centered on learning more about what I know and how I know it, I was

profoundly surprised to realize how much I do not, in fact, know. Yet while I may not (and will

likely not ever) understand all about philosophy, feminist care ethics, methane vents in the

seafloor, or ancient Welsh laws, as Professor Victoria Lawson put it, you must “make knowledge

important, so that you are not thinking ‘who cares?’ Make it so it has a specific point for

understanding things, not just a regurgitation of information for the sake of information.” I

believe that as I have waded through this past ten weeks of the course, I have learned to make

connections between very different topics and people.

My style of writing, learning, and working within a group has not necessarily changed,

but I like to think that it has been expanded. I am more adaptable than the Amanda that walked

into class on the first day, energized by her first-day jitters yet also slightly nervous for the idea

of ‘college classes’. After being exposed to unfamiliar art, religion, science, and overall ideas

about life—things that make me uncomfortable at times, causing me to question my

preconceptions—I have become more enthusiastic about all there is to learn about the world.

This course was all about breadth; obviously, Frances’ aim in giving us such topics as

glass sea sponges or medieval law was not to make us experts in those particular fields (I will

leave that to the brilliant PhD students and professors for now). Instead, it was like learning

within learning; we had to take a break every so often to reflect, applying some of those good old
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critical thinking skills to make connections between articles that seemingly had no connections

to each other. In this, I strengthened and developed many strategies to explore how I know, learn,

write, listen, and interact with others.

The reflection into discovering what I know related most to the various scholars that

came to speak with our class. I was struck by how incredibly focused they all were on such a

specific topic within their respective fields. It is amazing to me that a person can go to school for

so many years to gain such a depth of knowledge in one thing; yet, at the same time, each visitor

left me with little nuggets of wisdom. Professor Johnson taught me to “choose a career where

you work hard but have so much fun that it does not feel like work.” Professor Lawson left me

with the advice to “look all around you—including backwards—to move forward.” Dr. Ann

Baker challenged our concepts of knowledge, showing that “truth is not necessarily what is

socially accepted.” Professor Hamza Zafer cautioned me to look past cultural stereotypes, using

the example of “orientalism as all of the diversity of the East flattened into one image.” And

perhaps the most compelling to me was Professor Robin Stacey’s sentiment that “all history, no

matter how minute, is worth remembering and studying.” These scholars did not visit to lecture

drily on a single topic; they were meant to relay to us different ways of knowing and using


When encountering the readings assigned each week by the various visiting professors, I

had to reshape how I learn. I had to attack the articles and form a plan of action: get background,

figure out whose work I was about to read, then adapt how I read and organized the information

as I went. The heavy, science- or academic-based articles, with their technical language and

plethora of citations? I will admit that I often skimmed these. Yet that was not a bad thing, as it

was simply the most effective way to read. In those cases, it was less about the content of the
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piece and more about the style and diction, analyzing how the information was learned and


While I adapted how I read and learned, I also adapted how I write. I knew coming into

the university that the days of the stiff, structured ‘five paragraph essay’ were extinct, yet I was

not prepared for Frances’ lack of rubrics/initial direction. For someone who thrives on ‘coloring

inside the lines’ when it comes to essays, checking off the boxes of what the teacher wants to

read, this dearth of directions was a shock at first. Again, I was forced to be much more active in

my brainstorming and outlining, deciding the structure and main points of each essay on my

own. My work improved with this newfound flexibility, as I was able to tailor my plan of attack

for each essay, whether it was a children’s story, a research paper, or a philosophy argument. I

do not feel that I have become better at any one type of writing; rather, I have gained a taste of

experience in several different styles and figured out how to tailor my skills to the task at hand.

No writing assignment was complete without a peer review session, of course. The

process of peer review within this course was perhaps the largest surprise to me; it was

absolutely mind-boggling, after years of disappointing peer reviews (comments like ‘wow this

needs no revision, it’s already good’ do not actually help, contrary to old classmates’ beliefs) that

I found a group of students who genuinely cared about the feedback they gave me. I listened to

their thoughtful comments about my work, which in turn helped me to change the way that I see

constructive criticism. My peers were invested in what I wrote and how to better my essays, so

naturally this made me more inclined to care about the feedback with which I presented them.

My time in class definitely improved how I listen to others. This is the area where I could use the

most work, I believe. From both peer review and classroom discussions, I learned how to keep

myself engaged in listening to my classmates, teacher, and visiting speakers. Again, it is all
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about remaining actively involved in listening and contributing, by writing down others’

thoughts, using the role of encourager to hear from everyone, and knowing when to add an


My interaction within a group was very different in this course; effective group work

encompasses listening to other people, playing on individual strengths to assign roles, ensuring

communication, and making sure work is distributed well. However, all of these components

become easier when each member is involved. I was so refreshed to come into this course to find

others who actually cared; we all chose the class and were enthusiastic in one way or another,

and this enhanced the group dynamic so much. For my own role within groups, both formally (as

with our final project) and informally, I like my voice to be heard; this often meant taking the

approach to lead the group. In our final project, I assumed the role of organizer, the compiler of

everyone else’s information, the polisher of the final work. While I know that I am still have a lot

of work to do in my leadership skills—I am not always comfortable being the final decision

maker, which is a lot of pressure—I was able to apply my newly improved listening,

encouraging, and organizing skills to match the group’s needs.

Through this journey of epistemology, this foray into philosophy, poetry, science,

religion, geography, and all the gaps in between, I have been expanded by the discovery of all

this new knowledge. The breadth of topics I have encountered has made me realize that I am

more flexible than I thought when it comes to my writing and engagement. I can ‘fake’ my way

through a certain writing style or topic, and with enough outlining and peer review through the

process, I can craft a somewhat polished paper. This is a liberating feeling, one that has left me

enthused and willing to take more classes outside of my major requirements.

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As a prospective computer science student, I know that I will have many months of data

structures, logic, and coding ahead of me. Yet I will also have group projects, technical proposals

and applications to write, and people to listen to, all skills gained or fine-tuned in the past ten

weeks. I may also take a few philosophy courses along the way, all inspired by “What We Know

and How We Know It.” This course has challenged me to make connections, to take risks in my

writing and be bold with my diction, to offer up my opinion to the class, and to become a better

thinker overall. With whatever direction my journey through learning takes me next, I will move

forward more confidently and reflectively.