story Justin Ong, Contributing Reporter
What does “learning across boundaries” mean? Being introduced to this phrase heading into Week 7, I was mildly skeptical as to whether this could be possible. After all, all my previous experiences with “experiential learning” trips involved organized assignments, daily reflections and structured syllabi that limited each student to a guided academic framework. Instead, my trip showed me the merits of learning through experience without a defined structure, even if this experience was not adequately conveyed during the symposium presentations.
I am immensely grateful that my Week 7 experience did not impose any of these limitations on me, and has shown that learning need not be a structured undertaking, but can be one born of experience. The professors on my trip to the Himalayas would ask questions and hold spontaneous live discussions during long hikes. We discussed the impact of tourism on the environment as we stood on the very hills that were the subject of our discussion. Learning was unrestrained by any framework and came spontaneously. One of the greatest tragedies of education is that it aims to deliver such knowledge in the most efficient means with heavy textbooks, structured lessons, and mundane PowerPoint slides. Week 7 showed us that fun and learning need not be mutually exclusive, that one could find fulfillment in experience, and learn so much more in the process.
To able to step out of the classroom also meant that we were free from the confines of academic grading, where the consequences of a shaky CAP or poor class participation may detract from the learning process. Such impositions have the merit of measuring our academic worth. As a student, I am all too familiar with the abject idea of learning for the sake of a percentage or an arbitrary letter on a report card. The greatest merit of the Week 7 experience was that it helped us escape from that prospect whilst fostering an interest for learning.
The value of experiential learning comes from the freedom it grants each student to define what they want from their experiences. Depending on their own interests, students can pursue different types of learning. On my project to the Himalayas, my main takeaway would be the emphasis on local education, where I was particularly inspired by the village children who had big dreams of becoming doctors and engineers despite their humble upbringings. Some of my other teammates who were interested in geography found the erosion of soil due to urban development particularly fascinating. With the many discussions we had to discuss our insights from the trip, we learnt a lot not only from our own understanding, but from others as well.
Yet, this comes with a risk inherent to Week 7—because it was up to our individual responsibility to actively pursue learning, a lack of interest would not be punished by academic failure, but by wasted time and opportunities. If students don’t feel the responsibility or interest to pursue learning, Week 7 becomes a waste of resources.
However, the sentiment among students was not entirely flippant or unappreciative of Week 7. Geoffrey Martin ‘19, whose project brought him to the Himalayas, said that organizing such a trip himself would have been difficult, and counted himself lucky that it was made convenient by the school. Talking to other students, I found the general sentiment to be one of appreciation, where even the students assigned to local projects felt that they had a lot to learn, and had fun with the company they had been assigned with.
Moreover, the lack of time given to students to prepare for the Symposium meant that we struggled to present our learning adequately or comprehensively. Some of the projects had less than 24 hours to prepare upon arriving back at the College, while a few teams had three days. My team, for example, landed in Singapore just the morning before the Symposium, and we found ourselves scrambling to print pictures, slapping whatever we had learnt on the trip onto poorly designed slideshows. So it is perhaps unfair and inaccurate to judge the worth of our trips and even the effectiveness of our learning solely through the lens of the Week 7 symposium.
What Week 7 meant to me, as I am sure it did to many of us, was indeed a chance to learn across boundaries. What I discovered was that these boundaries need not only be those of a classroom, but also of myself. I had to go beyond comfortable lecture seats and familiar laptop screens to find that an entire world awaited behind the walls of a classroom, where a syllabus to guide learning isn’t always handed out.