Most people know the common saying “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” but after going abroad, I’ve learned to really appreciate the little things that make Swarthmore special. Sure, I miss our dining hall’s selection more than ever, but I miss one thing about Swarthmore a lot more: the collaborative academic environment.
Being at the University of Sydney has been a great experience to see what life is like at a big research university, but it has felt a lot more impersonal to me. I don’t really know my classmates or lecturers, and a lot of the time I get papers back that don’t have constructive comments on it like they do at Swarthmore (most of the time). So while I’ve loved my time in Sydney, I’m excited to get back to campus where students and professors have created a collaborative environment where I learn really well!
In high school, studying for finals was an isolating experience. Sometimes there would be small study groups, but there was always an unspoken sense of competition between everyone… like there were a limited number of 95% grades to be given out. This couldn’t be further from the truth for most Swarthmore classes, so instead of talking generally about how students work together rather than compete for their grades, let me walk you through some of the ways my Swarthmore class TV/New Media came together to learn and work on projects and exams.
First of all, our entire class came together to collaborate on a Google Doc for the course midterm. We organized small teams to create study sheets for certain weeks and summarize the readings, then gave access to the entire class. This way we were able to pool our knowledge and work together to maximize our learning, rather than study by ourselves and probably do worse on the exam. In the end, it was great to see over 20 Swarthmore students come together and share their notes in order to help the entire class.
But beyond simply sharing notes and studying together, this course forced all the students to work together to create an episode of a television show of our choice. I served as co-executive producer with my close friend and together we led a team to create The Real World: Swarthmore that culminated in a campus-wide screening at the end of the semester. Together we spent time creating production schedules, organizing casting calls, shooting late at night, editing in the Media Center, and planning the screening.
In both the production and the exam, my Swarthmore education was complemented by the fact that students are so willing to share their skills with others. Compared to my high school, students are more willing to take time to help others who are struggling academically—which is highlighted by the amazing student tutors in most natural science, mathematics, and language classes.
The sense of collaboration and a shared education is something I really value at Swarthmore. It’s something I’ve missed dearly during my time abroad, so hopefully if you get a chance to visit campus you’ll have time to sit in on a class and see Swat’s collaborative learning in action!