Final Exams and a Retrospective Look at Learning

I’ve completed two full courses thus far in Maastricht: Project and Production Management and Consumer Behavior. Finals are behind me and I’m finally starting to get the hang of the Problem Based Learning system used at Maastricht University. I spent a full cappuccino amount of time analyzing my formal education experience at the University so far. Here are some of the random thoughts, self-feedback and general analysis that I’ve come up with between sips of espresso:

I am challenged.

The material isn’t necessarily more difficult than back home – but HOW I am reading and learning the material is fantastically different. I’m going to call much of my business education up to this point as “lazy learning” while the history, journalism and other liberal arts classes I’ve taken thus far have not been “lazy learning” classes. In those, I have actively read the texts, engaged in critical thinking and participated in class discussions that created mental unrest and a nearly obsessive hunger for knowledge on the subjects.

With business, however, I haven’t had the passion or the opportunity to really dig into a business curriculum. I’ve been bored with my classes, frustrated with the content and uncertain of the importance of receiving a degree in business. While Mizzou does have a highly esteemed business school (of which I am a Business Ambassador and really shouldn’t be saying all this on the internet..truth prevails!) I have to admit that the school has failed me. For three years I just thought I haven’t had much of a passion for learning business. Through extracurriculars at Mizzou I’ve come to enjoy applying business, but learning it? Boring waste of time.

The PBL at Maastricht University has entirely redefined for me what learning business entails. We read textbooks, scholarly articles, cases and the news and work as a classroom to challenge our perceptions of business. For two full hours, fifteen of us students question each other, question the business concepts we learn, apply these concepts, reevaluate business decisions, create our own business models and are so ACTIVELY engaged in learning that we expand our education much, much further than definitions in the textbooks. Nearly all my business exams at Mizzou have been multiple choice – this is a testament of the one-dimensional business education that my home university offers. At Maastricht, business is organic and alive – problems aren’t defined by filling in a bubble on a scan-tron; rather problems are to be discussed, debated and knowledge to be fought for. I am challenged here – challenged by the material, challenged by my classmates, and challenged by this new active way of learning.

I am humbled.

These high level classroom conversations are happening in my native tongue – but for the rest of the classroom, English is a second, third or even fourth language. My peers excel academically in a foreign language. They are able to discuss complex business issues and do so eloquently with an impressive array of technical business terms. My favorite thing about studying with ESL students is listening to the idioms and English sayings that are used. From slightly overly formal English, to the most attractive boy in class using an English expression typically reserved for those over 80, there are obviously some quirks and smile-worthy translation error moments. But, for the most part, English is flawless. I could not be more impressed by my peers, and more humbled to study with them. I studied Spanish for over 4 years and then spent 6 weeks in Barcelona – fairly extensive language training. Yet, I could not even come CLOSE to engaging in the level of conversation in Spanish that these students are capable of in English.

Even more impressive than students speaking perfect English are the exchange students who choose to study in English in Maastricht who do not have a comprehensive background of language training. One boy from Chile in my Consumer Behavior class nervously admitted before his speech that it was his first time to ever speak in English in front of so many people. He rocked it. He’ll never know, but I was like a proud mom in the corner listening to him tell jokes in English and occasionally stumble over his words. I hope he’s proud of himself because of what he did…to be that fearless and to speak a language he’s not comfortable in, and to do so well in the delivery, is truly something to be proud of. Way to go Sebastian – though you’ll never read this!

Humility induces learning. 

Numbers terrify me, and opening my Project and Production Management book on the first day of class indicated that I had a lot of numbers in my future. The course was very math heavy, though I was familiar with some of the material, many of the models and formulas were new to me. For a handful of German students in my class – the material was all review and supposedly “awwh so easy!”

One boy in particular would drive class discussions quickly through the equations that I didn’t understand. He would always say something along the lines of “this is so easy, do we need to go over it? Let’s just move on.” He would say this before anyone else really raised a question or issue. Whenever this happened, most of the class was like me and kept our heads down. A few other German students might nod in agreement, or some brave soul would chime up and request the problem on the board because they couldn’t figure it out. Asking a question should never be something shameful – it was after questions in class that the best discussions and most learning occurred.  No knowledge is “too easy, not worth going over” and yet no class went by without some that boy killing an opportunity to learn by hindering knowledge with the shadow of pride and self-worth.

My new courses this semester are Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management. Compared to other courses offered at MU, these are two of the easiest (so I’m told). This Friday I am facilitating my HRM course – meaning I am a discussion leader for two full hours. It is my responsibility to cover all the material we’ve read, bring real world examples to the class and facilitate critical discussion. It is a lot of work and preparation but is helping me to prepare for big pitches or meetings in my professional future.  So while Thursday night at 1am as I put my finishing touches on the presentation, I’m sure I’ll be cursing all this academia and hating school. In the long run however, the black bags under my eyes will disappear but the knowledge and experience from facilitating a session will help me succeed.

Here’s a photo from my exam/nightmare. Multiple class subjects from different schools gather together for 3 hours to take our exams/suffer together.

Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 9.28.17 AM

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I

3 Responses to Final Exams and a Retrospective Look at Learning

  1. Larry Payne

    Your experience with German males parallels mine.

  2. Nancy Raney

    You rock, Reagan! But I’m curious, what was the expression typically reserved for those over 80??

  3. Aunt Susan

    Reagan, the only way to truly learn business is to be out there in the real world solving real problems. But, some of these relationships and your sensitivity toward the challenges of your global peers will stay with you. Keep working hard!

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