Final Reflection

Expected Learning:
Self Direction:
While the traditional classroom has some room for self-direction and I have taken classes where student-led learning is a large element, this was a very new experience for me. Working within a truly self-directed learning environment required quite a bit of time to adjust. I think that the largest challenge I faced was simply staying connected. Having a such a significant distance between us, we were only able to meet in person at the monthly meetings. For this reason, technological supports became very important; Slack and Google Hangouts became vital tools in staying connected. For future projects, I will direct more intentionality toward time management. Often, self-directed projects I have done have been independent, so I can work on my own time. This was different because when my time management skills were poor it affected my team members. Particularly with large projects that have so many layered components, determining how much time to spend on each element and delegating work requires careful thought and execution.
Yet, the most important tool in self-direction is a passion for the work. There were times when this. At the end of the year, this became a real drive in trying to finish the documentary. Without passion behind the work, the obstacles would have felt insurmountable. For example, while creating the website, I had to work through a lot of technical difficulties, which were frustrating and cumbersome, but I really wanted to make sure it looked good so I could communicate our important topic to a wider audience.

Responsible & Involved Citizenship:
Documentary making is an interesting medium for responsible and involved citizenship. By telling a story you are deciding who has a voice in the story and who doesn’t. This is where it becomes important to think about the ethics of your filmmaking and ethnography and ask certain questions: Whose voice am I amplifying? Is this film accurately depicting what the interviewee said? Does this film contribute to problematic narratives and stigmas? With this class being my first experience with these questions, I did not get to explore them as fully as I would wish but hope to in future learning.
Outside of filmmaking, I left this experience with more insight into who I am as a group member and how I function in group settings. Creativity and big-picture thinking are a couple of my strengths, but they can also present a challenge. One of my group members had similar strengths, but we didn’t share the same vision, which was the root of some conflict. One of the big learning __ was to step back and let things work themselves out without trying to control things as much as I usually do. I had to learn when to step up and bring my ideas to the table and when to sit back and listen more. This was something that took practice for me and something I will continue to work on.

Informed & Integrative Thinking:
This year I was introduced to systems thinking and it has entirely shifted the way I think. My initial introduction to it was in a class at my high school called Creating Sustainable Communities. In this class, we used systems mapping as a method of analyzing the sustainability of the systems at play in our community. Since then, the ability to look at things through the systems lense has drastically altered the way I think, allowing me to see the interconnectedness of everything. Looking at the issues of food waste and food insecurity through this lens results in a vast web of moving pieces encompassing everything from monocrops in the Midwest to a local’s income. With so many elements at play, these issues can seem overwhelming but by systems mapping it, you can see the cause and effect relationship between each one. The nature of these relationships were described and supported in interviews with experts in the field.

Clear & Effective Communication
One of the things that I thought about a great deal when it came to effective communication was how stylistic choices can amplify your message. By using almost gimmicky bits, such as consuming a bite of a sandwich to illustrate consumption, you can draw interest. If a video has a little more quirk, something different, that may draw interest for viewers and interest is essential to getting your message across as more people will be engaged. This idea manifested itself as the chapter introductions I created.
Yet for me, the most important part of communication has been listening. Actively listening to those around you, even if you disagree with them, is vital to effective communication. Through listening to others everyone can take steps towards having their needs I have found is ESPECIALLY important in those conversations where you know almost certainly that the other person won’t agree with you. Approaching these conversations without preconceived notions and with a mindset which allows you to listen not only helps the other person be heard but it can also help you be heard by allowing you to better craft what you present. But this is a really difficult thing to do, and it is something I still can work on a lot. This year I have been trying to take the time not only to step forward to share my ideas but also time to step back.

Unexpected Learning
This year I learned a lot about learning itself. One of the biggest things I have taken away is that everyone can benefit from being given the time and space for exploration.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to see Rebecca Holcomb deliver a speech at the Rowland Foundation Conference. In this speech, she spoke about the efforts of early disability rights activists to cut curbs in order to make sidewalks more accessible to people in wheelchairs. These efforts were met with opposition from some in the public. However what they observed was that, once curbs were cut, it helped more than one group of people. Parents with strollers delivery people with heavy carts are among those who the efforts benefitted. The point here being: providing multiple ways to access benefits everyone.
The same logic applies to flexible pathways in education. There seems to be a stigma surrounding these reforms, that they were created for and only for those who didn’t “perform well” in a traditional classroom setting. Yet, these pathways can provide rich educational opportunities for everyone, and What’s the Story is a prime example of this.
I am someone who, in my school experience, has functioned well in a traditional classroom. I’ve taken the notes, memorized the facts, written the paper, taken the test and it worked for me. However, What’s the Story has helped me see a different side of education. It has helped me see that education can be about exploration. It can be about bettering our communities. It can be about passions. Overall, What’s the Story has given me a clear example of rich, personalized and fun education.


Finally, I would like to thank everyone involved in What’s the Story for making it such a fun and impactful experience.


Image: Fulvio Spada (Flickr)

Aidan Lodge

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