Another guest post from Dr Sarah Brown, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh…
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to participate in a Learning Together session at two of the original sites: Whitemoor and Grendon. I had a fantastic experience participating in the first session of a course in Whitemoor (see my previous post Busting Bubbles at HMP Whitemoor) which set my expectations high for Grendon. Grendon was my first ‘substantive’ session in which a lecture was delivered with accompanying compulsory readings, mirroring your standard university lecture. The benefit of Learning Together is that students gain knowledge and an expert-delivered lecture, as per usual, and additionally the opportunity to become acquainted and intrigued by the perspectives, experiences and viewpoints of others through a discussion session that follows the lecture. Although I could drone on and on about the benefits of the course delivery, material and discussions, I want to highlight three key points that I took away from my time at Learning Together in Grendon.
- Your peers are your greatest resource and source of knowledge.
We strive to become critical thinkers in academia, but can we really become critical thinkers if we only know one (typically, our own) perspective? I strongly believe that we cannot. Learning Together fosters supportive learning communities that makes peer-to-peer interaction equal, cooperative and advantageous as opposed to competitive, creating an environment that fosters learning in all students involved. As a result, you what you can from your readings, but make sense of them and challenge your understandings through your peer interactions.
- Never underestimate the importance of experience.
Although I gained knowledge and understanding from the lecture and readings, it was the discussion that instilled concepts and facilitated further understanding. Our discussion hinged on our varying levels of personal experience and how these related to the topic (Legitimacy Theory). Despite the fact that some of us naturally had more experience in the Criminal Justice System then others, the feelings and beliefs that surrounded the topic of interest were translatable to different contexts and experiences.
- Finally, learning a new topic at any age, stage, or with any amount of academic experience is hard, but you can’t let it hold you back.
Don’t be hard on yourself when you don not understand certain concepts, theories or language. Be prepared to help your peers and even more so be prepared to ask for help. Some of us (ahem…me), had very long lists of concepts we had to google before going into the session, and I was relieved to hear that a common theme regarding the session was that the reading was difficult. In addition, contrary to what you often see in university settings, no one was competing to prove they knew more than their peers, but rather students were open to share the sacred ‘I-had-no-idea-what-that-meant-either’ nod of approval and were keen to help their fellow students where possible.
I left Grendon excited to think about the next stage of building our own Learning Together community in Edinburgh.