Between the dizziness of recovering from Thanksgiving break and the pressure of oncoming finals, maybe it has not even occurred to you to pause and reflect on the semester that is drawing to a close.
But this moment is an opportunity — not just to review the material that is going to be on your final exam but to think about what you have learned and experienced in your classes and how it connects to other coursework and to your life.
This time is an opportunity to turn information into meaning.
If you are in an Engelhard class, you are probably already doing some reflection as part of the course. The Engelhard Project, administered by the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, was launched by a group of Georgetown University faculty and student affairs staff in 2005 with the support of Sally Engelhard Pingree to infuse issues of student well-being into the curriculum.
Our Engelhard courses, which cover a wide range of disciplines at Georgetown, invite students to connect academic material to questions of mental and physical health, identity, personal growth and more — to the whole person, in other words.
What our Engelhard Faculty Fellows and the students in these Engelhard courses discover is that each of us brings our whole self into the classroom, whether we acknowledge it or not, and that reflecting on connections between self and study is quite powerful indeed.
First of all, there are academic benefits to be had. In a thorough review of research in their book “Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning”, writer Peter Brown and psychologists Henry Roediger III and Mark McDaniel remind us that “reflection can involve several activities … that lead to stronger learning.” Specifically, people remember better after reflecting, make more connections between facts and are better at expressing what they have learned.
But the benefits extend beyond things that can be measured by grades. Reflection can help you understand the world and yourself better, and it can also become a process of discernment that helps you decide what to do.
One of our core values here at Georgetown is contemplation in action; in this community, we are encouraged to see learning as more than an activity for its own sake but also as a guide to us as we decide what actions to take — in the next moment, semester, year and on and on into our unfolding lives.
And so: the courses you have been taking — how do they build on, complicate or even possibly conflict with what you have learned elsewhere? What do the courses tell you about the world outside the classroom, including major issues and concerns facing society today? What have these experiences taught you about yourself and your social identities? Do you end the semester with more questions, or is there something you now know you clearly need to do?
You do not have to be in an Engelhard course to ask these questions — and you do not need to have an abundance of free time, either. You can give your experiences some thought when you are just walking from one place to another. Or consider taking five minutes before bed to jot down some ideas and realizations. Or talk these issues over with friends while you are eating lunch or dinner.
Finals will soon be here, and the break might sweep all thoughts of this semester from your mind. Next semester you will immerse yourself in new experiences. So why not take a moment now to look back and ask yourself: “What did I learn this semester? And what might it all mean?”
David Ebenbach is a professor of the practice in the Center for Jewish Civilization and a project manager at the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship.