An expert is a person who avoids the small errors while sweeping on to the grand fallacy. [Steven Weinberg]
The first year of my LET Studies has now gone, and it is safe to say that I had a blast. During these last nine months I lived incredible experiences, met fantastic people, and had a great fun; I had highs and lows, as it has to be, but most of the time the first ones won on the seconds.
But what about my studies? What happened between the experience at the Oulu Yliopisto and the Oulun Ammattikorkeakoulu? I will for sure write more about these experiences and my learning outcomes during the upcoming summer, as these thoughts are something I would love to share, but it is now time to have a serious reflection about if and how this academic year increased my level of expertise; SPOILER ALERT: it did.
As I did the first time, when I was asked to describe myself as an expert, I will follow some guiding questions, and structure this piece of writing as an interview to myself, with more content, less invented words and less awesome videoclip at the end than this one below ↓
1. How is you expertise developed during the bygone LET studies?
Looking back I can safely state that my expertise, during my first year in LET, has widely developed. I admit I have not always been aware if my expertise was developing through the year, but now that I have to look back and analize this proces, it is clear that something has changed. I would never claim to be an expert in the field of education, as it would be too soon anyway, but I feel confident in saying that now I have an expertise of some sort for what concerns education and learning.
First of all, my expertise has developed through the classes at the University of Oulu, where the theory was regularly backed up by individual assignments and, mostly, collaborative tasks. For sure the practical tasks had a huge weight in my learning process, teaching me new skills and making me discovery more about the skills I already have, but I feel that the classes had a bigger impact. Classes in the programme are nothing like the traditional frontal teaching, with a lecturer speaking and the class taking notes, here is why I think they occupy a special place in building my knowledge. The knowledge building is crucial on my path to being an expert: other skill are important as well, but knowledge is the most important, as “there are no experts who lack expert knowledge of their fields” [Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993]. The form of knowledge Bereiter & Scardamalia  refer to is not the formal one, based on facts and principles, but a mix of the latter one and skill, in a combination of declarative (facts) and procedural knowledge (skill).
Keeping theory and practice on the same track has been crucial for my learning, with the scale more pending towards the practice. EduLAB has been the best experience I have ever had to improve my expertise so far. The way I have been learning during my semester in OAMK can be compared to the way I play videogames, by trial and error or, in an educational point of view, in a sort of Skinner Box style: I found myself mostly completing a task and ask for feedback to a specific coach, and act upon it, adjusting my performance. The tagline for the first two EduLAB Gates was “Fail fast, fail often”, in order to promote the practical part, the “reward and punishment” scheme, and so it was. I learned myself to accept failure not as a punishment, but as a way to improve the product my team and I were working on. This sort of dynamic assesment (Lajoie, 2003) has been a silent, but critical step in my path towards expertise. This sort of scaffolding, this feedback on the way instead of a collective feedback once the work was done, has dramatically increased my problem solving skills and my abilities to work in a team.
2. In what situations your self-regulation skills has been necessary for you? Provide some examples of those situations.
I have never been anything like a self-regulated person, I have always had the tendency to skip my duties until the very last minute, and tend to complete all of my work in a sort of time-induced anxiety, in a triumph of self-handicapping. At least for what concerns individual tasks, I have always struggled find extra motivation to be on time, while for what concerns collaborative ones I have always handed my work on the last minute, but because I finished at least two days earlier and polished every single detail.
In study contexts, I had to often push myself over the obstacle, whether it was to complete a boring assignment or study for a nearly impossible Finnish exam, but results have always proven me that it was worth it. I have learned to put my work first because I am a perfectionist and want to learn something new all the time, no distractions before it is done; it seems like a paradox, but people who lack of self-regulation tend to improve mine, here is why I would never ditch work to go to a party, but actually want to stay in and work. A funny story involving my hobby and my work happened last winter: I had to study for a Finnish exam happening in less than 24 hours, but the northern lights were predicted to grace Oulu, so I went out in the cold with my camera gear… and my tablet, in order to study in the cold.
Even in my favourite hobby I find myself being self-regulated, despite it is not something I must do. My hobby, photography, requires a lot of commitment, especially in Finland, due to the complicated weather conditions. Many times I could simply stay in and enjoy some time being lazy, but when I see a nice sunset outside, or the northern lights through my window, I automatically get dressed and bike away, no matter if the road are covered in ice or the temperature is around -30°C. Once again, I am a self-regulated kuvaja because every time I have the chance to learn something new about my hobby and my camera, by realizing something to be proud of and show proudly to the people who matter to me.
3. How have you performed in difficult or complex situations?
Difficulties make everything fun to me, here is why in a field I can call myself an expert, videogaming, I always tend to increase difficulty; collaboration, sometimes, is challenging enough.
In EduLAB I lived plenty of difficult moments, lived both as a team leader and as a regular team member. Before Gate 1 we lived a very difficult situation: after a whole week of “all rise”, we started to live a rollercoaster of emotions, struggling with our project. I have always believed that individualities are important even in group situations, here is why I have always tried to be the change-maker: I do not mean that I strongly took the lead and led the group as a dictator, but I performed in a different way. When things were going bad, I have always put emphasis on what was going well, underlining how, despite the difficulties, the group was still united. Attitude is everything, and emotions are the key of group dynamics: sometimes I felt like hiding my negative ones and putting emphasis on the positive ones, for the group; and it worked. Working with emotions has also been extremely helpful to inject motivation in teammates who lost their way.
Speaking of work life, I had the chance to merge hobby and work this year, when I was called to shoot in a club as a volunteer. I loved it, also because it was not a problem-free experience. I have never shot in such difficult lighting conditions, and with a camera that was not even mine; plus, I wanted to really meet the expectations of those who asked me to be there, so I felt some pressure. As I always do in these situations, I keep trying everything, “trial and error”, but this time I also asked for help to a real expert for the settings and some tips to make them work: and it worked.
In conclusion, when I am the one in charge, I always tend to push myself over my limits, while normally I do not mind to request external help when all of my attempts to face a situation fail, and when my expertise level is too low to accomplish a certain task.
4. How collaborative learning has been realized?
Collaborative learning has been the constant of the whole academic year, even in a course like Self Regulated Learning, a name that hints at a more individual way of study. Collaboration has started since the first course of the year in a form of jigsaw sessions, were after the classes my other group members and I were requested to read a research paper and then refer to the others, in order to share what we learned and build our knowledge together.
The collaboration has then gone on, when it was time to take part into the Theory course: in this case, collaboration was more ordinary, with a group work that involved research on a topic assigned to us, and writing a collective definition of the topic itself for our LET encyclopedia.
The main collaborative experience of my first year in LET has been the semester in EduLAB, a sort of work/study environment where theory and practice merged into a whole, unique experience. The
classes keynotes were very useful to build factual knowledge around the learning and business areas, but it is mostly with the learning by doing style that I have improved my own expertise effectively.
In collaborative environments I see myself as a Jack of All Trades, as I can cover every single role in a team and commit to it. I have also plenty of respect for my team mates, their opinion and their feedback. In case I join in a preformed team, I tend to respect the existant team dynamics and cut my own role in the team. I happened to be covering a secondary role plenty of times, but I feel it is when I have big responsibilities that I give my best, as challenges do not scare me, but actually ease my way through collaboration with my teammates.
5. Set three goals for your learning for the Autumn Period.
I guess that “continuing this way” is not enough as a goal, as it is plain boring and predictable. My first goal is to complete succesfully the courses left before the end of my degree; “complete” does not mean to get a perfect 5 out of 5, but meet the learning goals set by them and master the theoretical concepts. A second goal is to learn to be one of the best kummi that has ever walked through the hallways of the University of Oulu; I have taken very seriously my role as one of the first personalities that the new LET students will meet at the beginning of their adventure in Finland, and it is my main target to make them feel welcome, help them solving their predictable struggles, and give them a taste of what the LET Master’s Programme is, working in touch with my other two colleagues; I see this possibility as a way to learn to learn more about working in a team. Finally, my last goal for the Fall is to pair my studies with my Master’s Thesis research, and go through another spin of EduLAB, probably; I feel like the first time in OAMK taught me a lot without directly teaching me anything, and for what concerns the first two months I had a great fun working in collaboration.
This is pretty much everything for what concerns my second expert profile; it has been fun to reflect on what I have been doing until now, how my expertise is developing through my LET studies. It is fascinating to see how the expertise I gained through my studies stays under the radar, without popping up until it is needed or, as it happened in this post, when it is time to reflect about it. The Learning of Expertise course will continue next year, with a new task next semester and a new mentoring case in the Spring semester, where I will have to be one of the mentors this time; but this is a whole another story.
Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1993). Surpassing ourselves: An inquiry into the nature and implications of expertise. La Salle, IL: Open Court.
Lajoie, Susanne P. “Transitions and Trajectories for Studies of Expertise.” Educational Researcher 32.8 (2003): 21-25. Web.