University can often feel like a lonely place, right?  There are so many books to be read, essays to be written, tests to be taken.  We’re all burying our heads down and it’s easy to forget the thousands of other people around us doing the exact same thing.

Our community.

Breaking the barrier

Thousands of other people around us, right?  Thousands.  And that’s a comforting thought to know that we’re not alone (we’re never alone!), but when it comes to participation?  It can feel more than a tad overwhelming.

So, we break it down—

Yes, there’s a community of thousands, but in our lectures, we’re going to be maxing out at about 300 (and those are just the biggest lectures).  Feels like a lot when we’re sitting there, I know, but it’s a fraction of the total.  Then we talk tutorials, we’re talking chump change—20, 30 people, tops.  Often, it’s more like 9 or 10.

Totally manageable.

But, no matter how many students there are, I want you to consider this—everyone else is far, far too busy thinking about how they’re going to answer the question to worry about how you do.

Joining the discussion

If you’re shy, like I was, you’ll dread being called on in class to answer questions—you’ll sit up the back of class, shrink into your seat, avoid eye contact at all costs.  It can be a scary prospect to speak in front of a crowd of people.  But, why is that?

Firstly, we put it in perspective (see above)—might feel like a lot of people, but it’s okay.  We can do this.  What do we think is going to happen?  They’re all going to point and laugh?  No.  Remember—everyone else is more concerned about themselves.

So, we get called on to answer a question.  What’s actually the worst that can happen?  The worst thing that can happen is that we get the answer wrong.  When we say it like that—big whoop, right?  Do you know what happens when we get the answer wrong?

We learn.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

So, the worst that can happen is that we learn and the best that can happen is we get the answer right, we feel all warm and fuzzy—and we help someone else to learn.

I think that’s a win-win situation, don’t you?

Forming an opinion

When we’ve mastered the art of answering straight right and wrong questions—and let me just say here that our lecturers and tutors really want us to answer their questions.  Really.  Really.  The next step is building up the courage to answer questions that rely on us forming our own opinion.

Whoa, hold the phone—we’re allowed our own opinion?  I know!  Our education system isn’t great at letting us step outside of the box, but here is our permission slip—

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

It’s actually Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so it’s pretty legit.

Scary?  Yes, can be.  But, once again, we break it down.  When it comes to opinion, it’s not about right and wrong.  It’s personal.  By sharing it, you might learn something—you might teach something.

Imagine, the student becoming the teacher and the teacher becoming the student?  Wouldn’t that be something?