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Copyright © 2002 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.

The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Sebelova, J. 2002. Reflections on integration, interaction, and community. Conservation Ecology 6(2): r12. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol6/iss2/resp12/

Response to Benbasat and Gass 2002. "Reflections on integration, interaction, and community: the Science One program and beyond"

Reflections on Integration, Interaction, and Community

Jana Sebelova

University of British Columbia

Published: November 27, 2002

I would like to give a testimony to the power of interactive engagement as discussed by Benbasat and Gass (2002), by sharing my experience of the undergraduate science education and the Integrated Sciences Program (ISP) at the University of British Columbia (UBC). I am currently enrolled as a student in the ISP, but I went through primary and secondary education in a system that is different from the traditional North American K–12 model.

I grew up in the former Czechoslovakia where all students were subjected to the same curriculum. I was one of a cohort of about 35 people who stayed together for 4 to 8 years. Evaluation was based on both oral and written examinations, about half and half, and students were expected to come to class prepared to be examined at any time on material covered in the past five lectures. Oral examinations were conducted in front of the class. A student, chosen more or less at random, would be asked to review the main points of a past lecture or to answer a few questions based on that material. Short presentations also formed part of the oral grade component and grades were awarded openly and were known to everybody in the class, as an elected classmate was in charge of keeping track of our grades.

Although it could be argued that this type of learning environment disadvantages shy students, or makes less intelligent students open to ridicule, my experience has shown otherwise. Classmates who were very shy when we met gained lots of confidence speaking in front of large groups of people, no matter how little they happened to know about the topic on which they were speaking. Teachers helped by asking coaxing questions; this showed us that we could all at least partially reason our way out of tough questions. Fair grades could be achieved merely by showing an ability to think, even if it was obvious that you had not studied. We also learned to value the advantage of knowing everybody’s grades. Those who lagged behind the rest of the class knew which fellow student to approach for help and, in fact, the top students often offered to help weaker students with a quick review before scheduled exams. This was great, as often the students who were needy in one subject area were able to help others in other subjects. Peer help was invaluable to the overworked teachers, who had no time for one-on-one attention. It was also invaluable to the students, as we learned more and reinforced our learning by having to learn from each other and by teaching each other.

My only regret is that we were not encouraged to question the presented material. Emphasis was more on knowing than on understanding; I suspect that this was mostly due to the teachers’ preference for preserving their authority. As Benbasat and Gass (2002) pointed out in their paper, professional scientists (and teachers too for that matter) cannot simultaneously hide behind authority and behave professionally as scientists (i.e., good questions deserve honest answers).

After I moved to Canada at age 20, I realized that a big part of why the Czechoslovakian system worked so well for the students was that there was an open, honest communication between people. This kind of communication is standard in eastern and central Europe, where I have lived and traveled extensively, but, in my opinion, is largely lacking in North America. Having a strong desire to fit in, I learned to censor my thoughts and communication during my first 3 years in Canada, and it was in this state of mind that, in 1998, I entered the undergraduate science program at UBC with its 200-student-minimum classes. The material of the UBC science lectures was presented in the same manner as it would be presented in Czechoslovakia, but the student-to-student interactions as I had known them were hard to find. Living off campus and working after school did not allow me to get to know many students or professors and my fellow students’ resistance to discussing their knowledge with me, in or after class, soon discouraged me from trying to make any contact. Relying on the fragmented knowledge presented in the lectures and in textbooks left me frustrated, as I could not see the whole picture and, as a result, could not see the point of why I was learning this material.

That was when I found out about the Integrated Sciences Program. My grades were just shy of the average I needed to continue in the Microbiology Program that I had originally chosen, so I took the opportunity to apply to ISP and create a program suited to myself. It combined microbiology with ecology, my other keen interest.

In the program, I have not only rediscovered the wonders of peer interactive engagement but also learned about the wonders of student–teacher interactive engagement. I have learned how to learn again and have built the necessary confidence and desire to do well, while also helping others to do well at university and elsewhere. As a result, my grades in all my courses and my personal sense of satisfaction with the educational experience have improved considerably.

Therefore, I would like to extend the prediction offered by Benbasat and Gass (2002) that students who do well in the core ISP courses should also do well in their other courses. I would expect to find that we also do better in our personal lives and in society in general, because our educational experiences influence us beyond our academic lives as well.


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Benbasat, J. A., and C. L. Gass. 2002. Reflections on integration, interaction, and community: the Science One program and beyond. Conservation Ecology 5(2):26. Available online at URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol5/iss2/art26

Address of Correspondent:
Jana Sebelova
43 W 26th Avenue,
Vancouver, British Columbia V5Y 2J5 Canada
Phone: 604-709-0126

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