Self-directed learning motivates Polytech student

"I was given work that I had no idea how to do," first-year student Peter Starr candidly admitted to 150 faculty and staff. "After a while, I realized that was the whole point. It forced me to go to [my professors] to ask good questions [and] to learn on my own."

Starr described his experiences in the new competency-based education program at the College of Technology Dean's Forum on October 31.

One of the challenging aspects of the program, Starr said, is that it focuses on mastering competencies rather than earning grades. Starr said it took him a while to reach an understanding that faculty would get to know him, understand the work he has done, and recognize his growth, and that their familiarity with his individual learning would aid in the recognition of his achievements.

Starr, a mechanical engineering technology major, also mentioned that the new program provides the ability to choose what he studies and to set his own pace. This sharply contrasts with his high school experience, Starr said, and it motivates him to learn. For example, he chose to prepare a presentation about disease and human suffering -- specifically, malaria in Africa. "Because I loved the subject, I cared about the work I was doing, and I feel like I did a much better job. I learned a lot more," he said.

For Starr, being afforded the personal discretion to work at his own speed is helpful and satisfying. "I can spend less time on the things I already get and more time on the things I find challenging. If I use my time more efficiently, I can get to the end faster. If I really like it, I can delve even deeper. I really like that type of learning," he said. In high school, Starr recalls being "given work to do and it was already pre-chosen for me."

When he runs into challenges which impede his progress, Starr noted the availability of his professors. "When I run into that block, I talk to my professors. Because I'm asking them about my learning, it means more to me."

Starr spoke at the forum for nearly 10 minutes. Here is a three-minute excerpt: