Opinion

Education: not just learning, but learning to love learning

Jean Floten
Island Forum

What if you could learn by creating new knowledge? Would you be intrigued? Even eager?

BCC science students will soon be offered exactly that sort of inspiration as they go beyond soaking up information to actually discovering new knowledge in our labs by sequencing the DNA of a bacterium that no one else is working on, anywhere.

Even more exciting, this bacterium may hold potential for protecting wheat and barley from root disease, and thus could hold the key to greater yields for grain farmers in Washington state and worldwide. One day other researchers could well use our students’ findings to forge a major breakthrough in food production.

Opportunities such as this, to experience the thrill of discovery, are rare at any undergraduate institution, but virtually unheard of at a community college. Today, however, we must strive to make such high-impact educational environments the norm.

Here’s why: The “Digital Native” or “Internet” generation now entering college grew up in a world in which interactions and processes are rapid-paced, highly interactive, collaborative and non-linear. Yet our educational system and traditional teaching methods were designed for a world that was largely the opposite. So at BCC we are developing new educational approaches to boost student-faculty interaction, develop a sense of active and collaborative effort and shared learning, and raise the bar of academic challenge. By so doing, we can spark an eagerness to learn that will spill over into other courses and other areas of their lives.

Such ground-breaking educational approaches are not always easy to provide. Indeed, this one is possible only with a $478,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and a major gift from Bellevue-based Univar Corporation, in addition to the involvement of the US Department of Agriculture’s primary research arm, the Agricultural Research Service at Washington State University, and the Joint Genome Institute of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Similar high-impact results can be produced, however, through other less-complex means. For example, in many of our courses we combine community service with classroom teaching in an approach called Service Learning. Students volunteer their time and skills in the community and relate that experience to specific learning objectives in their classes - which can be in any subject, from Accounting to Sociology. Through such projects as team-teaching English and citizenship to immigrants or serving on police domestic violence witness-and-victim support teams, students not only learn subject matter but also develop a sense of personal and civic responsibility.

The impact of this approach comes through clearly in the students’ written reflections, in which they often speak of an awakening of higher ideals, a new awareness of the value they can bring to society and the increased sense of self-worth they receive in return.

We awaken a similar enthusiasm for learning when students fly through the heavens in our digitally-programmed Willard Geer Planetarium; or come face-to-face with the philosophies and thinking of other cultures as embodied in our International Scholars-in-Residence.

But whether in science, business, social science or the humanities, our high-impact educational opportunities are all designed to lead students to something even greater than the knowledge of one specific discipline. They inspire a fundamental love of learning and foster clear, logical reasoning. And these are the foundations for a lifetime of successful engagement with our rapidly and continually changing modern world.

Jean Floten is president of Bellevue Community College.

Saving before spending

Craig Groshart
Island Forum

Gov. Chris Gregoire hardly had time to get stuck in Eastside traffic after her press conference on replacing the 520 floating bridge before the nay-sayers pooh-poohed the plan.

Somehow, we’re not surprised.

The governor wants to replace the aging bridge with a new one that would open in 2018. She wants to start pouring the pontoons next year.

In all, the work will cost $4 billion. She says that between the state and feds, half the money is in hand. The other half would come from tolls paid by those who use the bridge. She ruled out a general tax increase to help pay for the work.

Like the plan or hate it, at least someone may actually do something rather than just talk.

Gregoire wants the Legislature to OK putting tolls back on the bridge right away — and maybe doing the same for the I-90 bridge. That would help keep motorists from piling on to the I-90 bridge to avoid paying a toll on 520.

Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, was quick to say that the state should come up with a bridge design first before collecting tolls.

“We need to first nail down the bridge design and cost before we figure out how to pay for it,” Swecker said.

Well, not really. No one goes house-hunting without first having saved some money for a down payment. We may know we want a house, but we also know we better have some cash saved toward the cost.

Deputy Republican Leader Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, was also miffed.

“Her plan lacks foresight to see that 520 will need additional lanes in the future and the ability to accommodate high-capacity transit,” Ericksen said via a news release.

Actually, the governor acknowledged that light rail might be an option on 520 in the future, but that it is a decision that can be left to future office holders. Adding it now only makes the project even more expensive.

Ericksen also doesn’t like the tolling idea, saying “her plan will also push people to our ferry system.”

We suppose it’s possible that people, faced with a $7 toll to go from the Eastside to Seattle, might opt instead to drive south through Tacoma or north through Deception Pass in order to catch a ferry from the peninsula to downtown Seattle.

But, somehow, we doubt it.

It’s easy not to like this idea (or any idea) about the 520 bridge when you live in Rochester or Ferndale. The commute there must be hell when the stoplight turns red.

Craig Groshart is the editor of the Bellevue Reporter.

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