Triple-Cross Upside Down Post Part 1


So for class, Jenn(medievaltourist) and Tish(beyondthetour) and I are each writing a post around a shared theme (learning in college) and posting to each other’s blogs! How cool is that?!

I’ll post Jenn’s today and mine later today and Tish’s even later today, or maybe spread them out over today and tomorrow and saturday, depending on how I’m feeling. Check out their cool blogs in the meantime!

On being a Medieval Studies Major:

(Jenn, aka medievaltourist)

As I mention on my About page, I created my Medieval Studies major through the Individual Studies Program (IVSP) at UMDCP. Now, while being the only Medieval Studies at a university of 26.708 full-time undergraduate students is pretty awesome (if I do say so myself), it doesn’t come without its challenges.

Let me start from the beginning.

For anyone to create a major at UMD, they have to come to the IVSP office with some idea. In other words, no, you can’t major in Underwater Basket Weaving (unless, of course, the appropriate classes are offered). From there, you start building your major: you have to decide what kinds of classes you want to take and be able to justify why they are necessary for the major, you have to define your major, you have to think of a Capstone project, etc. etc. After all that, you propose your major to a board and it’s up to them whether you get to declare a major in the degree you built.

My point? You have to be really dedicated to your idea. Of course, if you’re going to IVSP to create a major, then I think it’s pretty safe to say that you’ve made the commitment.

If the board approves your major, you’re set and take the courses you prescribed for your major. For the most part, the majors consist of pretty standard courses in various departments. Mine isn’t an exception. My Medieval Studies major consists of the following concentrations:

  • History

  • Society & Culture

  • Religion & the Foundation of Church Latin

  • Modern Language Study

Now these seem like pretty straightforward concentrations, right? They are for the most part (i.e. anything related to language and basic history), but medieval stuff isn’t really popular at UMD, which means that courses frequently are not offered or get cancelled. This means I sometimes have to get creative with replacing classes. Other times I just have to pray really hard that it works out (like I did for next semester, and, lo and behold, it worked out!).

Despite the difficulties of being the only Medieval Studies major, it’s such a rewarding experience. I get so much great feedback and encouragement from professors and other students, and whenever I get to talk about my major I get a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Not to mention that taking the initiative to build your own major looks pretty great on your CV.

I do have a confession to make, though: I am extremely possessive of my major. I want nothing more than to have a fellow baby-medievalist follow in my footsteps and create a Medieval Studies major, but I cannot stand it when just plain History students claim to be Medieval Studies majors. Just no.

This normally happens at the beginning of the semester when we go around the class and introduce ourselves to our professor and fellow classmates by stating our names, majors, and interesting facts. I feel so accomplished when I introduce myself as a Medieval Studies major. But for some reason there are always a few History students doing concentrations in the Middle Ages who feel that it’s OK for them to copy me and say they’re Medieval Studies majors, too. This usually results in me giving them a half glare that tries to tell them You know nothing.

I think a Game of Thrones reference is pretty appropriate, don’t you? [Via]

So, my tactic has changed, and instead of making my interesting fact that I grew up in a foreign country or have studied seven languages or that I can touch my nose with my tongue, my interesting fact now is that I am the only Medieval Studies major in the history of the University of Maryland. BAM.


[HT to Learning Learning [ed: That’s me!] for finding this gem via]

[Disclaimer: Snark emphasized for dramatic effect. Author is not actually this stuck-up about her major. Usually.]

But if you get as excited as I do about something, please come talk to me about creating your own major! It’s so rewarding and a great experience. Not to mention all the other awesome people you meet along the way!


-Rob again –

Pretty cool stuff! I can confirm that IVSP is the way to go. Look out for more cross-posting action soon!

Learning to listen (part 1)

It’s a noisy world. Listening is hard. Listening means lots of things to lots of people, and everyone recognizes that it is pretty important. I am gonna make this a multi-part post, since there is lots to talk about. This is part 1, and I’ll link to part 2 when it goes up! (Edit: here’s part 2!)

Listening is hard and important, which makes it a good candidate for learning and practice. TED talk:

Julian Treasure does a little bit of unsubstantiated fear mongering with an undertone of luddite Gen-Y bashing, sure. BUT, he has mindfulness exercises for listening, and exercises are wonderful, so it probably balances out.

Even if we aren’t losing our listening, we don’t practice the receiving end of communication nearly as much as the broadcasting end, at least not explicitly.  Listening is a skill we ought to think about and work on.

There are lots of things we listen to. Music, the thumping about of roommates, construction noise when we try to work. All kinds of online ed materials: Podcasts, lectures, TED talks. What does it mean to be good at it? How does one become a ‘good listener’?

Just as we mean different things when we talk about listening, doing it ‘well’ has different meanings. Today, I’ll focus on choosing the things you listen to and developing interpersonal listening skills.

Listen intentionally and choose the things you listen to.

If what we learn is who we become, and we learn through our ears, we should be selective about what we listen to, and how closely we listen to it.  I listen to C-SPAN radio as I drive. If I get stuck listening to C-SPAN callersNPR is often good too. I try to process what I am hearing, especially when there is a good interview or speech. I make connections to what I already know, but also consciously note information that is new or did not fit with my previous understanding. I think of questions that I would ask to clarify or delve further into particular issues. I have gotten good at filtering subtle, meaningful insight from what is not. (I might do another post on learning to recognize and learn from experts rather than others, since most people are mostly wrong about most things.)

You don’t have to listen to C-SPAN. That might not be your scene; that’s totally cool. I am me in part because of what I listen to. Maybe you like Ted talks, maybe you just want your Beyoncé playlist. It’s all good, as long as you know that choosing is part of defining who you are. So, choose!

C-SPAN or no,   discerning bull from not-bull is an awesome skill. If you are mentally engaged with what is being said, you will notice more and, consequently, learn more. Don’t tune out talking heads as background noise like you did when you were five – some of them are actually okay. Others are crappy. Telling one from the other is hard, and takes practice, but I believe in you.

[EDIT: Forgot to mention Night Vale, which is super cool. Got any cool podcasts or things you listen to? lemmeknowinthecomments]

Listen to those around you

Another habit or set of habits has to do with interpersonal listening – one on one and in groups, where your role is both listener and speaker. I’ve had the amazing chance to learn a bunch of good listening skills as a counselor at the Help Center, UMD’s peer counseling and crisis intervention hotline. Still, it takes effort and concentration to actually listen to friends and siblings, especially when I have opinions on the subject under discussion.

Some things to focus on:

  • Actually hear the words they are saying. Seems obvious, but there are times when a few words go unheard and we shrug it off, since we got the gist. Instead,
  • Ask clarifying questions. Even if it is “can you say that again?,” asking for clarification works to help us understand what someone is saying.
  • Don’t judge, jump in, or interrupt. Basically, listen instead of talking. This one is especially tough for the extroverts or those with strong opinions. I’m still no pro at this in some settings, but I’ve found that focusing on how much I should be speaking as a fraction of the number of people in a conversation helps. If I am one of three people, I should have one third of the speaking, or thereabouts. If I am one of twenty, a twentieth, and so on. Of course it is a guideline and there are exceptions, but it helps me shut up more.
  • Use nonverbal or monosyllabic cues. Nodding, saying ‘mhm,’ eye contact, generally using active listening skills. It can feel silly to overdo it, but it’s harder than you would think.
  • Summarize and reflect your understanding of what they said. Don’t worry about sounding dumb. If you don’t understand, it doesn’t mean you or your friend are bad people – communicating well is really hard!

Actually, wikihow has a wonderful post about listening well, with illustrations and generally more time and thought put in than I have. It’s worth actually reading.

Like most actual skills, listening takes time and practice for the benefits to show. It’s worth it. Your relationships get better, you retain more information, and the world sounds better. Pretty neat!

Music for now:

Note: Part 1 was about deciding your listening environment and tips for interpersonal listening. Part 2  includes thoughts about inferential distance and the difficulty of communicating, plus the concept of listening to stakeholder groups as a society, plus classrooms and listening to students. 

Learning Habits

I had excellent teachers throughout my K-12. I remember hearing from several of them, at different points in my young learning career, that what mattered about the schoolwork I was engaging in at the time was not the content itself, but the habits I formed by working diligently as I was assigned. While I have since come to disagree with that justification for assigning otherwise meaningless work, the implicit principle still seems valid.

Habits are the key.

In my first post, I started the idea that learning is the way we become who we are. I won’t waste your time with a bunch of baloney speculation on what exactly makes up our identity as individuals – better writers than I have stabbed at it and come closer than I would. Suffice it to say that habits are some significant fraction of our daily actions, and worth shaping. Learning the meta-skill to develop the habits I want on demand is a top-priority long term learning objective. Some habits I am currently working on (I will try to keep you up to date on the interesting ones, fans, if you want. lemmeknowinthecomments.)

The world (read: internet) is full of advice. Advice animals, thought catalog faux-wisdom, the next thing-you-won’t-believe on buzzfeed or Huffpost or Cracked what have you, or the life-changey wisdom we see on TED or Medium or my blog(hah). Some of the insights seem at first to be crap and turn out to be nothing more, some seem actually inspiring or wise or faking it well, but rarely if ever does any of it actually change the way we act.

Instead of just sharing the things I like and ignoring the things I don’t and staying who I am no matter what I see, I want to build myself an effective wisdom-filter. I want to be on the lookout for things that I can actually use, advice that will change my habits. I am trying to grow my spidey-sense that will warn me of wise-sounding but unhelpful advice and other insight, so I can stop wasting my time feeling good but not changing. There are some things that are worth absorbing for their content – knowledge of interesting subjects is inherently worthwhile. But I’ve only got so much time, and there is a lot of internet out there. The most impactful content empowers me to develop good (useful, powerful, smart, time-saving…) habits.