Coursework that Worked - An Assignment that Turned into a Thank You Letter

NIFI Blog's picture

Blog Category: 

The following piece was written by Nick McNamara to fulfill a course assignment when he was a student in Dr. Wanda Minor's 2011 course titled Social and Public Deliberation.  The piece is being reprinted here with permission from both Dr. Minor and Nick McNamara.

Social and Public Deliberation Reflection

by Nick McNamara

I remember signing up for the section PR-498-51 entitled social and public deliberation.  I can honestly say that I did not have any idea what the course entailed.  Maybe it was the name of the course or the time slot of the course, but something compelled me to register.  So I just decided to take a shot in the dark and hoped that I would enjoy the class and learn something at the same time.  After receiving the required readings from the bookstore, I made the grave mistake by judging the course by the book covers.  I skimmed the abstracts and let my preconceived notions take over my thought process.  I thought to myself that I was about to enter a world of political rhetoric and bland functions of policy makers.  What I did not know was that my viewpoint of this course would be radically different than my preconceived notions.

After the first survey identifying my knowledge of public deliberation I realized I was entering a field where I had little or no experience and knowledge.  I had a feeling that I was in over my head.  After the first few classes and readings I slowly began to grasp the concept of public deliberation.  Through intense analysis of topics and issues, I was seeing the angles I could never have seen myself.  This was all thanks to the eclectic vantage points of my peers.  The first fundamental which I learned was that everyone has their own unique ideas and opinions and to accept them willingly.

The next key fundamental within public deliberation which I successfully grasped was to understand and weigh all options. Discovering and identifying the outcomes of different options is just as important as the option itself. As I continued to slowly grasp the fundamentals of deliberation, I noticed a certain change and cultural trend within the classroom. Through deliberation over intense issues, I noticed that the classroom was becoming a community. We were a solid unit rather than individuals.  We all knew each other by name and were comfortable communicating with each other. This is one of the greatest lessons I have learned through deliberation, that we can become one community expressing each other’s interests and our own through deliberation.

These fundamentals which I have learned through deliberation can be applied to all aspects of my decision making process. I now have the power to analyze and weigh options to make better decisions for myself and community. I have also realized that I have more power in my voice and opinion than I previously believed. I understand that if I express interest in an issue others will follow like a trail of dominoes and as others join my voice will be strengthened.

My favorite part of this class was my ability to express my thoughts and interests freely with no worry of judgment by others. As a business major I have grown tired of lectures and PowerPoint presentations where I am frantically taking notes. This class was a breath of fresh air where I can acquire skills that are also relevant in the business world rather than performing tasks such as capital asset pricing. My only difficulty with this class was the reading. I don’t feel that it was unbearable but for me in the midst of a baseball season it can compound quickly if you are not on top of it.

As a result of this class I have already begun to think differently, more analytically. I find myself thinking things through in everyday activities and weighing the options and choices presented to me. I started doing this because as we discussed issues in class I was constantly having my ideas and opinions challenged. Soon I realized that after analysis and understanding that my opinions were radically changed by the thoughts and knowledge of other peers. Now I apply this lesson to other areas of my life to help develop a better understanding of the world around me and the decisions people make.

Although I am not a political science major, the experience I have received from this course will benefit me greatly in my business profession to come. In order to be successful in business, one must be able to work with various types of people with eclectic backgrounds. It is extremely important for me to work well with these different groups of people and discover the solutions to our business problems which will benefit us the most. By carefully accepting the views and opinions of those who differ from me I will not only learn about them but also the alternative sides to issues as well. By understanding the issue or problem I will be able to find the proper solution which possesses the greatest benefit to all. This I believe will be the greatest benefit from this course which will help me out down the road.

If I were to change anything in the class it would be an alternative to the project. Many college students are physical hands-on learners. Even though the book reports presented great ideas and lessons over important issues, they lacked tangibility for most. Rather [than] assign a book report for groups where students are regurgitating information they did not comprehend, put our skills to test. I feel as if a good alternative to the book report would be a deliberation project. This would include groups deliberating different sides of an important issue in front of the class and coming to a logical sensible solution using the skills which were tooled with. This would really help solidify the concepts and ideology of the deliberative process.

So as I finish this last assignment for this class I realize that I am actually a different person than I was walking through the doors of Bey Hall in January. I believe that this change in me is subliminal and undetectable to my peers but I know there is something different. I feel that wherever I go I am equipped with an attitude and sense of confidence which allows me to be successful where need be. With that being said I realize that I have been awake for endless hours the past few nights trying to get over the hump. Many times I am asking myself why I am doing all of this school work with complex equations and formulas I know I will never use. But as I am adding my closing remarks to this assignment I realize that I have written this entire paper more or less as a thank you rather than an analytical assignment. This is because I am not wondering why I needed to learn what was preached in this course, rather, I am trying to live what I have learned.


Patty Dineen's picture
I'd be interested to read others' (students or educators) experiences with using deliberation in coursework.

Monique Pierel's picture
Bravo to you Nick for sharing your personal learning experience. Your story is very well written and openly expresses the true to life college dilemmas (such as baseball or class readings). What I found to be of greatest value is the lessons you learned in this class that are not only applicable to real life situations but also forever memorable. Thank you for sharing this deep and private assignment. Best of luck to you in all your endeavors!