The most important things you learn in a university lecture

Michael Lisinski


still image from the movie Legally BlondeLast month, I published an entry about the differences between university and high school homework, which many of you seemed to find helpful.

Based on the feedback I received from that post, I thought it might do well to write a sequel of sorts: what will you find when you actually enter the university classroom to attend your professor’s lecture?

Rest assured that you’ll learn more than just course material (though that’s important as well!)

I started to tread on this territory in my previous entry’s final point: that in university you’re often asked questions for which there aren’t yet definitive answers. This relates to the first point of my present entry:


It’s about what you think just as much as it is about what you learn

Indulge me for a moment, please, and allow me to once again introduce the too-often-quoted Karl Marx line from his Theses on Feuerbach:

"Hitherto, philosophers have sought to understand the world; the point, however, is to change it."

Regardless of what you might think of Karl Marx (whom I’ve encountered, by the way, far more often in university than I would’ve ever thought socially acceptable in high school), this quote shares an ethic with what I consider to be one of the best aspects of university education. Namely, that knowledge in university is used to build and to question things in the real world.

Until reflecting upon this for this entry, I’d forgotten just why I’d found many of my high school lessons quite boring and why I was suddenly transfixed by the first lectures I attended in university.

It was because my university professors lectured with an edge. They didn’t tell you how to dress, they didn’t admonish you for being late to class, they didn’t mind being called by their first names and they didn’t suppress reasoned questioning of authority—they welcomed it and often did it themselves.

It was less about discipline and gaining knowledge and more about thinking and gaining understanding.

Which relates to my next point:


Still from movie Good Will Hunting

Participating in class discussions makes class more interesting

If you’re the shy type, you might be a little hesitant to accept this at face value. After all, it’s a commonly-repeated statistic that many people are more afraid of public speaking than death.

But shyness aside, there is a very distinct difference between a class solely consisting of a three-hour-long lecture and a class in which students are sharing their opinions on issues, disagreeing (politely!) and finding their points of agreement.

I know that this can be difficult in large classrooms, which is why I can appreciate my own program’s small class sizes. I also appreciate how this might be more challenging in some programs than in others.

But I do think it’s true that once a discussion starts in class, and once you start participating in that discussion, the time flies infinitely more quickly than it would if you were still sitting silently.


You don’t need to worry about who you were in high school

Maybe this can help with any jitters you have going into the classroom. Rest assured that while pop-punk and teen comedies might imply otherwise, your high school identity will have next to no influence on your university experience.

As a university student, it doesn’t matter if you were considered (or considered yourself) quirky, brainy, sporty, social, or rebellious—all of The Breakfast Club’s characters could have found a happy place at Ontario Tech.

There are some deeper lessons here: firstly, that as long as you are respectful towards everyone else, you will always be able to share your point-of-view and ask questions in the classroom as much as anyone else.

I’ve also found that, in my own experience, people have been more likely in university to judge people based on their deeper characters than on their superficial qualities.

In other words, it’s less likely to be your brand of clothing, your car (or lack thereof), or your haircut that makes you cool or uncool. It’s much more likely to be the level of respect that you extend toward everyone you meet, no matter their inborn nature or socioeconomic class.


You’re not just learning job skills—you’re learning life skills

If this sounds like the dubious slogan of some fast food chain, I apologize. How better to convey the lesson than irony?

I want to be clear here: there are very good reasons for you to want to learn job skills in university, and  our university recognizes that. This is a big reason why the university has created unique programs like Forensic Psychology and Medical Laboratory Science that can’t be found anywhere else.

But when you start attending university lectures, you'll realize that there's a lot more to all of this than just job skills. Your professors will provide you with amazing information about the world and will challenge you with perspectives you'll have never taken before.

And this is why I think you’d be selling yourself short if you came to university solely in order to get a job afterward. It’s about so much more than that—establishing a sense of community with your peers, learning how to think in complex ways, asking how we might improve society today and what feats it can accomplish tomorrow.

At Ontario Tech, I’ve done all of these things. I’ve also learned how to write press releases and create advertising campaigns, but when I graduate at the end of this school year I can already tell you which set of skills for which I will be more grateful in the long term.

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