And then Simon Ensor issued his picture and blogpost challenge - and I had to jump in and write a brief blogpost in response to his image – cos it’s an image we use in book.
It’s where we talk about having the ‘big picture’ or overview of a course. We say:
“Whilst it is true that we tend to learn things in pieces, one step at a time, this is helped if we have the big picture first; if we know how the subject will be covered. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, it is much easier to put the pieces together if we have the picture on the box. Similarly, if we understand how universities work and how our courses have been put together, we will be able to achieve more, more swiftly.”
Obviously that is meant as useful advice to all people coming to university – but especially for those whose family might not have been able to give them the gen – the inside track – on what university is all about: if they have not been groomed from birth to succeed in that system (if they don't have the cultural or academic captial - Bourdieu, Passeron, Wacquant…).
The picture on the box is a shorthand for saying that universities are systems and have systems – and if you understand them you can make them work for you. But it can be seen as really unhelpful – as Maha Bali points out – there is only ONE true solution to a jigsaw puzzle – and we do not want to trap people into thinking there is only one true way to survive at university – and one true way to get it ‘right’.
We have another chapter in the book: Make university positive – where we try to indicate all the other things that universities are beyond the merely academic – beyond the merely ‘get your head down and work the system’ system. We suggest that our widening participation students also join the Clubs and Societies – that they make friends – that they do not just rush off home to family duties – or rush off to work for work duties – but they spend time ‘being with’ their fellow students. That they hang out in the canteen chatting to people – that they become Peer Mentors. That they believe in themselves and develop their self-confidence and self-esteem – after all – that is what the traditional middle class student does know about university. As Stephen Fry said recently on Desert Island Discs – he only attended about three lectures in all his time at Cambridge – but he put on several plays a year – he joined Footlights – he made enduring friendships… and we want to get that across the our students too.