Self Discovery/Life Skills

Self Discovery/Life Skills
Winter Term 2006
GST 337


This class met three hours a day (1:30 – 4:30 pm) from January 3 – 24 (14 class sessions plus a final exam period) with 26 juniors and seniors at Elon University in North Carolina. The course syllabus, student data sheet (collected and discussed in individual meetings with each student prior to the second class meeting) and final examination are attached for reference. The course was conceived and offered by Glenn Detrick who, with thirty years of experience in higher education, felt that universities did woefully little to help students understand and define who they are and did even less in a systematic way to assist students with their social/emotional growth and the acquisition of personal and interpersonal skills useful to leading a productive career and life after college.


Class sessions were highly discussion and exercise oriented with some, but minimal, lecture (less than 15% of class time). Central themes are articulated in the syllabus and will be discussed later in this retrospective. Students all read Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” and Peter McWilliam’s “Life 101” as well as articles from “The Economist” and Academy of Management “Learning and Education”. Two-student teams made presentations on Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence” and Fisher and Ury’s “Getting to Yes”. Other students reported on books including “The Tipping Point”, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” and “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. Additional students did individual presentations on meditation, art appreciation, laughter, adventure travel and the foster care system. Students were instructed in their presentations to “inform and engage”, with an emphasis on generating useful class discussion around the themes of the course.

To further the topic of creativity and developing creative problem solving skills, we viewed videotapes on “Visioning” and “Paradigms” by Joel Barker and had extensive brainstorming exercises in which we developed characteristics and attributes for the perfect bathtub and ways in which to make the world a better place. In preparation to do and present an “Idealized Redesign of Elon University”, students interviewed (as a group) university president Leo Lambert and (in 5 person teams) other high level university administrators.

Students defined 3-5 personal growth objectives for themselves at the beginning of the term and reported in three weekly journals progress toward these objectives. In the journals students also reported on how they were attempting to apply the concepts discussed in class as well as a third, specific assignment each week: Week 1: Getting feedback from three friends about their level of various interpersonal skills (listening, empathy, caring, etc.); Week 2: Doing “random acts of kindness” and; Week 3: Doing a 45 minute “vision quest walk”. Students received extensive feedback from the instructor on each of their journals.

Students indicated that knowing they would have to report weekly how they were doing on the accomplishment of self-defined personal growth objectives, they had both an impetus and a motivation to be proactive and follow through on issues that were important to them. The objectives most chosen by students to work on were improved self confidence, improved relationships with various people, being less negative, procrastinating less, being more comfortable in making presentations and dealing more effectively with stress. Given these objectives, the texts and class discussions were particularly relevant – and students, in general, did an excellent job of attempting to apply important concepts from the readings and class presentations to their personal lives.

Another highly useful exercise in furthering the “self discovery” aspect of the course was a “Quotes” paper. Students were asked to choose any quote(s) they liked and that they found interesting, useful, important or inspirational and report in three typed pages how/why they liked these quotes. Two students chose and wrote about one quote. One student did ten quotes. The average was 4-5 quotes for a total of over 100 quotes chosen. Interestingly, even with a common text that had numerous quotes from which to choose, there were few quotes chosen by more than one student. Also interesting was the fact that many song lyrics were chosen, indicating the impact of contemporary music on 20-21 year olds. Students did an excellent job of selecting and writing about why the various quotes had meaning for them and used this as a thoughtful exercise in the self discovery process.

Each student participated actively in class discussions (by being asked direct questions, even when their hand was not raised), made an individual (or two-person) presentation and participated in a five person group presentation. Students also participated in two interviews and a significant (from the student’s point of view) class session was devoted to discussing what employers look for when interviewing college students. A major project had five-student teams doing an “Idealized Redesign” of the university, with teams focusing specifically at the Business school and program, the Communications School and program, the university admissions process, student life and teaching/learning.

Each class began with a discussion of what was to be accomplished in the class session and reminders about upcoming assignments. This was followed with a “Joke of the Day”. Most students offered several (usually lame, but fun, sometimes rude) jokes over the course of the term to help them work at both their fear of speaking in class and their self confidence. (The best joke each day won a candy bar; best joke of the term won a ½ grade bump in the final grade.) In each class session time was spent with feedback to students and/or the professor (a feedback form, attached at the end of this retrospective, was completed each week by each student and was extremely useful to the ongoing conduct and continuous improvement of the class). A summary at the end of each session discussed what of import had been covered in the three hour class.

A take-home final examination (copy attached) asked students to reflect on what they had learned from the class. Students had over-night – with open book, open notes and an opportunity to discuss anything they wanted with anyone – to complete the exam. Responses averaged ten typed pages; one exam was 17 pages – these students had a great deal to say about what they had learned.

Central Themes of the Course

1. Expectations: both student expectations of the class and the instructor’s expectations of students were discussed in detail at the outset – as was how important it is to understand varying expectations in all work, family and social relationships.

2. Perspective: the Frankl book and other readings and discussion emphasized how lucky we all are, no matter what personal issues/challenges we have, compared to others in the world. “Dealing with negative people” (and being less negative ourselves) was an important topic within this subject area.

3. Feedback: it is important to ask for feedback, give constructive feedback, consider feedback given, thank people for feedback and follow through on feedback received. We don’t grow or learn without feedback. Much feedback was given during the course and students indicated that this was a particularly important theme for them to consider.

4. Choice: the point was thoroughly brought home that we all have significant choice in our lives, maybe not with regard to many externalities, but with regard to how we respond to all of the externalities. While skeptical at the beginning of the term, most students came to understand that we DO stress, frustration, anger, happiness, etc. based on how we choose to respond to various external stimuli. Understanding this concept is the beginning of being able to “do ourselves more effectively”. We have “response ability”, the ability to respond to whatever challenges we have before us; others do not “control” us, unless we choose (often unconsciously) to give up this response ability. This was probably the central concept of the course for most students.

5. Creativity and Creative Problem Solving: brainstorming exercises, tapes, discussion and the “Idealized Redesign” of the university all emphasized the importance and value of “thinking outside the box”, both in our personal and prospective professional lives.

6. Do It!: a somewhat subliminal theme throughout the course was to encourage students to be self confident, to not be afraid to try new things, to come out of their shells, to be confident of their skills and abilities and to look at mistakes and “failures” as real opportunities to learn and grow. Given the personal growth objectives of most students, this turned out to be a very important developmental theme.

In a nutshell, students – from their own feedback – seemed to learn and apply a great deal from this course. Completion and discussion of individual student “data sheets” served as a crude “pre” assessment of each student and the final examination served as a useful “post” assessment related to learning objectives and outcomes. As articulated in the animated class discussions, class exercises, presentations and assignments, and the extensive answers given in the comprehensive take-home final examination, students demonstrated significant growth in both perspective and skills over this brief, three week period. This was clearly a “value-added” class in both self discovery and life skills, from the students’ point of view. On the concluding ten question university evaluation form, students gave an average rating of 4.78 on the 5.0 scale.

GST 337
Winter Term 2006
Self Discovery/Life Skills
“Be ye lamps unto yourself”, Guatama Buddha
“In order to improve the mind, we ought less to learn than to contemplate.” Rene Descartes

Course Objectives:
1. To facilitate introspection, self awareness, and exploration of the self.
2. To help students understand who they are and what they might want to become.
3. To develop personal, interpersonal, and organizational skills for an effective life.

Elements of Methodology:
1. Students will be expected to take substantial responsibility for the implementation of the course. The professor will primarily attempt to stimulate discussion among the students, provide guidance/direction and keep things on track – with some, but a minimum, of lecture.
2. There will be an emphasis on experiences, participation, discussion and introspection. The Socratic Method will be substantially utilized.
3. Students will keep a journal. The journal will be turned in electronically by 12 noon on Sundays (Jan 8, 15, 22). Students will establish 3-5 personal growth/learning objectives and will report weekly in the journal regarding progress toward objectives. There will also be a three page “Quotes Paper” (to be discussed in class).
4. Student teams will do interviews and will report back to the group regarding what was learned from the interviews. Questions to be asked of each type of interviewee will be developed by the class.
5. Skills at brainstorming and creative problem solving will be developed. Student teams will create and present an “Idealized Redesign” for Elon University.
6. Some time in most class sessions will be devoted to Student Led Discussions (SLDs) on relevant topics related to the themes of this course. Some topics will be assigned, others chosen by individual students. All students will be expected to present a topic for discussion and lead a 15-20 minute discussion of the topic.

1. All students will read and we will discuss the following:
A. “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl
B. “Interview with Russell L. Ackoff” and “The Mountain Man and the Surgeon” (handouts)
C. “Life 101” by Peter McWilliams
D. A book either assigned by the professor or of your choosing, related to themes in this course (either as the basis for a SLD or for extra credit)

2. Grading
A. Class participation: 25%
B. Three Journals: 15% (5% each)
C. Student Discussion Leading: 5%
D. “Quotes” paper: 5%
E. Idealized Redesign Plan and Presentation: 25%
F. Final Exam: 25%
G. Other assignments that may seem useful and/or Extra Credit: Variable

3. Life Skill Topics for Class Discussion.
A. Expectations: Defining, delivering on, and the problem of disconnects
B. Perspective/context: Not everyone sees the world the same way. What does this mean for you?
C. Choice and ‘response ability’
D. Interpersonal skills:
1. Communication skills (writing and speaking)
2. Empathy
3. Listening skills
4. Negotiation skills
5. Dealing with negative people
E. Feedback: Giving it and getting it
F. Interviewing: Interviewing others and being interviewed
G. Ego and the nature of man: Challenges and opportunities
H. Teaching/learning: Asking your own questions; finding your own answers
I. Self esteem/taking responsibility for yourself
J. Risk taking/understanding your “personal risk scenario”
K. Dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty
L. Developing effective self management strategies/dealing with stress
M. Change as a positive thing – and how to embrace it
N. Creativity/creative problem-solving
O. Idealized planning/redesign
P. Having a sense of humor
Q. Running a meeting
R. Achieving a balance in life
S. Other topics to be designated by the class

Additional Reading:
4. Students may utilize any of the following books as the basis for leading a class discussion AND/OR you may read and report to the group (briefly in writing and orally) on one book or topic for extra credit. Note: Some students may be assigned a book for which they will be asked to lead a class discussion.
A. “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey
B. “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher
C. “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman
D. “The Art of Possibility” by Zander and Zander
E. “Blink” or “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell
F. “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Susan Jeffers
G. “Good to Great” by Jim Collins
H. Books by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (“Flow”, “The Evolving Self”, “Creativity”, etc.)
I. “Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman
J. “The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book” by Don Miguel Ruiz
K. “Manual for Living” by Epictetus
L. “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius
M. Any book or topic of interest to the student and approved by the professor

This course will be intense and a great deal of work. It will be exactly the right course for some – and not the best choice for others. Those students potentially interested in the general thrust of the course and the topics indicated above are most welcome and encouraged to take this class. If you are not willing to participate in class discussions, you will not do well in this course. Those looking for an easy and leisurely four credits in Winter Term are encouraged to take something else.

GST 337
Self Discovery/Life Skills
Individual Student Data Sheet
Please answer the following questions about yourself:

1. Name/Nickname: ___________________________________________________
2. Year in college: ______________________________________________________
3. Major/Minor: _____________________________________ Cumulative GPA: ________
4. Local phone # (or cell) where you can be most easily reached: _________________________
5. Home town/state: ____________________________________________
6. Do you have job or any other time commitment during this term?
Yes or No: ______ If yes, what times: ___________________

7. Interests (at least 3)

8. On a 1 – 10 scale, (10 being highest, 1 being lowest; ‘X’ if you don’t have one), How would you rate your relationship with your:
A. Mother: ____
B. Father: ____
C. Siblings: _____
D. Roommate(s): _____

9. How would you rate yourself on a continuum of introversion (1) to extroversion (10): ____

10. On a 1 – 10 scale, how strong is your self concept (1: very weak; 10: very strong): _____

11. How willing are you to take risks (1: not at all; 5: somewhat; 10: it’s easy): ______

12. What are your major personal strengths (3-5)

13. What are things about yourself which you would like to change/improve (3-5)

14. List 2-3 personal priorities in your life:

15. List 3-5 personal goals for the next six months:

16. What do you fear the most? ____________________________________________

17. What bothers you most in other people (2-3 things):

18. What do you admire the most in others? ____________________________________

19. On a 1 – 10 scale (10 being highest), rate your skill level in the following areas:
A. Writing: ____
B. Speaking: ____
C. Listening: ____
D. Creative thinking: ____
E. Managing stress: ____
F. Empathizing with others: ____
G. Leading others: ____
H. Following others: ____
I. Working with others: ____

20. On a 1 – 10 scale (10 being highest), rate your:
A. Self awareness: ____
B. Self confidence: ____
C. Self discipline: ____
D. Self motivation: ____
E. Willingness to take initiative: ____
F. Persistence: ____

21. What is your possible or probable life or career direction?

22. On a 1 – 10 scale, how certain are you of this direction (1 = Really no idea; 10 = Absolutely certain): _______

23. Do you have a religious preference: ______________________ On a 1 – 10 scale, how important is religion to you: ____ How important is spirituality: _______

24. Do you smoke: _____ Yes _____ No

25. Do you meditate: _____ Yes ______ No

GST 337
Self Discovery/Life Skills
Spring, 2006
Final Examination

General Guidelines:

This exam is open book/open note and is intended to be a reflective learning experience. You may use any resources you like to consider your response to these questions including discussion with classmates or other people, any/all books and your class notes. You may not use other students’ class notes. Once you come to answering the questions – putting pen to paper or finger to the keyboard – it must be your own work. Do not have anyone else review or comment on your answers. None of your answers are likely to be “wrong”. They will be evaluated on the depth of your thinking and the articulateness of how your ideas are expressed and presented. Each question is worth 10 points.

This class has been about self discovery and life skills.
1. What have you learned about yourself in this course?
2. What life skills have you found useful and gained perspective about during this course?

3. What are the main points raised by Victor Frankl in “Man Search for Meaning”? Does/how does this book affect your own search for meaning?

4. What are the five steps to getting and utilizing feedback? How do you plan to utilize these steps in the future?

5. We did an “idealized redesign” for Elon University. Envision and describe an “idealized redesign” of/for you.

6. From your class notes, summarize the main points of one of the student presentations (other than your own or the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”). Indicate what value there is to you from considering and/or implementing the concepts related in this presentation.

7. Which three habits from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” would have the most potential benefit for you if you were to develop and cultivate these habits? Explain why.

8. From our class discussion, what are the primary things employers are looking at/for when they consider you for possible employment?

9. Write a final exam question of your own that you think would challenge and stimulate students to think productively about any of the issues or topics raised in this course. Your question may focus on any aspect of the course, large or small.

10. Answer the question you wrote in # 9.

Write your campus box # on your exam so I may return it to you with comments. Thank you.

GST 337

Week # ________

1) For me, the most interesting, useful and/or important ideas/concepts I have learned or been exposed to this week are:

2) How could this week have been improved?

3) Any additional comments or advice for the professor?