It can be perplexing for a student to see their classmate expend so much time and effort in work for a society or giving up their weekends to write articles for a student magazine. Why do they bother? What do they get out of it? Do they suffer academically? At the moment, College is asking itself the same questions in considering how to best recognise learning outside the classroom.
The sort of activity involved in helping run a society or organising a trip away for a sports club is an essential part of what we mean when we speak of the “Trinity Experience”. Whether a student single-handedly runs a society or just wears a t-shirt for someone in the SU elections, their participation enables them to develop abilities in communication, teamwork and leadership and gain invaluable experience.
It should be the ultimate goal for any modern university to develop society’s brightest into well educated, well rounded individuals with the necessary skills to both succeed in life and contribute back to the global community in some form. You have to ask yourself are you learning these essential skills by simply turning up for lectures and submitting monthly essays and lab reports.
Though not exclusively, expertise in areas like teamwork and leadership can usually be seen by students involved clubs, societies, publications, students’ unions and voluntary and outreach programs. Unfortunately, a student can meander through their four years of college and miss out on the chance to fully develop their skill set. However, this is not necessarily their fault.
It can be a misconception among white bearded, stuffy academics that taking part in clubs and societies is unequivocally going to result in a student’s studies suffering and that this sort of activity should be discouraged or at best, ignored. It needs to be made plainly obvious to students that taking part in student activities is an integral part of the learning process at Trinity.
It behoves an institution of Trinity’s standing to discard this belief and to first encourage and then to properly recognise learning outside the classroom.
Though it is commendable that College has begun to address this and excellent work is being done by College officers on the issue and specifically by the Dean of Students, Gerry White, all members of the College community need to put very careful thought into particular questions concerning recognition of extra-curricular involvement.
Firstly we have to ask, what do we mean by recognition? It would fundamentally undermine both the educational integrity of the University and the individual reasons of students that “get involved” to award academic credit on the basis of participation in student organizations.
We already have recognition for academic excellence in the form of Foundation Scholarship. Should we perhaps consider rewarding the “involved” student in a similar way or maybe an expanded version of the annual Student Awards where “students who have made an outstanding contribution to College life”, to quote the alumni website, are rewarded with College-wide recognition? The problem with these notions is that they are grandiose and exclusive.
We shouldn’t be aiming to award the student who is head of the Phil or President of the Students’ Union. By virtue of their position in these organizations they already receive a modest amount of peer recognition and their CV’s will speak for themselves upon graduation.
This brings us to the second question of who deserves recognition.
We don’t want to end up in a situation where we applaud the student who excels in participation with student organizations but scrapes through their exams each year while at the same time excluding the student who is active in a society or two and is able to reasonably balance all aspects of college life.
It is not always apparent to the prospective employer that being an active member of a society, taking up a new sport and getting a decent degree in the end of the day is a full-time commitment and is entirely commendable.
It is for this student that College’s recognition of their work is crucial. Students in the future will suffer from academic inflation. With every Tom, Dick and Harry having a degree, recognition of learning outside the classroom is key to tackling the problem of distinguishing the excellent student.