Lifelong Learner, Lifelong Tutor
Such is the description that Director of Studies Christopher Day says of the Oxford Berkeley Program experience. For the past 10 years, Day has been walking through that gate, tutoring for History and Architecture of Oxford, and bringing his extensive knowledge to adult learners each year. A Fellow of Kellogg College and former Director of Studies for Local History at Oxford University Department for Continuing Education, Day has extensive experience working with lifelong learners.
“My whole background at Kellogg is working with adult students. I know their needs, their strengths and what their weaknesses may be,” he says. “I find adult learners more rewarding, more challenging because they’ve got a lifetime of experiences that they bring to the class. There’s a virtuous circle of learning, where you start off as teacher and they are students; but at some point, they become the teachers and you start to learn from them.” While this circle of learning is advantageous for lively class discussions, it also makes the need for a knowledgeable tutor that much more important. Coupled with the fact that students coming to the program bring varying degrees of knowledge on a seminar topic, creating a syllabus can be tricky business. In his many years tutoring in the program, Day continually altered the topics he’d cover to tailor to students wants.
“It quickly became apparent that most students in the class didn’t have very much knowledge of the history of architecture, so I built in some general architectural history elements into the class.” Day explains: “The trouble with that is that there are one or two in the class who are experts. I remember being terrified one year when I discovered that the professor of the history of architecture from Princeton was going to be in my class. I thought, ‘How do I talk to people like him and at the same time talk to people who know little on the topic?’ Luckily, he joined in and became a second teacher.”
This ability to teach students of varying knowledge is key when Day seeks out new tutors. To engage the class, tutors bring a very special skill set that allows them to talk to adults and cover a wide range of expertise. And with new tutors come new seminars to inspire, engage and challenge. Topics such as The Art of British Craft, Courtly Shakespeare, From Castle to Country House, and The English Reformation pique students’ interests, many of whom attend the program each year.
“They love the classes,” Day says of these continual learners. “In this program, students have to take on a project, study it, produce some written work and do an oral presentation in class. They’ve got to be prepared to put in that effort, which means you get a more dedicated type of student coming in. A student can do a seminar on Victorian literature anywhere or online. But at Oxford, with all its history, for three weeks students are able to follow a topic they are really interested in and with like-minded adults. There is one student who says she can come down in the morning for breakfast and discuss poetry, and nobody thinks she’s mad!”
What keeps Day coming back year after year to the program? The satisfaction in knowing that at the end of three weeks, students have been taken on an academic journey and their eyes have been opened. “That is going to affect the rest of their lives,” he enthuses. “That’s the beauty of teaching. No matter how many books you read at home, that interaction with the tutor and with other people in the class makes it a three-dimensional learning environment.” In addition to the academic portion, Day finds joy in seeing students become lifelong friends—a friendship that grew out of these special three weeks together.
For those contemplating taking this intellectually stimulating adventure, Day has this to offer:
“Where else would you get three weeks of learning, taught by a real expert in the subject, in Oxford with complete board and lodging, in the most glamorous setting in an old college? You get your classes, field trips are arranged and there is a raft of things to do on the weekends. Some brave souls even went to Ireland of continental Europe for the weekend.”