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My ID: Thinking Outside My Box

Having Fun!Petra Taylor photo

Now that it’s no longer the beginning of the term and things have calmed down a bit I’d like to take some time to reflect on the many fascinating projects in which I have been fortunate to be involved in my role as Faculty Fellow in the Instructional Design group. If you missed my first post, you can read more about my path to this interesting position here.

Having taught mathematics and scientific computing for many (many!) years, what I find most striking about my new role is the variety of subjects and faculty (and with that, of teaching strategies) with whom I get to interact. By thinking about learning and teaching challenges in subjects different from my own, I am able to leave my own quantitative box and allow myself to imagine scenarios which I would have previously thought not applicable or impossible in my own teaching. I very much hope that my interactions with faculty members have been fruitful for them, but they most certainly have been enlightening for me.

Here are just a few examples of topics I encountered.

Recently, I visited a class in the Russian department, which happened serendipitously: while working with the faculty member on the course site design, my German accent came through. Since the class focuses on cultural understanding, rather than solely studying Russian culture, a variety of other cultures are also explored, amongst them the German culture. The faculty member invited me to class where a really interesting discussion ensued that opened my eyes to some of my own cultural heritage of which I wasn’t previously aware. Sure, there were the somewhat expected topics such as punctuality, precision, etc. (and I presented a perfect German example, showing up 10 minutes early and fretting over the two clocks in the room which showed different times, neither of which agreeing with the actual time). But a more subtle discussion ensued around ways in which managers communicate criticism to employees. While it is common practice in this country to precede any criticism with a compliment to the employee on something they have done well (“I am very impressed with …. However …”), the ambiguity of the compliment joined with the critique would make many German employees quite anxious. I wonder how many times in my teaching career I have made students uneasy by drawing on my own cultural heritage, without taking theirs into consideration.

I've also had the chance to help Mike Goudzwaard (one of my ID colleagues) with setting up some assignments for a Religion class in which students discuss the use of religious rhetoric in political speech. This is a fascinating ongoing assignment in which students count, compare and rate (based upon a lexicon rating system which they derived in class) presidential candidates’ use of religious rhetoric. Here is an example graph, created from the students’ ratings:

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 8.58.20 AM

Students have reported how this type of crowd-sourced engagement has enhanced their participation in the course and their understanding of these issues.

I have also had some really interesting discussions with several faculty members about team-based learning and group work in the classroom, and I’ll leave these for a future post!

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