Tag Archives: Social Science

Reflections on a teaching conference

This week, the Chicago Center for Teaching held its annual two-day teaching conference designed to help graduate students learn to be effective teachers and TAs. Today’s plenary lecture was on “Teaching is not learning,” given by Jean-Luc Doumont, who works for a company that specializes in effective communication. The talk was a dynamic introduction to how to think as an instructor and how to create a learner-centered classroom, and I hope the new instructors found it helpful. I found that Jean-Luc provided some bon mots that are useful and/or thought-provoking, so I thought I would share them.

  •  “You can take care of the students, or you can take care of the material.”

facilitating vs lecturingWhat Jean-Luc meant by this is explained by a diagram he had in his slideshow. In it, he dichotomizes (perhaps too starkly) facilitating vs. lecturing, where lecturing is supposed to be the mode of transmission used when the content is most important – “I have to get through all this content!” The other side of the diagram is “facilitation,” or how you create an atmosphere and construct a course to facilitate student learning – “I have to get these students to learn!” A new instructor might not see the difference between those states – isn’t getting through all the content going to cause the students to learn it?? The answer is, well, probably not.  Not if you don’t think about the mode of transmission, and it’s very easy in your first class to focus almost exclusively on the material, rather than considering its reception (and absorption). Lecturing has its place as a pedagogical tool, Continue reading

Should we crowdfund archaeology? Regarding US Ambassador Heffern’s exhortation to develop archaeology & tourism in Armenia

In 2013, the United States Ambassador to Armenia, John Heffern, gave a TedX talk in Yerevan about the wealth of archaeological remains just waiting to be excavated (and then conserved) in the modern Republic of Armenia. He argued that the vivid history in Armenia should be better known throughout the world, to bring development (i.e., tourist dollars and related construction projects) to Armenia, and also to heighten academic interest in its history, thereby also encouraging international collaboration.

To emphasize the value of bringing international attention to archaeology in Armenia, Ambassador Heffern pointed out a few somewhat recent finds from the caves near the town of Areni in Vayots Dzor, including the earliest known wine-making equipment and a remarkably well-preserved leather shoe that clocks in at 5,500 years old. He went on to discuss the wine-making equipment at length, because of its potential significance to development, as the region of Areni just happens to be the most famous Armenian region for wine production, suggesting marketing connections just waiting to be made.  Ambassador Heffern’s final exhortation to his audience was to look into the use of crowdfunding to help finance archaeological projects and conservation, and to promote the sites for education and tourism.

I am in such complete agreement with Ambassador Heffern’s main points that I have in fact spoken to audiences across the U.S. on numerous occasions about archaeology in Armenia, its origins, its history, and its current state.  In Armenia, if you walk through the countryside with one of the archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences, the archaeologist will point out a historic or archaeological site to your left; an artifact to the right; a series of memorials behind you; or ancient walls directly in front.  The landscape is dotted with reminders of the past, artifacts and constructions like those found in the Areni cave that tell a tale of very early times, up through material remains that teach us about the medieval period and beyond.  The very landscape tells a story, a complex story of different times and different people, and that captivating story—or really, stories—should indeed be better known.

I have even led a group of tourists through every part of the country, telling those stories of the past by providing a unique look at material excavated long ago as well as excavations that are currently ongoing. I led the tour to do exactly what Ambassador Heffern is calling for, to bring tourist money into the country while at the very same time educating people about the past directly under their feet.

And so, I agree wholeheartedly with the spirit of the talk, and yet, I can’t help but wonder what impact crowdfunding might have on what is (and should remain) a social-scientific endeavor.  What happens if institutions like universities and organizations like the National Science Foundation are relieved of their responsibility to fund scientific projects like archaeology?  What happens if the model becomes, in fact, a business model?  Or even a privately-funded model?

I have other questions about the talk, such as why there was no mention of the many international collaborations already going on in Armenia, some of which have lasted for many years.  There was not even a mention of the teams at UCLA and University College Cork who work at Areni, although to be fair, Armenian archaeologists also hardly figured in the speech except to be seen in the photo at the Institute.  My point, however, is that collaborations and academic interest in Armenia already do exist; why not lend support to these projects, which already have the relationships and even infrastructure in place that will allow them to expand their efforts to illuminate the archaeology and history hiding in Armenia’s soil?

In the end, TedX talks are meant to be thought-provoking, not necessarily problem-solving. This talk certainly made me think, but largely, about the proposed solution to the problem of funding archaeological research, and about the problems that the solution might in turn raise.

Discussion leading: an art, regardless of whether you use it for science

Last spring, I did a short presentation (on Mazur’s peer instruction) for an event at the University of Chicago’s Center for Teaching and Learning, and afterward, I was recruited to become a Teaching Consultant.  As a Teaching Consultant (TC), I am one of a handful of graduate students from across the university who have the opportunity to get together and read and talk about pedagogy.  We take the knowledge we glean to help other graduate students in their classrooms through workshops and individual consultations.  Yesterday, we met to have a discussion about discussions.

Put that way, the topic of conversation is somewhat amusing (especially when you consider that we tried out the technique of leaderless discussion, during which I had to stop the leaderless discussion to discuss how we were discussing – I think we almost drowned in the recursion).  Still, it was an interesting meeting, particularly the input from our TCs in the STEM fields.  At first blush, you might think that there is no opportunity for students to discuss in a discipline like computer science.  The TC described his class, and described the “discussions” as an opportunity for students to respond to questions and also ask for clarification.  In other words, the “discussions” were primarily led only at a level that might help the students to remember and understand their readings, but not achieve the higher levels on Bloom’s taxonomy of learning domains (i.e., application, analysis, evaluation, creation).   Continue reading

Taking comfort in discomfort

Hegel’s a problem.  Seriously—what kind of person writes like that??  So, when you’re about to help a roomful of kids work through the Philosophy of World History, what do you do?  It’s tempting to walk them through the arguments and concepts: philosophical history, Idea, world-spirit, reason… (Of course, it’s also tempting to tell them to look at the index, already.)  It’s tempting to feed them concepts and arguments, to draw the connections for them, because, come on—Hegel is hard.  The students don’t necessarily have the tools to cope with his arguments, to grasp the synthesis of ideal and real, subject and object, particular and universal. So what do you do? Continue reading

Scientific methods

I basically stopped writing this blog last quarter, because I wanted to write about teaching, but I fell into an ethical conundrum: is it fair to write about experiences involving other people in real-time, if they don’t know that they are being written about—even if you leave names out of it?  I’m not even sure that the timing matters; it seems a strange thing to write about other people regardless of whether it’s real time or not, although relating stories about “Funny things that happened to me in the past” already lends distance to the stories, right?  Somehow, writing about past events seems less like nosily intruding on everyone else.

And with teaching, of course, there’s always the possibility that my students (hi, guys!) will find the blog entries and learn more about what I think of the class, or what I’m planning to do with it, than I might normally tell them.  I have to admit, I’m still experimenting on my students, finding what works and what doesn’t, but I’m not necessarily sharing all of the details of the experiments with the subjects—doesn’t that change the results? Continue reading

Zombie professor sez: fresh young mindzzzzzzzzzz

I really enjoy teaching—it might be that I’m a little spoiled, that the students at the U of C are unusually talkative and involved, but I really enjoy fostering discussion amongst a group of young ‘uns ready to explore our work.  I have a good group of students this quarter, with perhaps more than the usual number of talkative kids, but yet no one who is trying to dominate the room.  Everyone is respectful, and they are starting to learn to address each other, which I think is important.

On the first day, I explained a little bit about my teaching philosophy, that I will be steering the ship, but that I won’t let the conversation always be moderated by me.  I have attended (and disliked) “discussion” classes with professors who ask leading questions for which there is a right answer, which the students must find and present to the professor.  The discussion ends up being a back-and-forth between usually one (maybe two) students and the professor, while other students watch from the sidelines, answer different questions later, thereby reorienting the back-and-forth with the professor to a new side of the room.  I’m in charge, I keep us on task—but I want the students to talk to each other, too.  And after only two discussions, they’re starting to do it! And to address each other by name! Continue reading

in medias res

It’s hard to know exactly where to begin, or how to introduce this blog.  If a blog reflects the interests of its writer, then this one will be difficult to categorize.  There will be some ruminations on history and archaeology; thoughts about friends and relationships; information about beer and tasty food; pictures of various journeys; and anything else that pops up, really.  I studied all the liberal arts in college (at a “Great Books” school), I debated between psychology, philosophy, and history for a career, and now I find myself pursuing a dual degree in anthropological archaeology and ancient history.  In some ways, it seems like I’ve been all over the map, trying to figure out what I find most compelling, what I want to do in life.  But through it all, I realized that at the center of my investigations, driving my curiosity, is an interest in people: in our history, in the ways we tell each other about what we think is important, in the ways in which we build our lives and our cities or environments that reveal our values, in personal relationships, and in societal structures.  This blog is perhaps an attempt to synthesize my longstanding interest in people and the world we make (and how we write about it), an inquiry into (and observations about) the social, and the science.