We are very excited to announce the fourth annual cohort of CTL Fellows. Like the first three groups, this year’s Fellows—the largest group yet—reflect the wide range of Trinity teachers. They span disciplines from Chemistry and Economics to French and Religion, and they represent all ranks of the faculty. In a monthly colloquium during the 2015-16 academic year, the Fellows will come together to discuss teaching in theory and in practice and to share the insights arising from their individual teaching projects—which you can read about below.
“Integrating Research Methods in my American Political Parties Course”
In order to understand much of the literature in American politics, students need a basic understanding of research methods. I teach American Political Parties as a methodologically focused course, which includes several sections on quantitative research. As currently designed, the sections on methods come as an interruption to the substantive topics of the course. My goal is to develop ways to integrate the methods readings and exercises with the specific content of the course. Unless students have already had a methods course (and most have not), many have trouble distinguishing the standing of the different sections of a research article. I intend to design several approaches to integrating and applying the lessons from the methods sections to readings relevant to the course so that by the end of the semester, all students can read and comprehend a quantitative article in an informed way. As a second component of the project, I plan to design an assignment in which students will collaboratively apply this learning by proposing a political reform and using the empirical literature to assess its practicality.
“The Concrete Universal: Politicizing the Philosophical Classroom”
Owing to the abstract nature of philosophical inquiry, it is all too easy for students to lose sight of the many ways in which philosophy remains essentially connected to life outside of the classroom. In order to address this issue, I am setting out to make my classroom more practically engaged—to make it more ‘down to earth,’ so to speak. For each of my courses next year, I intend to include a practical and political component whose fulfillment takes place beyond the walls of the classroom. Ranging from mandatory involvement in on-campus political organizations, to direct civic engagement with the Hartford political and social community, these practical components will have the dual benefit of teaching my students the concrete efficacy of philosophical thought, and of helping them forge strong alliances with the Trinity and Hartford communities at large.
“The Cultivation of Intellectual Habits”
How do we become strong academic citizens? What habits do we cultivate in order to get the most out of, and contribute the most in return to, a learning environment? I am interested in exploring ways to help students cultivate fundamental academic skills and intellectual habits in a First Year Seminar, with the idea that they could transfer these habituated ways of being a student to the rest of their course work at Trinity. In the seminar I would like to introduce students to a basic set of skills and competencies they should develop—careful preparation and active participation in class, facilitating discussion, negotiating intellectual disagreements with generosity and discernment, reading critically and dialogically, library research skills, writing as a multi-stage process of revision, etc.—and give them opportunities to practice said skills. However, more importantly I am interested to see what it takes to convince students that the cultivation of such practices is a conscious choice on their part—something they can choose, or choose not, to foster. Thus I would like to put into practice a number of exercises and activities within the seminar to develop both the ability to do a number of different things and the discipline of choosing to do so regularly.
“Designing a First-Year Seminar that Bridges Life-Writing Studies and Francophone Hartford”
I routinely teach an upper-level seminar course in French titled “Writing Life Stories,” which looks at the ways that authors construct fictional and autobiographical versions of themselves in writing. My aim with a CTL fellowship is to reconceive this course as a first-year seminar (tentatively titled “Life writing and Francophone Hartford”) that I could offer in the Fall of 2016, and for which I would have three primary teaching objectives: 1) to distill central questions about autobiography, biography, memoir, life-writing, translation, and oral history in a way that would be accessible and meaningful for first-year students; 2) to sharpen students’ understanding of their own practices of self-representation by thinking about the way that “gaps” (linguistic, cultural, and otherwise) complicate the project of representing oneself; and 3) to integrate an experiential and ethnographic component that would connect students with the Francophone communities in Hartford with whom they would conduct oral histories. These interactions with Francophone residents of a majority-Anglophone city and region will serve as jumping-off points for the course’s examination of relevant historical and literary sources.
“Improving Laboratory Instruction with Interactive Pre-Lab Videos”
For pedagogical or practical reasons, by accident or by design, we sometimes teach concepts to students asynchronously, such that not all of our students are learning the same things at the same time. By necessity the Chem 312: Instrumental Methods of Chemical Analysis laboratory course is taught in this fashion. Small groups of students rotate through eight laboratory exercises with 2-4 different laboratories occurring each week. This rotation gives every student hands-on, practical experience with each instrument but makes it challenging to provide timely, customized instruction, particularly at the start of the laboratory period. To address this, I am creating a series of interactive pre-laboratory videos to provide tailored preparation for each laboratory exercise, thereby maximizing student learning during the laboratory period. While this project is specifically designed to address laboratory rotations, similar strategies may be useful for other faculty members interested in having small groups of students do different things during the same class period.
“Multimodal and Collaborative Writing”
Traditional instruction in writing includes a solid regimen of practice and revision, and a ubiquitous round of essay assignments. Even though essay writing is still the most common genre used to teach writing at the university level, the world is rapidly changing. As a CTL Fellow, I plan to redesign an existing course (RHET 103 Writing Outside of the Classroom) to take advantage of advancements in digital and internet technologies. To keep pace with advancing technology, provide new-found motivation for student-writers, and empower student-writers, I believe teaching writing must move beyond traditional alphabetic texts to include analyzing and interpreting how writing and images construct different perspectives and arguments. Multimodal writing occurs both inside and outside of classrooms and especially in employment settings. My redesign will incorporate scholarly rationale from sources such as Multimodal Composition, edited by Cynthia Selfe, and Writing New Media, edited by Anne Wysocki et al, to provide the foundation for a course that embraces collaborative writing technologies like Google.Docs and multimodal writing assignments that will respond to the growing importance of technology and digital composition. This project may also encourage other educators to adapt digital tools wherein students draft, share, and respond to writing projects.
“Research-Led Teaching in the Liberal Arts Classroom”
One of the rewards of teaching in a quality liberal arts college is the respect given to both teaching and research. However, for many professors in the humanities this means finding time to do each, separately: teaching and research are often experienced as two competing demands on our time. This project examines whether we can bridge the gap between the two whilst also enhancing student learning. As a CTL Fellow I will carefully re-design my courses so that the learning goals I set for my students are more comfortably synched with the research goals I have set for myself. I hope to make students more mindful and aware of research, researchers, and the research process in my field, and in doing so nurture student engagement and concretise discussions of academic integrity. I also hope to reduce my perception of friction between teaching and research. The outcomes of my project will be several revised syllabi and a reflective statement on how others might consider research-led teaching in the humanities at Trinity College.
“Policy Analysis in the Classroom”
The Federal Reserve Challenge is a national competition where students analyze current economic conditions and provide recommendations for the Federal Reserve’s conduct of monetary policy. As such, it provides a prime opportunity for students to make practical use of the knowledge they have acquired in the classroom. Developing students’ capabilities to apply general theories to novel settings is of course one of the overriding objectives of many courses. This CTL project will investigate the best practices of the Federal Reserve Challenge specifically and in-class policy analysis more broadly. The primary focus is to foster sophisticated student analysis, both for my in-class projects and for the college’s Fed Challenge team, while allowing students to retain independent creativity; a delicate balance relevant to the supervision of all student research.
“Renga: Collaborative Writing Pedagogy”
Renga is a collaborative form of Japanese poetry, wherein the last line of one writer’s poem becomes the first line of another’s poem, the last line of which in turn becomes the first line of a third writer’s poem, etc. I first used the basic principles of the renga form’s extended multi-person collaboration in a class I taught eight years ago on the Western, giving students the first page of a Western story and asking them simply to continue it, then passing it to another student to continue, and on through a successions of hand-offs until it was finally returned to the Originator who brought it to a conclusion. Since that time I have used this type of collaborative writing in many different classes to generate a diverse array of critical and creative writing, and I am eager for the opportunity the CTL Fellowship will give me to reflect on the effectiveness of these experiments.