Round 3 at the ExCollege

Written by Sarah Moser, currently teaching ‘Asian Cities in the 21st Century’

This January marks my third semester teaching a course at the Experimental College. I quickly became a fan and promoter of the ExCollege and its unique set of offerings. For me, teaching at the ExCollege is an amazing opportunity to explore topics relating directly to my research interests and expertise that I would not ordinarily get to teach at other institutions. I have taught my fair share of first year requirement courses, and while there is a sound logic behind having a core curriculum for majors, I find my ExCollege courses to be particularly energizing. Designing a one-of-a-kind course that overlaps with my current research and consulting experience is a breath of fresh air that stimulates my research and gives me a chance to integrate the most current and leading-edge material into the classroom.

The main thing that keeps me coming back is the students who take ExCollege courses. I have found Tufts students to be energetic, passionate, engaged in the world around them and rarely shy to take up a debate. They do not take ExCollege courses to simply fill a requirement, but to learn in some depth about a topic that is not offered in any other department. Because my own interests and background are interdisciplinary in focus, I structure my course content to be as interdisciplinary as possible, with readings from urban studies, planning, anthropology, geography, environmental studies, architecture and more. As a result, my classes tend to attract students from a variety of majors and nationalities. In one of my ExCollege classes we did a tally and discovered that there were more languages spoken by people in the class than there were people in the class!

This diversity of views, backgrounds and life experiences greatly enriches the discussions in the class. And it is the class discussions that form the core of each ExCollege class I have taught. From what I have experienced, Tufts students are keenly aware of the value of class discussions and are active learners. Jumbos are generally not the students who are content to sit quietly in the back row and just take notes. Out of the muddiness, confusion and at times tension of classroom discussions emerge flashes of understanding, of new insights, of original ideas and true critical thinking.

It is these ‘flashes’ of collaborative thought and originality that make teaching so deeply satisfying. To me, the ExCollege is the ideal mechanism to engineer such moments. As professors, we are provided with the tools we need to teach to our maximum potential: a group of passionate and highly capable students and the freedom and creative space to teach to our strengths and interests.

I have taught a course called ‘Planned Cities: Power, Ideology and Identity’ twice over the past two years and am now teaching ‘Asian Cities in the 21st Century’. In my current class, we are examining cities in a broad variety of geographical locations and a range of themes, including ‘green’ cities, social / cultural / economic / environmental sustainability, ‘creative’ cities, heritage, tourism, etc. While we are still at the beginning of the semester, I can tell already that it is going to be another fun, stimulating and dynamic class. When students asked last week if we could celebrate Lunar New Year in class this February, I decided to add a component about Chinatowns in Asian cities to justify eating Chinese take-out in class as part of the festivities. Never a dull moment in ExCollege classes!