The Agora, Fall 1970

Written by Benji Cohen, A11 and Summer Graduate Intern

The Background: Borrowing the event name Agora from the Greek for “gathering place,” the Experimental College held an open event on the library roof for students and faculty to talk to ExCollege instructors, learn about a variety of student organizations, and watch artistic performances.

The Event: The Tufts Observer opened their comments on the event by noting that the ExCollege “agora, probably the first in American history, was held on Wessell Library roof last Sunday evening.” For two hours, ExCollege course leaders dialogued with the over 300 visitors, while the Beelzebubs sang a capella and a modern dance troupe preformed. In addition, students groups like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), and the Christian Fellowship used the agora as a marketplace, selling literature and dialoguing with their peers and professors. According to the Observer two “craftsmen peddled peace pipes.”

The Fight: The agora was “thrown open,” according to the Observer, by a “memorable verbal fray between members of YSA and SDS.” In the middle of the already chaotic event, student representatives from both groups tossed verbal jabs at each other attempting to one-up the other in front of the large student crowd. The Observer editorialized that the fight “added spice to it all.” When the fight finally died down, the Observer’s unofficial poll showed that “SDS appeared to win more popular support” than YSA. The reporter speculated, however, that the SDS victory may have been a result of the “weenies and home-made cakes and cookies” rather than their political ideology.

Peer Teaching at the ExCollege

Since 1967, the ExCollege has provided Tufts undergraduates with the opportunity to design their own course and teach fellow Jumbos through the Peer Teaching program. Peer-taught courses often revolve around current issues; allowing for dynamic classroom spaces that make students re-think and re-shape the way they view the world. Currently, the ExCollege is on the look-out for Peer Teachers for Spring 2014. If you are a student and want to share your expertise in your own course, please apply! Before you submit your application, please get in touch with us (excollege@tufts.edu or 617-627-3384) with your course idea. The application is available on our main website. The deadline for applications is November 1.

Peer-taught course topics over the past 46 years continually morph based on changing student needs and contemporary issues. From 1970′s course “The Draft” to 2012′s class “Game Strategy,” exceptional peer instructors challenge their students while igniting dialogue and sparking ideas.

For a glimpse into the world of Peer Teaching, our intrepid summer intern Benji Cohen (A11 and former ExCollege student board member) put together a snapshot of the Spring 2007 course “The Future is Lost: The TV Series as Cultural Phenomenon” taught by Chadwick Matlin (A07) and Ed Kalafarski (A06).

The Course: The Future is Lost: The TV Series as Cultural Phenomenon, Spring 2007

The Peer-Teachers: Chadwick Matlin (A07) and Ed Kalafarski (A06) used ABC’s smash-hit drama “Lost” as an academic text to analyze the future of media and the intersection between technology, media, and economics.

Lost and Society: The class explored how the show has become a pop culture sensation, but equally importantly how ABC markets and positions the show in its television lineup. In addition, the online community devoted to “Lost” demonstrated, in Chad and Ed’s eyes, a significant turning point in the relationship between media and society. As Chad remarked, “the Internet is bringing people together to deal with something that is usually referred to as just a hobby, but here it’s becoming what people do when they come home from work for three hours at night.” Chad marveled that “Lost” mobilized “people in our reality based on a fictional show,” and attempted to teach his students that such mobilization was targeted by ABC executives because showbiz, after all, is a business.

Reception: Chad and Ed’s course received local, national, and even international attention and acclaim. Chad and Ed’s class was featured in the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Huffington Post, and NPR,  “Lost” producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse caught wind of the class from California and had a conference call to answer students’ questions, and Chad was interviewed by BBC radio.

Reflection: Chad told the Tufts Daily that in the end “Lost” was an entertaining means to an academic end. He said, “we’re instructing students on the new media landscape, and what it means to watch TV in the 21st century in the Internet-dominated world that we live in.” As ExCollege Director Robyn Gittleman told the Globe, Chad and Ed created “a very thoughtful syllabus that explored all aspects of the show. . . . It had many, many layers with different educational goals.”

Where Are They Now: After graduating from Tufts, Chad was an associate editor at TheBigMoney.com, Slate’s business site. He has written for Fortune.com, New York, The Atlantic, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Columbia Journalism Review, and Talking Points Memo. He is currently a senior editor for Reuters Opinion, Reuters’ online commentary arm. Ed received a Masters in Computer Science from Brown University in 2009. He has worked for Google since 2007, focusing on the Google Maps app. In addition, he was the project manager and lead developer for Slate’s “Map the Candidates” tool during the 2008 presidential election.